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Supervisors Give OK to Interchange Project

As things stand now, the intersection of the Fairfax County and Fair Lakes parkways is a giant pain for motorists on both roads. Too many people need to go too many places — and all at the same time.

But relief is en route in the form of an interchange there. No one knows, yet, just how the $45 million estimated for its construction will materialize. But the county Board of Supervisors helped pave the way, last week, by giving the project a green light.

"That's been one of the big bottlenecks on the Parkway, so we will be so happy to see that completed," said Supervisor Elaine McConnell (R-Sully). "I think that'll make quite a difference for the flow of traffic in that area."

The scope of the 2.86-mile interchange is from .64 mile south of I-66 east to .16 mile north of Rugby Road. And for area residents, it can't come too soon.

Because of congestion due to heavy traffic and the stoplight at Fairfax County Parkway's intersection with Fair Lakes Parkway, 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.

Meanwhile, drivers on Fair Lakes Parkway fume angrily because — after sitting through several cycles of red lights — when they finally do get a green light to cross Fairfax County Parkway, only a handful of cars can actually make it across the intersection before the light turns red again.

FAIR LAKES PARKWAY and Monument Drive already convey some 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 — including the new, Fairfax Corner center off Monument Drive — also draw weekend motorists.

So the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) plans to widen Fairfax County Parkway within the existing median to six lanes — three in each direction — between I-66 and Route 50. But an interchange is needed, as well; its proposed design is as follows:

* Traffic flow on both parkways will be improved by eliminating the signalized intersections at Fair Lakes Parkway and Monument Drive. And the additional lanes on the Fairfax County Parkway will improve traffic flow from south of I-66 to north of Rugby Road.

* Planned is a split-diamond, grade-separated interchange, with Fairfax County Parkway bridging over Fair Lakes Parkway and Monument Drive. These two roads will remain at their current elevations and will have full access to the Fairfax County Parkway 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 Fairfax County Parkway's existing interchanges with I-66 and Route 50, an additional auxiliary lane will be required in each direction — northbound and southbound — between the interchange ramps (I-66 to Fair Lakes Parkway, and Route 50 to Fair Lakes Parkway). And Fair Lakes Parkway will be widened to accommodate the necessary left-turn lanes for the interchange.

* In addition, beginning at Fair Lakes Parkway, a 10-foot-wide, multi-purpose trail is anticipated along the east side of Fairfax County Parkway's new northbound ramps to an existing trail near North Lake Drive. Connections will be made along Fair Lakes Parkway and Monument Drive to existing sidewalk/trail connections.

* Sidewalk will be constructed along the western side of Fairfax County Parkway's southbound ramps from its intersection with Fair Lakes Parkway to a new connection with the existing trail network in Rocky Run Stream Valley Park.

* TO IMPROVE SAFETY and traffic flow, North Lake Drive will be made a cul-de-sac so it no longer intersects with Fairfax County Parkway. Instead, Tall Timbers Drive will be extended so it runs between the Fair Lakes Village and Fair Ridge developments. Doing so will provide Fair Lakes Village residents (North Lake Drive) with an interior access to Monument Drive.

The $5 million design phase and $2 million land-acquisition and utilities-relocation phase are both funded. But the $45 million needed for construction is not — and since that amount is figured in today's dollars, the cost could rise higher in the future.

Most of the land needed for right-of-way and easements has already been deeded to VDOT. Also planned are landscaping, lighting on the Fairfax County Parkway from I-66 to Route 50, plus several walls — 8-10 feet high in places. And the project is designed to accommodate possible future HOV lanes.

If VDOT were to receive huge amounts of money from the federal government to help fund the interchange, it's anticipated that the project would be built in phases, over about 30 months, finishing by late 2006-early 2007.

At an October public meeting — which Supervisor McConnell attended — some nearby residents complained about the road noise there. They said truckers downshifting were especially irritating. So, where there are high-density dwellings, said McConnell, "I've asked and will pursue [possibly preventing truckers from doing so] in an area [spanning] a mile or two."

OTHER RESIDENTS requested sound walls for their neighborhoods, and VDOT will decide whether to erect them and where they'll go. Doug Miller, one of the project managers in VDOT's preliminary-engineering department, said VDOT already conducted an initial noise study and concluded that some of the homes could potentially be affected by noise from the interchange.

"[Impact] is based upon the projected traffic figures for the design year of the project — the date construction bids are advertised, plus 11 years," he explained. "Our transportation-planning people look at the surrounding land uses, the county's Comprehensive Plan and who's using the road — how many trucks and cars, and at what time of day — to estimate the traffic volume and impact."

However, said Miller, even after VDOT determines that sound walls are needed somewhere, it still sends representatives door-to-door to ask residents if they want a sound wall. "Some people would rather put up with [additional] noise decibels than look out at, for example, a 12-foot cement wall," he said.

The plan now goes to Virginia's Commonwealth Transportation Board for possible approval. Meanwhile, VDOT will continue working on it. "With a project as desperately needed as this, we do as much homework up front, as possible," said Miller. "[Then], whenever the funding is approved, we'd be ready to go."

For more information, see www.virginiadot.org/projects/nova/fairfax-rt7100-fairlakes.asp. Click on "Public Hearing Displays" to view areas identified for potential sound walls.