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A Fairfax County police SUV with lights on (file photo)

A 24-year-old man from Maryland died on Saturday (July 30) after getting injured in a one-vehicle crash on Richmond Highway more than two weeks ago.

The Fairfax County Police Department announced last night (Sunday) that Santos Casco Sierra had succumbed to injuries sustained after he drove off of Richmond Highway, also known as Route 1, near Woodside Lane in Lorton around 5:14 a.m. on July 16.

According to police, Casco Sierra was driving south on the roadway in a 2010 Ford Fusion “when the vehicle left the roadway, struck a tree and caught on fire.”

“Fire and Rescue personnel responded to extinguish the fire and extricate Casco Sierra,” the FCPD said. “He was taken to the hospital with injuries that were considered life threatening. Sadly, he succumbed to his injuries yesterday.”

Detectives with the department’s Crash Reconstruction Unit believe speed and alcohol were both factors in the crash, the FCPD says.

This is the eighth non-pedestrian fatality from a vehicle crash that the FCPD has reported this year, topping the six such deaths recorded by August in 2021. His death came on the heels of news that a motorcyclist had died weeks after veering off of Braddock Road near Fairfax County Parkway.

Casco Sierra was the third person to die after a crash on Richmond Highway this July.

A recent study of speed conducted by the Virginia Department of Transportation recommended lowering the speed limit in the northern section of the corridor from Belle Haven through Mount Vernon. The proposal doesn’t apply to Lorton, since the study’s scope ended at Fort Belvoir Road to the east.

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Cars head south on Richmond Highway in Penn Daw near the Groveton border (staff photo by Matt Blitz)

Driving on Richmond Highway in Fairfax County could get a little slower, potentially by the beginning of next year.

Virginia Department of Transportation staff said last week that the speed limit should be reduced from 45 to 35 mph along a 7.31-mile stretch of the roadway from the Capital Beltway at the Alexandria border to Jeff Todd Way in Mount Vernon.

The recommendation came from a year-long speed study prompted by concerns about the safety of the corridor, which saw two fatal pedestrian crashes in the span of a week earlier this July. The study found one 1.5-mile stretch that had a 75% higher crash rate than Virginia’s average.

According to the National Safety Council, speeding contributed to 29% of all traffic fatalities in the U.S. in 2020. Research suggests 10 mph can make a significant difference in the risk of severe injury or death that pedestrians face when hit by a vehicle.

Several states, including Virginia, have moved in recent years to lower speed limits on local streets, but about 60% of pedestrian deaths occur on major, non-interstate roads. In Fairfax County, speed limits in corridors like Richmond Highway and the also-treacherous Route 7 range from 35 to 45 mph even in increasingly urban, populous areas.

Though VDOT staff said reducing Route 1’s speed limit is expected to have a “minimal” impact on traffic, some community members at last week’s virtual meeting worried it might exacerbate congestion and cut-through traffic. Notably, the study recommended maintaining the 45 mph on the road through the Fort Belvoir area.

Others questioned the effectiveness of lowering the speed limit without robust police enforcement and other safety measures, such as added crosswalks and protected sidewalks. A recent report from the nonprofit Smart Growth America argued that driver behavior is more influenced by how roads are designed than posted speed limits.

How do you feel about lowering the speed limit on Richmond Highway and other major roads in Fairfax County? Is it a necessary safety improvement, or do you think other approaches should be considered instead?

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Richmond Highway (via Fairfax County)

A project to underground Richmond Highway utilities may be buried due to cost, construction delays, and the risk it poses to federal funding for other projects happening along the corridor.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors weighed the pros and cons of undergrounding utilities along the highway, also known as Route 1, at an economic initiatives committee meeting on Tuesday (July 26).

Undergrounding utilities is a fairly common (and supported) practice, but the Route 1 proposal is complicated by two other major infrastructure projects in the corridor: the highway widening and the build-out of a bus rapid transit (BRT) service.

While the board didn’t take any definitive action on Tuesday, it was clear that a number of committee members, including Chairman Jeff McKay, were leaning towards scrapping the project altogether.

