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Disrupted by pandemic, plan to fix Dolley Madison traffic resurfaces

Traffic from 2019 on eastbound Dolley Madison Boulevard at the Great Falls Street intersection in McLean (via Google Maps)

Fairfax County has some ideas for short-term fixes that could ease congestion on Dolley Madison Blvd. through McLean, but if traffic grows significantly further down the road, a more substantial overhaul may be needed.

For the first time in almost three years, the Fairfax County Department of Transportation returned to the community with updates on its efforts to address gridlock in the corridor between the Dulles Toll Road and Old Dominion Drive.

At a meeting on May 11, county staff shared revised traffic data and recommendations that they said take into account the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on people’s travel habits as well as infrastructure projects, like the Jones Branch Connector, designed to divert traffic from local roads.

According to the presentation, traffic in the D.C. suburbs is near pre-pandemic levels, with average daily volumes since July returning to about 90% of where they were in 2019, FCDOT project manager Maggie Qi reported.

However, aside from noticeable dips in March-April 2020 and this past January, traffic volumes have stayed relatively level over the past two to three years, and the county anticipates that people working from home will continue to slow growth, at least in the near-future.

“At some point, the ultimate solution would wind up being an interchange, but if we can find a way to keep volumes steady, we may be able to avoid that,” Qi said.

Building off of a 2010 Tysons Neighborhood Study, the Dolley Madison corridor study has been underway since 2017 — long enough that its definition of “short term” has shrunk from 10 to five years, with 2027 as the end of the planned timeframe.

Identifying the Lewinsville Road/Great Falls Street intersection as the corridor’s most problematic, particularly during afternoon peak hours, FCDOT has developed eight possible solutions, six of which come from the last community meeting in 2019:

  • Concept 1: Three continuous lanes on eastbound Dolley Madison, providing additional capacity with a new lane after the Dulles Toll Road
  • Concept 2: Builds on the first concept by extending the three lanes through Lewinsville/Great Falls
  • Concept 3: Eliminate left turns from Balls Hill Road onto Lewinsville, which could get another lane
  • Concept 4: A “partial jughandle” with restricted left-turns from Dolley Madison onto Old Dominion in both directions and onto Ingleside Avenue for eastbound traffic
  • Concept 5: Widen Lewinsville/Great Falls to add two exclusive left-turn lanes, allowing the traffic signal timing to become more efficient
  • Concept 6: Three westbound travel lanes on Dolley Madison from Old Dominion to Lewinsville

Though staff said that it would significantly reduce congestion, the sixth concept is no longer being considered after residents expressed strong opposition, since it would limit access to adjacent neighborhoods from Dolley Madison.

In its place, FCDOT has proposed two new concepts:

  • Concept 7: An “option” lane from westbound Dolley Madison that enables drivers to either continue west to Tysons or take the on-ramp to the Dulles Toll Road
  • Concept 8: Extend westbound Dolley Madison’s far-right through lane approaching the Lewinsville/Great Falls intersection

FCDOT combined the proposed concepts into two scenarios: the one that appears to be favored by the community, based on past feedback, and one recommended by staff that includes a modified jughead concept, retaining the Old Dominion left-turn restrictions while dropping the one for Ingleside.

The concepts included in the Dolley Madison corridor improvements preferred by the community versus Fairfax County staff (via FCDOT)

“If we don’t include any improvements at Old Dominion Drive, the benefits realized at Great Falls Street and Lewinsville Road are negated by longer queues and delays at Old Dominion, particularly in the eastbound direction,” Qi explained.

According to Qi, both scenarios would improve traffic compared to not doing anything, but the staff-preferred proposal would make a bigger difference, cutting average westbound queues in the afternoon from about 4,000 feet to 200 feet and reducing the travel time from Ingleside to Anderson Road from over eight minutes to around four.

Average afternoon rush-hour queues around Dolley Madison Boulevard based on proposed improvement scenarios (via FCDOT)

A 30-day public comment period on the study is now open through June 10. Qi said that anyone who needs more time can contact her directly at Maggie.Qi@fairfaxcounty.gov.

Photo via Google Maps

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