Construction of Mulligan Road, the long delayed connector road between Richmond Highway and Telegraph Road is back on track, with an estimated completion date of late 2013. There is great anticipation about this new road, but its actual impacts on Mount Vernon and Lee Districts are unclear. I would like to take this space to examine what it will actually accomplish.
In 2001 the US government closed Woodlawn Road, a narrow two-lane road that traversed Fort Belvoir, ostensibly due to security concerns. This action removed the only direct east-west connection from Richmond Highway to the Telegraph Road/South Kings Highway corridor along an eight-mile stretch from Fairfax County Parkway to the Penn Daw/Kings Crossing intersection. In conjunction with the increase of traffic in the corridor due to BRAC the removal of this connection has undoubtedly contributed to congestion along Richmond Highway.
Ever since its announcement back in 2002 the new roadway has generated a lot of positive enthusiasm among the citizens of Mount Vernon and Lee Districts. The road will be an attractive, four-lane divided highway with a parallel pedestrian/bicycle path, underpasses for wildlife to safely cross the road, and significant intersection improvements at both ends. The road's importance is underscored by the movement to ditch the Mulligan Road name in favor of "Jeff Todd Way," in honor of the longtime community leader who owned the Roy Rogers at the corner where the road will meet Richmond Highway.
In 2006 the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) conducted an Environmental Assessment, which included a detailed analysis of the project's expected traffic impacts. The study estimated that the new road would be traveled by an average of about 20,000 cars per day by the year 2030, but that the project would not actually reduce the number of trips on Richmond Highway. According to the study:
"Traffic from the Connector Road will simply 'displace' the pre-Connector Road traffic on other roadways. That is, the Connector Road will distribute traffic from these roadways to other roadways which in turn will distribute traffic to other roadways throughout the region. The result is that the traffic-related impacts of the Connector Road become diluted."
While Mulligan Road/Jeff Todd Way will not actually decrease the number of cars travelling on Richmond Highway, other improvements being undertaken in conjunction with the project will actually have dramatic effects on the area. At the eastern end of the corridor, the new road will line up directly with Mount Vernon Memorial Highway (Route 235), as opposed to the existing offset intersection with Old Mill Road. The traffic study projected that this realignment would reduce traffic delays at the intersection by 70% during the AM rush hour and by 54% in the PM rush hour. At the west end, Telegraph Road will be widened from four lanes beginning just north of the new roadway to its existing four-lane segment that begins at Beulah Street. This improvement will reduce afternoon delays at the Telegraph/Fairfax County Parkway interchange by 58%.
So in the professional opinions of the traffic engineers who studied the project the overall effect of the new road will result in real improvements to the flow of traffic north and south along Richmond Highway. What FHWA did not examine was the potential effects of the road on land use patterns and economic activity in the Richmond Highway corridor. I naturally have some thoughts on that issue since, well, it's my job to have thoughts about Richmond Highway.
In my view the primary impact of Jeff Todd Way (let's just start calling it that!) will be to connect the open up the Kingstowne/Springfield area to the Richmond Highway corridor. With the new road in place it should take about three minutes to drive to the new Wegman's on Telegraph Road and no more than 10 minutes to travel to the Franconia-Springfield Metro station. The whole area suddenly becomes a lot more accessible to the outside world.
Another way to look at the new road is that the 30,000 people who live in the 11,000 households located south of Little Hunting Creek and east of Huntley Meadows/Fort Belvoir will be able to quickly and easily drive all the way to Springfield and I-95 without ever travelling on Richmond Highway. I am confident that this newfound accessibility will dramatically improve the appeal of the Richmond Highway corridor as a desirable place for professionals and families to live. An influx of this sort of demand will boost the area's buying power and, in turn, lead to more retail, dining, and entertainment businesses wanting to locate along Richmond Highway.
I will go out on a limb and make a prediction that in 10 years the whole three-mile segment of the Richmond Highway corridor from Buckman Road to Jeff Todd Way will be home to hundreds of attractive, new housing units, many successful stores and restaurants located nearby, and a far better image and reputation than it has today.
A final caveat to all of the above is the potential effects of the planned widening of Richmond Highway between the new connector road and Telegraph Road from four to six lanes. The traffic study of that project is currently being undertaken and results should be known in the not-too-distant future. I will certainly be writing on that topic when more information is known.