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Public Input Sought on Stringfellow

The Virginia Department of Transportation plans to widen and improve Stringfellow Road in Chantilly to four lanes. And while many local residents support the idea, a good number attending Tuesday night's informational meeting at Chantilly High voiced serious concerns.

"FOR ME, it's a safety issue," said Wendy Morales of Poplar Tree Estates. "We have cars barreling down Stringfellow at 45 mph and going through fences now. Our kids play in the backyard, and the trees that used to protect them from the vehicles have been removed. And now you want to move the road closer to our homes."

"I have three boys," she added. "I don't want to lose one of them because of the Stringfellow project. That's a huge issue, and it needs to be addressed." (As if underscoring her words, two trucks collided there Wednesday morning, with truck parts strewn along the bike path).

The part of Stringfellow between I-66 and Route 29 was four-laned in the 1990s by Fairfax County's Department of Transportation. What's moving ahead now is changing the section from I-66 to Route 50 from two to four lanes, thereby providing a seamless, four-lane conduit between Route 50 in Chantilly and Route 29 in Clifton/Centreville.

Stringfellow's been designated a four-lane, divided road on Fairfax County's Comprehensive Plan since the early 1970s, but the project stalled due to a lack of funds. A November 2004 bond referendum brought $16 million for design and right-of-way acquisition, and now VDOT is seeking the public's input on the design concept.

Bud Siegel, a preliminary-engineering manager with VDOT, called Tuesday's meeting a "milestone" in Stringfellow's progress. "In my 26 years with VDOT, every project I've been involved with has benefited from citizen input," he told the 75-80 people attending. "We're trying to get your thoughts about this project and answer your questions so we can incorporate or, at least, address them in our design."

COUNTY BOARD of Supervisors Chairman Gerry Connolly (D) was at the meeting, as were Supervisors Michael R. Frey (R-Sully) and Elaine McConnell (R-Springfield), plus Sully District School Board representative Kathy Smith.

"This is an important part of [the county's] four-year project," said Connolly. Saying residents need to tell VDOT, for example, if they want soundwalls there and what they think of the proposals' designs and functionality, he said, "Nothing has been decided, yet, and Mike Frey and I are listening very carefully to hear what you have to say."

VDOT's offering two plans. Each shows four, 12-foot-wide travel lanes, a 10-foot multipurpose trail, a 5-foot sidewalk and a 16-foot, grass median. But one also includes two, 4-foot, on-road bicycle lanes. Stormwater-management facilities to handle runoff from the impervious surface may be in the mix, too, and soundwalls are also a possibility.

Estimated cost in 2006 dollars is $37 million without bike lanes, and $43 million with them. "It's fully funded right now by the federal government, based on current estimates," said Siegel. "But Fairfax County has asked us to consider de-federalizing it.

He said VDOT started mapping the project in late 2004 and began preliminary engineering work in 2005. And, said Siegel, "We're now doing a geotechnical soil analysis to determine the structure of our pavement." Due to the area's extensive growth, the object of the widening is to reduce traffic congestion on Stringfellow, especially during evening and morning peaks.

Besides four-laning all of Stringfellow, he explained, project goals are to "minimize property impacts and utility relocations and meet the needs of the "community and traveling public." However, he noted, "A lot of the utilities are overhead and underground and they're expensive to relocate. So we'd like to either avoid them, altogether, protect them in place or minimize any necessary relocation."

Other issues residents should be aware of, said Siegel, is how a 16-foot-wide, raised median along Stringfellow would affect their daily lives and activities, such as access to Greenbriar Park. "In some spots, it would restrict access to a right [turn] in, right [turn] out," he said. "So the location of median breaks is also important."

Knowing that several schools, homes, parks and a library are along this section of Stringfellow, Siegel said VDOT already met with school and Park Authority representatives about safety and logistical concerns and shared them with Frey and McConnell, as well.

A public hearing to finalize the design is slated for 2007, with right-of-way acquisition set to begin in summer 2008. Then, as currently envisioned, things come to a screeching halt until spring 2011, when the final design is to be approved. Construction advertisement would start that summer, with the actual road building earmarked to begin in spring 2012.

But, said Siegel, "We're going to do whatever we can to advance delivery of this important project," and Connolly said he and McConnell would do likewise. Jesse Emerson III of the Marian Woods homeowners association, said the project's "five to 10 years overdue." But Siegel explained that "utility relocation is hugely time-consuming. And we need an environmental document before we can have a public hearing."

NOTING THAT a petroleum pipeline runs all along Stringfellow, Poplar Tree Estates' Lisa Bartram wondered how VDOT would secure it. "When they put in a water main, they had to shut down [Rocky Run] Middle School because of three, serious gas leaks," she said. "Moving the pipeline is a danger to us," added Morales. "Our houses were shaking when they did the water project."

"And what about land acquisition?" asked Bartram. "Will people's property be taken by eminent domain to build a sidewalk?" Siegel directed her to speak with the right-of-way acquisition engineers.

Greenbriar Civic Association President Emerson Cale said three parking lots, ballfields and a community center lie between Point Pleasant and Melville Lane "so there should be access, north and south, to all of them." He also said 75 percent of Greenbriar property owners backing up to Stringfellow want soundwalls. But Connolly warned that residents might change their minds if the soundwalls affect their right-of-way.

Roger Cooper of Hunters Run asked about an entrance to Greenbriar Park. Said Siegel: "It's a site-specific thing we'll have to address."

Plans are available at VDOT's District Office, the county Government Center and Frey's and McConnell's offices. Groups may also contact project manager Zamir Mirza at 703-383-2199 for a presentation.

Online surveys are at www.vdot.virginia.gov/projects/const-project.asp?ID=275. Comments may also be sent to: Leonard (Bud) Siegel, P.E., VDOT Northern Virginia District Office, 14685 Avion Parkway, Chantilly, VA 20151 or e-mailed to meeting_comments@VDOT.Virginia.gov and write "Stringfellow Road Widening Project" in the subject line. Deadline is May 23.