Current proposals by VDOT for the expansion of I-66 (Alternatives 2A, 2B, and 2C) and the potential parallel bicycle/pedestrian trail (Option 2) will all have detrimental impacts on Stenwood Elementary School.
The school is hosting an informational meeting on Tuesday, June 16th at 6:30PM for those who wish to learn more. Speakers include Kevin Sneed (FCPS Director of Design & Construction) who will offer insight into the typical process for projects such as this and the process by which FCPS responds and School Board Member Patty Reed (Providence District Representative) who will address the School Board’s planned response.
For record, the following comments have been submitted to VDOT regarding the significant impact that the current proposal for I-66 expansion and Gallows Road expansion will have on Stenwood Elementary School and its community:
The Stenwood community strongly opposes VDOT’s current proposals for widening I-66 and Gallows Road. VDOT’s proposed Alternative 2A, 2B, and 2C for Dunn Loring/I-495 would all have significant impacts on the Stenwood Elementary community and environment as outlined below.
The school land being threatened by VDOT’s proposal is protected under Section 4(f) of the US Department of Transportation Act of 1966 and a conservation easement on the property’s deed. These protections were meant to safeguard this land from the exact scenario we are being presented with if VDOT’s plans are allowed to proceed.
Viable alternatives that work within the state’s current right-of-way exist and should be the state’s preferred option. We understand VDOT’s objectives of improving congestion and capacity; however, this can and should be accomplished within the state’s current right-of-way and with minimal impacts to the school and surrounding community.
Right of Way Concerns (maps: 2A, 2B, 2C)
All of VDOT’s proposed Alternatives (2A, 2B and 2C) include the taking of land from Stenwood Elementary, specifically ~0.7 acres of land running adjacent to I-66 that include the current privacy treeline, portions of the ball fields, and a portion of the school track.
The track is a recent site improvement gifted as a $12,000 capital investment by the Stenwood PTA and paid for with funds contributed by school parents, family and community members.
The fields are used by the Fairfax County Park Authority and Neighborhood & Community Services Department for recreation purposes. As such, the field is protected under Section 4(f) of the US Department of Transportation Act of 1966.
By VDOT’s own published evaluation they state, “Given the relatively small size of the school property and the space taken up by existing facilities, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to relocate the fields to another portion of the property.”
Alternatives exist that would allow improvements in traffic congestion without the necessity to take this land and without the need to widen Gallows Road. Alternatives include the No-Build option, ‘Open section’ option, and the ‘Do No Harm’ Alternative. VDOT must be required to work within the state’s current right-of-way.
Impact on the Environment and Sustainability
VDOT’s proposal threatens the environment and sustainability of the school’s campus by proposing to remove its mature trees and natural vegetation. If a new treeline were to be planted the new trees would not be as mature and tall as the current treeline and this would require additional land loss beyond the right-of-way concerns noted above.
It is important to note that within the property’s deed these trees and the land they grow on are protected by a conservation easement “for the purpose of conserving and preserving undisturbed the natural vegetation, topography, habitat, and other natural features now existing on and across portions of the Property.” This easement must be upheld.
VDOT’s proposal will also add a significant amount of new pavement, concrete and other impervious surfaces that will have a detrimental impact on our community watershed and the water and soil quality.
Impact on Children’s Health
VDOT’s proposal for more roads to address traffic congestion encourages induced demand which will not solve the enduring traffic issues of our region. The 5 years of construction and the additional interstate car/truck/bus volume will increase the noise and air pollution on the school grounds, impacting the health of our children and the whole community.
The current proposal includes the construction of several flyover ramps at the 495/66 interchange, many of which exceed the height of the current soundwall barriers. If current soundwalls are retained (and the treeline removed), there will be no physical or natural barrier between the outdoor play areas of the school and the interstate. It is unlikely that a soundwall of sufficient height can be built to protect the children from the noise and visual impact of an 80ft high flyover ramp. If a new soundwall is built, construction noise and danger on the school grounds will impede school activities, eliminating opportunities for outdoor physical exercise and recess.
Impact on Safety and Security
VDOT’s proposal threatens the safety of our children and security of the school grounds. Reduction of the school’s outdoor field size poses a risk to managing crowds in emergency evacuation procedures. Furthermore, construction activities on and nearby the school grounds presents an unnecessary danger to the children during outdoor school activities and on their walk to and from school and home.
VDOT’s current plans for expanding I-66 also include the widening of Gallows Road which spans the main entryway to the school. Specifically, the plan proposes to widen the Gallows Road bridge from 4 lanes to 6 lanes, extending the additional lanes to the school entry and possibly requiring a traffic merge right in front of the school. The addition of these lanes will make exiting the school’s front parking lot even more dangerous and difficult for teachers, staff, parents and visitors to the school. It will also make the crosswalk at Cottage Street and Gallows Road more dangerous for the schoolchildren walking to school. Gallows Road is an already busy street where cars frequently exceed the 35mph speed limit in front of the school. Adding more road capacity when it is not needed will only increase the number of cars speeding by the school and the bus stops on Gallows Road (There are presently bus stops at the Stenhouse Place and Cottage Street intersections on Gallows Road).
Additional safety and security threats posed by the proposal for an I-66 parallel bike & pedestrian path are discussed below.
Impact on Quality of Education
Reduction of the school’s land and construction during the project build will put limitations on the quality of educational activities that can be offered to our children. Gym classes and recess are often held outside on the fields that are proposed to be taken, the afterschool (SACC) program uses the fields regularly for outdoor play, and the track and fields are used as part of school field day and the PTA’s annual 5K community walk/run.
Indoor classes, particularly on the south side of the school, will also be impacted by the construction noise and activities outside classroom windows.
Impact on Community Wellness
The track and fields are an integral part of the school day and community events and encourage physical exercise and wellness. Gym classes and recess are often held outside on the fields that are proposed to be taken, the afterschool (SACC) program uses the fields regularly for outdoor play, and the track and fields are used as part of school field day and the PTA’s annual 5K community walk/run.
The ballfields are also used by the Fairfax County Park Authority and Neighborhood & Community Services Department for recreation purposes, including tee-ball/baseball practices. As such, the field is protected under Section 4(f) of the US Department of Transportation Act of 1966. This protection must be upheld. Many community tee-ball and softball leagues will be impacted by the loss of the fields.
Proposed Parallel I-66 Regional Bike & Pedestrian Trails (map)
VDOT has proposed to include a regional bicycle and pedestrian trail that runs parallel to I-66 as part of the Transform 66 project. While we applaud VDOT for their attempt at finding multi-modal solutions to the regions traffic issues, we strongly oppose the ‘Option 2’ route they have proposed as it will require additional land takings and introduces new safety & security concerns for the children and staff at Stenwood Elementary school.
The proposed ‘Option 2’ route has the trail running directly through the school grounds, taking additional land from our outdoor play areas (including the school track and baseball fields which are used by the whole Fairfax community) and also the treeline in front of our school that provides privacy and a natural barrier between the school and Gallows Road. This is additional land beyond what VDOT is proposing to take to widen the interstate, which we also oppose.
In addition to all the impacts stated above, this proposal would also provide a means for unrestricted public access to the school grounds just feet away from where the children play. This poses an extreme safety and security risk to our children and FCPS staff that absolutely cannot be allowed.
VDOT Draft Section 4(f) evaluation report