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County board redirects funds to remove hills from Fairfax Station road where teens died in crash

Fairfax County plans to remove hills that limit driver visibility on Lee Chapel Road (via Google Maps)

In the wake of a fatal crash earlier this year, Fairfax County intends to get rid of the hills that make Lee Chapel Road near Fairfax Station so harrowing to navigate.

Eliminating the two hills has emerged as “the most prudent” mid-term option for improving safety on the 1-mile stretch between Ox Road (Route 123) and Fairfax County Parkway, where two teens were killed and another seriously injured in a crash on Jan. 10, according to Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity.

To fund the project’s estimated $9 million cost, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors directed staff today (Tuesday) to take away $5 million from the planned Shirley Gate Road extension, which is fully funded but not expected to start construction until 2026.

“They are both very important projects…but I think it’s critical we move forward with Lee Chapel safety improvements, and this allows that to happen,” Herrity said, noting that county staff have said the shift in funding won’t delay the Shirley Gate project.

The county is working with the Virginia Department of Transportation, Del. Kathy Tran, state Sen. George Barker and other partners to fund the remainder of the Lee Chapel project and “restore full funding to Shirley Gate as quickly as possible,” Herrity’s joint board matter with Board Chairman Jeff McKay and Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck says.

January’s fatal crash was the third on the scrutinized segment of Lee Chapel Road in less than 20 years, following deadly crashes in 2005 and 2015. The victims in all three crashes were teenagers.

Seeking to improve visibility for drivers, Herrity first proposed eliminating the hills in 2017 as part of a plan to widen the two-lane road to four lanes. The project was included in the county’s Transportation Priorities Plan (TPP) but got dropped after Virginia redirected regional transportation funds to Metro.

After January’s crash renewed calls for safety improvements from the community, VDOT and the Fairfax County Department of Transportation evaluated three options: remove both hills, remove just the larger hill or build the first leg of the Lee Chapel Road widening.

Removing both hills and constructing two 11-foot-wide travel lanes and a 6-foot-wide shoulder on each side of the road was “the alternative that appears to be the most prudent from a funding, timeline, and community support standpoint,” Herrity said.

“Only very preliminary design work has been done, so we are not at the level of design where we can say to what extent private and public property would be impacted, including trees,” Herrity’s office told FFXnow, noting that the $9 million cost estimate assumes VDOT will allow Lee Chapel to be fully closed during construction.

The proposal will be presented to the public at a town hall meeting with Tran and Barker in September, though the exact date hasn’t yet been settled.

At the board meeting, Hunter Mill District Supervisor Alcorn noted that a process to update the TPP will start in the next few months, but Herrity said his board matter is intended to get the Lee Chapel project started sooner.

While the shift of funds was unanimously approved, some supervisors expressed trepidation about the possibility of the move jeopardizing the Shirley Gate extension, which will add a two-lane road linking the existing Braddock Road intersection to Fairfax County Parkway.

The reassurances that the Shirley Gate project won’t be delayed assume that the county will find a new source to replace the transferred $5 million, Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw said.

“It’s more important today, given the direction that George Mason University is heading in terms of some pretty intense development, including a stadium complex on their west campus,” Walkinshaw said. “The Shirley Gate improvement is really the only transportation improvement happening anywhere in that area, so I would be deeply, deeply concerned about a potential delay.”

Since the Shirley Gate project is still in the design phase, the county is hopeful that it’ll be able to find the needed funding in the coming years, a FCDOT staff member said.

Herrity said he also hopes that the state will help fund the $4 million still be needed for the Lee Chapel project so it won’t affect other county projects.

While “unusual,” McKay agreed with Herrity that reallocating some funds to Lee Chapel is warranted given “the magnitude” of the safety issues and the need to get the planning process started.

“It’s extraordinary, certainly out of turn and certainly being done to deal with a major problem in the community, but not being done to try to hinder the progress we’re making on any other transportation project in the county,” McKay said.

Photo via Google Maps