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Morning Notes

Wall art by Starr Hill Biergarten at The Perch in Tysons (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

County Board to Adopt New Budget Today — “Board of Supervisors set to adopt FY23 budget tomorrow, May 10. It fully funds @fcpsnews employee compensation and invests in priorities. $96 million balance to reduce real estate tax rate, increase affordable housing, parks, among others.” [Fairfax County Government/Twitter]

Lee District Gets New Community Center — Elected officials and community members gathered on Saturday (May 7) to cut the ribbon for Fairfax County’s new Lee District Community Center, which will provide recreation, educational workshops, and other programs to residents in the Buckman Road area on the west side of Richmond Highway. The center also hosts a workforce training and development center. [Neighborhood and Community Services]

Metro Reports Higher-than-Expected Ridership — “Ridership has already surprised their conservatively-estimated projection of 28 million rides by nearly 40% through the first three quarters of the fiscal year…The numbers bode well for the region’s economic recovery as tourism rebounds and more workers return to the office, but it is less welcome news for train and bus riders who are experiencing more crowded vehicles.” [DCist]

Great Falls Road Closure Starts Today — “Springvale Road will be closed for 48 hours starting Tuesday to allow VDOT crews to reconstruct the road’s approach to Route 7. During the closure, drivers on Springfield Road can access Route 7 by taking Georgetown Pike to the Utterback Store Road.” [Patch]

Mental Health Services Facility to Be Renamed — “Fairfax County officials on May 12 will celebrate the renaming and dedication of the former Merrifield Center as the ‘Sharon Bulova Center for Community Health’…Bulova served as chairman through 2019, when she retired after 31 years on the board.” [Sun Gazette]

Route 7 Bus Service Plan Inches Forward — “Plans to create a bus-rapid-transit, or BRT, line using Route 7 to connect Tysons to Alexandria continue to move forward, with the next installment to hire a consultant that will guide the next phases of the project.” [Sun Gazette/Inside NoVA]

Fort Hunt Teacher Reflects on Three-Decade-Long Career — “Reading Specialist Jill Norris joined the staff of Stratford Landing Elementary School in Fairfax County last August after a break from a 35-year career as a teacher. ‘To share my passion for reading and writing with kids and teachers,’ is what brings joy to Norris.” [ABC7]

It’s Tuesday — Clear throughout the day. High of 66 and low of 46. Sunrise at 6:02 am and sunset at 8:11 pm. [Weather.gov]

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The project is expected to finish in the summer of 2024 (via VDOT)

The widening of Route 7 is roughly 60% complete, remaining on schedule for completion by July 2024.

The $314 million project is expanding Route 7 from four to six lanes with significant updates at 19 intersections and shared-use paths along both sides of the road between Reston and Tysons. Other projects include replacing the bridge over Difficult Run.

A virtual meeting on the next phase of the project is planned for Tuesday (April 19) at 7 p.m. Virginia Department of Transportation representatives will be available to discuss the project and answer questions.

The next big ticket item is the construction of the new Lewinsville Road intersection, which is scheduled t0 open later this spring near Wolf Trap. The intersection includes a displaced left-turn lane from eastbound Route 7 to Lewinsville Road.

VDOT plans to temporarily configure the intersection in May, according to VDOT spokesperson Kathleen Leonard.

“Lewinsville Road will be realigned to an intersection with Route 7 across from the east entrance to McLean Bible Church,” Leonard told FFXnow. “Traffic signals at the east and west entrances to McLean Bible Church will be coordinated to maximize throughput at this busy intersection and the final configuration is expected to be completed later this fall.”

A displaced left-turn lane allows left-turn vehicles to cross to the other side of opposing through-traffic before the main intersection. An online simulation of the changes is available online.

The project is expected to clear a major milestone this fall, when three lanes of traffic in each direction open along nearly two miles of Route 7 between Reston Avenue and Riva Ridge Drive.

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Route 7 seen from Route 123 in Tysons (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Fairfax County has secured all the funding it needs to design a future widening of Route 7 from Route 123 to I-495 in Tysons.

The Tysons Transportation Service District Advisory Board approved allocating up to $7.8 million from the district’s tax revenues to the Route 7 project last month, a move recommended by Fairfax County Department of Transportation staff.

