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George Mason Boulevard Progressing

Fate of sound wall remains uncertain.

Before the Fairfax City Council got to its discussion of George Mason Boulevard, the topic was on the minds of citizens who came to speak.

"I think it's time that you make a decision and go ahead and do it, instead of sitting around for another 10 years," said Randy Myers of the long-delayed road plan.

The road, which bisects the Crestmont neighborhood south of City Hall, is designed to move traffic from George Mason University to downtown Fairfax. Once George Mason Boulevard is open to traffic, University Drive will be closed to through traffic.

The change in roads was designed to shift traffic to the Crestmont neighborhood, which is better equipped to handle the traffic. As Crestmont residents moved in, they were to have been informed of the plan to open the thoroughfare through their neighborhood.

Now residents in the neighborhood are asking that the city construct soundwalls on either side of the road and install a traffic light at the intersection of George Mason Boulevard and School Street.

CRESTMONT RESIDENTS want a solid wall, however, the City of Fairfax Fire Department has noted that it would prefer that the wall had gaps so that emergency responders would have easier access to the homes in the area.

Anne Muse of the Crestmont Homeowners Association, who had come to the meeting to be presented with one of the city’s homeowners association grants, said that her community would not want there to be too many access points. "Having a wall with lots of breaks would defeat the purpose," Muse said, during the portion of the meeting reserved for citizen comments.,

She further noted that she did not like that the wall might be seen as setting a precedent that would cause other neighborhoods to ask for the same amenity. "That has some negative connotations to me," she said.

At the work session after the meeting, the soundwall remained a sticking point. The council agreed that it should go ahead with the plan to open George Mason and close University as soon as possible, rejecting an idea to close both roads because of the impact on both Chain Bridge and Roberts roads. "You increase that traffic on 123 fairly significantly," said John Veneziano, director of he city Department of Public Works

The council also agreed to install a lighted crosswalk at the intersection of George Mason Boulevard and School Street. The crosswalk, at $20,000-30,000, is much cheaper than a traffic light, which would cost between $100,000 and $120,000. If the crosswalk does not work, the council reasoned, a traffic light can be added later.

The sound wall, which Lederer said the Crestmont community generally supports, is not certain. Lederer also supports the wall. "I feel, and I’m going to hope that the council will feel … that it’s the right thing to do," he said.

The wall, said Veneziano, will cost between $80,000 and $800,000 depending on the materials and the level of aesthetic detail. A "custom design" could cost even more.

When Lederer polled the council to determine support for asking city staff to analyze the sound wall further and come back with a more accurate cost estimate. Councilmembers R. Scott Silverthorne and Gail Lyon were both in support. Councilmembers Patrice Winter, Gary Rasmussen were both opposed. Councilmember Joan Cross went along with the proposal for a study however, she said it was "a long shot."

Councilmember Jeffery Greenfield at first expressed opposition to the wall, but then said that he would support additional study to determine a cost.

In past meetings, Rasmussen noted that the city has already compromised with the community in reducing the number of lanes on the new road, and that the new homeowners were told that this road would be opened before they moved in.

Winter questioned putting in the wall when the need for one is basically theoretical. "I think the road needs to be open, and then do the studies," she said.

DURING THE business portion of the council meeting, the City Council granted exceptions to the zoning Ordinance for the new library which will be built on what is currently a parking lot at the intersection of North Street and Old Lee Highway.

The council also approved the financial agreement worked out with Fairfax County. The city currently pays the county for the use of the library, which is owned and operated by Fairfax County. The city and county will swap the land the library sits on with the land of the parking lot. The city’s Economic Development Authority will then sell bonds to finance the construction of the new library, estimated to cost $23 million.

The city will use the money it currently pays the county for library access to pay off the bonds. After the bonds are paid, the county will own the library, and the city will likely resume its annual payments. The agreement must now be approved by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and by Trammell Crow, the construction company.

Councilmembers hailed the actions as a turning point in the redevelopment of downtown Fairfax. "These are one of those cornerstone moments," Lederer said.

The council also heard a presentation on the planned switch to two-way traffic in downtown Fairfax. Main and North streets, which are currently one-way, will shift to two way traffic. The change will cause the average driver a delay of just over 20 seconds in getting through downtown. The plan is being implemented, at least in part, because the current traffic configuration was making some potential businesses balk at opening a location downtown, which can be difficult to navigate for those unfamiliar with the area. "It makes it a lot easier to get around downtown," Veneziano said. "We’ll be ready to start construction sometime in July."

IN OTHER business:

* The council approved a request to put a "Freedom Bank" sign on the Fairfax Building, located at 10555 Main St.

* The council approved funding $500,000 worth of a capital project proposed for next year during the current budget.

The council authorized spending $641,271 in grant funding for the fire and police departments.

* The council approved $449,089 in unbudgeted costs, some of which were offset by revenues. The net expenditure is $206,976.

* The council formally appropriated spending the money approved in next year’s budget.

* The council approved $89,140 for roadway and drainage improvements along Orchard Drive and Mosby Road.

* The council approved $43,262 to cover unbudgeted costs related to last year’s Festival of Lights and First Fairfax events.

* The council approved about $1.3 million to fund increased costs related to the construction of the new police station and City Hall renovation.

* The council appropriated $8 million for the first phase of the project to place utility lines in downtown Fairfax underground. The second phase is estimated to cost an additional $ 6 million. The costs are expected to be offset from revenue generated by the sale of the downtown properties the city currently owns.