Improving transit and increasing the county’s road network is the Office of Transportation Services’ two-part answer to the congestion question.
"It’s a mindset of what transportation means to us," said John J. Clark, director of transportation services, a position he filled one and a half years ago about six months after the county created the office by pulling transportation staff from the various departments into one area. "The creation of this department was the first step in that direction, that transportation is critical to the quality of life and the economic success of the county."
Clark focused on the county’s transit system during his first year and this year shifted his focus to improving the highway system, while still continuing to work on transit. Since the office opened, the staff has worked on adding new bus routes and a reverse commute service from the West Falls Church metro station to MCI and America Online, Inc., along with recommending the Board of Supervisors purchase a 22-commuter bus fleet at a cost of $9.5 million, which the board approved July 21.
"The commuter bus service has continued to expand," said Supervisor William Bogard (R-Sugarland Run).
The service's ridership increased 50 percent in the last year to about 700 riders a day, an increase brought about by improved services and increased marketing of services, Clark said. "Even the non-user is benefiting by it," he said, adding that each of the commuter buses takes 50 cars off the road and helps reduce congestion. "Not everyone can use transit — it simply doesn't go where they want to go — but everyone benefits from it in the sense that it reduces congestion."
THIS YEAR, Clark is looking at alternate roads that would complement the existing highway system and at various ways to improve those existing highways. "We still have to remember the road system will remain the backbone to our transportation system," he said, adding that statewide, municipalities rely almost exclusively on the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) to provide their road systems. "The VDOT program does not meet the needs of the county. We have to look at other ways to meet those needs."
One way is through the 2001 Revised Comprehensive Plan, which controls land use by directing new development to areas that can accommodate it and to areas where the infrastructure and roadways already exists. Another way is to consider innovative and creative ways to improve and fund improvements, along with identifying ways to engineer projects more efficiently and with cost savings. The projects would be for the most congested areas of county, particularly the Route 7 and Route 28 corridors.
"We need to provide an alternative to some of these main roads," Bogard said, adding that some locations in the county cannot be reached without using main roads.
"We have levels of congestion on Route 7 that need to be improved. We are in the process of finding solutions to that from an engineering and a financing perspective," Clark said about the county’s major east-west corridor that runs perpendicular to Route 28, the major north-south corridor that already is planned for a limited-access highway through a public-private partnership.
A similar project is planned for Route 7, since the county plans to expand Claiborne Parkway to Route 7 and add an interchange there, along with turning the intersections of Loudoun County Parkway, Ashburn Village Parkway and Route 659, which runs past the new Brambleton development, into interchanges.
AS OF NOW, the intersections slow traffic flow on Route 7, Clark said. "By making those interchanges, the traffic will flow better," he said, adding that other intersections will be considered as well for interchanges. "It needs to be looked at in a comprehensive basis. To provide the overall solution, we have to look at the entire corridor."
The interchange work could take a decade or more with work being performed on an incremental basis, Clark said. "That’s a tall order. It’s not something that will happen overnight, but it eventually will happen," he said.
Another solution for Route 7 involves developing parallel roads, such as finishing Riverside Parkway to handle local traffic, Clark said. The county is working with developers to proffer sections of the road in exchange for zoning amendments and thereby to finish the project. The parallel roads to Route 28 that have been considered include Atlantic and Pacific boulevards, sections of which developers have or plan to construct through proffer agreements.
"If we are going to rely on developers to build the roads and build the infrastructure, then we have to wait until they decide to develop," Bogard said
AS A START, "we are beginning work right now from the paper end of things, which is getting everything in place before you start moving dirt," Clark said. "Until we have funding and all of the approvals, we can’t start the construction phase."
But having an Office of Transportation in itself helps. "It’s enabled us to bring a lot more focus, to bring more clarity to our transportation issues. … Having a transportation department does a much better job defining our transportation problems and championing solutions," said Supervisor Charles Harris (D-Broad Run), adding that a department has given the county more credibility when dealing with VDOT, the state and other agencies than it had in the past when it staffed transportation staff in various county departments. "We’ve done better since they’ve formed and will do a lot better in the future."
"My main focus is delivering a transportation system that meets the current and future needs of Loudoun County. It takes a long time to do this," Clark said, adding that the office needs the support of stakeholders, the county and the state to make the improvements. "I want Loudoun to be smarter and better able to solve its transportation problems than some of its neighbors. It takes an effort by all stakeholders, but it’s doable."