“It feels a little bit like ‘why wouldn’t we do it?’ if you just look at it on the surface, but as we dug into it today quite a bit…it makes it a little bit clearer how unclear it is,” Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik said.

In a presentation, staff said the county would be solely responsible for financing any undergrounding, with no assistance from the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) or the Federal Transit Authority (FTA).

Undergrounding utilities could also result in a two-year delay for the Route 1 widening and BRT projects, tacking on an extra year each for design work and construction. That would push the completion date for the widening to 2031 and for the BRT to 2032.

Utility undergrounding would also increase the cost of the two projects by at least $264 million, requiring an additional $136 million for the actual construction and potentially another $128 million to account for inflation during the two-year delay.

Potential costs of Richmond Highway utility undergrounding (via Fairfax County)

To raise the needed funds, county staff proposed working with the General Assembly to implement a utility “surcharge.” A $1 per month surcharge for residents and a 2.5% surcharge on commercial properties that could reach a maximum of 6.67% would bring in $40 million in revenue annually.

However, a surcharge would require an agreement with utility companies, mainly Dominion Energy, Verizon, Cox, and NOVEC. Even if an agreement is reached, it could take 12 to 18 months for the companies to sign off through their own “internal legal review” processes, delaying the undergrounding even more.

According to staff, undergrounding utilities could also result in the loss of $334 million in federal funding that the FTA is providing for the BRT project. Read More

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Kung Fu Tea is coming soon to Groveton (Staff photo by Matt Blitz)

A dry cleaner on the edge of Groveton is no more, leaving an empty shell for Kung Fu Tea to take over.

The bubble tea and drinks store plans to open soon at 6328 Richmond Highway, according to signage posted at the front of the door. It replaces Clean Smart, a dry cleaner.

The company did not return multiple requests for comment from FFXnow about an opening date over the last few weeks. The website simply states that it’s coming soon.

It will be located next to Wingstop, a chicken wings restaurant. 

Kung Fu Tea has more than 350 locations throughout the country, including several in Northern Virginia.  The company started in New York in 2010.

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Beyond/Hello is opening a new medical cannabis dispensary along Richmond Highway (staff photo by Matt Blitz)

Fairfax County’s first medical cannabis dispensary is opening today (Wednesday) in Huntington.

Beyond/Hello will begin serving patients at 10 a.m. at 5902 Richmond Highway. The company obtained needed approvals from the Virginia Board of Pharmacy and is opening within its expected time frame.

There will be an official ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by local lawmakers on Aug. 4, a company spokesperson told FFXnow.

It will be the first medical cannabis dispensary in the county, though Beyond/Hello already has two Northern Virginia locations in Manassas and Sterling.

The company will also open a store in Fairfax City at 10521 Fairfax Blvd, likely in September. Another one in Arlington is due later this year, and there are plans for a Woodbridge dispensary in 2023.

Beyond/Hello is owned by Flordia-based Jushi and is one of four companies currently permitted to sell cannabis in Virginia. The company is legally allowed to operate six dispensaries in Northern Virginia.

The Huntington dispensary moved into the former home of Great American Steak & Buffet Company, which appears to have closed in 2020. The store is 9,600 square feet and has more than 50 parking spots.

It’s also just south of Alexandria, as Jushi CEO Jim Cacioppo highlighted in a press release:

We’re thrilled to open up our new dispensary in Alexandria — a town famous for its nationally recognized landmarks, rich history, vibrant arts, pristine waterfront and charming restaurants and boutiques. Beyond Hello Alexandria captures the best of our thinking and combines our digital and physical retail experiences with the flexibility and convenience of our express checkout services. In addition, Beyond Hello Alexandria is strategically positioned near the ‘Beltway’ with easy highway access, and is conveniently located within a 15-minute drive to approximately 400,000 people.

While retail sales of cannabis remain illegal in Virginia, the medical cannabis industry is expected to explode in the coming months after a new state law went into effect July 1, removing the need for patients to register with the Commonwealth. Now, patients just need a certification from a licensed medical practitioner to make a purchase.

