That's the order the citizen-based Route 50 Coalition have placed. And, with the support of the towns & villages and two counties along this scenic 20 mile stretch of U.S. 50, that's what they're getting. Oh, by the way, there was also that helpful support from Viriginia Senator John Warner who earmarked $13 million for a traffic calming project to implement the ideas generated by a group of citizen activists.
To back up a bit: In 1995, residents of this rolling, horse country on the fringe of the Washington, D.C. metro area were alarmed to hear that the Virginia Dept. of Transportation ("V-DOT") was proposing converting their two-lane wide stretch of U.S. 50 into a four lane arterial. To top it off, a major bypass roadway was planned around the town of Middleburg (population approximately 600), and around the Town of Aldie to the east.
The "Paul Revere" (excuse the analogy) was Jo Motim, a horse trainer who hails from England where she witnessed first-hand the destructive impact of bypass roadways. As soon as she heard about the V-DOT plan she mailed a letter off to the monthly Middleburg Life paper. Her letter warned that building the bypasses would lead to a "free for all for developers."
Quickly other citizens jumped into the fray. Shortly after the V-DOT plan was unveiled some 65 citizens turned out for a Middleburg Town Council meeting. There was a strong concern that the V-DOT plan would lead to the loss of -- as Michael Motim described it to me -- a "unique pastoral landscape ... one very rare today." The Town put the brakes on the project by withholding its blessing, giving residents a chance to put an alternative on the table.
This led to bringing in respected transportation engineer Ian Lockwood to help lay out some other approaches. 300 people showed up to hear Lockwood at a December meeting. The aim of the initial community meetings was not to focus on transportation, but to develop a community vision -- focusing on what people most liked about the area, and what they wanted for its future.
The "General Washington" of the Route 50 Corridor Coalition has been Susan van Wagoner, assisted by Michael, Jean Perin (a former Middleburg planning commissioner), and others. Here's a photo I took of Michael, Jean, and Susan (from left to right) in the upstairs "field headquarters" above Susan's studio. This is where weekly meetings took place over several years as area citizens came together to fend off the plans for the bypass / 4 lane roadway.
Instead of just being on the defensive and trying to stop V-DOTs plans, the Coalition engineered a smarter game plan. They decided to come up with a totally different alternative centered on traffic calming. This approach would also have the big benefit of improving pedestrian safety -- an important concern given several fatalities and injuries. It would also benefit the town of Middleburg's vibrant Main Street businesses, by forcing drivers to slow down a bit while going through town.
And the clincher was the price tag. Instead of projected costs (in 1995 figures) of more than $400 million to build a bypass and widen the roadway, the traffic calming alternative came to about $20 million. That's 20 times less.
The traffic calming plan was adopted unanimously by the Middleburg Town Council, and the Loudon and Fauquier County Boards of Supervisors in 1997. And, with Senator Warner's help, federal funding for implementation was secured in 1998. After several years of delays, the project has finally gotten underway with drainage work this year.
A variety of traffic calming mechanisms will be constructed -- all designed to keep speeds lower, improve safety, and have traffic flow fairly smoothly. V-DOT has a field office, headed up by Billy Green who has fostered a close working relationship with members of the Coalition and others. As Billy told me, "I've never been on a project with so much citizen involvement ... it's absolutely unbelievable."
Among the traffic calming mechanisms incorporated into the project design:
-- extra landscaping and vegetation
-- brick laid in herringbone patterns at key locations
-- the use of traffic "splitter" islands to slow traffic by creating a slight lateral deflection
-- traffic "tables" (95 foot long, slightly elevated sections of roadway -- just a 6 inch rise over 9 feet at each end of the traffic table
-- a series of connected roundabouts at the more congested eastern end of the project where U.S. 15 intersects with U.S. 50 (see photo of this spot, called Gilbert's Corner)
-- and, last but not least, the narrowing of one short stretch of already built 4 lane roadway into 2 lanes -- perhaps the first time in Virginia a roadway has been narrowed instead of widened.
Yes, it will take longer for drivers to navigate this stretch of Route 50 (Susan estimated to me the extra time would be no more than four minutes), but that's a price residents feel is well worth paying.