<bt>In April 2003, the expansive Interstate Interchange project, located at the intersection of Interstates 395, 495 and 95, passed the half way point toward completion. The massive project involves over 50 bridges and overpasses, lane additions and signage, designed to move traffic through the interchange more smoothly, eliminating the bobbing and weaving in an area previously known as the "mixing bowl."
Traffic flow in the interchange improved this year with the opening of a 120-foot overpass, going from the Beltway, over all the highway lanes, to I-95 south. This overpass, known around the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) as B610, eliminated Inner Loop traffic mixing with that traveling from I-395 south and the traffic from the Outer Loop of the Beltway, I-495 east.
With that overpass up and running, VDOT has now set its sights on several other bridge projects starting this summer. Plans include a bridge from I-395 south to the Outer Loop of I-495, a bridge from I-395 south to Springfield, and B609, the sister bridge to B610. B609 will carry traffic from I-95 north to the Outer Loop toward the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.
"The sister bridge is under construction right now," said Steve Titunik, VDOT's interchange information specialist. "They'll start seeing steel be hung in the not too far future." The bridge from I-395 south to Springfield is scheduled to be completed in April 2005, and B609 will be open in October 2005, according to VDOT plans.
At last count, the project was priced at $676 million and Virginia politicians have placed a ceiling of $700 million spending. For details on the highway project as well as information on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge project in Alexandria, and other traveling tips, VDOT operates an interchange information office in Springfield Mall. The hours of operation are Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
<bt>Springfield's revitalization takes another step forward this summer with the second half of Springfield Plaza receiving a facade improvement, and the Shoney's restaurant at Old Keene Mill Road and Bland Street due for a new tenant, Al's Place at the Mixing Bowl. Due to open this summer, Al's Place is coming into shape. Burgers, pizza and pasta is the restaurant's specialty.
"It's a tribute to the chaos that goes on around here," said Al Dernousek, the "Al" in Al's Place.
In years past, local businesses joined forces with Fairfax County to revitalize central Springfield. Leading the effort is CSPARC [Central Springfield Revitalization Committee], a group concentrating on the effort. Accomplishments toward revitalization thus far include the introduction of the new Veteran's Bridge over Old Keene Mill Road; the opening of Trader Joe's, an upscale grocer in Springfield Plaza; and a streetscape project in Tower Center. The annual Veteran's Bridge walk is scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 1, at 7 p.m.
The Northern Virginia Community College medical campus became an independent campus with increased funding on July 1. Occupying the office space around the campus are eight businesses in the bioinformatics field, which are opening as part of a "bioinformatics incubator."
<sh>Virginia Railway Express
<bt>The transportation center at Springfield increased the ridership with the introduction of the Virginia Railway Express. Riders coming from Fredericksburg can transfer to the Metro at the Springfield stop.
Each year, VRE has seen an increase in ridership. Parking at Springfield was improved last year with the addition of another parking garage. Commuters are also allowed to park at the upper levels of the parking garage at Springfield Mall and then walk to the station or take a TAGS bus, which runs every 15 minutes.
Besides parking improvements, VRE is adding several cars to its trains this year. Ten train cars are being leased from the rail system in Chicago and VRE expects to put 30 of the new cars in service by December.
VRE operates two lines: the Manassas line, which includes Burke, and the Fredericksburg line which includes Springfield. Along the Fredericksburg line, a bridge at Quantico is currently being worked on and is expected to be completed this year.
All the area district supervisors fill roles on the VRE board. Supervisor Elaine McConnell (R-Springfield) is vice chairman, Supervisor Dana Kauffman (D-Lee) is treasurer, and Supervisor Sharon Bulova (D-Braddock) is a board member. Last year, Pete Sklannik was replaced by Dale Zehner as the railway's chief executive officer.
"He has worked with the VRE at other capacities," said Bulova.
<bt>The additional parking garage at the Springfield-Franconia Metro Station didn't take long to pack in more cars, showing the popularity of the Joe Alexander Transportation Center at the end of the Metro system's blue line. The transportation center now caters to motorists, the Metrorail system, Virginia Railway Express trains, Metrobuses, Fairfax Connector buses and Greyhound buses. Metro's blue line stops at Reagan National Airport for air travelers, and the Springfield-Franconia Metro Station is outfitted with bicycle racks for that level of commuting as well.