The vote during the March 22 meeting was almost unanimous, but one member of the board said they couldn’t support putting more money to widening a road.

The project design is also expected to receive $2 million from the Tysons-wide Road Funds, which is supported by developer fees.

“That will fully fund design,” FCDOT planner Christina Cain told the board, which advises the county on the district’s annual tax rate and transportation projects funded by the resulting revenue.

Separate from the Route 7 widening under construction to the north, the planned widening from Route 123 to the Capital Beltway will replace the roadway’s existing median with two new lanes to accommodate future bus rapid transit service between Tysons and Alexandria.

Since the new lanes are envisioned as transit-only, Route 7 has to be widened to preserve six lanes for general traffic. The project will also alter the interchange with Route 123, though an evaluation of two possible concepts is temporarily on hold, according to FCDOT’s presentation.

Staff are looking at making upgrades to pedestrian crossings throughout the roughly 1-mile stretch of road, particularly at International Drive, according to Fairfax County Director of Transportation Tom Biesiadny.

“Today, [the crossings] are pretty minimal,” he said. “…What doesn’t exist today are median refuges so that people will be able to cross halfway if they’re not able to make it all the way across. They’ll have a safe way to wait.”

The county is also studying potential safety, operational, and bicycle and pedestrian improvements that could be made in conjunction with the widening and BRT service.

Even before the advisory board’s Route 7 vote, more than half of the $62 million in tax revenue and interest collected by the Tysons Transportation Service District since it was created in 2013 had been allocated to various transportation projects.

As of March 1, about $31.3 million had been allocated, leaving $30.4 million available for projects currently in their preliminary design or engineering phases.

The taxes are generated by residential and commercial properties in the district based on assessed property values.

Property values in Tysons have exceeded the 3% growth projected by the county every year except for fiscal years 2021, when there was a 4.4% decline, and 2022, which saw a 2.3% rise, according to FCDOT.

Because of the faster-than-anticipated growth, the advisory board supported staff’s recommendation to keep the tax rate at 5 cents per $100 of assessed value. The rate needs to be approved by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors as part of the budget for fiscal year 2023, which begins July 1.

“Ultimately, that [growth] probably means that the service district will terminate sooner than we projected, or at some point in the future, the rate can go down at the tail end,” Biesiadny said.

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Accessing the 200-year-old mill may become more difficult (via Fairfax County Government)

Accessing the Colvin Run Mill Historic Site may require a legendary feat until June.

As the widening of Route 7 continues, construction has started to impede easy access to the historic site, which is located at 10017 Colvin Run Road in Great Falls.

Traffic from Colvin Run Mill will turn right and continue to the east end of Colvin Run Road to access Route 7 from the east and west.

The traffic pattern change comes as crews complete utility work and other construction at the western portion of Colvin Run Road, according to a March 30 release from the county.

Site manager Julie Gurnee said signage will provide guidance for visitors.

“Coming from the west, all visitors are able to turn onto Colvin Run Road at the first entrance (Delta Glen) to enter; but to exit to Route 7, visitors will all turn right out of the site to turn onto Route 7 at the Carpers Farm/Route 7 intersection,” Gurnee said.

Here’s more from the county on the traffic changes:

Drivers entering the mill on Route 7 westbound will still be able to turn left on to Colvin Run Road at the Route 7/Delta Glen Court/Colvin Run Road intersection (west end of Colvin Run Road). Drivers entering the mill on Route 7 eastbound will still be able to turn right on Colvin Run Road at the Route 7/Carpers Farm/Colvin Run Road intersection.

The site offers classes, tours, and a general store that sells local tea blends, yellow grits, cornmeal, wheat flour and buckwheat. All grains are ground at the 200-year-old working mill. It is surrounded by trails and other outdoor amenities.

Traffic changes have routinely come up, as crews continue widening seven miles of Route 7 between Reston Avenue and Jarrett Valley Drive. Shared-use paths and several infrastructure improvements are also planned along the corridor.

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Four people were hospitalized by a vehicle crash at the intersection of Leesburg Pike and Colvin Run Road in Great Falls (via Google Maps)

(Updated at 11:25 a.m.) Fairfax County police arrested a driver involved in the crash on Route 7 that sent four people to the hospital on Saturday (April 2).