Already, Beyond/Hello officials say they are seeing a significant increase in patient sign-ups in July compared to last month.

“Since the patient registration process requirement has been removed, the Company has seen a 2.3x increase in patient sign-ups in the first three weeks of July as compared to the entire month of June,” the press release said.

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A sign welcoming all to Gum Springs, at the corner of Fordson Road and Richmond Highway (staff photo by Matt Blitz)

As motorists make the turn onto Fordson Road from Richmond Highway, they are greeted by a green sign welcoming all to Gum Springs. Underneath the bolded letters, it reads “1833.”

Gum Springs is perhaps the most historically significant Black community in Fairfax County. It was founded nearly two centuries ago by West Ford, a former enslaved person at Mount Vernon who was freed.

A number of his descendants also believe he’s the only son of George Washington, a claim Mount Vernon officials have denied.

What isn’t disputed is that the family of the nation’s first president deeded Ford 160 acres of land. In 1833, he sold that land to purchase 214 acres in what is now the southeastern portion of Fairfax County.

He named this new community “Gum Springs,” supposedly after a tree and a spring where Washington watered his horses.

And, for the last 189 years, Gum Springs has been home to thousands of people that were not necessarily always welcomed in the county.

“Gum Springs gave African-Americans a place of being,” Ron Chase, director of the Gum Springs Historical Society and Museum, told FFXnow on a recent summer afternoon. He’s lived here nearly all of his life and is one of potentially 500 descendants of the original residents. “It gave them a sanctuary. It gave them a place to live.”

But community leaders say Gum Springs’ present and future are now threatened.

Only about 30% of residents who live in the community today are Black, according to 2021 county data.

There are the typical culprits, like urban sprawl, road construction, gentrification, and the exploding house market. But what makes this situation particularly unique is Gum Springs’ contributions to not just county history, but its place in American lore.

“We are constantly being challenged,” Queenie Cox, president of the New Gum Springs Civic Association, told FFXnow. ” This community is [under threat] of being dismantled, and eliminated for its contribution to this [nation’s] history and to the history of our first president of the United States.”

A sign about Gum Springs (staff photo by Matt Blitz)

Preserving the identity of Gum Springs

Both Cox and Chase say there’s a litany of recurring battles that Gum Springs keeps having to fight to keep the community alive.

For one, there’s the exploding housing market, bringing new residents to the historic community. It’s in a major corridor, only a few miles away from Old Town Alexandria, while being a manageable commute from the District. Read More

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Traffic fills the Richmond Highway (via Fairfax County)

The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) has awarded nearly $341 million to seven major transportation projects in Fairfax County.

Approved on Thursday (July 14), the NVTA gave out about $630 million to 20 projects across the region with its latest six-year program. More than half the money went to projects in Fairfax County.

“The NVTA takes a multimodal approach to providing transportation solutions and options that keep Northern Virginia and beyond moving, recognizing there is no one-size-fits-all solution to tackling traffic congestion in the Washington, D.C. region,” NVTA chair and Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chair Phyllis Randall said in a statement. “The 20 projects the NVTA has just adopted are no exception.”

NVTA committed to funding six county projects and one project from the Town of Herndon:

“We regularly talk about our goal in Fairfax County to ‘move people’ no matter how they choose or need to travel. I could not be more pleased with this investment in our community,” Board of Supervisors Chair Jeff McKay wrote in a statement. “Fairfax County is the economic engine of the Commonwealth, and our infrastructure is at the core of this tremendous progress.”

The Fairfax County Parkway funding will widen 2.5 miles of the road between Nomes Court and Route 123 (Ox Road) in Fairfax Station as part of a larger project. No timeline is being given yet for when construction might start or be completed, according to the project page.

Fairfax Connector will acquire eight electric buses to initially serve four routes between Tysons and Franconia, potentially starting by the end of this year.

The combined $140 million for the two Richmond Highway projects will widen a three-mile stretch of the corridor from four to six lanes, among other improvements, and support The One, a dedicated bus service.

