Whether they are for or against the turn lane, one thing seems true among all the residents surrounding the intersection of Lawyers Road and Loch Lomond Drive: they want Fairfax County Supervisor Cathy Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill) to make a decision.
Last Tuesday, March 26, Hudgins met with a group of representatives and concerned citizens from the Lawyers North, Balmoral and Marshall Estates subdivisions. Some of the meeting attendees expected Hudgins to announce a decision whether or not to build a 100-foot left turn lane, off of Lawyers onto Loch Lomond in the Lawyers North subdivision.
But instead of making a decision, Hudgins went around the room, asking each person their opinion on the project. Then she asked the presidents of each of the three subdivision homeowners associations to vote, as representatives of their residents, on the turn lane. Two of the presidents said they were ready to vote against the project. But Winnie Atlas, president of the Lawyers North Homeowners Association, said she would like to gather more information from her neighbors.
“We’re still looking for comments from members,” Atlas said.
Hudgins gave the homeowners association presidents until April 15 to submit their official votes on the project.
"This is one of those things we really need to get resolved," Hudgins said. "It's gone on a long time."
Hudgins hopes to decide the turn lane issue as soon as she gets all three homeowners association votes, but said her decision will not depend on those votes alone.
“IT’S ALWAYS IMPORTANT to understand how people feel,” Hudgins said. “But I have to look at the big picture and get back to them.”
She explained the “big picture” as “whether or not the turn lane is appropriate or feasible at the intersection.”
Even though Atlas asked for more time before she votes on the turn lane, she said she would have liked Hudgins to make a decision at last Tuesday's meeting.
“[Hudgins] said she’d give us a decision at that meeting and she didn’t,” Atlas said. “I’m disappointed. She has contributed to the animosity between neighbors by prolonging the process after the turn lane committee has already made a decision.”
Last year, Atlas said, a turn lane committee appointed by Hudgins voted against the project. But Hudgins has continued holding meetings and gathering information on the $300,000 project.
“We’ve gone through this routine in four separate meetings,” said Marshall Estates resident Joe Piccolo. “Hudgins hasn’t been able to make a decision.”
Brady O’Beirne, president of the Balmoral Homeowner’s Association, said there were around 15 people at last Tuesday’s meeting and all but two attendees seemed to oppose the project. Hudgins agreed that, “From the folks represented at the meeting, the majority opposed the turn lane.”
THOSE IN FAVOR of the turn lane, which was proposed years ago when Bob Dix was still supervisor of the Hunter Mill District, said the lane should be built to cut down on rear-end collisions. The turn onto Loch Lomond comes just after a hill crest on Lawyers and the lane was proposed by residents who were concerned with visibility at the intersection.
Residents of the Balmoral neighborhood, which is west of the intersection, were concerned the turn lane might actually increase speeds on Lawyers Road because cars going straight down the road would no longer be impeded by cars turning left onto Loch Lomond. This, some residents said, would make it more dangerous to exit the Balmoral neighborhood. A traffic study by the Fairfax County Police counted 10 accidents around the intersection from 1996 to 2001. Six of those accidents occurred in 1997 alone.
O’Beirne said that, at the meeting, county officials admitted that the intersection was not particularly dangerous.
“Basically there have been only 10 accidents in the area over 6 years, "Hudgins said. “I guess people were looking to see how high that number was, relative to similar intersections. It is not considered an overwhelming number.”
An assessment by the Virginia Department of Transportation, which was passed around at the meeting, said traffic calming devices such as speed humps, rumble strips or flashing warning lights, were not appropriate at the intersection.
“At this point there are two things we can do,” said Fairfax County engineer Larry Ichter. “We can build the turn lane, widening the road to the Loch Lomond side, or we can do nothing.”
O’Beirne asked, “If it’s not justified to put up a flashing sign, then why spend $300,000 on a turn lane.”
BUT HUDGINS SAID that the category of road makes it impossible, according to policy, for VDOT to install traffic calming devices.
“It is not considered a neighborhood road, so you can’t put in rumble strips or speed humps,” said Hudgins. “This is a street that carries commuter traffic.”
A turn lane, which is built by the county, can be built on any road, Hudgins said, whereas traffic calming devices are limited to certain streets.
“It’s comparable to saying, ‘Can you go down to Hunter Mill Road and put in four-way stop signs at every intersection?’” Hudgins said. “They are just not things that you put there.”
One more concern, among neighborhood residents, is that building the turn lane would just open the door for further road-widening projects in the future. The long-term plan for Lawyers Road calls for four lanes, rather than the two lanes that are currently in place.
“It would just add fuel to the fire [for a four-lane road] if we have turn lanes all up and down the road,” Piccolo said.