Any extension of the I-495 Express Lanes along the south side of the Capital Beltway should support additional transit options, Fairfax County leaders stressed in a recent letter to the Virginia Department of Transportation.
VDOT is currently studying options for completing the I-495 toll lanes by expanding them from the I-395/I-95 interchange in Springfield to Maryland Route 210 in Prince George’s County, an approximately 11-mile span that crosses the Woodrow Wilson Bridge in Alexandria.
At a meeting on Nov. 21, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved a letter to Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sheppard Miller emphasizing the importance of accommodating transit in the project, which is intended to relieve congestion on what VDOT has said is the most heavily traveled segment of the Beltway.
“The County is appreciative that the Commonwealth is assessing solutions on the only interstate segment in Fairfax that does not have a transit benefit at this time,” the board’s letter said. “It is critical that additional travel choices are available in the Capital Beltway Corridor to move the most people as efficiently as possible in this region.”
VDOT staff presented several preliminary concepts at a public meeting on Sept. 12, including the addition of one or two general-purpose or express lanes in each direction or two reversible express lanes that would change direction with rush-hour traffic.
Staff said it has also explored adding a dedicated transit lane for buses and making adjustments that wouldn’t require new construction, such as supporting new bus routes or allowing the existing I-495 shoulders to be used as travel lanes during peak traffic periods. However, the congestion relief benefits would be limited without more space on the highway, according to the study team.
Taking a slightly more open stance than officials in Alexandria City, the Board of Supervisors didn’t comment on specific concepts, but it urged VDOT not to pursue any option that would rule out the possibility of future rail service over the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.
Opened to traffic in May 2008, the bridge was designed with a median to accommodate future transit, not with the expectation of toll lanes, Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay noted at the Nov. 21 meeting.
“From an equity standpoint, I do appreciate the fact that this is on the table, because this remains the only piece of interstate highway in Fairfax County that currently has no transit benefit whatsoever,” McKay said. “I acknowledge a failure of past efforts when projects were done to literally cut off this part of the county from the same types of transportation options that other parts of the county now have, including the communities that are sandwiched between the Springfield interchange project and the Woodrow Wilson project.”
According to the board’s letter, Fairfax County staff would support “an interim phase” without rail while Metro continues exploring how to increase capacity on its Blue, Orange and Silver lines, a study that has been underway since 2019 and could conclude by the end of this year. Read More
Construction on an overhaul of the Fairfax County Parkway and Popes Head Road interchange is slated to begin by the end of this year.
The Virginia Department of Transportation awarded a $49 million construction contract for the project in Fairfax Station last week to the Roanoke-based company Branch Civil, which is expected to begin on-site activities in December.
In the works since at least 2017, the project will replace the existing, four-way intersection controlled by a traffic signal with three roundabouts and two bridges over Fairfax County Parkway “that will allow traffic to flow freely,” VDOT said.
Other elements include:
- Building a short segment of the future Shirley Gate Road extension that will provide pedestrian and vehicle access to the future Patriot Park (Fairfax County is designing the rest of the Shirley Gate Road extension)
- Constructing a shared-use path linking the Fairfax County Parkway Trail to the future Patriot Park
- Reconstructing the Fairfax County Parkway Trail
- Installing a sidewalk along the north side of Popes Head Road
- Extending Ladues End Lane to the new roundabout at Popes Head Road
- Adding an acceleration lane for drivers turning from Nomes Court onto northbound Fairfax County Parkway
According to VDOT, Fairfax County Parkway carries an average of 64,000 vehicles a day, while Popes Head Road averages about 3,200 vehicles daily. The long wait at the traffic light — which state officials have said can last five minutes during peak travel times — has been a source of frustration for commuters.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors gave its support for the proposed redesign in May 2020. Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity said at the time that the project “will provide significant congestion relief and a safer route for thousands of residents,” according to The Connection.
VDOT is ultimately planning to widen Fairfax County Parkway from four to six lanes, starting with the northern section from Nomes Court to Route 29, though some have questioned the department’s use of road widenings as an answer to traffic congestion.
Earlier this year, the Fairfax County Department of Transportation revisited a 2021 study of the parkway and determined that it should be six lanes, rather than the eight that had previously been recommended. Staff also stressed the need for bicycle and pedestrian improvements, calling the completion of a trail from Reston to Fort Belvoir a top priority.
