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Mixing Bowl's Neighbors Seek Answers

By Alan Sipress
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 11, 1999; Page V5

As construction crews began the first days of an eight-year project to rebuild the Springfield interchange, the local Chamber of Commerce pressed state officials this week for answers about how the massive undertaking could affect the area's businesses and shoppers.

The Springfield Chamber asked the Virginia Department of Transportation in writing to address about 30 concerns, ranging from the specific timing of road and bridge construction to the possible disruption of gas, electric and telephone lines.

"We are really worried about how they plan to sequence it and how they'll go about it," said Ed Frye, chairman of the chamber's economic development committee.

Though businesspeople have urged VDOT to inform them of the construction schedule at least three months in advance, state officials said they could provide only the broad outlines of the project but would announce specific work sites and lane closures a week ahead of time.

They said all such information will be provided to the media as well as posted on the project's Web site (www.springfieldinterchange.com).

The $350 million reconstruction of the so-called Mixing Bowl eventually will involve the rebuilding of the entire interchanges of Interstates 95, 395 and 495, and I-95 and Route 644. Transportation officials say this will make the roadways safer and easier to negotiate because local and long-distance traffic will be separated.

During the next six weeks, construction will center on the interchange of I-95 and Route 644 (Franconia Road/Old Keene Mill Road), remaining clear of local streets inside Springfield, according to Larry Cloyed, VDOT's senior project manager.

Work on three local bridges -- a matter specifically asked about by the chamber -- could begin as soon as early summer, with construction on the Commerce Street bridge likely to come first, followed by the Franconia Street bridge and finally the Amherst Street Bridge, Cloyed said in an interview.

In response to concerns about access to shopping centers, he said construction could force crews to close some entrances. But he added that most parking lots have two entrances and that only one would be closed at a time. For those businesses that have only one wide entrance, Cloyed said, crews would close half at a time, guaranteeing that customers and suppliers still have access.

He also reassured businesspeople that construction workers would not park in their lots. Some would leave their cars in a staging area now being developed on the north side of Franconia Road just east of the intersection with Loisdale Road. Others would park behind construction barriers or elsewhere on the work site.

Frye said one of the chamber's top concerns is whether VDOT would erect guide signs to help motorists find their way to local businesses and other destinations in the Springfield area. But Cloyed said the department sees no need to do so.

"People for the most part will not face any major detours," he said. "Most of the routes will be open as they have been open, and businesses will still be visible from the roadway."

Also of high priority is a proposal to open a connection between Fullerton and Rolling roads, south of the interchange project, said Linda Waller, assistant to Fairfax County Supervisor T. Dana Kauffman (D-Lee).

To provide an additional route for traffic moving through the area, businesspeople have urged that a gate separating those roads be removed and that the intersection be upgraded. VDOT spokeswoman Joan Morris said $100,000 has already been authorized for designing the improvements, including the installation of a traffic light, with construction proposed to begin in 2001.

Several of the chamber's concerns focus on the possible disruption of utilities and traffic lights during construction. Cloyed said VDOT does not anticipate any difficulties, but he said any interruption of gas, electric or telephone service would be handled by emergency response teams from the relevant company.

He said police would be responsible for controlling traffic if signals fail, with Virginia state troopers assigned to handle the interstates and Fairfax County officers deployed on the other streets.

Cloyed said VDOT has little latitude to adjust the timing on traffic lights to better regulate traffic flow during construction because Springfield's intersections already are at or near capacity.

A common refrain from businesspeople has been the need for comprehensive and up-to-date information about the status of the project. They have asked the state to add a specific business component to the project's Web site and to provide maps to the public. VDOT officials said both are under consideration.

But with the mammoth road project already underway, some businesspeople have grown apprehensive that the state may be falling behind in keeping them informed.

"Most of the business community is in a wait-and-see and we-better-worry mode," Waller said.

Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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