At a Crossroads:
Saving Thoroughfare Gap
Interstate 66 was designed in the 60s and 70s to ease Northern Virginia’s traffic woes, as scores of commuters continued to move westward. The road, which now connects DC with I-81 in Front Royal, was built in segments, sometimes stalling for years at a time due to citizens’ protests. Residents in Arlington and Falls Church were successful in keeping the noise and pollution out of their backyard, and when a proposed interchange threatened a sensitive parcel of land in Fauquier County, CFFC prepared to do the same.
The interchange at Broad Run was one of a half dozen slated for Fauquier County — more than any other county along the route. The proposed intersection would have cut through land where Civil War soldiers had fought and perished, and come precariously close to a historic gristmill that has been standing since the 18th century. Til Hazel, a prominent land-use attorney and developer, owned the land in question and was an outspoken proponent of the interchange.
On Hazel’s side was Howard Smith, Fauquier’s congressional representative, who was believed to have chosen all six of the county’s potential interchanges with the casual stroke of a red pen. Also in favor of the project were Fauquier County’s Planning Commission Chairman Philip Nelson and a particularly development-friendly county board of supervisors (BOS).
CFFC (still operating under the names Mid and Upper Fauquier Associations at the time) would be David to the powerful alliance’s Goliath. CFFC was fighting to protect not only the land’s important past — but also its future. They realized that just a few miles of asphalt would attract more developers.
More pavement means more people. More people means more pavement.
Twice, the BOS voted in favor of the interchange, and against opening the issue up for a public vote. In response, CFFC ally and Fauquier Democrat editor Nick Arundel published an editorial in the paper calling the $650,000 interchange “a most questionable windfall” for a few large landowners.
One supervisor, Stevenson McIlvaine, asked that the BOS scrap the interchange. When that was voted down, he was successful in passing a measure permitting the planning commission to conduct a game-changing land-use impact study.
Phillip Nelson was the lone dissenter when the planning commission sent to the Board of Supervisors their recommendation to eliminate the interchange. At the time, the head of the county’s largest savings and loan institution, Nelson took the highly irregular and improper initiative to write a letter to the Virginia Department of Transportation on planning commission letterhead arguing for the interchange. He also advised officials to disregard any correspondence from CFFC.
CFFC responded with 1,100 signatures asking for Nelson’s removal.
The BOS kept Nelson but abandoned the interchange.
The Virginia Highway Commission officially eliminated the Thoroughfare Gap interchange on November 17, 1977, citing the “sentiment of the great majority of the citizens.”
Hazel maintained he had no interest in building on the land at Thoroughfare Gap and didn’t object to the commission’s ruling.
Today the land at Thoroughfare Gap is still vulnerable. None of the Hazel’s 4,000 acres is protected in easement.