In 2014, Gov. McAuliffe signed House Bill 2 (HB2) into law. It requires the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) to develop a prioritization process for making funding decisions for the statewide Six Year Improvement Program.
So the CTB is now using a scoring process based on six factors to determine which projects receive money. In Northern Virginia, one of these factors – congestion mitigation – is required to be the highest-weighted factor.
The City of Fairfax wants some of these funds for its road projects, too. And during a Sept. 8 City Council work session, Transportation Director Wendy Block Sanford presented details of two such projects that could qualify.
*ONE OF THEM is the extension of University Drive (Route 123) from Fairfax Boulevard (Lee Highway/Route 50) to Eaton Place in the City’s Northfax area. The project consists of a two-lane roadway, one northbound and one southbound lane. There’d be right- and left-turn lanes onto Lee Highway and Eaton Place, plus a shared left-turn lane to future site entrances.
It also entails sidewalk, pedestrian crossings, on-road bike lanes, lighting and landscaping. Proposed, as well, is traffic-signal reconstruction at the University Drive/Lee Highway intersection.
Significant right-of-way acquisition and easements would be needed from two parcels of land. They are the Regency Shopping Center – which would include building demolition – and the Ruffini property, which is a car-dealer storage lot. And, said Sanford, “Congestion relief would be minimal because of traffic congestion at the Rt. 123/Eaton Place intersection.”
This project also comes with an estimated $10 million price tag – most of which is for right-of-way and utilities costs. But it also comes with many benefits. It would create a roadway grid within Northfax and facilitate that area’s redevelopment. It would also provide an alternative, north-south travel route.
“If it’s going to increase traffic on University between Route 50 and Kenmore [Drive], what are we doing to the people who live along that roadway?” asked Councilwoman Janice Miller. “Is this a wise idea? That’s already a narrow road.” Sanford replied that it’s just a conceptual design to apply for funding.
“If we apply for funding and it doesn’t come through, what’s our Plan B?” asked Mayor Scott Silverthorne. Sanford said the City would then look at other funding options. Councilman David Meyer asked the length of the road between Route 50 and Eaton, and Sanford told him it’s about 1,000 feet.
“This is a residential road, so that gives me pause,” said Councilwoman Nancy Loftus. “And it’s an enormous price tag for a small stretch of road. Just buying that property and the building, and knocking it down, would cost $7.5 million; I’m not in support of it.”
Silverthorne then asked, “What’s the strategic value of this road? Is there a benefit to the City’s transportation and economic development?”
“Northfax is our crown jewel – our primary, economic-redevelopment opportunity,” answered Community Development and Planning Director Brooke Hardin. “Eventually, there’ll be no access from eastbound Fairfax Boulevard into that quadrant, unless we do this. Both sides of Northfax from eastbound Fairfax Boulevard would be cut off if this road doesn’t extend into this property.”
“We’ve had several studies telling us we should focus our development dollars on Northfax, and it’ll make this area more important to developers,” said Councilman Michael DeMarco. “I don’t think we should miss this opportunity. It’ll allow us to eventually connect the east and west quadrants. I think we should at least apply for the HB2 funding.”
Agreeing, Meyer said, “We need to think of 20-30 years down the road. I’m afraid that, if we don’t do something old, we’ll be permanently consigned to second-class status in this part of the City.”
* THE SECOND PROJECT under consideration of HB2 funds is the extension of Government Center Parkway to construct the missing link from Stevenson Street to Jermantown Road. And most of this project falls within the existing right of way.
It would consist of two eastbound through lanes to provide right- and left-turn lanes to Jermantown, plus one westbound through lane. There’d be turn lanes to Stevenson and the shopping center. Also included are sidewalk, pedestrian crossings, on-road bike lanes, lighting and landscaping, plus a retaining wall adjacent to the McDonald’s drive-through. And there’d be traffic-signal reconstruction at the Jermantown/Government Center Parkway intersection.
“The morning peak traffic is the most critical in this area,” said Sanford. “So there’d be more congestion on Jermantown Road.” However, this extension would provide an alternative east-west travel route. Preliminary cost estimate, including construction, is $3.1 million.
“My worry is that there’d be a redistribution of traffic,” said Silverthorne. Sanford said the resulting increase in traffic on Government Center Parkway would then place more drivers on Jermantown, too. And Silverthorne said they’ll have other opportunities to “further explore this.”
The Council members favored this project and Sanford told them she’ll be “bringing this to the Council on Sept. 29 for a formal resolution. But the applications [to the CTB for funding] are due the next day; that’s why we needed this discussion tonight.”