Fairfax finds planning road improvements is complicated

With the Silver Line set to debut this month, transportation officials in Fairfax County are ramping up efforts to plan or start construction on several road projects that they say are just as key to the future of Tysons Corner as the new Metro line.

Among them: A “Super Boulevard” on Route 123, a wider Route 7 and a new grid of streets in the heart of Tysons Corner. Together, these multi-million-dollar projects are meant to eliminate much of the backed-up traffic that has long typified the rapidly transforming neighborhood.

The overhaul of Tysons from a crowded area of mega shopping malls, office towers and car lots into a pedestrian-friendly community also includes plans for parks, bike trails and plazas.

Coordinating the different projects is like performing surgery, officials say, with a single wrong step having the potential to lead to unforeseen or more complicated challenges, officials said.

“There’s a significant amount of cooperation that’s required,” said Tom Biesiadny, Fairfax County’s transportation director. “We’re not just dealing with a bunch of green fields.”

Among the road improvements planned for the area, the closest to construction is a $43 million project to connect Route 123 with Jones Branch Drive. Work should be underway during the winter of 2016, officials say.

A $300 million widening of Route 7 from the Dulles Toll Road to Reston is expected to launch shortly after that, while the “Super Boulevard” featuring more efficient intersections along Route 123 is several years away.

None of those projects is generating as much reaction from the community as a plan to extend Boone Boulevard — work that isn’t expected to begin until 2028.

In 2012, residents of Vienna beat back a plan for the extension of Boone Boulevard to cut through the Old Courthouse Spring Branch park, a 33-acre woods west of the Pike 7 Plaza Shopping Center that is a state-designated resource protection area.

The option now favored by the county has the extension of Boone Boulevard running alongside the woods. But some residents question that plan.

“They’ve shown that the environment is not a top priority,” said Randy Atkins, a Vienna homeowner who lives near the woods and argues that a recreational park should be placed there instead.

Biesiadny, the county transportation director, said Fairfax wants to build an electric power substation nearby, where power lines are already located. That severely limits the options for the Boone Boulevard extension, which Biesiadny said is needed to draw traffic away from Route 7.

“In order for Tysons to achieve the redevelopment being proposed, we need to enhance the electrical grid,” he said. “In order to do that, you need a new substation on the west side of Route 7. And the most logical place to put that substation is where the power already runs.”

Biesiadny said the Boone Boulevard extension path is not set in stone but added that county officials believe the forested area would not be endangered by cars passing at what are expected to be slow speeds once the extension is completed, sometime around 2036.

“What we’re trying to do is give people a general sense of where the roadway would be, so as developers come forward with their individual developments, they know what to expect,” he said.

Abraham Lerner, a supervisor with the Virginia Department of Transportation who is helping coordinate road projects in Tysons, said the layers of utilities and other infrastructure in Tysons make planning road improvements complicated.

As an example, he cited plans for a stretch of road to be called State Street that would cut beneath the Silver Line tracks across Route 7. The road would be a vital part of the new grid of streets that is meant to provide more ways in and out of Tysons. But it must be placed in a way that will not interfere with the Metro.

“We can only cross between the [Metrorail] columns,” Lerner said. And there must be enough space overhead to allow large vehicles to pass through.

Fairfax supervisors recently approved the creation of a transportation management agency whose job will be to get more people to take local buses or the Silver Line instead of driving in. But even with all those preparations, easing congestion in an area that is expected to see 140,000 cars per day by 2050 will be a monumental effort.

“All of this is going to be challenging,” Lerner said.

Antonio covers government, politics and other regional issues in Fairfax County. He worked in Los Angeles, New York and Chicago before joining the Post in September of 2013.
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