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Federal Money for Roads

Federal transportation spending bill provides $500,000 to improve synchronization of traffic signals along Route 7.

"Are we there yet?" is a question that may be asked less often by Route 7 travelers once the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) improves the timing of traffic lights.

VDOT plans to purchase and install state-of-the-art monitoring and synchronization equipment along the corridor from Leesburg to Tysons Corner with monies provided in the Fiscal Year 2004 federal transportation spending bill. The House and Senate voted in favor of the annual appropriations bill last week that will provide $88.9 billion in budgetary resources for highway, roadway, transit, aviation and other transportation projects, an increase of $4.9 billion from the Fiscal Year (FY) 2003 level. Discretionary spending will be $27.5 billion.

"With better synchronization of traffic lights and the monitoring of traffic in real time, traffic on Route 7 should be able to move faster," said U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-10), according to a statement.

Locally, the appropriations bill provides $500,000 for the Route 7 improvements and $20 million for mass transit in the Dulles Corridor, both projects in eastern Loudoun. Another $6 million will go toward the expansion of Battlefield Parkway in Leesburg, $1 million for traffic calming on Route 50 in Loudoun and Fauquier counties, $100,000 for safety improvements on Route 9 and $1 million for a new ground-based radio landing system for the Leesburg Executive Airport, all in western Loudoun.

The Route 7 improvements will allow VDOT to improve timing of the traffic signals along the corridor. As of now, VDOT can adjust the signals to accommodate for time of day and for congestion conditions and monitor those signals to determine if the adjustments are carried out. Video camera traffic controllers at each signal communicate the conditions to VDOT’s central operation center in Fairfax County, so that the changes can be made.

"It’s more of a fine-tuning of the coordination ability VDOT already has," said Chip Taylor, assistant director of the Office of Transportation Services. "The more real time you can get with this information, the more efficient you will become with moving cars."

THE SECOND eastern Loudoun project listed in the appropriations bill proposes to continue rail from Falls Church to Loudoun County by 2015, a project that was delayed by the federal government.

"Our federal partners said that to do the entire project in one fell swoop was not viable, so it was broken into phases," said Rick Clawson, public information officer for the Department of Rail and Public Transportation.

The appropriations bill will provide $20 million for the first phase of the two-phase project, bringing the total federal share to $163 million for environmental studies and project planning. The first phase will extend the orange line to Wiehle Avenue in Reston with construction scheduled to begin in 20O5. The second phase will bring the line to Dulles.

The two phases are expected to cost $4 billion, half of the costs provided by the federal government and the rest by the state and the localities involved, including Loudoun and Fairfax counties.

"There won’t be any local share until rail comes to Loudoun County," said Nancy Gourley, transit division manager for the county Office of Transportation Services. "We hope that it will take a lot more cars off roads. We have a lot of people commuting to Loudoun County or the district."

Additional federal funding for the project is expected to be included in the federal government’s reauthorization bill awaiting approval next spring. The bill, known as the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), expired in September before the House approved a new transportation funding package, said Tamara Neale, spokesperson for VDOT. The House had to approve a five-month extension to the bill, which is updated every six years. The bill is expected to provide $100 million a year for the next six year for the rail project.