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VDOT solution to smoothing out Gainesville's snarls enters new phase

Sunday, August 22, 2010; C02

Think of the road construction across Gainesville as the Springfield Mixing Bowl West. Both sets of projects have involved complex designs to untangle knots of congestion. The Springfield interchange, completed in 2007, cost $676 million. Virginia is investing about $435 million to rebuild roads in the Gainesville area.

Building a bottleneck

Gainesville, where Route 29 and Interstate 66 meet on the western side of the D.C. region, has both benefited and suffered from decades of growth. The highways led to new communities where people found the suburban environment they were seeking, in an area beyond the reach of most transit.

So traffic surged on the two main roads, and their interchange became a bottleneck. Just south of that, the traffic lights and grade-level Norfolk Southern tracks contribute to notorious traffic jams. A dozen freights a day roll across Route 29.

And the amphitheater at Nissan Pavilion, now called Jiffy Lube Live, opened just to the east in 1995, adding even more traffic.

Traffic counts by the Virginia Department of Transportation show that I-66 carries more than 80,000 vehicles a day through the area. Transportation officials expect that to grow to more than 175,000 a day by 2028. About 57,000 vehicles use Route 29 through Gainesville. That's likely to increase to 87,000 by 2035, by VDOT estimates.

Relief program

In recent years, VDOT launched these projects to ease the congestion:

-- University Boulevard, a 1.3-mile, four-lane road linking Route 29 and Wellington Road, the site of the amphitheater, opened in 2006. The construction cost about $18 million.

-- Also in 2006, I-66 was widened to eight lanes along the 3.3 miles between Route 234 Business/Sudley Road and the Route 234 Bypass. The construction cost about $46 million.

-- This year, the I-66 widening project was extended 2.5 miles west, from the Route 234 Bypass to Route 29. The construction cost about $103 million.

Next up is the reconstruction of Route 29 at Linton Hall Road/Gallerher Road. This is where the troublesome traffic signals and train tracks are. The construction, one of the biggest transportation projects underway in Virginia, will be about $267 million.

What's ahead

Planners hope the rebuilding will bring relief to thousands of drivers who use this area for shopping, commuting and long-distance travel.

The key to the reconstruction will be two new overpasses. One will carry Route 29 over the tracks; the other will carry Linton Hall and Gallerher roads over the tracks and over Route 29.

Meanwhile, Route 29 will be widened to six lanes in this area. Driveway entrances and the two traffic lights between I-66 and Virginia Oaks Drive will be eliminated. This work is scheduled to be done in December 2014.

Transit benefit: The Gainesville reconstruction should help clear the way for a westward extension of Virginia Railway Express commuter trains to Haymarket. The proposed extension would follow the Norfolk Southern tracks.

Construction impact

The construction phase will be complex: VDOT first had to acquire the land around the road junctions, demolish 38 buildings and relocate utilities. That's been going on for three years.

Two detour roads will be built, one on Route 29 and the other on Linton Hall Road. These will take until at least the middle of 2012 to complete.

VDOT says the traffic impacts are likely to be small, because much of the work is away from the existing roads. During the entire construction project, the number of lanes available on all the routes will stay the same.

-- Robert Thomson

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