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'We have grave concerns': Battle brewing over how to best widen Route 15 in Loudoun County

Photo by Jay Korff/7News{ }{p}{/p}
Photo by Jay Korff/7News

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It’s only a 6.5-mile drive up Route 15 from the city of Leesburg north to the quaint Village of Lucketts, but this bucolic stretch of road lined with produce stands, antique shops, and burgeoning subdivisions stands at the center of a bitter battle pitting conservationists, residents, and business owners over how each prioritizes progress.

“Widening the road, and especially the bypass around Lucketts -- we have grave concerns," said Michael Myers, Executive Director of the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy.

“This isn’t about fair. This is about getting something done," Loudoun County resident David Goodrum countered.

For years, the public, politicians, and county planners have wrangled over how to best widen Route 15 in northern Loudoun County; a road now carrying 20-30,000 vehicles a day due to the region's boom in population.

“Change is hard. Nobody likes change. People like the status quo," Goodrum said. "Unfortunately, things did change. The traffic got a lot worse. Accidents increased."

Goodrum moved to this part of the county for the slower pace. He's been actively engaged in this process, and strongly supports adding more lanes.

“Depending on who you ask, some people will say this is the most dangerous road in Loudoun County," Goodrum added.

In fact, from the beginning of 2015 to September of 2022, the much-busier Route 7 from Fairfax County to Leesburg had 730 crashes, leading to six fatalities, according to state highway data.

Route 15, same time frame, from Leesburg to Maryland, had 205 crashes, leading to six fatalities. Meaning that per car and lane mile, it is a much more dangerous stretch of road.

Loudoun County Supervisor Caleb Kershner represents this area.

“This is one of my number one priorities coming in as an office holder," Kershner said.

Kershner wants Route 15 widened due to his concerns over safety and crippling congestion.

“We would like to get to places faster. We would like to get to places safer," Kershner added.

The first major section to widen, 3.5 miles from Battlefield Parkway to Montresor Road, has already been designed and approved. Construction is expected to begin by late 2023 to early 2024 and wrap up in a couple years. This phase is not the issue.

For more information on the present Route 15 widening project click here.

The uproar is over how to widen the next three miles from Montresor Road north to Lucketts, which could also include a western bypass around the village. This next portion still needs to be designed, financed, and approved.

To see the executive summary on the county's study to widen Route 15 from Whites Ferry Road to the Maryland state line click here. This report includes crash data, public surveys, maps, and more.

7News On Your Side spoke directly with a number of people who own businesses along this corridor. No one wanted to tell us their position publicly because they say their customers are deeply divided on this issue. They did tell us that they fear the final widening phase could push back, or uproot their farmstands and shops.

Kershner told 7New On Your Side he'll work hard to help any potentially impacted business owners.

“That is probably the greatest area of concern that I have -- in terms of how that will impact those businesses," he said.

Kershner estimates the cost of widening Route 15 from Leesburg to Lucketts with a bypass could end up costing $300 to $400 million.

“I knew there was a certain contention and I think that comes anytime with significant change in an area, especially an area that’s been agrarian for centuries," he added.

Loudoun County farmer Avis Renshaw and her family run Lost Corner Farm. They've tilled this soil for a generation.

“There’s nothing like a nice, fresh tomato on a salad this time of year," Renshaw said while picking tomatoes.

The Renshaws run Mom’s Apple Pie in Leesburg and Occoquan. Avis Renshaw supports wider shoulders and other traffic-calming measures, like roundabouts. She fears transforming Route 15 from a rural road to a divided highway from Leesburg to Lucketts will forever change this part of the county and could lead to the demise of her way of life.

“I don’t understand this big rush to build, build, build," Renshaw said.

Her gift for creating flakey crusts and lip-smacking sweets may only be outdone by her passion for preserving the land from which her ingredients came.

“If it becomes too hard to farm farmers are going to start selling to developers," Renshaw added.

The final piece of this complex puzzle involves a patch of land critical to the survival of at least two species residing in a fragile ecosystem not far from the din of rubber on Route 15.

Michael Myers manages JK Black Oak Wildlife Sanctuary: 87 acres of land near Lucketts considered globally rare due to vernal pools essential to the life cycle of the Jefferson Salamander and the Fairy Shrimp.

“A four lane bypass would be devastating to the amphibian populations here," Myers said. "This habitat is at high risk of local extinction and it’s at a high risk from homes, road projects, and other threats. So, if we lose this, we are going to lose those species here in this section of Loudoun County.”

Myers admits, these unique creatures probably can’t stop a road project, but they could modify one. Since the second phase of widening is years, maybe even a decade away, he and many others remain on high alert.

“Right now we are in a wait-and-see approach on what’s going to happen, but we are astutely paying attention to the process,” Myers concluded.

In the end, policy makers say it’s possible to preserve this part of Loudoun’s charm by understanding how the first phase of widening Route 15 impacts the region before finalizing plans for the second, more controversial phase.

To see the executive summary on the county's study for widening Route 15 from White's Ferry Road to the Maryland state line click here. This report includes crash data, public surveys, maps, and more.

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