According to the Virginia Department of Transportation, construction on the widening could begin “as early as 2025” and take three to four years to complete.

The bus rapid transit service expected to serve up to 15,000 passengers a day with nine stations by the time it’s completed in 2030. All in all, both projects are expected to cost a billion dollars in total. Read More

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Beyond/Hello is opening a new medical cannabis dispensary along Richmond Highway (staff photo by Matt Blitz)

The Fairfax County area’s first medical cannabis dispensaries are almost ready to make their debuts.

Beyond/Hello, one of four companies allowed to sell cannabis in Virginia and owned by Flordia-based Jushi, is opening a location in Huntington along Richmond Highway, as FFXnow reported in April.

That store is set to start serving patients “within two to four weeks,” pending approval from the Virginia Board of Pharmacy, Chief Commercial Director Trent Wolveck told FFXnow.

The new dispensary will be located next to a car dealership at 5902 Richmond Highway. Set back a bit from the road, the building previously housed the Great American Steak & Buffet Company, which appears to have closed in 2020.

“This location was selected due to the proximity to the Old Town Alexandria and the 495 Beltway,” Wolveck said by email. “Also, our preference in Virginia is for stand alone single tenant properties. We get that here, along with over 90 parking spaces for patients.”

Construction on the business appears to be mostly completed, with a glossy black, stylized sign in front.

Beyond/Hello’s Fairfax City dispensary is also on track to open within the next six to 10 weeks, barring state approval, Wolveck says. It will be at 10521 Fairfax Blvd. in a former Rite Aid building.

Wolveck says the location held a similar appeal as the Richmond Highway one, since it’s a standalone building with a large number of parking spots. The proximity to major roads and highways also was attractive.

“The property sits on highly trafficked Leesburg Pike and provides the best signage and branding opportunity of all of our Virginia locations given its position at the intersection of Leesburg Pike and Chain Bridge [Road],” Wolveck noted. “The Fairfax location is also just two minutes from I-66.”

Earlier this month, it became easier for Virginia residents to obtain medical cannabis. A new state law went into effect July 1, removing the need for patients to register with the Commonwealth to make a purchase. Now, patients simply need written certification from a licensed practitioner.

This loosening of regulations is expected to supercharge Virginia’s medical cannabis industry. As of April, only about 0.5% of the Commonwealth’s nearly 9 million residents were registered as medical cannabis patients. That’s far below the national average of 2% and Maryland’s rate of 2.5%.

Medical cannabis sales may catch fire in the coming months, but recreational sales remain banned in Virginia. While it is legal to possess and grow marijuana in the Commonwealth, an effort to create infrastructure for retail sales failed in the Virginia General Assembly earlier this year.

For the moment, cannabis retail sales won’t be allowed in Virginia until Jan. 1, 2024.

Beyond/Hello is continuing its expansion across Northern Virginia. The company is legally allowed to operate six dispensaries in Virginia, with its first two already open in Manassas and Sterling.

An Arlington dispensary is set to open in Clarendon along Wilson Blvd by the end of the year, while a Woodbridge location is aiming for an early 2023 start date.

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Construction has finally started on North Hill Park in Groveton, near the intersection of Richmond Highway and Popkins Lane.

The Fairfax County Park Authority’s $1.5 million project will create a new public park with trails, a pavilion, pickleball courts, a half-sized basketball court, fitness areas, picnic tables, benches, and an open lawn area.

Part of a new housing development will also provide a publicly accessible playground and seating areas, the park’s construction being financed by a 2016 park bond and the Fairfax County Department of Housing and Community Development (FCHCD).

Construction began late last month and is expected to be completed by spring 2023.

However, construction was supposed to begin in the spring of 2021, according to a park authority presentation from early last year, making the project more than a year behind schedule.

“The delay was due to coordinating construction logistics with the adjacent developments and the need to hire a new engineering and inspection firm for our construction,” FCPA spokesperson Judy Pedersen told FFXnow.

