Mike Greiner moved to South Riding six years ago, and he's realized his mistake.
"There's no free lunch," he said. "I should have paid a premium on my house. I should have paid $10,000."
That $10,000 Greiner proposed would have gone toward improving Route 50 — the barrier, not the conduit, to work every day for thousands of commuting Dulles south residents.
Greiner was one of dozens of South Riding and Chantilly residents who shared their traffic woes at a May 25 community meeting sponsored by Virginia Department of Transportation, Loudoun County Supervisor Stephen Snow (R-Dulles), Fairfax County Supervisor Michael Frey (R-Sully) and Del. Gary Reese (R-67).
The meeting came on the heels of the first cross-county effort to improve Route 50 east of Route 15. Currently, eastbound commuters hit traffic doldrums even before Chantilly's string of stoplights. Westbound commuters, meanwhile, can sit for half an hour to get through the intersection of routes 50 and 606 during the morning rush.
It's a mess, and Snow — a South Riding resident — is determined to do something about it.
Currently, there is $16.6 million in state funds earmarked for preliminary engineering on widening Route 50 from Route 28 to Pleasant Valley Road to six lanes. But it will be years before construction begins, and even more years before Route 50 west of the county line is improved if Loudoun uses state and federal funds.
That's why Snow has pressed cooperation with developers as the way to obtain road improvements up front. It's a plan that can only go so far, however; in Fairfax County, most development is finished and no proffers are forthcoming.
"There's no easy solution," Snow said. "There's nothing that's going to happen within one year or two years."
The county is currently considering an application from developer Scott Plein of Equinox Investments that includes a proffered two-mile third eastbound line to the county line. Plein owns 150 acres south of Route 50.
VDOT EMPLOYEES feel commuters' pain. The department's Northern Virginia headquarters are located in Chantilly on Avion Parkway.
"We have to fight the traffic to and from work on Route 50 every day," said VDOT representative Renee Hamilton.
After talks with Loudoun and Fairfax transportation planners two weeks ago, VDOT has agreed to take another look at light timing — something it's already done several times in recent years. But, as Hamilton pointed out, light sequencing can only do so much.
"It's becoming a capacity problem," she said. "Although we can take a few seconds off the side streets, that's not going to help Route 50."
The light study will take six to nine months to complete.
VDOT is also in the midst of preparing plans for the Tri-County Parkway, a new highway that would connect Manassas and Route 50 either at the Loudoun County Parkway or at a more western point. While that project is years from completion and currently only in a theoretical stage with no funds attached, it could have a huge impact on Route 50, which would become the terminus for the parkway.
"You can't look at what's happening on Route 50 in isolation," Snow said.
CITIZENS AT THE MEETING questioned why Route 50 was allowed to degenerate to its current situation. They wondered about safety. They wondered how the 1,500 as-of-yet unbuilt homes in South Riding plus thousands more proposed by developers in the area would affect the area's main thoroughfare.
As for Mike Greiner, he stands by his willingness to pay out of pocket for improving Route 50.
"I want 50 widened, and I'll pay," he said.
Developers Greenvest LC and Toll Brothers are currently pressing the county to craft a financing policy that would allow residents like Greiner to do just that. In order to finance large road and school improvements worth hundreds of millions of dollars, the developers want the county to allow Community Development Authorities, special tax districts that would charge new homeowners over time.
The policy would be unprecedented in Virginia and possibly in the country; CDAs have never been used on residential property owners, only commercial. The Dulles Town Center CDA was the first in Virginia.