Corey Riley pulled up his silver Acura MDX on the westbound side of Heathcote Boulevard in Gainesville and parked his car on the road.
There was nowhere else to go and no traffic to fight, even just before 4 p.m. on a Tuesday. That’s because there was a sign blocking the rest of the road: "Road Closed. Estimated Opening Summer 2007.”
“The ineffectiveness (and) inability to get something like this done is something this community doesn’t deserve,” Riley told me as I interviewed him for the Gainesville Times during his run as the Democratic nominee for Gainesville District supervisor.
This was June 27, 2007. The extension of Heathcote Boulevard to Old Carolina Road was more than a year behind schedule. The Daily Grind Coffeehouse and Café was losing $10,000 a month and barely hanging on after opening in 2006 on the promise the extension would bring in more business.
When the road finally opened that August, the Daily Grind co-owner Kevin Schlagel told me business surged 50 to 60 percent. Then the Great Recession struck.
“Praying real hard for things to turn around,” Schlagel said in December 2008.
By spring 2009, the Daily Grind was gone.
The extension of Heathcote Boulevard was supposed to be finished in 2006 as part of a proffer package, but when the residential developer Lennar called the Virginia Department of Transportation to conduct a final inspection on the road in 2006, inspectors found the slope at the Heathcote and Catharpin Road intersection was too steep. That made it unsafe for motorists traveling at the planned speed limit.
"It's been a $1 million mistake," then-Supervisor John Stirrup, R-Gainesville, told me July 27, 2007.
Today, Heathcote Boulevard runs from U.S. 29 to west of U.S. 15. There are businesses and homes all along the corridor. The first-ever OmniRide commuter bus service from Haymarket to Arlington launched Dec. 17, connecting the Heathcote corridor to five Metro stations. This marks the first time Haymarket and northern Gainesville have had mass transit.
The bus runs four times each morning from the brand-new Heathcote Commuter Lot and makes four stops along the Heathcote corridor. Four later buses return passengers home.
During the 2017 campaign, I declared my support for putting a floor on the Northern Virginia motor-fuels tax so we would have more money for our mass transit systems like OmniRide and the Virginia Railway Express. I fulfilled that pledge March 8 when I joined the bipartisan coalition of delegates who voted 65-29 for HB 768 and SB 896.
With the price of gas at $2.09 at the Sheetz in Haymarket on Dec. 28, my constituents aren't hurt by that vote. Yet we’re still bringing in millions of dollars to support mass transit that we would have lost. That money is now funding the launch of the Haymarket-to-Arlington bus.
During the 2019 General Assembly session, I’ll still be legislating to bring down the cost of commuter rail and to fix Virginia Route 28. I’ll still be working with VDOT to improve dangerous intersections along Rollins Ford Road and U.S. 29, as well as working with OmniRide on bringing more bus stops to the north side of Heathcote Boulevard.
And I’ll still remember Kevin Schlagel nervously gripping a can of Coca-Cola in December 2008, telling me how worried he was for the future his little coffee shop.
Infrastructure matters. We have to get it right.
Danica Roem represents the 13th District of the Virginia House of Delegates. She is a lifelong Prince William County resident from Manassas who served as the lead reporter of the Gainesville Times (now the Prince William Times) from 2006-2015. Her email is DelDRoem@house.virginia.gov.