Construction crews are currently installing erosion and sediment control measures. The park authority says nearby residents should expect “occasional” traffic, particularly on Popkins Lane where construction vehicles will be entering and exiting the park through a temporary entrance near Bryant High School.

The site where North Hill Park and the overall North Hill development are under construction was once occupied by a mobile home community and has been on the county’s list for redevelopment for decades.

The park was first conceived more than a decade ago, along with the entire development of the adjacent North Hill property. In 2007, the Fairfax County Redevelopment and Housing Authority put together an initial master plan that included 67 manufactured homes and a 22-acre park on the site.

But that plan was deemed flawed by then-Lee District Supervisor Jeff McKay — now the Board of Supervisors chair — who said adding that many manufactured homes to that part of Richmond Highway would put a strain on schools, public services, and traffic.

“67 manufactured homes on this site would be a disaster,” he told the Washington Business Journal in 2016.

A revised plan emerged in 2017 that included a multi-family housing development and reduced the park to 12 acres. In 2020, the land was conveyed to the park authority for development. The ground-breaking for the 33-acre project took place on July 202o.

The final master plan for the North Hill development calls for 216 “affordable multi-family apartments,” 63 “affordable senior independent living apartments,” 175 townhomes at market rate, and the park.

“The park site along with the adjacent North Hill Development was a trailer park that was abandoned and the land was then purchased by Fairfax County Department of Housing and Community Development, whom FCPA partnered with in development of the site,” Pedersen wrote. “The park was envisioned to serve both the North Hill Development and the surrounding community.”

The park will be completed in two phases. The first phase consists of constructing earthwork and stormwater infrastructure, trails connection, picnic area, pavilion, and open lawn areas. The second phase will be everything else, including the basketball court, pickleball courts, and the playground.

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A Fairfax County police car (file photo)

A woman found seriously injured from an assault at a Hybla Valley bus stop earlier this month died from her injuries over the weekend, police said.

Fairfax County police say the injuries were likely from blunt force, but the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner will conduct an autopsy to determine the specific manner and cause of death. This is the 12th homicide this year in the county, two more than at the same point in 2021.

Just after midnight on Friday (June 17), a passerby saw 63-year-old Michelle Huntley injured and unconscious at the bus stop in the 7800 block of Richmond Highway, police said. She was taken to the hospital, where she died Saturday.

“Detectives have reviewed hours of surveillance footage, conducted several interviews, and canvassed the surrounding area extensively to determine the circumstances that led up the deadly assault,” police said in a news release.

The full news release is below.

Mount Vernon Police District – Detectives from our Homicide Squad are investigating the deadly assault of a 63-year-old Alexandria woman. Just after midnight on June 17, officers responded to a bus stop in the 7800 block of Richmond Highway. A passerby saw the victim suffering from trauma to the upper body. The victim, Michelle Huntley, was taken to a nearby hospital for injuries considered life threatening. Sadly, Michelle succumbed to her injuries yesterday afternoon.

Detectives have reviewed hours of surveillance footage, conducted several interviews, and canvassed the surrounding area extensively to determine the circumstances that led up the deadly assault. Detectives believe the injuries Michelle sustained were likely from blunt force. The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner will conduct an autopsy to determine specific cause and manner of death.

Anyone who may have information about this assault is asked to contact detectives at 703-246-7800, option 2. Tips can also be submitted anonymously through Crime Solvers by phone – 1-866-411-TIPS (866-411-8477), by text – Type “FCCS” plus tip to 847411, and by web – Click HERE. Download our Mobile tip411 App “Fairfax Co Crime Solvers”. Anonymous tipsters are eligible for cash rewards of $100 to $1,000 dollars. Please leave contact information if you wish for a detective to follow up with you.

Victim specialists from our Major Crimes Bureau’s Victim Services Division have been assigned to ensure the victim’s family is receiving appropriate resources and assistance.

This is the 12th homicide of the year in Fairfax County. Year to date, there were ten homicides at this point in 2021.

For ongoing updates, please read our blog and follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at @FairfaxCountyPD.

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