Reinventing Springfield

The imminent completion of the Springfield “mixing bowl” — the notorious junction of Interstate 95/395 and the Washington Beltway — is stimulating interest in redevelopment of the Springfield area. As described today by Washington Post reporter Alec MacGillis, local developer KSI and New Jersey-based Vornado Realty Trust are proposing major makeovers that could spark follow-on redevelopment by neighboring property owners.

(For a similar, up-beat take on Springfield, “Reinventing Springfield,” read Doug Koelemay’s column in Bacon’s Rebellion, to be published Tuesday. Blog readers get an advance peak.)

In nine acres now occupied by a motel, discount wine store, near-vacant office tower, veterinary clinic and two restaurants, KSI would build three towers of 21 to 25 stories with 800 apartments and condominiums, a 160-room hotel, 40,000 square feet of offices and up to 100,000 square feet of retail space, all surrounding a central public plaza and gallery or auditorium. Parking garages and landscaping would buffer the buildings from I-95 and the huge flyover ramp that looms behind the site.

Vornado would retain an aging mall on an existing 80-acre site, but it would turn the structure” inside out” by adding outward-facing stores, in cluding a grocery store. And it would add a hotl, housing and offices on the mall’s expansive parking lots.

The Post article points out a number of challenges to redevelopment. As MacGillis quotes Daniel Brents, a Houstong planner who participated in a recent Urban Land Institute study:
Springfield is “not a place,” because it has “no boundaries,” “no history or authenticity,” “no meaningful skyline,” “no natural amenities” and is a “civic vacuum” with “a freeway identity” and “architectural disharmony.”

People abandon such places, which never had anything to offer but the newness of their original construction. When the sheen is gone, they evolve into suburban slums because the buildings are not worth saving. Only redevelopment can save a place like Springfield. The devil, of course, is in the details. The projects need to complement one another, creating a balanced mix of uses. They need to connect to one another — no pods! And they need avail themselves of mass transit opportunities. Fortunately, as Koelemay observes, the County, developers and local citizens seem to agree upon the necessity of creating a “market-driven master plan.”

(Image credit: Springfield Metro Center.)

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7 responses to “Reinventing Springfield”

  1. E M Risse Avatar
    E M Risse

    Great post, Jim! I was going to put in a companion post but since no one has yet submitted a commented, I will add it here:

    As we have noted elsewhere the core problem with the “Springfield Interchange Complex” was the placement of the Keene Mill Road interchange with I-95 so close to the I-495 / I-395 / I-95 interconnection. It is exacerbated by the need to interchange both the regular lanes and the HOV lanes.

    That said:

    If the Commonwealth is serious about balancing transportation with land use then a new plan for the land use within five miles of the new Interchange complex should have been developed at the same time the plan for the multi-billion dollar interchange improvement was drafted.

    If one looks at the map that accompanies the WaPo story Jim cites, one will see that many of the elements necessary to create the core of a Balanced Community of Greater Springfield are scattered among the land bays created by the roadway and ramp system.

    The bottom line is that Springfield should have been redesigned for reconstruction before all those new ramps were built. It is going to be very hard to have anything by venues for Pod People given the barriers between the components that would create the core of a Balanced Community.

    One could go back farther and say the difficulty with generating a Balanced Community at Greater Springfield started when there was no plan for evolution of the core of the community in one quadrant of the Keene Mill Road / I-95 interchange instead of in all four quadrants.

    You say that is hindsight? Check out the schematics that were part of the Year 2000 Plan for the National Capital. Those early 60s graphics were prepared before the “obsolete” buildings that are now being torn down were conceived.

    These issues are part of the Interstate frontage and interchange problems we examine in “Interstate Crime” at

    There is an even bigger problem: VDOT and the municipality (Fairfax County) have done the same thing they did in Springfield at nearly every interchange in the County.

    For example, check out the Centreville complex – the interconnection of Interstate -66, US Route 29 and VA Route 28.

    They are about to compound a similar problem at Gainesville — the interconnection of Interstate-66, US Route 29 and VA Route 55 by throwing money (public or private) at the existing problem.

    See “Anatomy of a Bottleneck” at

    It is not so bad to do things wrong once, but to do it over and over and over. What is that definition of insanity again?


  2. E M Risse Avatar
    E M Risse


    Before someone notes the error and focuses on that rather than the message let us be clear:

    The “They” in the para re Gainesville is VDOT and Prince William County as will be clear from reading “Anatomy of a Bottleneck.”

    Prince William and Loudoun in the 80s, 90s and 00s are repeating the mistakes of Fairfax in the 70s, 80s and 90s as Fairfax did of Arlington’s mistakes of the 50s 60s and 70s.


  3. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    I think you are rightabout repeating the same mistake. Putting any kind of development near an interchange is stark raving nuts. The first thing that happens is that you have a traffic light as the first thing you come to after the exit ramp. The light backs up traffic ontot he ramp and what is supposed to be a free flowing interchange becomes a parking lot.

    If you want to preserve some open space, do it around the interchanges and give people some room to spread out a little before they have to start making left turns, etc.

  4. Anonymous Avatar

    The interconnection of Interstate-66, US Route 29 and VA Route 55 at Gainesville is a textbook case of how NOT to build roads.

    It’s malfunction-junction in the worst way.

    IMHO, it will ultimately be the downfall of the entire 29 corridor from G-ville to Warrenton. People who can afford a $900,000 house at Lake Manassas won’t put up with it. They are smarter than that.

    There are plenty of other places where the same amount of money will get you a lot more bang for your buck – particularly when it comes to traffic relief.

  5. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    This proposal for Springfield could a true positive for all if done reasonably and fairly, but I must again caution that Springfield is located in Fairfax County. As I’ve written too many times, the current BoS doesn’t care much for either reasonableness or fairness.

    Here’s an example, the Planning Commission is attempting to define the Transit Oriented Development with public input. So far, so good. However, the entire process is a sham. The Planning Commission has a target date of November to finish its work. Presumably, the BoS would take the recommendation and, after public hearings, adopt a definition into the county code probably sometime in 2007.

    But the farce of it all is that the BoS will consider rezoning for so-called TOD (Tysons and Dunn Loring) BEFORE it adopts any definition of TOD. This is simply bad government and wrong. How can anyone expect to trust the result of a process that misuses what could be a reasonable approach to development — TOD — in order to achieve a preordained result?

    Simple principles of due process should cause the BoS to say that it would not evaluate proposals based on a standard that does not exist. But this is Fairfax County.

  6. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    “The interconnection of Interstate-66, US Route 29 and VA Route 55 at Gainesville is a textbook case of how NOT to build roads. “

    Anonymous 9:33 hit it on the head. Here is a place where six roads (three roads, two directions) join in one location. Too many people in the same place at the same time means more congestion.

  7. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    Regardless of how you define TOD, no one knows what the real end result of planning any kind of development will be. I can’t see how anything anywhere near the mixing bowl will work: it takes up all the available space in the area, and makes anything on the other side far away and hard to get to.

    In this case the ULI planners had the right idea, plan four developments, on in each quadrant. A better idea would be to plan nothing anywhere near there, because whatever you do can only work to undo what little progress the interchange will provide.

    This is a perfect example of the scale of things getting all out of proportion to what actually works. As it is, there is no reason to put anything anywhere near that place unless it is parking lots and more transportation options. As it is, you have VRE in one far quadrant, the interchange, and Metro in another far quadrant.

    What were we thinking?

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