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Votes

Residents Wary about Possible Traffic Fix

Cox Farms is at the corner of Braddock and Pleasant Valley roads in Centreville, and Lily Cox-Richard, 26, is marketing director of the family business.

"Our mailbox is on the other side of Braddock Road and, when I was a little girl, our parents always had to remind [my siblings and I] to look both ways before crossing it," she recalled. "That's because — although cars on Braddock Road were rare — every now and then, there was a car."

But some 20 years have passed since then, and thousands and thousands of people have moved into homes on both sides of the nearby Fairfax/Loudoun counties border. Consequently, said Cox-Richard, "Now things have totally changed."

With more people have come more vehicles, and now traffic tie-ups at the Pleasant Valley/Braddock Road intersection have become so bad that VDOT's considering putting a roundabout there. But local residents are wary.

"I'd like to ask more questions," said Virginia Run's Jim Hart. "They need to be careful about experimenting with a very significant intersection. Not every locality has had a successful experience with putting in roundabouts."

FURTHERMORE, he said, "Not only is the Pleasant Valley/Braddock intersection slow now, but there's going to be even more traffic when the new developments in Loudoun come on line." Just west of Cox Farms on Braddock and along Bull Run Post Office Road, said Hart, Pulte Homes has a pending application for 1,800 residential units in Loudoun.

It's a mixture of townhouses and single-family homes, and he said it would contain more houses than the Centreville communities of Virginia Run, Pleasant View, Sully Estates and Cardinal Forest, all together. And all these neighborhoods are off of either Braddock or Pleasant Valley roads.

"Because the traffic goes counter clockwise in a roundabout, all the traffic from Virginia Run has to yield to the Loudoun traffic because it'll already be in the circle," said Hart. "And therefore, it'll have the right of way. All the traffic from Sully Estates has to yield to all the traffic from Virginia Run, plus South Riding traffic continuing on. I'd like to understand how that works."

He said he believes the rationale for a roundabout there is that it's expected to move traffic more efficiently through that intersection that the existing four-way stop. But he warned that, just a little to the east of the intersection, on Braddock, is the infamous and dangerous S curve.

"And with the additional traffic volumes from Loudoun heading east, [motorists] are just going to be backing up as we stuff them into the S curve," said Hart. "So they'll have to slow down, a little ways from it, anyway."

BESIDES, HE SAID, "It isn't clear why we're making an improvement to facilitate more Loudoun commuters coming down Braddock and Pleasant Valley through our neighborhoods. I have an open mind, but traffic circles are controversial, and I think [VDOT] ought to have a public meeting, let people see the proposed design and ask questions."

Hart also wondered whether a roundabout might create other problems. For example, he said that if the Stevens property — part of Sully Woodlands in the northwest quadrant of the intersection — is developed with active recreation, such as soccer fields, there'll be a parking lot with an entrance on Pleasant Valley Road, close to the roundabout.

"If no one has to stop for the four-way stop, or a stoplight, how could you ever turn left onto Pleasant Valley Road at a busy time?" he asked. "And people living along Pleasant Valley won't be able to get out of their homes, either."

Hart said he respects the Virginia Run board's "cautious support" for a roundabout but, at the same time, he needs more answers. "And why is this the first one in Northern Virginia?" he asked. "[Pleasant Valley's] a rural road with large commuter volumes and more to come."

As things are now, said Cox-Richard, "We already can't get out of our driveway along Braddock. And traffic for the four-way stop is backed up well past our driveway at 8 a.m., from South Riding, so we just have to sit there patiently until someone lets us in."

She said evening rush is no better: "If I leave and try to come back at 5 p.m., then traffic is backed up from the four-way stop down to the bottom of the Rock Hill landmark on Braddock, almost to Old Lee Road."

That's why Cox-Richard says she "can imagine [a roundabout] working" better than the stop signs. "I've driven in roundabouts before in [Washington], D.C., and, from what I've seen, I think it would work [here]. There's less waiting and, at rush hour, it seems like it would clear out traffic coming in one main direction more efficiently."

Besides that, she said, "A roundabout wouldn't slow things down, the rest of the day, like a traffic light would" when vehicle volume at that intersection isn't as heavy. Said Cox-Richard: "We have to figure out a solution, and I don't see why a roundabout would [necessarily] be at the expense of Fairfax County traffic."

But Georgette Kohler of nearby Sully Estates disagrees. "The general consensus seems to be that [roundabouts] are going to cause more problems than they're going to fix," she said. "The real concern is that people are not used to them; and so, when you come to the intersection and you want to make a left-hand turn, you actually have to go to the right and go around the circle. People are very concerned that it's going to cause a lot of accidents with people not knowing when to go and stop."

KOHLER SAID she and her neighbors aren't so sure, anyway, that a roundabout would alleviate any of the backups there — "particularly on Braddock Road, as [traffic's] inching its way up to the intersection of Pleasant Valley and Braddock Road." And they doubt that it would move motorists through there in a "more flowing" manner.

"If people come up to the intersection and try to move in, we're thinking it'll continue to cause the backup and would certainly not improve it," she added. "Another big concern of the neighborhood are teen-agers racing through — trying to race each other around the circle — and/or people with motorcycles trying to roll themselves through."

Meanwhile, Sully Estates' Jerry Jasper, an eight-year resident of that community, wonders if the traffic volume there is already too high to make a roundabout truly effective. "It's always nice to know that VDOT is trying to take care of us," he said. "But I think we're already close to the design limit for that intersection, especially at rush hour."

Some mornings, he said, he sits in his vehicle at Chandley Farm Circle and Braddock Road for four or five minutes, waiting to turn onto Braddock. "And sometimes, traffic backs up to the hill there and it takes longer," said Jasper. "So there's no use spending VDOT's limited funds if it's not going to help."

By his own, unscientific count of vehicles coming east on Braddock during the morning rush, he said, about one per second — equaling 1,800 cars per half-hour and 3,600 cars per hour — travel through that intersection.

"And that's not all of the traffic there," he said. "Some continues south on Pleasant Valley and some goes west on Braddock. And traffic already backs up in the morning at Braddock and Old Lee because everybody wants to turn left at Old Lee to get to the high school [Westfield] or Routes 28 and 50."

IT ALSO backs up there, said Jasper, because people coming west on Braddock want to turn right onto Old Lee — and they have the right of way. And at the very height of rush hour, he said, traffic backs up all the way down Old Lee and up Braddock, at least to the S curve.

So, he said, the only good solution is "to simultaneously improve the intersection — by a roundabout, if the count's not too high, or a full signal-controlled intersection — and do the realignment of Braddock and Old Lee that's already on the county's Comprehensive plan."

Otherwise, warned Jasper, "If they just do a roundabout, they'll improve the flow at that intersection, but it'll just jam at Old Lee — and worse than the jam at Pleasant Valley and Braddock is now."

He said if traffic backed up into a signal-controlled intersection at Pleasant Valley/Braddock, at least traffic on Pleasant Valley would be able to move. But if traffic backed up all the way down Braddock because of a roundabout, he said, "then nobody would move in either direction because there'd be no way to clear the intersection, so people in the roundabout would have to stop."