The Popes Head Road interchange also ties into plans to extend Shirley Gate Road down to the parkway from Braddock Road. Some funds for that project, which isn’t expected to start construction until 2026, were redirected in July to a project that will eliminate hills on Lee Chapel Road, where two teens were killed in a crash in January.
VDOT estimates the Popes Head Road interchange overhaul will cost a total of $92.4 million, including $78 million for construction, per its project page.
“A ‘Pardon Our Dust’ information meeting for residents and travelers is being planned in January,” VDOT said. “Construction is expected to be complete in late 2026.”
(Updated at 2:20 p.m.) Fairfax County is beginning talks for a pedestrian crossing at a dangerous intersection of Wiehle Avenue at the Dulles Toll Road ramps in Reston.
As part of its plan to redevelop the Campus Commons office complex, developer TF Cornerstones has agreed to give the county $1.65 million to build an alternative crossing for the area after a study group failed to reach consensus on a preferred alternative for the site in 2021.
But before an alternative option is chosen, the county will kick off a Wiehle Avenue corridor study that will evaluate Wiehle Avenue between Sunrise Valley Drive and the Washington & Old Dominion Trail.
An in-person meeting on the study is slated for Monday, Nov. 13 from 5:30-9 p.m. in the Langston Hughes Middle School cafeteria (11401 Ridge Heights Road).
Resounding community concerns about safety at the proposed at-grade crossing prompted the formation of a study group in 2020 that evaluated three proposed options for the site.
But virtually all members voted against the three options proposed by TF Cornerstones. Instead, 71% supported a crossing with an underpass — which comes with a hefty price tag — and 59% supported an enhanced at-grade pedestrian crosswalk with more multimodal improvements.
So far, the Board of Supervisors has emphasized the need for a high-visibility, at-grade crossing in the area — and one that is considered “aesthetically pleasing,” said Freddy Serrano, a spokesperson for the Fairfax County Department of Transportation (FCDOT).
A timeline for the implementation of the Campus Commons crossing has not yet been determined. Under its development conditions, TF Cornerstones doesn’t need to give the money to the county until it receives its first occupancy permit for Building C, a 27-story multi-family residential building, according to FCDOT.
“There has been no movement on this project so that timeline is unknown,” Serrano said.
Ultimately, the outcome will depend on the Wiehle Avenue corridor study.
With the study, county transportation officials will incorporate ideas from the public and work with consultant Fehr & Peers to develop three concepts to test in 2030 for the overall corridor. The models will help determine how potential changes will affect traffic operations, accessibility and pedestrian safety.
“We will take these concepts and the resulting future analysis back to the public early next year and will solicit their feedback to arrive at a preferred concept for Wiehle Avenue,” Serrano said.
TF Cornerstone plans to build two buildings with 655 apartments, more than 520,000 square feet of office space and a little over 28,000 square feet of ground-floor retail. A 24-story tower and two small towers are proposed.
Image via Google Maps
Updated at 8:40 p.m. on 11/8/2023 — The community workshop has been relocated to the cafeteria of Langston Hughes Middle School (11401 Ridge Heights Road).
Earlier: Fairfax County is formally launching a new study on how to shift Wiehle Avenue from a car-dominated, suburban road to a multimodal, urban street.
The Wiehle Avenue study kicks off with an in-person community workshop on Nov. 13.
After diving into the background and purpose of the study, the county will open the floor for attendees to brainstorm ideas on how to improve the road between Sunrise Valley Drive and the Washington & Old Dominion Trail in Reston.
The ideas proposed by the community will later be refined into three concepts “to test in future (year 2030) scenarios” by the Fairfax County Department of Transporation and its consultant, Fehr & Peers, FCDOT spokesperson Freddy Serrano says.
“[The scenarios] will give us an overview of how potential changes may affect traffic operations and accessibility and comfort for pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit users,” Serrano told FFXnow. “We will take these concepts and the resulting future analysis back to the public early next year and will solicit their feedback to arrive at a preferred concept for Wiehle Avenue.”
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors initiated the Wiehle Avenue study as a follow-on motion after approving TF Cornerstone’s Campus Commons redevelopment plan in 2019.
