More than 200 people attended VDOT's unveiling Tuesday night of the design chosen for the Fairfax County/Fair Lakes parkways interchange. The $45 million needed for construction is as yet unfunded but, whenever a money tree blossoms somewhere, VDOT will be ready to translate the project from paper to pavement.
"It's included in the county's Comprehensive Plan and in VDOT's Six-Year program ... but it all comes down to dollars and financing," said VDOT preliminary-engineering manager Bill Cuttler. "From a technical standpoint, we're ready to do this."
Supervisors Michael Frey (Sully) and Elaine McConnell (Springfield), plus Sully District Transportation Commissioner Jeff Parnes, were among those hearing about the plan during a public hearing at Chantilly High. Residents have until Nov. 7 to send comments to Meeting_comments@VirginiaDOT.org (type "Fair Lakes Interchange" on subject line).
The Fairfax County Parkway (FCP) between I-66 and Route 50 already carries some 64,000 vehicles per day, with 118,000 vehicles per day projected by 2025. So VDOT wants to widen it within the existing median to six lanes — three in each direction — between I-66 and Route 50.
But an interchange is also needed. Because of heavy traffic and the stoplight at the Fair Lakes Parkway (FLP) intersection, northbound FCP backs up to the I-66 interchange during morning rush hour. Similarly, southbound FCP traffic backs to the Route 50 interchange during afternoon rush.
FLP and Monument Drive already carry about 30,000 and 6,000 vehicles each weekday, respectively, and these totals are predicted to increase to 47,000 and 18,000, respectively, by 2025. Furthermore, shopping centers along both roads also draw weekend motorists.
Four interchange-design alternatives were presented at a June 4, 2002 public hearing, and a large majority of residents — along with VDOT's design team — favored Alternative 2. VDOT refined it and presented details Tuesday night.
Eliminating signalized intersections at FLP and Monument Drive will improve traffic flow on both parkways. And the additional lanes on FCP will improve traffic flow from south of I-66 to north of Rugby Road.
PLANNED IS A split-diamond, grade-separated interchange, with FCP bridging over FLP and Monument Drive. These two roads will have full access to FCP via four ramps. Through traffic would be separated from local ramp traffic, with traffic signals on the ramps, not on the parkway.
Due to the close proximity of FLP to the existing interchanges at I-66 and Rugby Road, an additional auxiliary lane will be required in each direction between interchange ramps (I-66 to FLP, and FLP to Route 50).
FLP will be widened to accommodate the necessary left-turn lanes for the interchange. Beginning at FLP, a multi-purpose trail is anticipated along the east side of FCP, connecting to existing trail at Rocky Run Stream Valley Park.
Additionally, North Lake Drive would be made a cul-de-sac so it no longer intersects with FCP. "We felt it would be a safety issue where the [interchange] ties in," said design-consultant John Maddox. "Access out Tall Timbers Drive is proposed; a developer should build it soon." Meanwhile, residents of North Lake Village's 114 townhouses would weave through residential neighborhoods to reach the parkway or Route 50.
VDOT engineer P.K. Doss said the $5 million design phase and $2 million land-acquisition and utilities-relocation phase are both funded. The $45 million needed for construction is not, and Doss warned that the $52 million total cost is in today's dollars — so the price tag could rise in the future.
"Most of the land needed for right-of-way has already been deeded to VDOT," added Maddox. "There'll be landscaping, lighting on [FCP] from I-66 to Route 50, and numerous retaining walls — 8-10 feet high in places. "Next, said Doss, "We'll evaluate and compile public comments by the county DOT and VDOT and will seek the [Board of] Supervisors' endorsement, with McConnell's leadership, early next year."
Charlie Rose of PEC Solutions — occupying three buildings in Fair Lakes — said his company looks forward to this project "alleviating much of the congestion in this area." And he asked what VDOT will do to maintain Fair Lakes' "aesthetic integrity." Cuttler assured him that the landscaping, bridge and sound walls would all be "nice-looking."
A man asked about long-range gridlock relief for the area. Cuttler said plans are afoot to improve Centreville Road and, "in 2005, we'll do design work [to improve] Stringfellow Road, too."
WHILE NOTING that "There's a lot of competing projects across Northern Virginia for a limited pot of money," he said VDOT's looking for a "considerable infusion of federal money" to help fund the interchange. With it, the project would be built in phases, over about 30 months, finishing by late 2006-early 2007.
Barbara Gwaltney of North Lake Village said her community maintains the stormwater-management pond there. If construction damages it, she asked, "Will you take care of it, or will the burden fall back upon the homeowners?" Replied Cuttler: "We'll have to negotiate and work with them in terms of anything we do to [this pond]."
One man advised VDOT to "think about extending the noise barriers to Stringfellow." Cuttler said others have expressed the same concern and he urged him to e-mail it to VDOT. Another man wondered what good a 10-foot sound wall would do when FCP is elevated 20-23 feet.
A Birch Pond resident said his community near Route 50 needs sound walls, too. "It doesn't seem fair that they're not considering [them to protect] our neighborhood," he said. "I've lived there 12 years, and we hear trucks all through the night." Cuttler said VDOT doesn't decide on them and has to follow federal noise policies, but he'd investigate.
Similarly, Jim Jones of North Lake Village said every home there backs up to the parkway. He wondered if they could get sound walls between North Lake Drive and the Route 50 exit, independent of the interchange project, "as a quality-of-life issue," but Cuttler said no. Chere Smith of the Summit community, off Monument Drive, said interchange ramps might confuse drivers, but Cuttler said they'd "get used to it."
Afterward, Buckner Forest's Tom McDonald worried that three through lanes of FCP north of Route 29 "will have to merge into two lanes before getting onto the bridge over 29 to continue south on the parkway. That will back up traffic on the [FCP] between I-66 and Route 29."
But Rick Peterson, president of the Fair Lakes League (representing businesses and residents) said it's a good design because it allows full access to and from Monument Drive in all directions. And Springfield Supervisor McConnell said it's a necessary project: "It's one of the biggest bottlenecks on our parkway. It'll be so good for our people out here, and I'm going to work like mad to try to find the money to get this thing built."