New Interchange in Fair Lakes

Meet the new VDOT. In years past, when the Virginia Department of Transportation wanted to build something, it planned it all out and then asked for public comment.

But Tuesday night at Chantilly High, VDOT presented four design proposals for an interchange at the intersection of the Fairfax County and Fair Lakes parkways. And it's actively seeking feedback from area residents on everything from the designs to noise walls to trails.

"It's not just lip-service," said VDOT preliminary-engineering manager Bill Cuttler. "Every project I've worked on has been improved by citizen comments."

Comments postmarked by June 14 may be sent to: Mr. William C. Cuttler, P.E., Fairfax Preliminary Engineering Manager, VDOT, 14685 Avion Parkway, Chantilly, VA. 20151-1104. Phone: 703-383-2433; e-mail: meeting_comments@VirginiaDOT.org.

The Fairfax County Parkway between I-66 and Route 50 already carries some 60,000 vehicles per day, with 118,000 vehicles per day projected by 2025. So VDOT wants to widen Fairfax County Parkway within the existing median to six lanes — three in each direction — between I-66 and Route 50.

But it says an interchange — already in the county's Comprehensive Plan — is also needed to deal with the congestion. Currently, because of heavy traffic and the stoplight at the Fair Lakes Parkway intersection, northbound Fairfax County Parkway backs up to the I-66 interchange during morning rush hour.

Similarly, southbound Fairfax County Parkway traffic is backed to the Route 50 interchange during the afternoon rush. And shopping centers along Fair Lakes Parkway also draw weekend motorists.

The interchange is in VDOT's Tentative Six-Year Plan, containing $11 million for preliminary engineering and partial land-acquisition. Although no funds are as yet earmarked for construction, Cuttler said it's valuable to make some decisions now so that, "should additional funding become available, we'd be able to move forward with [the project]."

* Alternative 1 is a split-diamond interchange with Fair Lakes Parkway bridging over Fairfax County Parkway. Part of Monument Drive would also bridge over Fairfax County Parkway and connect with interchange ramps providing full access to Monument Drive. Estimated cost: $80 million. Additional land required: about 9 acres.

It's the most expensive proposal and has the greatest impact to Rocky Run Stream Valley Park. And traffic flow would be difficult while constructing bridges along Fair Lakes Parkway and Monument Drive. A 2.5-mile detour through eight intersections would be required, with Fair Lakes Parkway closed from Shoppes Lane to Fair Lakes Circle.

* Alternative 2 is also a split-diamond interchange, but it entails Fairfax County Parkway bridging over Fair Lakes Parkway and Monument Drive. Monument Drive retains full access. Estimated cost: $67 million. Additional land required: about 2 acres.

Traffic flow during construction would be better than with Alternative 1. Newly installed ramps would channel traffic while the bridges are constructed on Fairfax County Parkway.

* Alternative 3 is a diamond interchange at Fair Lakes Parkway with Fair Lakes Parkway bridging over Fairfax County Parkway. Monument Drive would remain at-grade and would be connected — right turn in/right turn out only — to the ramp from Fair Lakes Parkway to northbound Fairfax County Parkway. Estimated cost: $63 million; Additional land required: about 6 acres.

Like Alternative 1, the same detour would be necessary during construction of the bridge along Fair Lakes Parkway. Because of only partial access to Monument Drive, u-turns would increase.

* Alternative 4 is also a diamond interchange at Fair Lakes Parkway, but it has Fairfax County Parkway bridging over Fair Lakes Parkway. And, as in Alternative 3, Monument Drive would be connected — right turn in/right turn out only — to the ramp from Fair Lakes Parkway to northbound Fairfax County Parkway. Estimated cost: $57 million. Additional land required: about 2 acres.

As in Alternate 2, newly installed ramps would channel traffic while the bridge is constructed on Fairfax County Parkway. But this plan, like Alternative 3, would cause more u-turns because of partial access to Monument Drive. It would also impact eastern access to Rocky Run Stream Valley Park.

Some 70 people attended Tuesday's meeting, and John Maddox with Whitman, Requardt and Associates of Richmond — the consulting and design engineers for VDOT on this project — provided details, along with VDOT's Cuttler.

"Fair Lakes Parkway will include signals at ramp intersections, but Fairfax County Parkway will be free-flow, no stop," said Maddox. Noting that citizen input is also sought on the project's landscaping, lighting, noise and retaining walls and trails, Cuttler said, "It's a federally funded project, so noise walls would be built where needed."

On all alternatives, the North Lake Drive intersection with Fairfax County Parkway is proposed to be eliminated for safety and traffic purposes. Access to this parkway and to Route 50 would instead be via additional internal connections throughout various residential neighborhoods.

However, North Lake residents weren't thrilled with this idea, nor the impact on North Lake Court. "Alternatives 3 and 4 block off North Lake Court — the road in and out of our development — and would make Monument a right turn only," said Phil Mahlum. "We'd have no ready or direct access to [either] parkway."

North Lake Village resident Lyn LaComa agreed, adding, "If Monument gets cut off, too, we're totally locked in there." Furthermore, she said, "I'm right up against the parkway — I want a sound wall, too."

Saying he'd just moved to the area, Mahlum questioned the need for an interchange, at all. "Traffic is only bad at rush hour," he said. "Other times, it seems to flow really well, so why is this project even a priority?" Replied Cuttler: "It's a very long traffic light, so we feel it's a priority with the congestion now and because we anticipate that the growth is going to continue."

One man suggested leaving both parkways at-grade and building on/off ramps to bring the traffic under the bridge at Fair Lakes Circle. Cuttler told him to put it in writing and he'd have the design team evaluate it.

Sully Station's Steven Vandivere advised Maddox and Cuttler, "Whatever you do, it's extremely important that the safe flow of pedestrians and bicyclists across the major roads be supported and promoted." Cuttler said VDOT would do what it could to make the interchange compatible with the county's soon-to-be-approved trails plan.

Beginning at Fair Lakes Parkway, a multi-purpose trail is planned along the east side of Fairfax County Parkway, connecting to the existing trail at Rocky Run Stream Valley Park. And, added Cuttler, "We'll continue to work with county government and staff and Supervisor [Elaine] McConnell [R-Springfield] on this project."

Since budget constraints are likely to delay construction for quite awhile, Vandivere asked, "How long is the design likely to be valid, under changing circumstances, if it doesn't get implemented?" Cuttler replied, "Three to five years, depending on the area's growth." Sophia Chou of Fair Lakes asked if the proposed sales tax would affect the project, and Cuttler said it could yield some money for it.

Throughout the summer, VDOT will evaluate comments received from Tuesday's meeting and will hopefully select an alternative by fall. A location-and-design public hearing is set for spring 2003. Cuttler said VDOT will then offer more details about the project, including results of a noise analysis to determine where noise walls should go.