The state Department of Transportation (VDOT) is gearing up to do a $33 million improvement project at the intersection of Route 7 and Georgetown Pike. The only problem is that many residents of Great Falls think that VDOT is making the wrong improvements in all the wrong spots.
Representatives from VDOT who attended a Dec. 11 Great Falls Citizens Association (GFCA) general meeting to explain the details of the project were bombarded with questions and criticisms from local residents. VDOT plans to widen Route 7 by adding one additional lane in each direction between Rolling Holly Drive and Reston Avenue. The project was originally supposed to extend all the way to Reston Parkway, but was shortened to Reston Avenue due to lack of funds. In addition, VDOT plans to add two left-hand turn lanes from Route 7 east on to Georgetown Pike in order to alleviate the current car stack-up problem that occurs everyday during peak hours.
“There are not enough storage lanes,” said Amir Salahshoor, VDOT Location and Design project manager for the Route 7 widening project. According to Salahshoor, there are an average of 60,000 vehicles heading east on Route 7 from the Georgetown Pike intersection daily, and 65,000 vehicles heading west from that point daily. In 2032, VDOT predicts those numbers to increase to 88,000 vehicles heading east, and 103,000 vehicles heading west.
HOWEVER, the residents of Great Falls made it clear that the last thing they want is to make it more convenient for the people driving east on Route 7 from Loudoun County to turn left on to Georgetown Pike in the morning.
“What we’re doing is turning this road into a cut-through for people going to and from Loudoun County,” said Great Falls resident Kathleen Murphy. “So I think we have some confusion about what the purpose of this road [Georgetown Pike] is.”
Salahshoor said there is simply no way to monitor cut-through traffic.
“We can’t say who lives in this area and who doesn’t,” he said. “That left-hand turn lane is failing and it happens to be a public road. It happens to be a primary road. You don’t know who is in that left-hand turn lane — it could be you sitting there trying to make that left turn. You can’t assume that is always the other people who don’t live in the community. We are here to serve the public. We can’t say this is an exclusive left-turn for the 300 people who live off of Georgetown Pike.”
In addition, those Great Falls residents who live on Seneca Road say the problem with the Route 7/Georgetown Pike/Seneca Road intersection is not the traffic on Route 7, but rather the traffic on Georgetown Pike that makes it impossible for people to turn off of Seneca.
“This intersection is broken,” said Harrison Murphy, who lives on Kentland Drive, just off of Seneca Road. “You cannot get out of that neighborhood — sometimes there are 60 cars backed up on Seneca waiting to turn. Somebody is going to get killed. People don’t alternate, and they don’t allow you to come in, and they block the box … it’s a horrible situation.”
Bud Siegel, VDOT preliminary engineering manager for Arlington and Fairfax, said he knows “there are guys working on this issue right now,” but could not elaborate further.
“What I’m hearing is that we need to work on that intersection,” said Siegel at the Dec. 11 Great Falls Citizens Association meeting.
GREAT FALLS resident Joan Barnes suggested that VDOT take the $33 million earmarked for the Route 7 widening and put it to better use by installing traffic control measures for the people coming off of Seneca Road.
“I think the funds and priorities are misdirected,” said Barnes. “This little piece isn’t going to do anything for Route 7 … in the meantime, we have a real problem at Seneca Road … right now it’s basically Route 7 at the expense of the Pike.”
But Salahshoor said he can only work on the project to which he has been assigned.
“We are just taking the project piece by piece,” said Salahshoor. “Limited funds mean there is a limited scope to the project.”
According to Salahshoor and Siegel, there is only $24.7 million available for the $33 million project right now. A public hearing will be scheduled in the spring of 2008, and the widening project will most likely be advertised for construction in early 2010.
Fairfax County Department of Transportation Pedestrian Program manager Chris Wells said the widening of Route 7 to six lanes is something that has been in the Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan all along, and that the Georgetown Pike intersection was simply picked as the first segment for improvement because it is currently one of the worst intersections on Route 7 in terms of traffic congestion.
“The plan is to widen Route 7 all the way to Tysons Corner,” said Wells. “What you’re looking at is the first piece of the puzzle.”