From left—Garrett Moore, William Harrell, Charlie Strunk, Tom Biesiadny, Leonard Wolfenstein, Randall White and Lauren Mullerup. Experts from both the Virginia and Fairfax County Departments of Transportation listened to area residents, answered questions and addressed concerns about the Fairfax County Parkway.
Photo by Andrea Worker.
In conjunction with the Springfield District Council, Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity (R) hosted a panel of local and state transportation authorities for a Town Hall Meeting, held at the James W. Robinson Secondary School in Fairfax. The press release issued by Herrity’s office titled the event as a discussion on the future of the Fairfax County Parkway, but the agenda also included a history of the parkway, as well as updates on current projects, and a frank account of the funding challenges to future improvements and maintenance of the 35-mile thoroughfare connecting the County from the south at Route 1 to the north, ending at Route 7. The parkway’s back-story was presented by Charlie Strunk, senior transportation planner for the Fairfax County Department of Transportation (FCDOT) who has been involved with the design, construction and continuing improvement of the parkway since the first phase of construction began in 1987 on what was then known as the “Springfield Bypass and Metro Spur.” “And just in case you were wondering,” said Strunk, “public hearings do matter.” Strunk cited several examples of citizen-driven additions to the parkway, including two wildlife migration tunnels, development of wetlands, the location of several access points and areas where noise abatement walls have been constructed.
IN FEBRUARY, the commonwealth approved the reclassification of the parkway from a secondary to a primary road, changing its numerical designation from 7100 to 286. “This change was a big plus,” said William Harrell, senior transportation planner with FCDOT. “This means access to federal dollars for paving and for guard rails. This places the parkway higher on the scale of priorities.”
Garrett Moore, Northern Virginia district administrator, and Lauren Mollerup, NoVa district land use and transportation director represented the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) at the meeting. “The main thing I am here to do is listen,” stated Moore, “and to work to make considered options fit best with the community.” Mollerup provided a status report on projects recently completed, currently under construction, and those already funded for their planning stages. Nearing completion is the resurfacing of most of the parkway. “There are a few pieces still to be done, some markings, things like that,” she said. “But we are about there.” Scheduled for completion in 2014 is the I-95 at Fort Belvoir ramp, largely funded by the Department of Defense. The Fairfax County Parkway (Saratoga) commuter lot expansion is in progress and expected to be completed by year-end. Currently tracking ahead of schedule is the massive Fair Lakes Parkway flyover. “I checked in with the project team before this meeting. It looks like we may see our first vehicles using the bridge overpasses by mid-November,” said Mollerup to the applause of the gathering. The flyover is designed to mitigate the bottleneck at the intersections of the parkway with Fair Lakes Parkway, and with Monument Drive.
Mollerup also reported on a “quiet pavement” pilot program being tested between Rugby Road and West Ox, using new paving mixture technologies to reduce noise. She wrapped her segment with an update on trail maintenance alongside the parkway. The shared-use path runs for more than 26 miles. As Charlie Strunk noted, “It’s sometimes hard to find.” A study of the trail’s maintenance needs has been completed. “The County owns pieces of the trail, so the next step is to work together to put a contract together and source funding.”
Supervisor Herrity praised Mollerup and VDOT. “There has been real partnership and cooperation,” he said. “And VDOT is to be commended for scraping together the money for the Fair Lakes project in particular,” he added. VDOT secured funds through a variety of sources, even re-routing millions in federal stimulus dollars originally earmarked for other states but left unclaimed.
THE TASK of speaking to the funding challenges for road and transportation improvements fell to Tom Biesiadny, director of FCDOT. Biesiadny recently hosted sessions around the County to solicit public feedback on revenue source options. The FCDOT has identified about $8 billion in transportation and transit needs over the next ten years, but can only count on $5 billion from existing revenue sources. The state’s funds for primary and secondary new road construction is projected to run dry by 2017. “We have put forth 21 potential sources of revenue to close the funding gap,” said Biesiadny, “and we have developed a cost analysis tool to help determine the best use of our limited funds.” The FCDOT’s study, including the identified needs, proposed funding sources, and the public’s responses via print and online surveys are available on the Fairfax County Department of Transportation’s website.
Once the formal presentations were concluded, the speakers formed a panel to answer questions and hear suggestions from the public. Concerns were raised over proposed HOV lanes, and significant discussion took place regarding the Route 29-Braddock Road, Sunrise Valley-Dulles Toll Road and Popes Head sections of the parkway, areas deemed the most congested. Many of the questions posed began with the word “when”—used as a query. Despite the best intentions of the panel—“Remember,” said Supervisor Herrity, “we live and work here, too. We travel these roads”—the answer to “When?” was most often “Not any time soon.” The assembled experts promised to look into all of the issues raised and to make their findings publicly available.
“It’s a good thing that we had all three levels of government here tonight,” noted Supervisor Herrity, referring to attendance by members of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, state senators and delegates, and representatives from members of Congress. “It’s critical to have all three to get anything done. We have a lot of challenges in front of us.”