0
Votes

Planning Ahead

Projects aimed at eliminating traffic flow through downtown Herndon preserve small commuter times.

Win Meiselman remembers a time when her children used to be able to ride horses up and down Centreville Road.

It was the early 1970s and the once dairy farm-lined street was just two-lanes of hard top concrete that was resurfaced about once a year. It was a time when a handful of cars would pass by the Meiselman house, a nationally recognized historic 19th century home that once belonged to confederate spy Laura Ratcliffe.

Since moving into the home in the summer of 1971, Meiselman never noticed much traffic near her home in what was once a quiet rural Centreville Road, her home just a mile from Dulles International Airport.

But then the development started to creep into the area, and she noticed the first signs of the coming growth when Centreville Road, just steps from her front door, was widened.

"It was gradual at first … we were country roads out here," Meiselman said.

It was about that same time that Floris native and lifetime resident Margaret Peck began to notice that she had to wait longer and longer to turn onto Sully Road as she returned home from her job as historical administrator for the Sully Plantation.

"We knew when Dulles Airport was built that we would eventually see an explosion of the people" moving to the area, said Peck, 81. "But while the buildings were coming, we just didn’t see much happening with the roads. They were just not equipped to handle the number of new cars in the area."

AS FAIRFAX COUNTY began to work to expand Centreville Road up to nine lanes to deal with the influx of traffic that passed the Meiselman home to get access to the Dulles Toll Road, the Town of Herndon was already at work with its traffic diversion plan.

The idea was the Herndon Parkway, a plan to develop a "mini-beltway" around the town that would give commuters coming from all sides of Herndon an option that didn’t involve cutting through its main thoroughfare, Elden Street. The plan, conceived in the 1950s by the late Herndon Planning Commission member Edward Stirewalt, started as a series of bypasses throughout the town with the ultimate goal of connecting them to form a circle, according to Herndon native and Town Council member Connie Hutchinson.

The entire process took 40 years to complete.

Herndon Parkway "was the reason that I never noticed any of the major congestions due to the development like you see in Vienna," said Hutchinson, referring to the large influx of traffic that packs Maple Avenue in the Town of Vienna. "There was never a traffic crisis in the Town of Herndon, and to this day traffic is relatively light through town."

The key to management up to this point has been diverting traffic away from downtown Herndon by finding opportunities for road development and creating new options for commuters, according to state Del. Tom Rust (R-86).

"Herndon had a lot of growth, a lot of development and the traffic in the area began to inundate the town," he said.

Rust, who was mayor in Herndon for 20 non-consecutive years, responded by continuing the long-time town efforts to create the Herndon Parkway, and coordinated with Herndon, Fairfax County and Virginia elected officials to find key road expansion projects in the region to further divert traffic from the town.

Two of those key projects occurred outside of Herndon’s town limits with the connection of Wiehle Avenue to Dranesville Road and the connection of the once-split Rock Hill Road, along the western edge of Herndon.

THE SAME WAY that Herndon has dealt with traffic in the past — by identifying potential problem areas and creating easy access points to major thoroughfares — will need to continue as further development comes to the town, along with the MetroRail expansion to Dulles Airport.

A new MetroRail station on the south side of State Route 267 past the Herndon Parkway, at the current location of the park and ride bus stop, is planned for establishment in as little as eight years.

"I think the key is going to be good access directly from those [new] developments to the major roads without having to wind through Herndon," said Hutchinson. "If we don’t plan and people are using Herndon Parkway to get to Fairfax County Parkway, or the Toll Road, then we’re going to have a problem."

Initial traffic impact on Herndon will be minimal, as the station will be accepting the bus station traffic from the Dulles Toll Road, according to Patty Nicoson, transportation planner and president of the Dulles Corridor Rail Association, a non-profit organization the represents area businesses and residents on MetroRail expansion.

But the projection that the new stop would require a doubling of the 1,700 parking spaces presently available at the park & ride will require management of alternative access options for area residents, Nicoson added.

"There are ways to try and keep traffic going through to the station smoother and part of that is getting people onto transit faster," she said. For that reason, planners are working with Fairfax County to set up regular bus service to get Herndon area residents to the station efficiently, Nicoson added.

Other options include encouraging pedestrian access to the station from Herndon Parkway and the possibility of a "kiss and ride" drop-off point for the station within the town limits, according to director of Community Development for the Town of Herndon, Henry Bibber.

THE KEY to keeping traffic down on a long-term basis in that area will be in looking at developments that utilize the MetroRail station's pedestrian-conducive environment, Bibber said. To best understand the effects of the long-term development that is bound to occur, staff will be working closely with elected officials to communicate proposed projects' traffic impacts, he added.

"With these types of [mixed-use] development, the traffic production is less than in your average commercial or residential development in a suburban area," Bibber said. "So we shouldn't see the type of traffic normally associated with congestion."

"We look forward to preparing plans to take to the Town Council to allow them to see the extent of the effect that developments will have on the area."

The Town of Herndon is in the process of developing a comprehensive 20-year plan for how it will approach the mixed-use development for that area.

ULTIMATELY, Herndon’s traffic future will be determined on how state and local elected officials use the newly-acquired state regional transportation funding and how effective the MetroRail expansion will be in clearing cars from the streets, Rust said.

"How much Loudoun traffic will be diverted from Herndon by Metro?" he said. "A lot of traffic is simply going to come through Herndon, and in a perfect plan, we would have a way to manage just how much comes through."