Some Reston and Vienna residents along Hunter Mill Road were upset after seeing several paragraphs in the Reston Metrorail Access Group’s (RMAG) report titled "Traffic and Roadway Issues." The county-appointed group is in charge of studying accessibility issues to the future metro stations in the Reston area.
Patti Nicoson, RMAG chair, said some of the language in the report does not reflect the views of the group. "As a group we would never endorse the tone of some of the paragraphs nor some of the suggestions," said Nicoson. She said the language found its way into the report after the group was broken down into subgroups to study particular areas of interest. The roadway group, she said, only met once and one person took it upon himself or herself to write up the issues. According to Nicoson, the language was given to the consultants at 2:30 p.m. the day of the meeting and found its way into the report because the consultants did not have time to review it. They only had time to Xerox it into the report, which was later posted onto a Web site.
In the analysis of some of the major roads in the group’s study area — Hunter Mill Road forms the eastern border — the "Traffic and Roadway Issues" report identifies the Hunter Mill Road interchange with the Dulles Toll Road as a "Travesty and a deathtrap." It states that the interchange bottlenecks traffic between Sunset Hills Road and Sunrise Valley Drive, and that opportunities to change that were lost in recent years. "Through political clumsiness and bad timing, available funds and plans for improving this situation were lost," states the report. The report further states: "We must consider the inevitable extreme pressure placed by Reston employees and transit riders this time, and ignore the whimpers of some Hunter Mill Road residents who insist this should really be kept as a bucolic scenic byway for the use of horses."
STEVE HULL, WHO LIVES near the interchange, said some of the statements in the report were fairly ignorant. Since RMAG’s mission is to study the future stations at Wiehle Avenue and Reston Parkway, Hull said he and his neighbors had not paid much attention to the group. "It looks like we need to," he said. He added that residents in his community have put a lot of work into studying ways to improve the Hunter Mill Road interchange with Dulles Toll Road without forfeiting the feel and the look of a scenic byway that Hunter Mill Road is.
"Our civic duty is to help not create a huge bottleneck," said Hull. However, that does not mean the area should be industrialized and planned without the community’s involvement. When studying Hunter Mill Road, RMAG should have someone from one of the corridor’s homeowner associations on the committee, said Hull. "It is probably one of the most studied interchanges in Fairfax County in the last 20 years," he said of the interchange in question.
In January of this year, the Hunter Mill Road Traffic Calming Study — sponsored by the General Assembly and coordinated with Fairfax County leadership and staff — offered a series of suggestions on ways to improve safety and levels of service along Hunter Mill Road while enhancing its historic features. Some of the measures considered included roundabouts, treatments for crosswalks and trails separated from roadways for walkers, joggers and horses.
"I see the interchange from my kitchen window," said John Thoburn, who has lived on Hunter Mill Road for more than 20 years. He owns the property north of the Dulles Toll Road, on both sides of Hunter Mill Road. "The interchange is terrible," said Thoburn, who feels political gaming prevented improvements to the interchange. Traffic improvements at, and near, the intersection are necessary to create a safer driving environment and better traffic flow, according to Thoburn.
While Thoburn lives on the west side of Hunter Mill Road, he also owns the driving range on the east side of it. "It affects my clients," he said about the interchange. He added that he does not think Hunter Mill Road’s historic significance should prevent development around it. Other parts of Fairfax County have been allowed to develop, and he does not separate Hunter Mill Road’s history from that of West Ox Road, which was recently expanded.
"It’s been a long debate," said Fairfax County Supervisor Catherine Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill) about the need for interchange improvements while considering Hunter Mill Road’s feel. "Sure there has to be a way to strike a balance," said Hudgins.
"I would like to think there is," said Nicoson. She said RMAG-supported consultants, Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc., ought to see the calming study if they had not done so yet. She also added that measures to enhance pedestrian safety, such as safe crosswalks, might be desirable to the Hunter Mill Road community.
Striking a balance between improvements and retaining the historic features of the road is not the only balancing act the language in the report highlighted. Hudgins said she hopes RMAG will improve its community outreach. While she wants to keep RMAG a task force, and therefore not expand it too many people, she said it is important to hear from many people in the community. "Task force outreach is what we want to do, bringing as many voices as possible," said Hudgins.
Late last week a disclaimer was added to the ‘Roadway and Issues Report’ on the county’s web site. It states that the material in the report represents the opinions and recommendations of the subcommittee’s members. "While all such information will be considered by Fairfax County and consultants contracted to work on this study, Fairfax County does not necessarily endorse nor agree with these opinions and recommendations," states the disclaimer.