A long-awaited plan to reduce traffic congestion in the Springfield business district drew strong support from area residents at a public hearing last week.

The only point of contention came over the streets that should handle north-south traffic in and out of the congested Backlick-Old Keene Mill Road area.

The plan is designed to eliminate a bottleneck at Backlick and Old Keene Mill roads, which often creates rush-hour backups onto I-95 at the Springfield exit ramps.

"At Old Keene Mill Road and Backlick, it's an actual gridlock situation. There are times when traffic cannot move in any direction. It sometimes takes 20 minutes to get off the I-95 ramp," said Supervisor Marie B. Travesky, who represents the Springfield district.

A Virginia Department of Highways and Transportation plan for the business district calls for closing off north-south cross-over traffic on Backlick Road at Old Keene Mill Road, and shifting vehicles to Amherst Avenue, a parallel street. Under that plan, an overpass would be built on Amherst Avenue and Amherst would be extended south of Old Keene Mill Road to link up with Backlick near Calamo Street.

Early this week, the county Board of Supervisors voted to seek $4.5 million to extend Amherst Avenue over Old Keene Mill Road. The project would be one of 14 included ina $30 million bond issue voters will be asked to consider in the Nov. 3 general election.

At the public hearing last week, most residents and merchants endorsed the Amherst overpass and the circulation plan. They split, however, on the question of where traffic would go north of Old Keene Mill Road.

The central issue is whether north-south traffic should continue on Amherst Avenue, a four-lane road that is not heavily traveled now, or be funneled to Backlick Road, which now handles most of the north-south traffic.

The state highway department has proposed four options for the area.

Homeowners on Amherst Avenue, who are reluctant to give up their curbside parking, favored an option that would tie the Amherst Avenue extension into Backlick Road.

"We recognize the traffic problem on Backlick, but why do we want to change the ballgame and throw the traffic over to Amherst? Keep things on Backlick and leave Amherst alone," said Dale Harbert of 6001 Amherst.

Backlick residents and merchants supported options that would funnel most of the traffic to Amherst.

"Businesses on Backlick think it would be disruptive for all the traffic from the Amherst Avenue overpass to be dumped onto Backlick," said Tony Christ of Fairfax City, who holds a lease-hold on land that would be affected by the connector road.

Supervisors Travesky, who called the Backlick-Old Keene Mill intersection the worst traffic junction in Springfield, said she supports an alternative that would divide the traffic between the Amherst and Backlick neighborhoods.

The only opposition to the proposal came from Natalie Brock, vice president of the Springfield Chamber of Commerce, who argued that the plan would divert traffic from area businesses, and from Charles Barbour of the Greater Springfield Volunteer Fire Department, who said closing Backlick at Old Keene Mill could delay emergency vehicles.

A final decision on the road alignment will be made by the State Highway and Transportation Commission, which is not expected to discuss the matter before November.