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Letter: Is Traffic Ellipse Necessary?

— To the Editor:

Does the proposed $30 million traffic ellipse improve traffic flow and pedestrian crossing at Seminary Road and North Beauregard? Should other safer, less costly options be explored?

City Transportation and Environmental Services staff members have touted the ellipse as being necessary to improve traffic conditions for employees working at the new BRAC office towers. City officials also argue the ellipse would improve opportunities for better urban design and provide a more attractive gateway for the proposed town center development on Beauregard Street.

The ellipse revives the concept of a round-about or traffic circle. However there are significant differences. Traffic on Seminary Road would go through the middle of the traffic circle and traffic signals would be installed at intersections within the circle. Drivers using North Beauregard Street would make right turns into a signalized circular maze and merge into an exit lane.

The ellipse was proposed prior to VDOT proposing the HOV ramp at I-395 and Seminary Road. If approved the ramp will provide bus and HOV-3 drivers more direct access to and from the BRAC site. This would significantly reduce the distance and numbers of vehicles projected to use the triple left turn lanes on Seminary Road to access Mark Center Avenue off of Beauregard Street.

The proposed ellipse would replace the recently constructed triple left at Seminary Road and North Beauregard. It would reduce left turns. Given the potential volume of traffic, design speeds, site distances and maneuvering, safety could be an issue. The design does not alleviate current traffic congestion and queuing during the afternoon rush hour associated with I-395 on and off ramps and the traffic lights at Mark Center Drive.

The proposed ellipse creates a real barrier to pedestrian and bicyclist and will impact local bus service, including plans for the Bus Rapid Transit route through Southern Towers. Pedestrian crossings at Seminary and Beauregard are currently bad and the ellipse would make it even worse. An argument can be made that if we are trying to create a transit oriented, walk-able community, with enhanced transit and local retail the ellipse is the wrong way to go.

The ellipse is a $30 million engineering experiment. Although the cost of the ellipse would be borne by the developers, it is likely the cost would be offset by additional concessions allowing more development granted by the City through its zoning process.

If the HOV ramp is approved, the City should reevaluate the need for the ellipse. As an option the City should consider eliminating the third left lane since the proposed HOV ramp would alleviate much of the traffic at the Seminary and Beauregard intersection destined for the BRAC Mark Center site.

I suggest the City staff evaluate the option of eliminating the third left turn lane and returning the intersection to a more conventional intersection. Improved signalization, restriping would be less expensive and more importantly, it would provide opportunities for more direct, safer pedestrian crossing at this important intersection.

Dave Cavanaugh