<sh>Fairfax County Parkway Completion
<bt>The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began work this past year to prepare the Engineering Proving Grounds to be handed over to Fairfax County, providing land for the final phase of the Fairfax County Parkway to be completed. The parkway goes from the Algonkian area in Loudoun County to Route 1 in Alexandria. It is nearly complete except for one stretch from Rolling Road to the other side of the Fullerton Industrial Park, which is land owned by the U.S. Army. The trail is expected to be completed in 2007. The county improved transportation through this area earlier in the year with the opening of Fullerton Road to Rolling Road.
<bt>In an effort to reduce the cars on the road in Springfield, the Transportation Association of Greater Springfield (TAGS) introduced a bus system that circumvents central Springfield, making stops at the Springfield-Franconia Metro Station, Springfield Mall, Springfield Plaza and Metro Park. In September, the route will be adjusted to include the Northern Virginia Community College medical campus and exclude all stops west of I-95, which includes Springfield Plaza. Those stops west of I-95 will be serviced by the Fairfax Connector buses. The buses operate Monday thru Friday. from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., and are free. For more information on TAGS, log on to www.thinkoutsidethecar.org or call 703-971-7727.
<sh>Cross County Trail
<bt>For the first few years of its existence, the Fairfax County Park Authority linked together pieces of existing bike trails, paths and multi-use trails in an attempt to traverse the county with a continuous trail.
The end is in sight, according to Jenny Pate, Fairfax County's trail coordinator.
"We're committed to having it done by 2005," Pate said.
Multi-use is an all-encompassing term the county adopted for the trail. Part of it is more fit for equestrian travel while other parts aren't paved but suitable for mountain bikes.
"It's not just one kind of trail," Pate said, adding "the entire length will be hike-able."
At Hidden Pond Nature Center in West Springfield, 1,800 feet of paved trail has been put in over the past year, linking the Orange Hunt area with the park and the Rolling Road area, eliminating the need for bikes and pedestrians from going on a portion of Old Keene Mill Road where no trail or sidewalk is available.
"They can cut through the park here, get over to Greeley where it's much safer," said Jim Pomeroy, park manager.
Included with the trail is a 60-foot bridge across Pohick Creek.
<bt>Many families in the Springfield area depend on the Ecunemical Community for Helping Others to get by [ECHO]. All year, ECHO provides food and monetary assistance to families in need, and throughout the year it run drives for school supplies, clothing, holiday baskets and food. Demand continues to increase, so this year ECHO adding 3,800 square feet to its location at 7205 Old Keene Mill Road. John Ray, a ECHO volunteer, is involved with the expansion, which will start next Spring.
"We're just starting the site building and planning process," Ray said.
Access to ECHO is through one driveway off Old Keene Mill Road. Pat Gauthier, executive director, is looking at installing a wrap around driveway so that those making contributions or seeking assistance, can drive around the building.
"We'd like to get access that way," Gauthier said.
To apply for assistance, call 703-569-9160 during store hours, Monday thru Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. or evening hours on Tuesday and Thursday, 7-9 p.m.
<bt>To speed the construction and avoid flagmen and delays, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) closed the stretch of Burke Lake Road between Lee Chapel Road and the Fairfax County Parkway and Zion Drive. The road was closed on the last day of class for Fairfax County Public Schools and is expected to re-open when class resumes in early September. Burke Lake Road is being widened while Zion Drive was closed to reduce a hill that was the source of several accidents. While the Burke Lake Road project was funded by VDOT, the Zion Road project was part of a proffer put in place by construction company at work on a community along Zion.
In 2004, Phase III of Ox Road was underway as well, completing the road widening project there as well until the builder went out of business, delaying it indefinitely.
The Army Corps of Engineers began work this past year to prepare the Engineer Proving Grounds to be handed over to the county, providing land for the final phase of the Fairfax County Parkway to be completed. The parkway goes from the Algonkian area in Loudoun County to Route 1 in Alexandria. It is nearly complete except for one stretch from Rolling Road to the other side of the Fullerton Industrial Park. That land is owned by the U.S. Army. The county improved transportation through this area earlier in the year with the opening of Fullerton Road to Rolling Road.