The project prompted vigorous debate on the safety of a proposed pedestrian crossing at the intersection Dulles Toll Road ramps and Wiehle Avenue. An alternative is being explored after the developer offered $1.65 million instead of developing a solution.
The county previously convened a study group to evaluate options for that crossing, but the group didn’t support any of the developer’s proposals.
FCDOT says this new study will take a broader look at the corridor and how it may have been affected by the opening of Metro’s Silver Line extension last year.
“This effort is expected to identify new and improved bicycle/pedestrian facilities and intersection treatments, as well as evaluate the potential reconfiguration of vehicular lanes and/or widths for current and future land use scenarios,” the department said in a news release.
The community meeting takes place from 5:30-9 p.m.
in the second floor conference room of 1900 Reston Metro Plaza. A light dinner will be provided. RSVPs are encouraged through an online feedback form.
Fairfax City is starting to refine its plans to add bicycle facilities on University Drive.
The project will “implement bicycle facilities on University Drive between Layton Hall Drive and South Street, with shared lane markings through the center of Old Town and bicycle lanes to the north,” according to the city’s website.
It will serve as a link to other multimodal projects currently underway in the area, such as the partially built George Snyder Trail, Chloe Ritter, the city’s multimodal transportation planner, told the Fairfax City Council at a meeting on Oct. 24.
“It connects to the bike lanes that are already existing on University Drive, south of Old Town. It connects to The Flats — the apartments that recently opened,” Ritter explained. “It really brings together a lot of the multimodal projects that we’ve been working on in connecting everything together.”
“The measures of evaluation that we looked at were bicycle and pedestrian safety, vehicle safety traffic operations, transit operations, property impacts implementation, and cost,” Megan Waring, a transportation engineer for the consultant, said at the council meeting.
She said ultimately, the firm recommends a two-way stop and a removal of the northbound, right-turn lane at the intersection, which will be condensed. Waring said that change allows for a pedestrian island that will improve safety.
“It allows us to have bike lanes as we’re coming up and down University, as we have kind of that steep incline or decline, depending on which way you’re traveling,” she said.
Tightening the intersection would also enable it to accommodate an added crosswalk, giving it a total of four. The crosswalks will also be closer to the intersection.
“So, we’re moving the people, the bikes, and the cars all to a location that’s more centralized, so that all users are able to see each other and make safe passage through the intersection itself,” Waring said.
The recommendations also call for adding a median refuge island, a protected space in the center of the street that facilitates bicycle and pedestrian crossings.
Waring said, together, the recommendations would reduce bicycle and vehicle conflicts, improve pedestrian crossings and maintain transit and vehicle operations. Read More
Fairfax County is gearing up to secure land rights to proceed with the development of a new shared-use path from the Innovation Center Metro station to surrounding neighborhoods.
At a meeting on Tuesday (Oct. 24), the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors unanimously agreed to set a public hearing for the project on Nov. 21.
Presented to the community in January, the project includes a 10-foot-wide, approximately 1,920-foot-long shared-use path. It would connect the kiss-and-ride parking lot to the residential communities at Farougi Court and Apgar Place.
“The connection will significantly reduce the trip length between the station and surrounding neighborhoods,” the Fairfax County Department of Transportation said on its webpage for the project.
Two pedestrian bridges over Horsepen Creek and lighting along the new path are also planned.
To move forward with the project, the county must secure land rights on six properties.
“Negotiations are in progress with the affected property owners,” county staff said in the board meeting agenda. “However, because resolution of these acquisitions is not imminent, it may be necessary for the Board to utilize quick-take eminent domain powers to commence construction of this project on schedule.”
Construction on the project is expected to begin in summer 2024, followed by completion in the summer of 2025.
Fairfax County is designing a new layout for Prosperity Avenue near the Dunn Loring Metro station.
The new configuration will reduce the roadway from four to two lanes by adding a road diet and protected bicycle lanes between Gallows Road and Prosperity Metro Plaza, the two-building office center whose tenants include U.S. Customs and Immigration Services’ D.C. field office.
The project will also convert existing on-street bicycle lanes that start to the west and continue until Hilltop Road into protected bike lanes.
Design funding will come from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG), whose Transportation Planning Board awarded $80,000 to the project last week as part of its Transit Within Reach program.
