The Virginia Department of Transportation's slogan is "VDOT Keeps Virginia Moving." These four words are central to a heated debate among the Great Falls Citizens Association (GFCA) members regarding two aging one-lane bridges in their community.
Some members believe that a one-lane bridge, rather than a two-lane bridge, can serve as a much-needed traffic calming and safety measure impacting the state-owned, two-lane, tree-lined roads with hilly and curved approaches to the bridges. They believe that a two-lane bridge would threaten motorists, children at bus stops, and nearby homeowners in Great Falls. Additionally, one-lane bridges would discourage the community's growing cut-through traffic. Who desires to wait in the alternating bridge crossing lines controlled by yield signs?
Other GFCA members believe that ending their fight against two-lane bridges on two-lane roads not only facilitates traffic flow but could also lead to lesser ecologic impacts, improved safety, as well as improved relationships with the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and VDOT when the community needs their support for other traffic calming issues.
During the April 27 Great Falls Citizens Association meeting, members in good standing of GFCA voted for Option One or Option Two, essentially one-lane or two-lane, preferences for the Springvale Road and Walker Road bridges over Piney Run. GFCA’s Walker Road Bridge Working Group and the Transportation Committee's (TRN) leadership team presented the proposals that would lead to resolutions. Michael Barclay is co-chair of the TRN and acted as moderator for the meeting.
"Bridges are an emotionally charged issue," Barclay said in his introduction.
The Springvale Road Route 674 bridge "is in very poor condition and will require replacement in the near future," according to VDOT Commissioner Stephen Brich's letter to Sen. Barbara Favola on Jan. 18, 2022, requesting a decision regarding the Springvale Road one-lane bridge. Earlier, VDOT deemed the Walker Road Route 681 bridge "substandard." Both the Walker and Springvale bridges have a history of accidents.
According to VDOT, 9,000 vehicles crossed the Walker Bridge over Piney Run daily in 2016. Approximately 5,000 vehicles per day traverse the Springvale bridge at present. VDOT has implemented maintenance and repair strategies for both bridges, assuring the public of their safety. VDOT estimated in 2016 that the cost to replace the Walker Road Bridge would be $4.1 million, with construction commencing in the summer of 2018. VDOT halted the project due to a lack of funding.
Speaking on behalf of the transportation leadership for GFCA, Pam Grover said they could all agree that traffic impacts Great Falls and that most of them share the same goals: to control and hopefully reduce the volume of cut-through traffic in the community and to improve safety. She advocated for two-lane bridges and opposed the continuation of the public campaign to pressure elected officials to reexamine the already-approved Walker Road bridge plan and approve waivers to replace both the Walker and Springvale bridges with "one lane pavement on one lane foundation."
Former GFCA president and retired architect in Great Falls, John Colby, said that he "wholeheartedly supports two lanes for the state-owned and maintained bridges." Homeowners cannot choose their own pavement and bridge standards. Why should GFCA, then?
"Three million other Virginia drivers and taxpayers rightly get to have their say too," Colby said, referencing NYMBYism. He argued that one-lane bridge nostalgia could be experienced in Riverbend Park. He added that vehicles waiting in line to cross one-lane bridges emit noxious fumes and "clearly sacrifice personal and vehicular safety."
Ruth Carver, a former president of the GFCA, refuted Colby's claims. Although the one-lane bridges evoke the semi-rural character of the community, Carver says they do more than transport traffic across Piney Run. The bridges serve as traffic deterrents against the growing number of drivers on Georgetown Pike who wish to avoid the congestion on Route 7 and the high tolls at the nearby Dulles Access toll to access I-495. The one-lane designs of the bridges serve as a safety measure by reducing the speed of vehicles, especially on Springvale's hill and a sharp bend in the narrow, tree-lined road.
Diggs Bishop, who lives near the sharp turn on Walker Road, said that the curve is not going away and a two-lane bridge ”is going to exacerbate the speed issue and lack of control on that curve”
“It’s happened in our yard multiple times and we actually had trees taken out of our yard to prevent people getting killed … I think what gets to that is traffic calming; I want some teeth on that.”
Henry Lipponcott was "shocked" by the assertion that the bridges must adhere to AASHTO’s standards, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, because the Beech Mill Road and Lee Mill Road bridges succeeded as exceptions. "Both of them exceeded the traffic limit, and we were still able to get waivers for those."
Jane Edmondson, the chief of staff for Supervisor John Foust (D-Dranesville), attended the meeting. "VDOT does not build one-lane bridges; they allow a waiver if the traffic is a maximum of 400 vehicles ... The horse is out of the barn. I mean, this project is moving along," Edmondson said, referring to the already funded and approved design stage of the Walker Road bridge. "There clearly is not a role for a supervisor in the county ... "Whether it is John or somebody new going against VDOT, (it) is not something that would be done." Foust is not seek reelection.
What happened to a proposed board matter by Supervisor John Foust regarding Springvale bridge as a one-lane?
Some GFCA members might have been confused by Edmondson’s words if they had not looked back 18 months to a series of correspondence concerning the Springvale bridge. Sharon Valentine, secretary of transportation in the office of the governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, dated the first correspondence on Sept. 15, 2021. Valentine responds to a letter from State Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31), Sen. Janet Howell (D-32), and Del. Kathleen Murphy (D-34) informing her of the GFCA's concerns about the replacement of the bridge over Piney Run on Springvale Road in Great Falls.