Richard Asenso Donkor, 23, from Sterling has been charged with driving while intoxicated — his second DWI in five years, the Fairfax County Police Department says.

According to the FCPD, the crash occurred at the intersection of Leesburg Pike and Colvin Run Road when Donker, who was traveling west on Route 7, hit a Hyundai Ioniq that was attempting to turn left from Colvin Run during a green light.

“Four occupants of the Hyundai, including the driver, were taken to the hospital,” the FCPD said. “The injuries of one of the passengers was originally believed to be life threatening, but later upgraded,” meaning they were later determined to not be life-threatening.

Police were on the scene at 7:35 a.m. and had Leesburg Pike closed to traffic between Beulah Road and Baron Cameron Avenue until after 11 a.m.

The crash remains under investigation, as police look to determine whether speed was a factor. The FCPD advises anyone with information about the crash to contact its Crash Reconstruction Unit at 703-280-0543.

“Detectives will consult with the Office of the Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney to determine if additional charges will be sought,” the FCPD said.

The crash in Great Falls came just hours after a separate, fatal vehicle crash on Leesburg Pike in Sterling.

According to the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office, a Nissan driver traveling east on Route 7 “veered to miss a slower moving vehicle” around 2:15 a.m. on Saturday. The Nissan drove off the road and rolled over “several times.”

A passenger in the Nissan was pronounced dead at the scene, while three other occupants were taken to Reston Hospital Center for serious but not life-threatening injuries.

Photo via Google Maps

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A conceptual route for the Envision Route 7 Bus Rapid Transit system (via NVTC)

Fairfax County officials have not ruled out the possibility of incorporating pull-off areas on Route 7 for the bus rapid transit (BRT) system planned along the corridor from Tysons to Alexandria.

Areas for buses to pull off or pass each other would let the road accommodate an express service for riders who want to get from one end of the route to the other without having to make every stop in between, Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity proposed at the county Board of Supervisors’ meeting yesterday (Tuesday).

“I’m hoping that as we move this project forward — if we move this project forward — we take into account the ability to get people there more quickly and have the option to do express routes, so that we can actually get people on these buses and using them,” Herrity said.

As evidence that transit’s success depends on providing shorter trip times than driving, he cited the collapse of Fairfax and Arlington counties’ plans for a streetcar on Columbia Pike a decade ago. A suggested bus rapid transit alternative never materialized either.

County and regional transportation staff can look at including pull-off areas once they start designing the bus service, Fairfax County Department of Transportation Director Tom Biesiadny told the board, but that phase of the project is still months away.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted yesterday to authorize an agreement with the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission that commits the county to providing $25,000 for a “project roadmap,” which will guide the BRT’s implementation, including a timeline and possible funding sources.

Under the agreement, NVTC will contribute $50,000 and hire a contractor to develop the roadmap. The regional organization is leading the Envision Route 7 BRT project, since it involves the cities of Falls Church and Alexandria as well as Fairfax County.

NVTC is currently working on the fourth phase of a mobility study evaluating the benefits and impacts of the proposed service. Initiated in October, this phase focuses on the route from Tysons to Seven Corners and could take 12 to 18 months, the project page says.

A follow-up study will look at the rest of the route from Seven Corners to Mark Center in Alexandria.

Fairfax County’s board approved the Tysons portion of the route in July. FCDOT is now working on an amendment to add BRT to the county’s comprehensive plan, which is expected to come before the board this spring, and preparing preliminary conceptual engineering designs, according to county staff.

While having express service as part of a “rapid” bus system seems like a “no-brainer,” in Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust’s words, Biesiadny said pull-off or passing areas would require more land and right-of-way for the project.

The cost, environmental impact, and potential displacement of residents and businesses along Richmond Highway led the county to eschew an express service for its upcoming Route 1 BRT, according to Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay, who disputed Herrity’s characterization of the decision as a missed opportunity.

The Richmond Highway BRT, which has been branded The One, will have a total of nine stops, still providing a shorter ride than the existing Fairfax Connector and Metrobus service in the corridor, Biesiadny noted.