COG is “excited” about the county’s proposed improvements to Prosperity Avenue, which currently has a “very wide” design that “encourages drivers to speed and discourages people from walking and biking,” according to John Swanson, the principal transportation planner for the regional nonprofit.
The affected section of Prosperity Avenue has a 35 mph speed limit. A 19-year-old man from Chantilly was killed in a crash on the road last December, but that occurred to the south between Route 29 and Arlington Blvd.
“This part of Fairfax is undergoing a lot of change and the county is really committed to making the Dunn Loring station the center of a vibrant, walkable community,” Swanson said. “…This kind of project will make a real difference at the local level and will serve as a model for the region.”
The idea for the Prosperity Avenue safety project emerged out of discussions that started in April between representatives of businesses along the roadway and Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik’s office.
Since then, the district office has been working with county and state transportation staff to develop their proposal.
“I am delighted to see that this project design was approved for funding!” Palchik said in a statement. “After hearing from local businesses about safety concerns for their staff and visitors, my office worked diligently with FCDOT and VDOT on a proposal for a road diet for Prosperity Avenue. This design work will help improve safety for our pedestrians, especially for staff and community members visiting the USCIS offices or attending naturalization ceremonies.”
The Transit Within Reach funds will cover the project design up to 30% completion, according to the Fairfax County Department of Transportation. That will encompass the bicycle lanes from west of the Metro station to Hilltop Avenue, which is expected to be completed around the end of 2024.
The COG funding will also give the county an estimate for how much it’ll cost to implement the project.
“Once complete, FCDOT will identify funding to complete the design and construct the project,” a department spokesperson said.
Launched in 2021, the Transit Within Reach program provides consulting services for the design and preliminary engineering of “small, high-impact bicycle and pedestrian projects,” per COG.
The Transportation Planning Board approved a total of $250,000 in funding from the program at its meeting last Wednesday (Oct. 18). The other projects were a shared-use path in Gaithersburg and a sidewalk in D.C.
FCDOT is also working on a separate study to identify potential improvements on Gallows Road. Staff told community members at a meeting last month that traffic congestion, crashes, a lack of sidewalks and general pedestrian, bicycle and transit safety are all issues on the 7-mile corridor, Annandale Today reported.
While that study won’t assess or make recommendations for Prosperity Avenue, it could “be informed” by the road diet and bicycle lanes project, according to FCDOT.
Image via Google Maps
(Updated at 3:45 p.m.) A years-long effort to build a pedestrian and bicycle trail along Fairfax Blvd (Route 50) is facing a roadblock.
At a public hearing last Tuesday (Sept. 26), the Fairfax City Council deferred action on a special use permit for nearly 12,000 square feet of trail in Shiloh Street Park (10400 Shiloh Street). The affected area requires the permit because it is zoned for residential development.
The Shiloh Street Park passageway, which would include asphalt pavement, a boardwalk and a bridge over the Accotink Creek, would join the partially-constructed George Snyder Trail. Plans for the Snyder trail have been in the works for more than a decade.
Per a July presentation from city staff, the final version of the trail will be 1.78 miles long and offer a route for pedestrians and cyclists parallel to Fairfax Blvd from Chain Bridge Road (Route 123) to Draper Drive, connecting to the Wilcoxon Park trail.
The special use permit request for Shiloh Street Park now appears on the agenda for the council’s Oct. 10 meeting, where it will not require a public hearing. The vote to defer action was unanimous.
Councilmember D. Thomas Ross said he supported the deferral to give the council time to gather additional information and reflect on concerns raised by community members.
Councilmember Kate Doyle Feingold said the proposal was developed to use funding, rather than to serve residents.
Much of the Snyder trail’s $18.8 million estimated cost will be covered by money from the state’s I-66 Outside the Beltway project, which funds 16 projects approved by the Commonwealth Transportation Board with the recommendation of the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority.
“What we need to do is design things that the community and residents want, design things that protect our natural spaces, that make our residents feel safe and comfortable, places people love to go, like Daniels Run Trail,” Doyle Feingold said.
Among other concerns, she said the project would “take down an unnecessary hundreds of trees”
City staff estimate the Shiloh Street Park portion of the project would require removing 59 trees, while the overall project would require removing 568 trees — a prospect that has fueled opposition to the trail from some community members.
