At first glance, Fairfax County’s plan to expand the park-and-ride lot at Stringfellow Road and Fair Lakes Boulevard in Chantilly doesn’t seem controversial. The idea is to add more parking spaces, three new bus bays and a small, transit-center building.
Trouble is, nearby residents say it’ll make their Stringfellow Road traffic problems even worse and impact their ability to exit their neighborhoods. Worse yet, they say, it’ll happen concurrently with the already-disruptive Stringfellow Road widening project — and no one told them about it in advance.
“We feel this [park-and-ride] project has a significant impact on the neighborhoods across Stringfellow Road, so we need to have more input on this,” said Barbara Osgood of The Greens neighborhood. “I’m sure it’s beautifully designed; but if you haven’t taken the people it affects into consideration, it’s not a complete project.”
She was speaking during an informational meeting, last Wednesday night, May 22, at Rocky Run Middle School. The county’s Department of Transportation will construct and maintain the building, and VDOT — which owns the land — will maintain the parking spaces.
Roxanne Tomlinson, with the Building Design branch of the county’s Department of Public Works and Environmental Services, is the project manager. And she presented details during the meeting.
Adjacent to I-66, the existing lot has 378 parking spaces. However, a 2007 bond referendum funded an additional 300 spaces, plus a bus-transfer facility with a climate-controlled waiting room, benches, restrooms, drinking fountain and bike racks.
Tomlinson said $4 million was approved for the parking expansion and $1.5 million for the bus-transfer building, and they’ve been combined into one project. “The purpose is to enhance bus ridership and promote carpooling and, ultimately, use of Metrorail [when it’s extended to this area],” she said.
Michael Guarino, a county DOT transportation planner, said the current lot fills up and there’s a demand for more parking. A Fair Lakes Crossing resident noted that overflow vehicles from the lot are parking in his neighborhood, and Osgood said they park in The Greens, too.
Three bus bays will be added, and car and bus traffic will be separated on the lot. Cars will enter and exit the lot from the Stringfellow/Fair Lakes Boulevard intersection, and the existing entrance on Stringfellow will be for buses only.
The building will be 1,345 square feet, with solar panels and a large roof to cover bicycle parking on each end. “We’ll also add bio-filters to the site, plus porous pavement, a landscaped dry pond and educational signage so people can learn about these features,” said Tomlinson.
Mark Gunn, a civil engineer with Rinker Design Associates, is involved in the site design. “We’ll add a dual left turn from Fair Lakes Boulevard to Stringfellow, toward I-66,” he said. “There’ll be dual-use paths for pedestrians and bicyclers. And we’ll do the lighting design and landscape plan so it’ll be both aesthetic and secure for the users’ safety.”
Gunn said the porous pavement, dry pond and bio-filters — which are small, vegetative rain gardens — are part of a green initiative to improve the quality of the site’s water runoff. In addition, the entire front will be reforested and replanted.
The existing traffic signal at Fair Lakes and Stringfellow will go from three-way to four-way, to accommodate the additional vehicles using the lot. But Jon Rochetti of the nearby Waters Edge community said that change “will cause residents driving on Fair Lakes to wait even longer to get out of their community because the signal will now go through an extra cycle.”
He said that intersection is already heavily congested, handling traffic going to the Fair Lakes Shopping Center, plus residential drivers; school, Metro and Connector bus traffic heading to and from the I-66 HOV entrance/exit. Gunn said the dual left will improve movement, but Rochetti was skeptical.
“Traffic, we fear, may increase so quickly once the widened Stringfellow Road opens that it may revert back to the current, rush-hour gridlock in no time — just four lanes of gridlock vs. two,” he said. “The additional parking spots will only add more traffic congestion — and the lot will be mainly used by people outside our community.”
Furthermore, said Rochetti, “The single left-turn lane from Fair Lakes Boulevard onto southbound Stringfellow consistently backs up, [and] the length of the current unused turning lane appears [to] accommodate just 8-10 cars, which won’t offer much relief. We’re concerned that traffic will continue to block Great Heron Drive, making it challenging, if not unsafe” for Water’s Edge and The Greens residents to exit their neighborhoods at Fair Lakes.
Osgood also worried about “traffic increasing significantly and affecting pedestrians and bicyclists in the neighborhood.” Gunn said his office would coordinate with the county and incorporate the residents’ feedback. Comments may also be sent to Supervisor Pat Herrity (R-Springfield) since the lot’s in his district.
“Between the Fairfax County Parkway and Stringfellow widening project — and VDOT parking its construction trailers and dozens of pieces of equipment in our area, we’ve got construction fatigue,” said Rochetti. And with one transportation-related project after another, the residents will get no relief.
The park-and-ride expansion is slated to begin in January 2014, and the work to widen Stringfellow just started and will last until July 2015. Said Guarino: “It’s inconvenient, but these projects need to be done when we can do them.”
Residents also stressed that — although the county and VDOT consider the Stringfellow widening and park-and-ride expansion two separate projects — they don’t. Both will happen at the same time, but the park-and-ride project wasn’t mentioned during a recent, public meeting about the widening.
There are 196 homes in The Greens and 220 in Water’s Edge and, said Tony Petruzzi of The Greens, “The Stringfellow widening project affects this project and our communities, and we weren’t told about this project until now. More than 400 families are being impacted by this, and we never got a flier or an e-mail about it.”
Osgood said the impact on Great Heron should be studied and remedied as part of the park-and-ride project before it opens and problems occur. And, she said, “We’d like a sidewalk at Northbourne [Drive] and on The Greens’ side of Fair Lakes Boulevard.”
Added Petruzzi: “At the entrance to The Greens and Water’s Edge, there are school-bus stops and traffic backs up, as it is — and nobody looked at this.”
Guarino said there’s “not an easy fix” for The Greens, and he said separating the bus and car park-and-ride entrances would remove some traffic from Stringfellow and shift it to Fair Lakes Boulevard. But, replied Osgood, “You have not studied the impact on the neighborhoods. I’d suggest you meet with the neighborhoods because it’s important for them to have a say.”
“This project helps keep this site as a transit hub, which has overall benefits,” said Guarino. “And it works with our future planning, bus routes and HOV lanes on I-66.”
That’s all well and good, said Osgood, but “there are a lot of bits and pieces you could fix to make this project work better overall for everyone. We’re making all the sacrifices — we should get some of the benefits.”