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Can Traffic Get Any Worse?

Probably so, says consultant. Or it could get better.

Seneca Place, a proposed shopping center at the northwest quadrant of the intersection of Georgetown Pike and Seneca Road, would make a failed intersection even worse, according to a “conservative” traffic study that was publicly released on Dec. 17.

And that’s before the potential for 400 new homes that could be built “by right” at the Spalding Farm, 800 undeveloped acres on the north end of Seneca Road “with plans in the works for that parcel to be developed, once the owner is deceased,” said Rob Prunty, a transportation engineer for Wilbur Smith Associates in Falls Church.

He studied the flow of traffic, not only at the juncture of Seneca Road and Georgetown Pike, but also at Route 7 and Georgetown Pike, about 30 yards away.

Prunty’s “traffic forecasting” showed that a shopping center with only one entrance from Seneca Road would exacerbate problems at both intersections, which already earn failing grades from the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), Prunty said.

Unless the developer adds two southbound lanes on Seneca Road, they were told, traffic can only get worse, he said.

“Seneca Road/Georgetown Pike gets an F,” said Prunty. “It’s failing. There are long queues and long delays.

“Route 7 at the Pike is failing.”

“As a result, people up here begin irrational behavior. We saw people doing every kind of behavior imaginable. We saw wrong-way U-turns,” he said.

But Prunty said the cost of a traffic signal — about $100,000 — is prohibitive until 2008, when VDOT funds will pay for it as part of the widening of Route 7 to six lanes.

Seneca corridor residents Dianne Van Volkenburg and Ralph Lazaro said they called the public meeting to present findings from Prunty’s study, which the developer performed at the request of Fairfax County after a traffic count in September showed higher volume than had been projected.

He said he used the most conservative estimates he could:

Many of those in attendance live with the frustration of attempting a left turn from southbound Seneca Road onto Georgetown Pike.

“Did they take into consideration the people who cut through the existing shopping center?” asked Monica Moody.

“Did they take into account that people are driving on the wrong side of the road to get through there? And you’re telling me VDOT is not going to put a signal there until 2008?” one resident.

“It’s SUV City off of Seneca Road,” said another woman who did not identify herself. “This is for 2008. What about now? What can you do immediately to help this situation?”

Alan Kaub, a senior transportation engineer for VDOT, did little to allay citizen concerns about two “failed” intersections at the terminus of Georgetown Pike: Seneca Road and Leesburg Pike.

Despite the request of a citizen, Kaub said VDOT won’t paint a yellow “box” on the pavement to prevent motorists from blocking the apron that opens from Georgetown Pike to Seneca Road because motorists “won’t pay attention.”

“Excuse me. Are we doing this for the developer? Or for the safety of the citizens?” asked one man who did not identify himself.

“I was hired to only look at the impacts of the development,” said Prunty.

Ironically, the shopping center also holds out the only hope for relief, said Van Volkenburg at a Dec. 17 town meeting of about 80 people, which was sponsored by a coalition of neighborhoods on Seneca Road.

“We will get some road improvements, but It does not appear we will get a reduction in the size of the shopping center,” said Van Valkenburg.”

Prunty said a combination of two added lanes, one southbound and one turn lane, and the new traffic signal should give the intersection of Seneca and Georgetown Pike some relief.

“The only way to get Seneca Road to five lanes is to work with the developer. This is a good thing,” said Lazaro.

Marge Gersic, another longtime resident of Seneca Road, was less certain of a positive outcome.

“Dealing with VDOT, to me, is a farce,” she said. “They are not interested. They’ve been doing this for 20 years.

“It’s laughable. They send representatives that have no interest.

“It’s very sad. It’s going to take until 2010 before anyone starts to realize what’s going on,” she said.

Several people at the meeting described how people driving southbound on Seneca Road get so frustrated waiting to turn onto Georgetown Pike that they sweep around cars waiting to turn right onto Leesburg Pike.

The southbound cars briefly travel on the wrong side of the road to make their turns, said Gersic and others.

“There should be two openings in the end of Seneca: one to go right [on Route 7] and one to go left,” Gersic said.

“But nobody wants to do it. They don’t want to spend the money to widen the road just a few feet.

“People are so aggravated because they aren’t moving at all and the road is wide open [on the northbound side].”