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Ticket worth it, some Tysons drivers think

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By Kafia A. Hosh
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 11, 2010

Tysons Corner is a place consumed by dramatic transitions as it prepares for massive mixed-use development near where two billion-dollar transportation projects - high-occupancy toll lanes on the Capital Beltway and Metro's extension to Dulles International Airport - converge.

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But it's a simple concrete median built on Spring Hill Road that has outraged drivers, led to a multitude of traffic violations and disrupted business at Schmitz Exxon, a Tysons staple that has occupied the corner since 1955.

In August, as part of the widening of Spring Hill Road from two lanes to four, crews installed a seemingly innocuous 450-foot-long median on the hilly street between International Drive and Route 7.

The median has been part of Fairfax County's long-term plan to widen Spring Hill and improve traffic flow, preventing traffic from backing up behind drivers waiting to turn left into driveways.

"The median is there as a way to control that traffic signal at Route 7," said Todd Minnix, a division chief with the Fairfax transportation department.

Emergency vehicles at Fire and Rescue Station 29, which sits roughly across Spring Hill from the Exxon, were among those being blocked by backed-up traffic. The median includes a gap reserved for its trucks.

That left many Exxon patrons with a choice: Endure a maze of turns at slow-moving intersections or, for those entering from westbound Spring Hill, dart down the wrong side of the road for a short time.

So many frustrated drivers chose the latter that the fire station complained to the county and to police, Minnix said.

During the morning rush hour one day last month, a county police officer was posted at the fire station and ticketed drivers making the illegal left turn into the Exxon. In three hours, the officer wrote about 30 tickets, sometimes pulling over two vehicles at a time, said the station's owner, Eric Schmitz.

"He would follow our customers right up to the pump," he said.

On a recent afternoon, several vehicles made the illegal left turn into Exxon, ignoring the traffic signs. A Mitsubishi Eclipse was turned in, followed by a silver pickup that paused for oncoming traffic. A few seconds later, a Chevy Tahoe followed.

"It's a habit" for drivers, said Al Treadway, Exxon's service manager.


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