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This is an early architectural rendition of the U.S. 1-Courthouse Road crossroad in a future Downtown Stafford. Notice the statue in the middle of the intersection. One official observed: 'VDOT would never let them put it up.'
by Hugh Muir
Residents packed the Board of Supervisors chambers last week for a show-and-tell version of "the vision" of a future downtown Stafford.
"When I moved to Stafford County 21 years ago, I found I was in a place nobody knew about," said Paul Milde III, Aquia District Supervisor and chair of the meeting. "There was, it appeared, no 'there' there. Once, when I called 911, I told them I was in Stafford, they said there was no such place."
A dozen key officials involved in the creation and development of a "Downtown Stafford" told the audience Thursday that such a place is long overdue and very much on their minds. And, they said, its completion is some 20 years down the line.
But in any case, said Brad Johnson, Stafford redevelopment administrator, "This is not just our vision; we also want public input. Tonight is one of many such forums."
"All roads lead to the Courthouse," said Jeffrey Harvey, county planning director, "but we don't have a town. This plan seeks to create a town center, with shopping and market areas, a cultural center, wider roadways, more sidewalks, pedestrian overpasses and expanded courthouse facilities." The center would be within a half-mile circle pinpointed on the Courthouse.
At present, the only existing part of a future downtown Stafford is the Government Administration Center, which includes the already overstrained courthouse. But the key to such development, Harvey said, is a new interchange between Interstate 95 and Courthouse Road. The present crossroads at U.S. 1 and Courthouse Road can hardly handle the traffic peaks that come from I-95 now.
That led David Ogle, the district administrator for the Virginia Department of Transportation, to wryly warn that, without a new interchange, "all of the free-flow traffic you are experiencing now will continue." The audience responded with laughter.
Ogle said a new interchange, involving a complex series of cloverleaf roads and overpasses, would be built perhaps a quarter mile south of the present simple on-off link between the interstate and Courthouse Road. A new multi-lane highway would connect I-95 to U.S 1 in the east and to a rerouted Courthouse Road in the west. It would end the traffic jams at the Courthouse Road and U.S. 1 intersection.
The eastern traffic flow from the new interchange would intersect U.S. 1 half a mile or so south of the present courthouse crossroads, near where the new Medicorp hospital is going up.
Ogle said the timing of the new interchange also depends on another highway project: the extension of the HOT lanes south from Quantico. Ogle said construction of those express lanes would take six or seven years, and that advertising for the job is still four or five years away.
That means the beginning of work on the new interchange could be in 2017-2019, which appears to roughly mesh the 20-year outlook for a Downtown Stafford with the VDOT schedule.
Aside from the major projects already under way or announced, such as the hospital and a new public safety building on Courthouse Road, what will Downtown Stafford be like?
"We are developing a vision of what we would like to see, but we don't expect to mandate the specific types of businesses or shops," said Development Administrator Johnson. "We seek public input on that."
"We want development that is appropriately scaled for a town center," said Deputy County Administrator Anthony Romanello. said. "We want to make it shopper friendly, pedestrian friendly, commute friendly, corporate friendly."
"An Old Town Alexandria type of thing," Milde suggested at the end of the two-hour forum.Hugh Muir: 540/735-1975