Untangling a knot on Fairfax parkway

By Robert Thomson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 6, 2010; 6:13 PM

The Fairfax County Parkway, linking Route 7, Interstate 95 and Route 1, plays the role of an outer beltway in Northern Virginia. That is, if you can imagine a beltway with crosswalks, bus stops and traffic signals.

Route 7100 has some wide-open, wooded sections through Fairfax County that genuinely evoke the spirit of a parkway. Along other stretches, cars enter the parkway directly from neighborhoods or make left turns into oncoming traffic.

But the parkway, which has a history of planning and construction that stretches back half a century, continues to evolve. Planners are adapting to different needs in different sectors. Here's a look at one upcoming effort.

Junction of two parkways

In the middle of the parkway, in the area where Route 50 and Interstate 66 form a lopsided V around the Fair Lakes community, the Virginia Department of Transportation will create a highway-style interchange to replace a four-way intersection.

This is an older, congested part of the county parkway. VDOT says that each day, 66,000 motorists drive through the area, which contains both housing and shopping. The drivers jam up the junction of the county parkway and Fair Lakes Parkway. Nearby Monument Drive, connecting with a heavily developed residential area, contributes to the congestion.

The new design

The cost of the new interchange will be nearly $70 million, according to VDOT. That's $8.9 million for engineering, $2.6 million for right of way acquisition and utility relocation, and $58.2 million for construction.

The key financial component allowing the project to proceed now is $40.8 million in federal stimulus money, an allocation that is speeding it up by at least two years. These are the project's major components:

- The Fairfax County Parkway will be widened from four to six lanes from south of I-66 to Rugby Road, a distance of about three miles.

- Signals at Fair Lakes Parkway and Monument Drive will be eliminated.

- Long ramps will provide separate access to and from Fair Lakes Parkway and Monument Drive.

- Shared-use paths and sidewalks will allow for pedestrian and cyclist access at the interchange and also to the Rocky Run Stream Valley Park trail system.

Other benefits:

- When the project is completed, there will be no signals on Fairfax County Parkway from Popes Head Road to Route 50.

- Traffic on Fair Lakes Parkway and Monument Drive should flow more easily because of the separation of local and county parkway traffic.

-The additional lanes in this three-mile stretch should improve traffic flow at I-66, Route 50 and Rugby Road.

During construction

The project will take three years. Lanes closings will occur weekdays between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., weeknights between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. and on weekend nights between 9 p.m. and 9 a.m.

Fairfax County Parkway will retain access to Fair Lakes Parkway and Monument Drive, but there will be some traffic shifts. Here's a timeline for the work:

- North Lake Drive's intersection with the Fairfax County Parkway will be removed early 2011. Motorists will reach North Lake Drive via Tall Timbers Drive.

- Beginning next summer and continuing for about six months, traffic on Fair Lakes Parkway heading toward the county parkway intersection will be detoured to Fair Lakes Circle.

- In November 2011, county parkway traffic will be shifted to the new northbound and southbound ramps to allow for the reconstruction of the parkway over Fair Lakes Parkway and Monument Drive. The speed limit to those ramps will be lowered from 50 mph to 40 mph for about one year.

-In December 2012, new bridges over Fair Lakes Parkway and Monument Drive will open to traffic.

- By July 2013, traffic will be in its final configuration. New roadway lighting and signs will be in place.

- In October 2013, final paving and pavement markings will be completed.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company