Valentine acknowledges that the existing one-lane bridge is perceived as a "calming measure to reduce excessive speed and discourage cut-through traffic to Georgetown Pike." Valentine shares the information with Virginia Department of Transportation Commissioner Stephen C. Brich, P.E. Valentine learns from her conversation that "VDOT will favorably consider a request from Fairfax County to retain a one-lane bridge at this location. Because VDOT policy requires localities to seek a waiver from the state bridge engineer, a final decision on the size of the replacement structure will be made following this request being submitted in the form of a County Board resolution."
On October 15, 2021, Edmondson wrote to the president of GFCA, Bill Canis, with the following message: "Supervisor Foust believes VDOT and/or the Secretary should confirm that what he asks his Board to approve is what they need to adopt that alternative. We sent his draft board matter and draft resolution to our contacts at VDOT to get any feedback. We also asked that VDOT confirm that, if adopted by the Board of Supervisors, the resolution was sufficient to satisfy Secretary Valentine's statement."
Three days later, on Oct. 18, 2021, Edmondson wrote Canis, "Supervisor Foust will not be presenting his board matter and draft resolution to his colleagues at the board meeting tomorrow. We received comments from VDOT Northern Virginia that appear to suggest an approach regarding the Springvale Bridge contrary to our understanding of Secretary Valentine’s Sept. 15 letter to Senators Howell, Favola, and Delegate Murphy." A flurry of correspondences lasting for three months followed.
An alternate VDOT plan? A one-lane bridge on a two-lane foundation; where is more information and a rendering?
On Jan. 18, 2022, Brich wrote to Favola, "Our engineering recommendation is to replace the existing bridge with a two-lane bridge; the Commonwealth will plan to build a one-lane bridge (bolded and in italics) initially but provide footings and abutments to support an ultimate two-lane bridge. It should be noted the project currently is not funded for the bridge replacement project. In addition, we will work with Fairfax County to determine the best method(s) to restrict traffic and traffic calming measures for the one-lane configuration. However, in the future, based on demand and accident history, we will review the need to remove the one-lane restrictions and convert the bridge to two-lanes."
As of April 30, 2023, Springvale Road over Piney Run Bridge Replacement in Fairfax County - Projects | Virginia Department of Transportation (Projects page modified on March 25, 2023) does not mention such a “one-lane bridge” plan. Instead, VDOT posts other relevant links: Option 1 (No medians) Bridge Plans, and “Option 2 (raised/splitter island medians) Bridge Plans, Roadway Plans. “At this time, the project is being deferred until additional funding is identified or additional funding sources become available,” posts VDOT.
According to Jennifer Falcone of GFCA’s Working Group, the next steps are that options are to be considered by the GFCA board. Ultimately the membership will ratify a position.
It appears that Option 1, single-lane, was the overwhelming winner, and Springvale had added an agreed amendment in Option 1 focusing on the implementation of a traffic calming program on the Springvale road corridor between Rt.7 and Georgetown Pike in conjunction with FCDOT and VDOT.
Option One Bridge Working Group: “Members join with the residents of the lower Springvale Road community and surrounding neighborhoods to state their opposition to the proposal to build a one-lane bridge on abutments and footers for a two-lane bridge over Piney Run that would ultimately be expanded to a full two-lane width by the removal of the one-lane bridge restrictions … GFCA shall continue its efforts to obtain written, formal, clarification of the language of the Commissioner Brich letter describing the proposed bridge replacement and that, in the absence of written and formal clarification of those plans, GFCA reserves the right and option to seek the support of the Board of Supervisors to endorse efforts to adopt a resolution to initiate the VDOT Waiver Application process for a one-lane bridge, should the clarification not be forthcoming or its terms acceptable to the community.
Option Two, GFCA Transportation Committee Leadership TRN: “The GFCA Board should: “Reaffirm GFCA’s general policy preference for single-lane bridges throughout Great Falls wherever practicable and safe … Accept VDOT’s offer to build a one-lane bridge on a two-lane bridge foundation on Springvale Road … View VDOT’s offer as a “win” and as a testament to its dedicated and determined lobbying effort, especially considering the fact that VDOT made significant design concessions to GFCA and that any potential expansion of the Springvale Road bridge would be considered several years or more down the road … Clarify construction and operational details of VDOT’s proposed design approach, including traffic calming design features, and clarify VDOT’s criteria/process for determining if a second lane should be added … Focus advocacy on the implementation of a traffic calming program along the Springvale Road corridor between Route 7 and Georgetown Pike in conjunction with FCDOT and VDOT.”
Walker Road Bridge
Option One Bridge Working Group: “Significant changes in traffic and transportation conditions have occurred in Great Falls since GFCA accepted VDOT’s proposal for a two-lane replacement bridge over Piney Run. Accordingly, the GFCA seeks prompt action by VDOT to schedule public meetings for the purpose of re-examining and re-visiting proposals for Walker Road bridge replacement that consider current and future traffic impacts on the Great Falls community.
Option Two, TRN Leadership: The GFCA Board should: “ Honor its 2015 endorsement of VDOT’s two-lane bridge design for the Walker Road bridge and press for the speedy replacement of the bridge while reiterating its standing preference for single-lane bridges in Great Falls (and) ... advocate and seek the cooperation of both VDOT and the Board of Supervisors/FCDOT on the design and implementation of a traffic calming program with multiple measures along the entire Walker Road corridor to reduce speeds and enhance safety.”