Several hundred people milled around a public school cafeteria in Fairfax County Thursday night, some squinting, some scowling, a few hollering at the maps on the walls. Politicians and bureaucrats hurried to calm them, usually to little avail.
"They're taking my front yard," muttered Roger Grooms.
Another woman shrieked at the maps, "That stinks!"
The maps showed the proposed route of the Springfield Bypass, the $200 million, 35-mile road that would stretch across Fairfax County west of the Capital Beltway. Some in the room considered the bypass a solution to the massive "It's like inheriting a cobra as a pet. It's there and wiggling all over the place and you don't know where it's going to reach out and strike you." -- Supervisor Elaine N. McConnell traffic jams in their neighborhoods. But others were discovering that a six-lane segment of the road would run directly through their front lawns -- or through their living rooms.
The houses directly in the path of the road were marked in red on the map: Those houses will be razed by the state.
"It's not going to be what someone would want to live in front of during construction," said Grooms, whose house at Hooes Road and Scarborough Drive in Springfield sits about 50 feet from planned side of the road.
Grooms' situation presented the real estate equivalent of a dilemma. With the bypass slicing off his front yard and slashing the value of his property, was he better off than others who would be reimbursed for losing their homes altogether?
State and county road officials say they do not know how many people will be sacrificing their homes to the bypass, which snakes from Rte. 7 in the northwest end of the county to I-95 and Rte. 1 in the south.
Most of the homes that will be demolished are in the Springfield area, officials said.
For politicians, it is a volatile issue. Supervisor Elaine N. McConnell (R-Springfield), who was elected to office three years after the bypass route was established, spent much of Thursday evening trying to comfort her constituents.
"It's like inheriting a cobra as a pet," McConnell said. "It's there and wiggling all over the place and you don't know where it's going to reach out and strike you."
In a series of meetings that will continue next week, state and county officials are unfurling large-scale maps of the bypass in public schools around the county. On Thursday night more than 300 people jammed the sweltering cafeteria at Washington Irving Intermediate School in Springfield. The maps covered three walls.
The buzz of voices in the room was interrupted frequently by a panicky outburst, as one more person discovered his or her home in the path of the bypass.
"I was told this road wouldn't interfere with my house," said Gene N. Russell, pointing to the red outline of a dwelling in the middle of the bypass. "But that's my house right there!"
Although the path of the road has been designated since 1981, plans have been revised recently to widen some parts of it to keep pace with increases in traffic projections, particularly in the Springfield area.
In some cases, those revisions have meant the difference between razing a house and leaving it standing.
State and county officials, trying to inject a sympathetic tone to their technical explanations, explained traffic counts and federal regulations and engineering specifications.
They were met with pained expressions and occasional hostility.
"Certainly, building a new road is a traumatic experience if you're affected by the right-of-way," said Bob Atherton, the state highway official who oversaw the design of the bypass.
"Unfortunately, you can't build a road that's 35 miles long without affecting some people. We're not out there to place the road in the back yard of people. We try to avoid that if we can."