“We didn’t expect that there would be a significant amount of congestion in the bus lanes, nor significant delay for those buses as they travel from Fort Belvoir up to the Huntington station,” he said. “But we will look at that again as part of the Route 7 project, and we’ll be able to have a discussion with the board in terms of the pros and cons of doing something different in the Route 7 corridor.”

He confirmed that FCDOT is looking at providing transit-exclusive lanes for the county’s Route 7 BRT segments, as proposed by an NVTC conceptual engineering study.

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Families, including young children, called for changes yesterday (Tuesday) to make the Route 7 corridor in Bailey’s Crossroads safer for pedestrians and cyclists.

At a rally organized by the immigrant advocacy organization CASA and the transit nonprofit Coalition for Smarter Growth at the corner of Route 7 and Glen Carlyn Drive, mother Viviana Valverde, who is pregnant with her third child, said through a translator that the area has become more dangerous due to a lack of signage.

“We are here to win badly needed safety improvements,” Coalition for Smarter Growth Northern Virginia advocacy manager Sonya Breehey said.

Cards distributed by CASA attribute fatal crashes on Route 7, also known as Leesburg Pike, to a lack of signage, pedestrian crosswalks, adequate lighting, and heavy, high-speed traffic.

Route 7 there has a 40 mph speed limit, but based on Virginia Department of Transportation data from September 2016 to September 2021, the community group Fairfax Families for Safe Streets has called it one of the deadliest roads in the county.

Most recently, 68-year-old Falls Church resident Nguyet Ly died on Dec. 13 after a 2018 Subaru Impreza hit her as she was walking near the shoulder in a section of Leesburg Pike with no sidewalk.

VDOT is looking at possible improvements to the corridor between Glen Carlyn Drive and Glen Forest Drive, such as adding missing sidewalks. The department hopes to share concepts and feasibility analysis by mid-June, VDOT administrator Claudia Llana wrote in a Feb. 28 email.

Group presses VDOT for faster timeline, temporary upgrades

Emphasizing the urgency of the situation, Fairfax Families for Safe Streets asked VDOT to make interim upgrades by this summer, including temporarily lowering the speed limit and creating a pedestrian path on the road using jersey barriers.

VDOT said on Monday (March 12) that it’s gathering speed and crash data to prepare for a full speed study, which is required under Virginia law for evaluating potential speed changes.

“The study could take several months and will incorporate input from Fairfax County police, Department of Transportation staff, among others,” Llana wrote. “Due to the potential for change in posted speed limit, installing a speed feedback sign is not recommended at this time, that would reinforce a speed limit that may change.”

The department suggested it’s working with the county on the effort, but Fairfax Families for Safe Streets board member Phil Kemelor called the response disappointing and frustrating.

“People are getting hit out here,” he said. “We’re hoping we can collaborate more and have a seat at the table.”

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Morning Notes

Fair Oaks Mall on a March Sunday (staff photo by David Taube)

Trucker Convoy Leaves Capital Beltway — “After a week of ineffectual laps around the Beltway, the ‘People’s Convoy’ is now jamming up part of I-395 in Arlington. The convoy…is intended to protest the Covid-related government mandates. It received considerable media attention last week but didn’t do much to disrupt traffic.” [ARLnow]

School Board Appeals TJ Admissions Ruling — “The Fairfax County School Board is appealing a federal judge’s ruling that invalidated the recently revised admissions system for the prestigious Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology magnet school…Legal experts were divided over how the 4th Circuit is likely to rule.” [The Washington Post]

Mac & Cheese Restaurant Chain Eyes Tysons — “I Heart Mac & Cheese, a fast casual concept, tentatively plans to open in Tysons in October 2022. The Tysons location will be the first in Virginia and owned by franchisee Md Billal Hossain. A spokesperson could not share the location’s address yet, as the lease is still being finalized.” [Patch]

Pedestrian Improvements Finished in Bailey’s Crossroads — The Virginia Department of Transportation has completed work on pedestrian and traffic safety measures at the Columbia Pike (Route 244) and Lacy Boulevard intersection. Changes include a new traffic signal, four new high-visibility crosswalks, ADA curb ramp upgrades, and flashing yellow arrows for left turns from Columbia Pike. [VDOT]

