Rise in cut-through traffic becomes dicey issue for Town of Herndon

Dulles Toll Road traffic passing the future Herndon Metro station (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

In the morning and afternoon, traffic on Herndon Parkway in the southwestern part of town settles into a sluggish crawl. While some congestion is inevitable in a modern-day commute, some town leaders wonder if another culprit can be to blame: a rise in cut-through traffic in the town.

Councilmember Sean Regan, who is pushing the town to explore the issue, believes a big chunk of Herndon’s traffic problem is caused by out-of-towners who do not live or work in the town. Some are commuters from the west seeking a quick path to avoid the main toll plaza.

But not much can be done until the town completes an origin-destination study to determine where cars are coming from and where they are going. Modern techniques using GPS data allow traffic engineers to buy origin-destination information from before the pandemic to determine whether or not the problem is simply anecdotal.

The renewed focus comes on the heels of a big step for the town: instituting limits on commercial vehicle parking and other parking restrictions.

The town has become what Herndon Police Chief Maggie DeBoard calls a “dumping ground.” The issue is also emblematic of a small town’s growing pains as the oncoming train of the Silver Line challenges the town to make its downtown more of a destination area.

So far, research, including traffic counts from the South Elden Neighborhood Plan, seems to show that some of the problem is due to cut-through traffic.

During the morning rush hour, a significant number of cars entered from the west on Sterling Road and Herndon Parkway and then exited the area on south Elden or Herndon Parkway to the east, Regan says. The conclusion was that drivers were western commuters cutting across town.

However, any possible solution would require interregional coordination. The town could, for example, work with neighboring governments and state officials to determine how to disincentivize western commuters who may skirt tolls.

Councilmember Pradip Dhakal thinks the issue has been especially problematic in the last decade or so — driven by rising highway tolls that make Herndon a go-to option.

“This is really a huge problem that needs discussion, analysis and exploration,” Dhakal said. “What the council really wants is to start the discussion to see if we can find feasible solutions to address this issue.”

Regan notes that many moving pieces are at play to tackle the issue.

“We need to make sure there are short-term parking spaces available in downtown, the Metro core and other commercial areas so they can easily stop and pick up groceries, grab dinner, or get their haircut, then continue on their way,” he said.

He concedes that the solution will not be easy.

“Traffic unifies us all and if we speak with a single voice we can make things better for Herndon today and for years to come,” Regan told FFXnow.