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Round and Round and Round

Study finds ways to improve traffic on Hunter Mill Road, but not ways to fund them.

The money for the study has been around for four years, but there's still no funding for the solutions it proposes.

Tom Flynn, a traffic engineer with Draper Aden, presented the draft version of a traffic calming study for Hunter Mill Road. The study finds that traffic calming, including a series of 12 roundabouts, is the best way to improve safety and traffic along the length of the 7.2-mile road. It does not, however, estimate the cost for implementing its findings.

In 2002, Del. Vince Callahan (R-34) was able to secure $75,000 in state funding to study traffic calming measures along the road. Responsibility for completing the study was shuffled around for several years before landing on the Northern Virginia Regional Commission.

The commission hired Draper Aden Associates, an engineering firm with offices across Virginia. The Board of Supervisors appointed a citizen committee to study the issue and provide input to the study, which has been underway for the past few months.

Flynn presented the 81-page study (plus appendices) to the Board of Supervisors' Transportation committee on Monday. In it, he analyzed three alternatives — doing nothing; taking a traditional approach of adding traffic lights, widening roads and straightening curves; and traffic calming.

According to the report, traffic calming is the best alternative. Traffic calming, in this scenario, involves adding roundabouts, crosswalks and small traffic islands at 20 spots along the road.

The study finds that, by implementing these techniques, traffic will flow more smoothly at every intersection along the road except at Hunter Station Road, near the Washington and Old Dominion Trail. Traffic on Hunter Mill will more easily be able to pass Hunter Station Road, but those turning at that road will face significant backups under any scenario.

The plan also calls for widening the bridge over Colvin Run from one to two lanes.

TRAFFIC CALMING is done to slow the traffic down, not to stop it. By slowing the traffic, the gaps between cars become more regularly spaced, the report states. As a result, traffic flows more smoothly and overall backups, traffic and accidents are reduced.

"The goal is to reduce the higher speeds," Flynn said.

Roundabouts, which are smaller than traditional traffic circles, and the other techniques, force drivers to slow down as they navigate around curves. By stringing them along the length of the road, Flynn says that drivers will be forced to slow down, since they will be unlikely to speed up and slow down repeatedly between features. "They'll just get into the pattern," he said.

Other devices, such as raised medians, can slow traffic as well. Flynn explained they would make the road appear narrower, which can also cause some drivers to slow down.

The report lists which sort of improvement would be best for each intersection along Hunter Mill Road — sometimes saying no improvement would be needed. In the appendices, it includes the traffic counts which Flynn used to make his recommendations.

Supervisor Elaine McConnell (R-Springfield), who chairs the committee, was stunned at the projected benefits. She was surprised that traffic could be improved without adding additional lanes. "I think we ought to do this all over the county," she said.

Dennis Morrison of VDOT, said that the state would probably be willing to allow the changes, as long as they were deemed safe. "I think it would work," he said.

But Morrison noted that there is no state funding likely to be available anytime soon. "It's just the cost. Can you afford it?" he said.

McConnell suggested that a further study be done to determine the cost of making Hunter Mill Road four lanes versus the cost of implementing the traffic calming program.

"I can answer that quickly — political suicide," said Supervisor Joan DuBois (R-Dranesville).

Supervisor Michael Frey questioned the plan. He said that many residents say that they wish to preserve the winding two-lane character of Hunter Mill Road. This plan, he says would alter the road dramatically. "I think this solution will significantly change the character of Hunter Mill Road," he said.

The committee took no formal action on the report.

Before the plan could be implemented, the county's transportation plan would likely need to be amended to reflect the proposed additions. Then either the county, state or federal government would need to find funding.