The proposed extension of University Drive from Fairfax Boulevard to Eaton Place has not been particularly popular with either the Fairfax City Council or local residents. But changes have now been made to the design, VDOT has weighed in and City residents will have their say at the Council’s June 13 public hearing.
The City’s Comprehensive Plan recommends the road extension as part of an expanded roadway grid to provide more travel routes and better connectivity within the Northfax area. The initial proposal included new sidewalks, on-road bike lanes, lighting, landscaping and reconstruction of the traffic signal at the intersection of University Drive and Fairfax Boulevard.
The extension would have turn lanes on each side leading to Eaton and Fairfax Boulevard. And the alignment would travel through part of the existing Fairfax Shopping Center and car dealership. Although many people would like to walk from their University Drive neighborhood to a revitalized Northfax east area, they’re worried about increased and speeding traffic and, therefore, pedestrian and bike safety on University Drive south of Fairfax Boulevard.
In January, Council members didn’t approve the project, but voted to advance it to the 30-percent design stage. Doing so enabled them to receive more information before deciding whether to continue with the extension or cancel it.
As a result, VDOT evaluated five other design alternatives for the road. It then stated which alternatives fell within the guidelines under which the City received $10 million in federal, Smart Scale funds for this project, and which didn’t.
THESE ALTERNATIVES were:
Adding a mid-block roundabout to provide traffic calming, mid-block;
Offsetting the interchange to the west so it wouldn’t be a through connection to University Drive south of Fairfax Boulevard;
Including either full or half-channelized entrances on one or both ends of the extension to limit traffic going into and out of Northfax;
Reducing the roadway to two lanes, removing the dedicated bike lanes and replacing them with on-street sharrows, and deleting the center two-way turn lane; and
Adding a dog-leg bend in the road.
At City Council’s May 23 work session on this issue, Transportation Director Wendy Block Sanford shared the results of VDOT’s analysis of the design options. She said VDOT concluded that – because the new road must maintain connectivity with University Drive to the south – an offset intersection or channelized entrances are not consistent with the City’s stated intent on its original application for Smart Scale funding for this project. However, the other options – the roundabout, dog-leg or roadway reduction to two lanes – are acceptable.
“So we then worked on a revised design,” she said. “We removed the on-street bike lanes and added a 10-foot-wide, shared-use, bike/pedestrian path. But we could change it; this is definitely a work in progress. We also added on-street parking in the center on what we’re calling New Street No. 2.” This configuration also removes the two-way center turn lane, provides mid-block traffic calming with a roundabout and offers access to adjacent parcels.
Brooke Hardin, director of Community Development and Planning, explained how this new design fits into the Comprehensive Plan. “The road could extend along the frontage of the Marriott Residence Inn and could turn at Fuddrucker’s,” he said. “And we have a Fairfax Shopping Center, 6-acre redevelopment proposal which, if approved, would fit in this area.”
“The property central to Northfax would be bifurcated by this street, but it would leave enough of a parcel – roughly about 1.2 acres – to be developed,” continued Hardin. “To the west, there are about 2.7 acres to develop; and if there were some [land] consolidation there, it could be a 4.5-acre site. There’d be about a 35-foot setback from Fairfax Boulevard for an easement.”
In response, Councilman Jon Stehle said, “I think this is a great example of community engagement and the City and VDOT working together.” And Councilman Dan Drummond asked what would happen to the $10 million if the Council doesn’t approve this project.
“It would go back into the Smart Scale project funding pool,” replied Sanford. Jurisdictions must compete for Smart Scale money, and Sanford said Fairfax received most of its favorable scoring for this project “based on our land-use, environmental and economic-development issues.”
Councilwoman Ellie Schmidt called the redevelopment of Northfax “very important to the future of the City. But it will definitely increase traffic on the other end of University Drive, which still causes me concern.”
“We forwarded this information to the property owners, and one responded, saying this is an improved design,” said Sanford. “With a roundabout, people could enter the [Northfax] site without traffic backing up for someone turning left.”
Schmidt asked if Fuddrucker’s is going to rebuild and reopen, and Hardin answered, “As far as we know, they’re proceeding with their application.” A major road project is occurring nearby, but Public Works Director David Summers said, “We hope to have that part of Route 123 open for them by this winter.”
MEANWHILE, Drummond asked for a new study of the potential traffic increase on University Drive south of Fairfax Boulevard, and Stehle agreed, as did Mayor David Meyer. Sanford said the roundabout should decrease it by making the connectivity less direct.
She also noted that, to take advantage of the Smart Scale funds, the project must be awarded by Dec. 31, 2020. And Summers said the bid process would take about six months. Furthermore, he added, “It would take about one year to move the utilities and nine months to one year to acquire the necessary right of way.”
“The public-hearing process could take four to six months, and six months from now would be the design public hearing,” he continued. “This project would be done in 2021 and would take all that year to construct, and this road wouldn’t be operational until 2022.”
So, said Meyer, “We’re talking almost five years before this road opens and would have any potential impact, positive or negative, on the traffic there.”
In the immediate future, though, is the public hearing next Tuesday, June 13, during the Council’s 7 p.m. meeting. Following the hearing, Council will consider approving or canceling the project. If approved, a design public hearing will be held at the 60-percent plan-development stage. The matter will then return to Council later on for awarding of the construction contract.