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Civic Associations Recommend Taking Route 1 Underground

While VDOT considers lowering a section of Route 1 to a surface boulevard, a group of civic associations, known as Livability 22202, recommends going below ground instead.

As development activity in Crystal City and Pentagon City continues, VDOT and Arlington County are looking for ways to improve the pedestrian and transit experience along Route 1, also known as Richmond Highway. The study directly responds to the increased demand for transportation resulting from the construction of Amazon’s HQ2.

VDOT’s study will examine the feasibility of an at-grade boulevard, with the current overpasses removed, comparing it to the current elevated route and the changes prescribed in the Crystal City Sector Plan, according to a presentation from December.

Following online public engagement in the fall and a virtual public meeting, Livability 22202, which represents the Arlington Ridge, Aurora Highlands and Crystal City civic associations, published a series of alternatives to an at-grade boulevard — including taking part of Route 1 below-grade.

The group suggests going underground for at least the 18th Street S. and 23rd Street S. intersections, creating patterns similar to those in Washington, D.C., where through-traffic is below-grade and local traffic uses at-grade streets — like Connecticut Avenue NW through Dupont Circle.

For a more extensive below-grade roadway, the group suggests trenched express routes from 23rd Street S. to 15th Street S., flanked by at-grade roads. The underground portion would eventually transition into the 12th Street overpass.

“This concept would solve side-street traffic issues, create far-safer pedestrian crossings, create a brand-new open space in what is now wasteland, and open up myriad redevelopment opportunities,” the group said in its response. An even more extensive “big dig” is also proposed, though the group acknowledges is may be “infeasible.”

Dropping Route 1 to grade and creating more signalized intersections would make pedestrians and cyclists less safe unless significant measures are put in, Liveability 22202 predicted. They suggested lower speeds, bike tunnels, signalized right turns and pedestrian-led crossings.

The group also envisions an at-grade boulevard as a “linear park” with retail, wide sidewalks and an abundance of trees.

If VDOT keeps Route 1 elevated, Livability urged VDOT to consider something like a viaduct. Such a bridge would allow the space below to be activated with open spaces or retail.

In a letter, the presidents of the three civic association said “a study of Route 1 in this area is long overdue,” but until VDOT conducts a broad stakeholder review of multiple alternatives, “we endorse the Crystal City Sector Plan as the best alternative.”

The 2010 sector plan keeps the grade separations at 12th, 15th and 18th streets, reconfigures the 15th Street intersection and takes traffic below-grade at 26th Street S., under a newly-created National Circle, as pictured below.

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