No Traffic Plan for Tysons Projects

By Amy Gardner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 10, 2007

State transportation officials have not set aside money to manage traffic in the already-congested Tysons Corner area during the two major commuter projects that are to begin construction during the next year, Fairfax County leaders said yesterday.

If money is not found to keep traffic flowing while an aboveground Metrorail line through the heart of Tysons and additional commuter lanes on the nearby Capital Beltway are built, the region's largest shopping district and employment center could be paralyzed by gridlock, local officials said.

"Tysons is our major retail center. It is our major office center," said Gerald E. Connolly (D), chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. "We cannot afford to have it in disarray for any period of time."

Connolly and other board members demanded yesterday that the Virginia Department of Transportation complete detailed plans and find the money to implement them by June. Anything less could cripple the regional economy, they said.

Supervisors praised VDOT for its management of the $676 million reconstruction of the Springfield Mixing Bowl, where interstates 95, 495 and 395 come together in a tangle of ramps, loops and merge lanes. VDOT spent about $24 million on congestion control, building additional lanes on local roads and adding 5,000 parking spots in park-and-ride lots as far away as Fredericksburg to reduce congestion during construction.

But Springfield is a gateway -- and not, like Tysons, a destination for more than 100,000 workers. Fairfax supervisors asked why similar traffic management plans are not yet completed for Tysons, where the first phase of the Dulles rail project is to begin along crowded Route 7 in August.

VDOT officials acknowledged yesterday that no money has been allocated to cover traffic-control costs. They also agreed that such spending is badly needed.

"It's Springfield on steroids," said Joan Morris, spokeswoman for the Northern Virginia regional office. "We're very cognizant of the fact that it's going to require a lot more effort to keep the shoppers coming there and the employees getting to and from their businesses."

Tysons, the 12th-largest business district in the country, is served only by a small number of highways that overflow at rush hour. When construction of the aboveground rail line begins, one of those arteries, Route 7, will have to be completely reshaped. The rail line eventually will stretch from just east of the West Falls Church Station to Dulles International Airport in Loudoun County.

A year later, work to add HOT, or high-occupancy toll lanes, on the Beltway will start. The new lanes will come with additional highway ramps, dumping even more traffic into Tysons.

In addition, Fairfax recently approved an overhaul of Tysons Corner Center, a project that will span the next decade and feature eight towers surrounding the mall. In the long term, the project is intended to move the county closer to its vision of transforming Tysons from a sprawling office suburb into a pedestrian-friendly downtown, ready for Metrorail's arrival in 2012. But in the short term, few dispute that an area that already accommodates 40,000 commuters during the morning rush will be even more unpleasant to navigate.

The good news, Morris said, is that after successfully managing traffic in Springfield, VDOT can do it again in Tysons. Among the agency's options are reconfiguring local roads and intersections, advertising detours on radio and TV (as far away as West Virginia and Pennsylvania), opening an information kiosk at Tysons Corner Center, and asking employers to encourage carpooling, telecommuting and staggered work schedules. But the agency is still awaiting money to get started, and it is still working out the details of a congestion plan that would help manage the major construction projects, she said. VDOT needs about $100 million to implement that regional plan, Morris said. She added that the agency has asked for $2 million, which would be available in July. It is unclear when additional money will be committed to the project, she said.

Connolly said he is unconvinced that that state is doing enough.

"Frankly, when you bring it up, they cough and shuffle and say, 'We're working on it,' " he said. "And that's not a plan."

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