As highway construction crews labored in the distance, local transportation officials presided Friday over a ceremony in Midland marking the completion of a 113-car commuter parking lot, the first of many additions planned for Route 28 in the southern part of Fauquier County.
For a routine ribbon-cutting ceremony, Friday's event, like the chilly weather, had a bit of an edge. That's because some supervisors-elect, fresh from their victories Nov. 2, are revisiting the larger and controversial question of how and when Route 28 will be expanded from two lanes to a four-lane divided highway.
The officials on hand, recalling in detail some of Route 28's fatal accidents, played down the possibility that the decision to widen the road could be undone.
"The [Virginia] Commonwealth Transportation Board hasn't changed its mind, and we're going ahead," Donald R. Askew, Virginia Department of Transportation administrator for the Culpeper District, said in an interview after the ceremony. "There already has been public input on this."
Askew said public hearings in 1997 indicated a 2 to 1 margin in favor of widening the corridor from Routes 15/29 to the Prince William County line.
But in the crowd Friday was Raymond E. Graham, who won the seat of outgoing Supervisor Wilbur W. Burton (D-Cedar Run) on a platform that included stopping the proposed expansion. He has said that widening the road would encourage rapid residential development, creating enormous tax burdens because of newcomers requiring new public services.
Already, Graham's position has been endorsed informally by a majority of members on the incoming Board of Supervisors.
Graham and Supervisor Joe Winkelmann (R-Center), who won reelection, went to a hearing of the transportation board during the summer to predict--accurately, it turned out--that the board that will be seated in January will be working against the expansion.
Asked what VDOT would do in the face of such opposition, Askew would say only, "That hasn't happened yet."
Indeed, there's a long way to go before anything happens in Fauquier. Construction on the Prince William portion of Route 28 is expected to begin in spring 2004 at the earliest. Location hearings still must be held in Fauquier, and the land must be purchased. That could take years--plenty of time, Graham said, for plans to be changed.
"There's a long way to go," said Graham, who participated in the ribbon-cutting. He said one way to thwart the expansion is to reroute the money earmarked for it to other traffic improvements in the county.
Three accidents in 1997 claimed eight lives on the two-lane stretch of Route 28 in Fauquier. The $133,000 parking lot, which is scheduled to open to drivers Nov. 22, is part of a $1.5 million project to tame what is known as the "Midland Curve," the site of several serious accidents.
A mile-long stretch now under construction will replace the curve with a straight road. Askew recalled that after one particularly horrific accident, his supervisor told him, "Go down there and do something."
Burton said the next board could take several steps to make things difficult for VDOT administrators as they work toward the expansion. "They may not be able to stop it, but they could delay it some," Burton said.
One of the ways the new board could show its feelings on the Route 28 expansion would be to remove it from the list of highway priorities the board sends each year to the local VDOT offices.