It’s a go for the controversial roundabout planned for construction at the Braddock/Pleasant Valley roads intersection next to Cox Farms in Centreville. Tuesday morning, Jan. 14, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors endorsed Supervisor Michael R. Frey’s (R-Sully) motion of “no opposition” to it, by an 8-2 vote.
“I know this hasn’t been an easy project,” said Board Chairman Sharon Bulova. “And I know the majority of the folks in favor of [it] are coming from Loudoun County but they’re just trying to get to work.”
Near the Fairfax/Loudoun border, that intersection regularly backs up at rush hour. So, at Loudoun’s urging, VDOT plans to build a 105-foot circle to move vehicles through there more quickly. The $4.1 million project is funded by Loudoun, state and federal money.
But many residents in nearby Centreville communities are adamantly opposed to it. Those living along Braddock and Pleasant Valley roads say they won’t be able to get out of their streets due to the steady stream of Loudoun drivers on both roads. They say a roundabout would dramatically favor Loudoun residents, to the detriment of Fairfax drivers.
However, Frey says other Sully District residents have wanted that intersection fixed for years. “At some point, you’ve got to build roads,” he said. “More traffic’s going to come on Braddock, no matter what — Loudoun County development plans call for it.”
Still many local residents have a slew of concerns. “Just east of Braddock Road is the notorious S-curve,” said Virginia Run’s Ted Troscianecki. “Improving that intersection puts more pressure on the other substandard roads there, as well as on that curve.”
He and others also believe this roundabout won’t be needed, anyway, once the Route 50 widening is completed. And in recent months, they’ve made their feelings known to the supervisors.
In a Sept. 23, 2013 letter, Stella Koch, chairman of the county’s Environmental Quality Advisory Council (EQAC), worried that a roundabout would affect the Rock Hill District Park, Mountain Road District Park and Elklick Preserve. She noted that wetlands are present in all three parks and that Rock Hill contains a “globally rare forested wetland community, plus two rare plant species that could be adversely affected by the project.” She also expressed concern that “a receiving stream south of the proposed project could be negatively impacted by increased flows.”
Residents also sent numerous e-mails to the supervisors this week, urging them to delay their decision until they had all the facts. On Jan. 11, engineer Cynthia Shang of the Pleasant Valley community explained why a roundabout would be a waste of money, contending that, by 2020, it would be overwhelmed by the traffic volume.
On Jan. 10, Troscianecki called the entire, public-information process “a fiasco,” with information provided by VDOT “at the last minute and with a significant lack of transparency.” He then implored the board to delay its decision and conduct a formal public hearing to “review all available information, ask questions and hear firsthand the concerns of your constituents. Only then will you be in a position to make an informed decision.”
And on Jan. 12, speaking on behalf of more than 1,400 residents, Joseph Johnston, president of the Virginia Run Board of Trustees, said the “overwhelming majority of the western Fairfax County communities and residents affected by the roundabout are opposed to it.” He then listed several transportation, environmental and transparency concerns.
But the supervisors don’t hold public hearings on VDOT projects and, Tuesday morning, this one was greenlighted; It’s slated to begin in June and be finished in May 2016. Frey said he’ll follow it closely and “work with any impacted motorists and communities to address problems or issues that may arise during construction and once it’s operational.”
He told the board that intersection is “extremely substandard. There are no turn lanes, and the four-way stop signs have been failing for 10 years now. And to put in a traffic signal, you’d have to raise the road to solve the drainage problems.”
Frey said Loudoun drivers are trying to reach their jobs in the Westfields Corporate Center through Braddock. “I can’t tell Loudoun commuters to use Route 50, instead,” he said. “People use whatever road they can.”
He said all VDOT’s information has been made public and VDOT representative Bud Siegel and his staff have answered residents’ questions. And he said there’ve been “numerous redesign efforts” to minimize the impacts on the environment and on Cox Farms.
“It’s unfortunately become an ‘us against Loudoun County’ approach, but traffic knows no jurisdictional lines,” said Frey. He also said waiting to see how the widened Route 50 impacts Loudoun traffic would be “sticking our heads in the sand” — and all three other approaches [to Fairfax County] are still congested.” Additionally, since Paul VI High will be relocated to that area in the near future, he said, waiting makes no sense.
County staff also weighed in. Jane Rosenbaum from the Department of Transportation listed items staff wants added to the project, in response to community comments. She said they’d coordinate with VDOT to develop a pedestrian and bicycle connection to Cox Farms from the neighborhood east of that intersection.
“Fixing the S-curve is a huge, separate project with many obstacles, but VDOT is looking into it — it’s very much needed,” said Rosenbaum. Noting residents’ concerns about being able to access Braddock, she said, “We’ll conduct a traffic study after the roundabout’s constructed.”
Co-worker Tom Bishadny said a traffic signal and turn lanes would take much more land and impact the surrounding parkland more, so the roundabout’s a “reasonable compromise.”
Frey said the county’s Comprehensive Plan recommends Braddock and Pleasant Valley be four-laned, so “this is a way to improve the intersection” without doing that.” He said the S-curve is solid rock, so “blasting it is a huge and expensive undertaking, but we can put it off for some time by fixing the intersection.”
Supervisor Linda Smyth (D-Providence) wondered where the increased stormwater runoff would go, with the addition of more pavement, but Siegel said it would be piped to an “adequate outfall.” And Frey said stormwater from the Mountain Road District Park, planned for active recreation, would be incorporated into this project.
Supervisor Penny Gross (D-Mason) was “troubled by the effects to the wetlands. Once they’re gone, they’re gone.” Both she and Supervisor Cathy Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill) voted against Frey’s motion.
Following the vote, Frey said, “‘Don’t build it and they won’t come’ has been proven wrong in this county for 40 years, and we’re not going to change it today.”