Fast Lane for Gainesville Work

The Route 29-Interstate 66 interchange. Federal authorities have taken steps to allow Virginia to speed the project.
The Route 29-Interstate 66 interchange. Federal authorities have taken steps to allow Virginia to speed the project. (By Roger W. Snyder)

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By Jonathan Mummolo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Construction on the final phase of a revamped Gainesville interchange will begin in 2010, three years ahead of schedule, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine said yesterday.

The announcement means that one of the region's worst bottlenecks and one of its most delayed projects is likely to be completed by 2014. The improvements are expected to ease trips and improve safety at a critical crossroads in a fast-growing part of Northern Virginia.

State officials said the project can move forward much sooner because of federally approved incentives and a relaxing of state and federal guidelines that will allow the Virginia Department of Transportation to acquire land needed for the $181.4 million project, on Route 29 near Interstate 66, ahead of schedule.

"That's a $180 million project that -- rather than wait until 2013, when construction costs are higher and the congestion has made everybody's lives shorter -- we can start a little bit early," Kaine (D) said at a news conference at the Virginia Railway Express station in Bristow, where he was joined by several local officials.

The acceleration of the project is also likely to allow an 11-mile extension of VRE between Manassas and Haymarket, which will run through the interchange area, to be completed ahead of schedule, VRE spokesman Mark Roeber said. That project received additional funding as part of the transportation package approved by the General Assembly in the spring.

The Gainesville interchange is essentially a miniature version of the Springfield Mixing Bowl, with similar traffic and safety concerns. Its main crossroads is at Route 29 and I-66, which is overrun morning and night by the tens of thousands of commuters who have moved to western Prince William and points south.

The arrival of big-box retailers and strip shopping centers has also contributed to bottlenecks in an area that until recently had little more than fast-food restaurants and gas stations.

Several other heavily used roads, including Linton Hall Road, Route 55 and Wellington Road, converge near the interchange. A set of railroad tracks, where several trains have collided with cars and where one even went through the wall of a gas station, also crosses Route 29 just south of I-66. And the interchange serves as a gateway to the Nissan Pavilion.

"In the evening, and when there's a concert at Nissan Pavilion, this is probably the worst bottleneck in the Washington region," said Pierce R. Homer, Virginia's transportation secretary.

About 46,000 vehicles a day traveled on Route 29 near the interchange in 2005, and that number is expected to grow to 63,000 by 2035, according to VDOT. Traffic on Linton Hall Road jumped from 9,000 vehicles a day in 1998 to 15,500 in 2005, the agency said. By 2035, the number is expected to grow to 42,000 vehicles a day.

Once conceived as a single massive project similar to the Mixing Bowl, the Gainesville project was broken into several pieces because of budget constraints.

"That's how we've approached it: Let's go ahead and get some product on the ground for the public to use," said Helen Cuervo, spokeswoman for VDOT. "And that's been successful -- taking the money we have and fast-tracking what we can."


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