Changes are on the horizon for Dumfries as newly sworn in Mayor Derrick Wood and the town council envision a widened U.S. 1, giving new life to the town’s commercial corridor. They’re laying the groundwork for that major shift with some early moves, both by relocating municipal services and bringing new energy to the town’s leadership.
Currently, Main Street carries U.S. 1 traffic heading southbound. The expanded U.S. 1 would move that southbound traffic to a wider six-lane highway on the northbound route, freeing up Main Street. The project could be completely as soon as 2024.
Wood, 40, was sworn in July 1. He told InsideNoVa that when the widening is complete, the town has plans to revitalize Main Street by adding a median and lowering the speed limit.
“The goal is to make it multi-modal for walkers, a bike lane and cars,” Wood said. “We want Main Street to have mom and pop stores, restaurants, recreation activities for seniors and youth...I really want this to be a community that’s interconnected.”
The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority approved on June 14 a six-year plan that includes $1.285 billion in funds for 44 projects. As part of that plan, Dumfries was awarded more than $44.8 million to widen U.S. 1 between Brady’s Hill Road and Dumfries Road.
Wood said the town is seeking additional funding for the U.S. 1 expansion project through Virginia Department of Transportation’s Smart Scale program, which applies factors like safety, congestion mitigation and economic development when determining transportation spending.
State Sen. Scott Surovell, D-36th District, said Friday the roughly $45 million in funding means the expansion project can be started, although it will need another $50 million.
Surovell said he worked with Dumfries’ leaders — including Wood, who served two terms on the Dumfries council — to seek input from people about their transportation needs. An online forum that received about 60 comments from Dumfries residents and 150 other comments on other transportation projects helped establish the need for these projects, Surovell said.
“Demonstrating public support and interest is critical when you are in a fight for these limited transportation dollars,” Surovell said.
More than a “drive-through town”
As Dumfries prepares for the U.S. 1 widening, the council’s challenge is to rebuild the town’s image, Wood said.
“Right now, they see it as a drive-through town,” Wood said. “It’s not a town that you come to, because we don’t have sit-down restaurants, nowhere to sit and lounge. We do have some places...but a lot of our strip malls have vacancies.”
The council has plans to consider providing tax incentives to new businesses and tax rebates to existing businesses that renovate their properties, Wood said.
“I know the only thing that can move anything forward is fresh ideas and energy,” Wood said. “When you step outside your comfort zone, you’re able to transform a community.”
In May, voters elected Wood to serve as mayor, as well as Selonia Miles, Cydny Neville and Monaé Nickerson as councilmembers.
“The election that just happened showed that there’s a lot of interest in this new team,” Surovell said. “...I think Derrick, Selonia, Monaé and Cydny bring a whole new energy and a whole new outlook. I think that fresh vision will excite a lot of people.”
In the election against Charles “Cliff” Brewer in May, Wood received nearly 73 percent of the vote. Voter turnout compared to the last mayoral race in 2014 increased by about 43 percent, from 369 votes to about 530 votes.
“I just thought that I put in the work,” Wood said. “I’m still from a blue collar working generation. I rolled up my sleeves, and I listened to citizen’s concerns.”
Wood, who is a businessman and a former Marine who moved to the area in 2001, said the town is planning to move the John Wilmer Porter Town Hall on Main Street to the second floor of the three-story red brick building next door.
The second floor of the building is empty office space where the town’s roughly 35 employees will move in around September. “This will give us room to grow,” Wood said.
The council approved buying the building in May for about $5.2 million, Wood said. The town’s police department has been at the red brick building for about a year and tenants include Greater Prince William Community Health Center and Young Marines.
“We have tenants so we’ll be cash-flow positive and have vacant spaces,” Wood said.
The purchase was more affordable than if the town were to build a new town hall, which could have taken four to five years to build and cost about $10 million, Wood said.
The new town municipal building will again be named after John Wilmer Porter, Wood said. The current town hall was named after Porter in 2005 to recognize his 19 years of service as a Dumfries Town Council member. In 1963, Porter became the first African American to be an elected official in Virginia since the post-Civil War Reconstruction era.
Hundreds of supporters were present July 1 as Wood was sworn in. To accommodate the large crowd, the town quickly outfitted the planned council chamber in the new municipal building to serve as the site of the swearing in.
“It’s a testament to what I want to do here in Dumfries,” Wood said. “I want to take it back to a sense of community.”