Audience space in the Town Hall council chamber was standing-room-only as a meeting regarding the upcoming Beulah Road reconstruction project got underway last Thursday evening.
Representatives from the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) convened the meeting to inform residents of the updated plan for utility placement along the road, as well as the plan for traffic management during construction. Residents showed up to ask questions and vent frustrations.
"That's a dangerous road," longtime resident Roger Simmons said of the winding, two-lane route. "It's a wonder there haven't been a dozen teenagers killed on that road." He wanted to know if Beulah would be widened or the utility poles moved farther from the road.
Beulah will be reconstructed, but not widened, from Maple Avenue north to the Vienna Town limit. The pavement will be removed and replaced, curbs and gutters will be installed on both sides, and a sidewalk will be built along the east side. There is currently a narrow, asphalt walkway on either side of the road.
The utility poles, which VDOT had initially planned to move several feet back from the roadside, will be left more or less in the same place, at the insistence of residents whose properties front on Beulah. Residents had been distressed over the number of trees that were planned for removal in order to relocate the utility lines.
Since the poles were originally installed, new regulations have been adopted for the proximity of stationary objects to a roadway, but VDOT granted waivers to the new rules and then altered the initial road and sidewalk designs so that the utility poles could, for the most part, remain in the current right-of-way, said Mike Wilder, VDOT's utilities project manager.
This does not mean that no trees will be removed. Trees can be "trimmed" up to the state property line, which, in some cases, may mean the entire tree will be cut down, said Wilder.
Beulah Road residents expressed appreciation for the efforts that had been made to save their trees.
"This is a textbook case of how citizens and the town can work together for what's basically a positive outcome," said Dan Mulville, who helped with the tree-saving effort.
WILDER SAID RESIDENTS could expect to see gas crews along the road and utility poles being delivered as early as the beginning of August. One lane or the other will occasionally be blocked, but only between the hours of 9:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. He said utility relocation work would last until early spring next year.
Zamir Mirza, VDOT's transportation engineer for location and design, said the road's reconstruction is expected to begin around the time utility relocations are complete. The department will seek waivers in order to begin construction even as the utility work is being wrapped up. Mirza said VDOT hopes to have the project completed by the winter of 2007.
Sharon Fratis said the hope advertising the project in late winter and starting it in early spring seemed "pretty optimistic" and asked when the work might be completed if there were delays in securing a contractor. "Will we end up sitting in limbo untl the spring of '08?" she asked.
Richard Burke, district urban program manager for VDOT, said that was a possibility, although the winter work schedule would depend in part on the weather. "We know that's a concern," said Burke, adding that no party involved wants the project to drag into 2008.
Throughout construction, Beulah Road will be closed to northbound traffic between Maple Avenue and Sideling Court. The official detour will guide traffic north on Maple Avenue and then north on Old Courthouse Road to its intersection with Beulah and Trap roads. The detour will be indicated by a sign at the intersection of Beulah and Maple, another at Route 123 and Old Courthouse Road and another at the intersection of Old Courthouse and Gosnell roads. However, Mirza pointed out, "Human nature is to look for the shortest path, and there's really nothing, physically, you can do to stop it."
Residents of Glyndon Lane and the various streets that connect it to Beulah, as well as residents of McKinley Street and Talisman Drive just outside town, expressed concern about the likelihood of cut-through traffic in their neighborhoods.
"We are being abused because Vienna wants something," Don Wurtzel, a Talisman Drive resident, said after the meeting.
Fairfax COunty is planning on installing speed tables — similar to speed bumps, but wider — at Talisman Drive and McKinley. Mayor Jane Seeman encouraged town residents to petition the town for traffic calming measures in their neighborhoods if they feel such measures will be warranted.
The Fairfax County Department of Transportation's manager for its Residential Traffic Administration program, Doug Hansen, who was not at the meeting, said a speed table is being considered for installation near Rockport Road on McKinley Street and another for Talisman Road between Beulah and McKinley. Also, he said, painted "stop bars" have been proposed for the multi-stop intersection of McKinley and Brenner Court. However, he added, these plans have yet to go through a neighborhood approval process.
Hansen said petitions outlining the final plan will be sent out to the community within the next three months and will have to be signed by 75 percent of the residents in order to be sent to VDOT, which will do the installation work.
VDOT representatives said they hope to install the traffic calming measures well before construction begins on Beulah and that once they are installed, they will be permanent. Signs foretelling the detour will also be posted in advance.
Vienna Police Lt. Dave Pelto, who was present at the meeting, said the Vienna police will be keeping an eye on traffic in the neighborhoods around Beulah during construction and will also be coordinating with Fairfax County police. "You will see more officers up there," he assured residents.
Mirza noted that VDOT will be monitoring traffic and adjusting traffic signals accordingly.
SOME RESIDENTS STILL WONDERED why the project was being done in the first place. "This road is falling apart," explained Seeman, noting that storms are washing away the roadbed and money is continually being poured into repairs. "Any maintenance we do is purely cosmetic," she said.
The project was initiated by the town, which is matching a small percentage of the money VDOT spends on it. Similar arrangements have been made for the reconstruction of Branch Road nearby. The two projects were initially going to be built concurrently, but VDOT decided to conduct them separately, said Mirza.
That project will also be put out to bid in February, and Mirza said he expects work to begin between mid-spring and early summer of next year. Branch will also be completely rebuilt, including sidewalks, curbs and gutters. However, Mirza said he expects much less traffic disturbance to result from this project, since Branch Road is not an arterial road that handles commuter traffic. The detour will be on Glyndon Road, S., he said.