More Details on Reston Invasive Plant Pilot Program — “Reston National Golf Course plans to spend $140,000 on a three-year project targeting invasive plant species affecting an area that includes the Hunters Green Cluster in Reston. This proposal is different from the one introduced by the Reston National Neighborhood Study Group in February.” [Patch]

Route 7 Construction to Require Great Falls Road Closure — “Starting the week of March 28 and continuing through June, drivers on Colvin Run Road will proceed to the east end of Colvin Run Road to access Route 7 eastbound and westbound as crews perform utility work and other construction activities at the west end of Colvin Run Road.” [VDOT]

Board of Zoning Appeals Has Vacant Seat — “The Fairfax County Board of Zoning Appeals has an opening for one member. Interested candidates must apply by Monday, April 11, to the Fairfax Circuit Court, which appoints the board’s seven members.” [Fairfax County Government]

It’s Tuesday — Mostly cloudy throughout the day. High of 64 and low of 40. Sunrise at 7:21 a.m. and sunset at 7:17 p.m. [Weather.gov]

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Traffic safety advocates from across the D.C. area have banded together to urge local officials to make improvements that they believe could help prevent the next death of a pedestrian or cyclist.

The campaign specifically focuses on the Route 7 corridor around Baileys Crossroads and Seven Corners after 68-year-old Nguyet Ly was hit and killed when walking along a section of Leesburg Pike without a sidewalk on Dec. 13.

“The Route 7 corridor between these traffic hubs are among the most hazardous in Fairfax County,” said Phil Kemelor, Mason District board member for the community group Fairfax Families for Safe Streets.

Fairfax FSS has partnered with the Coalition for Smarter Growth, CASA, Fairfax Alliance for Better Bicycling, and other concerned individuals to ask the Virginia Department of Transportation to help.

In a letter to VDOT, the organizations recommend installing a continuous sidewalk or multi-use path on Leesburg Pike, adding crosswalks across all side streets, and prohibiting vehicles from parking within 20 feet of a driveway or intersection, which they say leads to blocked sightlines for drivers.

The letter also notes that the curbside lane where Ly was walking measures 16 feet in width, encouraging speeding compared to lanes that typically range from 10 to 13 feet.

“The Rt. 7 corridor in the Culmore community is a notoriously dangerous place for people walking, biking, and accessing the bus stops,” Sonya Breehey, Coalition for Smarter Growth’s Northern Virginia advocacy manager, wrote in an email. “The recent fatality is just one of many people who are struck and either killed or left with serious injuries in this community.”

While this campaign focuses on the Mason District, Fairfax FSS says the safety issues on Route 7, including insufficient sidewalks and crosswalks, can be seen elsewhere in the county as well and have contributed to other fatal crashes.

A map of pedestrian deaths (red circles) and injuries (orange circles) due to vehicle crashes (courtesy Fairfax Families for Safe Street)

Based on five years of VDOT data, the group identified the following as the most dangerous roads in Fairfax County, in addition to Route 7:

  • Route 1
  • Route 29
  • Route 50
  • Little River Turnpike
  • Backlick Road
  • Telegraph Road
  • Shreve Road at the Washington and Old Dominion Trail
  • Eastbound sections of Columbia Turnpike
  • Old Keene Road/Franconia Road

The data spanned September 2016 to September 2021 and involved over 100 crashes where pedestrians or cyclists were severely injured or killed.

“Nearly 50% of the fatalities are among those who are 60 years of age and older,” Kemelor said in an email.

Fairfax Families for Safe Streets has also compiled a map of “near misses” reported by pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers to show where streets could be upgraded. People can add to the map by completing an online survey.

Ly was the 13th pedestrian killed in a traffic crash last year in Fairfax County, which ended 2021 with 14 such deaths after an Annandale resident was hit by a car on Route 123 in Tysons and died on Dec. 30. The county also recorded three bicyclist deaths last year.

Police reported the first pedestrian fatality of 2022 on Tuesday (Jan. 18). The crash occurred on Jan. 8 on Route 29 at Forum Drive, and Joel Gonzalez, 22, of Fairfax later succumbed to his injuries while in a hospital.

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