Franconia at a Crossroads

Franconia at a Crossroads

Residents, officials discuss proposal for interchange at Franconia, South Van Dorn.

"How many of you were here 20 years ago?" Supervisor Dana Kauffman (D-Lee) asked the 115 or so local residents assembled at Edison High School Wednesday, Nov. 15. About a dozen hands went up.

Kauffman nodded. "This was identified 20 years ago as something we would need today," he said, indicating one of several pictures of a diamond-style traffic interchange displayed around the room.

The interchange is being proposed for the intersection of South Van Dorn Street and Franconia Road, where traffic is heavy and waits are long during rush hour. Two meetings have already taken place to discuss the proposal with local homeowners' associations. Kauffman noted that further opportunities exist for community input, as public hearings will take place regarding the project's environmental impact statement.

Larry Ichter, chief of the Transportation Design branch of the Fairfax County Public Works Department, said the project is being funded by state and federal money but will be managed largely by the county, with oversight from the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT). About $8 million has been set aside for the interchange.

"We do not have all the details yet on everything," Ichter said, noting that no plans had been finalized and nothing had been submitted yet to VDOT.

One of the greatest impacts of the interchange as it has been planned would be that left turns on and off of both South Van Dorn and Franconia onto several side streets near the intersection would be blocked by raised medians, said Ichter. Leaving or entering those neighborhoods would require U-turns or the use of various side streets. A possibility remains that noise barriers would be constructed, he said.

No timetable has yet been set for the process of designing and creating the interchange. Later, when pressed for an estimate, Ichter said the construction of such a project usually takes about two years. Prior to the beginning of construction, about two years could be spent on the design, about a year acquiring properties and another year or so relocating utilities.

NANCY CONNER of Vanasse Hangen Brustlin Inc. explained the finer details of the proposed construction. Vanasse Hangen is an engineering and consulting firm subcontracted by Jacobs Engineering, the project's primary contractor.

On South Van Dorn, two lanes of through traffic would run each way under Franconia Road, well below ground level, said Conner. Entry and exit to and from Franconia Road would be gained via ramps leading to and from two signalized intersections on either side of the bridge over South Van Dorn.

On southbound South Van Dorn, a fourth lane would be added running from Crown Royal Drive to the interchange, and three lanes would go south to Lake Village Drive. Four lanes would go north from the interchange to the Beltway. A raised median would run from Crown Royal Drive to Lake Village Drive. The signal at South Van Dorn and Chrysanthemum Drive would be removed, as the median would run through the intersection. Conner said a developer has proposed to connect Crown Royal to Estates Drive.

Franconia Road would have three through lanes in either direction, and a raised median would run from Saint Johns Drive to Brookland Road, with a break at the interchange. Conner said a service road is being considered, which would run between Brookland and Wellington Commons Drive, parallel to Franconia Road.

On-street bike paths, 5-foot-wide sidewalks and 10-foot-wide shared-use paths would be incorporated throughout the project, although, as of now, most of these would not connect with any existing lanes or paths outside the interchange.

Three storm water basins are being proposed — one on the southwest corner of the interchange, one on the east side of Franconia Road, across from Crown Royal, and one behind Franconia Baptist Church.

With the elimination of the signalized intersection at Chrysanthemum Drive and South Van Dorn, Kauffman noted that Katelyn Court, which now opens onto Chrysanthemum and extends north almost to Crown Royal, could be closed to Chrysanthemum and opened to Crown Royal. This would give residents of the Van Dorn Station neighborhood access to a left turn signal when getting on and off South Van Dorn. Otherwise, pedestrian access could be opened between Katelyn and Crown Royal so that walkers traveling between Van Dorn Station and the bus stop could cross South Van Dorn at a signalized intersection. Kauffman said he was afraid that opening Katelyn on both ends to make it a through street could be "traumatic" to the neighborhood.

"I SHOULD NOT BE the one talking to you about traffic issues at this intersection," Warren Hughes, also of Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, told the told the residents, who sit at the intersection daily. However, he had translated the mayhem into several sets of numbers.

Currently, drivers wait an average of four minutes to pass through the intersection during the morning rush hour, said Hughes, adding that without reconstruction, the wait time is projected to increase to 11 minutes by 2030. With the construction of the proposed interchange, that projection drops to about a minute.

About 200,000 hours are spent waiting at the intersection during rush hour each year. By 2030, that time is expected to quadruple. That same year, if the interchange has been built, it is projected that a mere 50,000 hours will be spent waiting there.

"People will drive where it's less painful," said resident Peter Gordon, after the floor was opened for questions. Gordon predicted that allowing vehicles to move through the intersection more quickly would only bring more traffic. "What you really ought to be focusing on is getting people on buses," he said. Gordon said he thought the project might have a short-term benefit for through travelers, but none for local residents. Noting that the interchange, at its widest, is about 10 lanes across, he said, "That's a huge scar through our neighborhood."

"When we don't build roads, people come anyway," Ichter contended.

Bill Facey, another resident, asked if the medians might be cut to allow U-turns. He wondered whether the time it would take some local residents to make U-turns at the outskirts of the intersection or to take alternate routes, since they could no longer turn left in and out of their neighborhoods, had been factored into Hughes' time estimates.

"Some of the concepts we've advanced to accommodate pedestrians will limit U-turn maneuvers," Hughes said.

Terry O'Reilly noted that a major influx of traffic is expected as a result of the Army's proposal to move an additional 23,000 jobs to Fort Belvoir as part of the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process. O'Reilly said he did not think the proposed intersection would be enough to handle the additional traffic. "It's going to kill us," he said.

"The Army continues along a path that we have not embraced," Kauffman said. However, he said the coming development was one reason he wanted to construct the intersection as soon as possible.

Paul Abbou noted that the Fort Belvoir expansion would be an example of traffic coming without being prompted by road development. The interchange, he said, would be a "step in the right direction. As long as we keep on building housing and commercial spaces, we need to do something."