A mitigation plan to offset the prospective tree losses would plant 858 trees and 815 shrubs — all native species — in the project area, including 518 trees and 353 shrubs in the resource protection area, a city spokesperson says.
During the public hearing, four individuals who said they live in the Mosby Woods neighborhood near Shiloh Street Park spoke against having an access point to the trail near their homes, citing crime.
Ross said he recognized those concerns, and the city is taking action to address them. Ultimately, though, he remained supportive of the trail.
“From a trail perspective, and from our parks and our open space, opening them up to public access can be a good thing. It adds visibility. It adds public use,” he said.
Ross also said there has been “strong community support” for the trail over the years of its development.
The Fairfax Alliance for Better Bicycling called on riders to support trail construction ahead of a city council work session in July.
The vote on the Shiloh Street Park special use permit is not the last action the city council will take on the trail project this year. If the permit is approved, the body will vote this winter to award a contract for construction, which is scheduled for spring 2024, per city staff’s July presentation.
The Fairfax County Department of Transportation is ready to take a hard look at the future of Gallows Road.
The department will introduce a Gallows Road Multimodal Study with two public meetings next week, seeking feedback on enhancing mobility and safety along the major road between Tysons and Annandale. It will also give an update on the current travel conditions.
According to FCDOT communications head Freddy Serrano, the study is needed to address various transportation and connectivity challenges in the Gallows Road corridor.
“[Those include] pedestrian and bicycle facilities, limited mobility options, traffic conditions, and barriers created by I-495,” he said. “It aims to explore opportunities to mitigate these barriers and improve multimodal mobility between the planned land uses on the east and west sides of the interstate.”
Serrano says the goal is to find solutions and improve accessibility for everyone who uses the corridor, while supporting planned development.
Merrifield in particular is poised for growth. This spring, the county designated proposals to redevelop aging buildings in the area as top priorities for review, and plans to convert former Inova office buildings into live/work units recently raised concerns about traffic backups at the Gallows and Gatehouse Road intersection.
“Additionally, the study is essential for securing funding and planning for transportation infrastructure projects that align with the goals of the comprehensive plan and accommodate future development,” Serrano said.
The study stems from a comprehensive plan amendment that the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved in 2019, opening up the Merrifield Suburban Center to more mixed-use development. With the vote, the board also directed staff to:
- Conduct a comprehensive study of multimodal transportation opportunities
- Study the barriers to connectivity in the Merrifield suburban center created by I-495, and opportunities to mitigate the barriers
- Develop a funding plan for the transportation infrastructure improvements recommended in the Merrifield suburban center comprehensive plan.
The study started late last year, and it’s expected to wrap up by 2024.
“Overall, the study aims to improve transportation infrastructure and connectivity within the Merrifield suburban center and along Gallows Road to support sustainable development and enhance mobility for residents and stakeholders in the area,” Serrano said.
The first meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 19. at 7 p.m. and will be virtual. A second meeting will be held in person at Luther Jackson Middle School (3020 Gallows Road) on Wednesday, Sept. 20 at 7 p.m.
Comments will be accepted until the end of the business day on Friday, Oct. 6.
The Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC) is reviewing a study of Envision Route 7’s impact on Falls Church. The study doesn’t make recommendations but provides analysis on how BRT might impact bus and car traffic in Falls Church.
According to the NVTC agenda:
The Commission will be asked to accept the findings of the Envision Route 7 Phase 4-1 Mobility Study, a key element of the fourth phase of planning for a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system designed to connect the Mark Center in Alexandria to Tysons via Bailey’s Crossroads, Seven Corners and Falls Church along the Route 7 corridor.
The study included a variety of scenarios for how the BRT route could run through Falls Church, from a “no-build” option to full transit lanes, along with various “hybrids” inbetween.
Unsurprisingly, the scenarios with the higher number of dedicated bus lanes having the largest travel time decrease for buses, though travel times would also increase for cars and other vehicles.
The study also included feedback from public engagement, which determined 60% of respondents agreed improving bus speed and reliability was a high priority, though there was also concern about how the changes might impact bicyclist safety.
The full report is available online.
NVTC is working with Falls Church throughout this fall to develop a preferred scenario, with the project going to various boards and commissions in Falls Church, Fairfax, Alexandria and Arlington this winter.
Image via NVTC/Twitter