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Votes

‘A Win-Win for Everyone’

Traffic signal for Willow Springs Elementary.

— The evening of Sept. 6, a group of parents, politicians, a Fairfax County School Board representative, a police captain and two VDOT representatives gathered in Willow Springs Elementary’s cafeteria.

The topic was the amount of traffic at the intersection of Braddock Road and Willow Springs School Road and whether a traffic signal could be installed. Del. Tim Hugo (R-40) called the meeting after parents called him to complain.

At the end of the night, VDOT said it would do a traffic study to see if the traffic volume there merited a traffic light. And now, VDOT officials have green-lighted the signal, much to the joy of Willow Springs Principal Liz Rhein.

“I am so pleased that VDOT approved the installation of the traffic signal,” she said on Tuesday, Oct. 30. “FCPS and our school community have been strongly in support of a traffic signal for some time.”

At the start of the Sept. 6 meeting, Willow Springs PTA President Jean Naka explained that, in the past two years, “we’ve added 250 more students from communities east of the school. But turning left any time of day on Braddock is not pretty, so traffic backs up.”

In fact, she said, since it’s too dangerous for buses to try turning left on Braddock, they haven’t been allowed to do so for years. So Willow Springs counts on Wink-o-matic lights in both directions to slow traffic somewhat so parents and buses full of children can actually enter and exit the school.

Willow Springs first asked for a traffic light in 2010 but, at that time, the traffic level didn’t warrant a signal. It does now.

“The new traffic signal will significantly ease traffic congestion entering and exiting the school property and allow the buses to safely transport our students to and from school in a timely manner.” — Willow Springs Principal Liz Rhein

During the meeting, parent Jenny Rudo asked VDOT to also study traffic volumes in the nearby neighborhoods. Traffic is so bad, she said, that “parents like me park in the neighborhoods and walk to the school to get their children.”

Agreeing, a father said that, recently, “Some 55 to 65 cars” went down another neighborhood street to both drop off and pick up their children “because they can’t get to the kiss-and-ride. So this street has turned into a de-facto kiss-and-ride.”

Supervisor Pat Herrity (R-Springfield) noted that FCPS already committed to paying for a right-turn lane so traffic may flow easily out of the school. And VDOT traffic engineer Randy Dittberner said VDOT would support it.

Since that night, VDOT completed its study; and last Wednesday, Oct. 24, it notified Hugo of its decision, which reads as follows:

“In the case of Willow Springs, our study considered not only the existing conditions at the intersection, but also the other factors we discussed at the public meeting on Sept. 6, such as the de-facto kiss-and-ride area to the west of the school and the existing, part-time left-turn prohibition. Our study determined that a signal is warranted at the intersection under existing conditions.

“We understand that FCPS is also proposing to modify the intersection by adding a second, southbound approach lane, which will allow one lane for right-turning traffic and one for left turns. We also evaluated this configuration, because the change in lane use has significant impact on the results of the signal study. However, we confirmed that a signal would be warranted in the proposed configuration, also.

“Based on this study, and with the understanding that a new signal would be funded by FCPS, we approve a signal at this intersection. VDOT’s goal is to have the traffic light operational prior to the start of the 2013-2014 school year.”

Dittberner said the school system would design the light, decide where to put the pole and integrate the right-turn lane into the project. Meanwhile, Rhein is delighted that the brakes will soon be applied to Willow Springs’s traffic troubles.

“The new traffic signal will significantly ease traffic congestion entering and exiting the school property and allow the buses to safely transport our students to and from school in a timely manner,” she said. “This is a win-win for everyone in our school community.”