If "the squeaky wheel gets the grease," it seemed obvious to those attending Tuesday night's public hearing on the Stringfellow Road widening that the bicycle tires have done the most squeaking.
A year after the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) held an informational meeting on the project, it and local residents returned June 12 to Chantilly High for the design public hearing.
AND WHILE no one disputed the fact that the section of Stringfellow from Fair Lakes Boulevard to Route 50 should be widened from two lanes to four, many people objected to how that would be accomplished.
They said it took too much land from the west, or Poplar Tree Estates, side of the road, and bike lanes in addition to a shared bike/pedestrian path were unnecessary.
"We don't need a 16-foot median," said Mike Pouy of Poplar Tree Estates. "Make the two outer lanes 12 feet. No one's going to use 2 feet of bike lane on each side. It saves four feet and would reduce the cost."
Stringfellow's been designated a four-lane, divided road on Fairfax County's Comprehensive Plan since the early 1970s, but plans stalled while waiting for funds. Then a November 2004 bond referendum brought $16 million for design and right-of-way acquisition and, in 2005, VDOT began the design effort.
In the 1990s, Fairfax County's Department of Transportation four-laned Stringfellow between Fair Lakes Boulevard and Route 29. The short stretch between Chantilly High and Route 50 also received four lanes.
BUT THE REST of the road remained a painfully congested mess — especially in rush hour. If it's 5:30 p.m., "fugeddabout" getting anywhere on Stringfellow in a timely manner. So finishing the nearly two-mile, middle section of the road will create a seamless and hopefully, smoother-flowing, four-lane conduit between Route 50 in Chantilly and Route 29 in Clifton/Centreville.
At the informational meeting in May 2006, VDOT offered two plans. Each showed four, 12-foot-wide travel lanes, a 10-foot multipurpose trail, a 5-foot sidewalk and a raised, 16-foot, grass median. And one also included two, 4-foot, on-road bicycle lanes.
Since then, things have been "Super-Sized." Two of the 12-foot lanes are now 14 feet, the sidewalk is 6 feet wide, and bicyclists are envisioned as not just sharing the trail with pedestrians, but also pedaling side-by-side with cars, trucks and buses on each outer, 14-foot lane.
THE GOOD NEWS was that, through "smart engineering," the cost will be $36 million — $7 million less than last year's $43 million estimate including bike lanes. And, said VDOT's Bud Siegel, a preliminary-engineering manager, "We've developed the widest footprint possible, considering the underground utilities on the west side and the overhead utilities, too."
Siegel, VDOT's liaison between county staff and the residents, addressed nearly 200 people gathered Tuesday in Chantilly High's cafeteria. They included Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully), Supervisor Elaine McConnell (R-Springfield), Del. Chuck Caputo (D-67th), county Park Authority Chairman Hal Strickland and Sully District Transportation Commissioner Jeff Parnes.
"We're here to present the design, answer questions and solicit comments and input from you all," Siegel told the crowd. "You folks know the corridor and your input is vitally important."
He said the project's objectives are to increase safety along Stringfellow, reduce congestion by linking the existing four-lane sections, accommodate a "mandate" for bike transportation, and minimize both property impacts and utility relocations.
SINCE MAY 2006, said Siegel, VDOT spoke with groups of users and stakeholders along Stringfellow, including homeowners, county staff and officials, police, fire and rescue, schools, Chantilly Regional Library, the Park Authority, Greenbriar Civic Association, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association and Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling.
Zamir Mirza, VDOT's Stringfellow Road project manager, explained the considerations that went into the design selected. "Utilities have had a huge impact," he said. "We didn't want costly, extensive or time-consuming utility relocations."
These utilities include a newly installed, 24-inch water main and several fuel pipelines serving Dulles International Airport. And around mid-July, VDOT plans to physically protect three, existing, Colonial gas pipelines. One is north of the Poplar Tree Park entrance and two are 300 feet north of Poplar Tree Road.
Mirza said what's now proposed "represents a compromise of all the comments we've received." And Siegel said this design is "still in development." However, he noted several unresolved issues still remain.
"Right now, Rocky Run [Middle School] has a right [turn] in/right out, and our raised median would prevent a left in, left out," said Siegel. "But that would require a relaxation or waiver of our design standards." So school-bus access to Rocky Run must still be figured out and, said Siegel, the library wants its entrance connected to Chantilly High's signalized entrance.
GREENBRIAR PARK also needs an interparcel connector. "At the south end of the project is right in/right out access," said Siegel. "But a median prevents left turns in and out of Greenbriar Park. So this needs to be worked out."
He said stormwater-management ponds must be able to accommodate the increased water runoff from the project, and they may be placed on park property. A pedestrian crossing at the park is also needed, plus a wildlife crossing at Big Rocky Run.
Siegel said the upcoming, November bond issue will provide $21 million more for Stringfellow Road. But if it doesn't pass, the project would suffer.
If all goes well, he said, early utility work within the existing right-of-way will begin this summer, with land acquisition and utility relocation beginning in fall 2008. Construction start is anticipated in late 2011.
He promised that VDOT won't reroute traffic through the neighborhoods during the Stringfellow Road project, but several residents doubted it could be prevented. Residents then expressed their particular concerns.
A man wondered if there'd be any safety measures for children attending Rocky Run. And a woman told Siegel, "You've failed to notice we're a community on both sides of the road; it's already not safe for children to cross now."
Siegel replied that a physical barrier will serve as "a refuge" and there'll be a delineated, crossing area. But, said the woman, "As a parent, I'm not going to like my children finding refuge in the middle of a barrier on concrete."
ANOTHER WOMAN asked if there'd be a soundwall on Stringfellow's west side. But Siegel said sound-mitigation isn't part of the project: "It would be a 12-14-foot-high wall and would entail costly and time-consuming utility relocation and the taking of the homes we're trying to protect."
Then Poplar Tree Estates' Mike Pouy objected to the road design. "You're taking more land from one side than from another — that's unacceptable," he said. "VDOT's encroaching on my side, the west side, with a permanent easement, but not even a temporary easement approaches the property line on the east side."
Next, attorney Jason Heinberg, representing the 640-unit Shenandoah Crossing apartment complex along Stringfellow, said the owner's "very concerned" about the design.
"It would curtail the access at Blueberry Lane, near the recreation facilities," he explained. "And people leaving the property would have to do U-turns to go south on Stringfellow. And they'd have to make U-turns in front of the high school to return. So we think it increases safety issues and will hurt marketability." Siegel said a change would require a waiver of VDOT design standards.
Several people wondered "why they're putting bike lanes on Stringfellow for the handful of people who bike there." Afterward, Mirza said the bike lobby was so strong that it influenced the design. He suggested that residents unhappy about it tell VDOT and also "lobby their elected officials."
SEND COMMENTS about this and other problems to: Leonard (Bud) Siegel, P.E., VDOT Northern Virginia District Office, 14685 Avion Parkway, Chantilly, VA 20151-1104, or e-mail them to meeting_comments@VDOT.Virginia.gov and write "Stringfellow Road Widening Project" in the subject line.
Supervisor McConnell said people may e-mail comments to her, too, and 35-year Greenbriar resident and Park Authority Chairman Hal Strickland said he's seen the traffic growth on Stringfellow and believes the outstanding issues can be resolved "in a timely manner."