Residents of the Fairfax Farms subdivision near Fair Oaks Mall have mounted a campaign for a traffic light at the busy intersection of Rte. 50 and Fairfax Farms Road, the only way out of their neighborhood.

More than 5,000 vehicles per hour stream past Fairfax Farms Road on Rte. 50 during morning and evening rush hours, according to a recent study. Without a traffic light there, says Shirley Swiney, a leader of the citizen drive to secure the traffic light, "we can't get out onto Rte. 50."

The speed limit on Rte. 50 is 55 mph, she notes, and "with so many cars and tractor trailers barreling through there, you are taking your life into your hands every time you go out there."

The problem is heightened, she said, because of the fact that more than 100 of the 300 residents of the Fairfax County subdivision are senior citizens.

Swiney and other residents, who have taken their case to county and state officials, say they are often forced to wait as long as 10 minutes before they can leave their neighborhood, but she emphasizes that "our main concern is safety -- especially for the kids and the senior citizens."

Officials of the Virginia Department of Highways and Transportation say that they agree there is a problem at the intersection but that a traffic light is not the solution and that they are continuing to look at possible alternatives.

Residents, however, say a solution to the problem cannot come soon enough. Many of them, especially senior citizens, are "terrified for their life," said Swiney. "They are locked in. They feel they cannot get onto Rte. 50, so many don't even try. It is unfair to put such a burden on senior citizens."

State Sen. Charles Waddell (D-Sterling), in a recent letter to the Virginia Department of Highways and Transportation, agreed, stating "It seems exceedingly unfair that an established community like Fairfax Farms, though its residents are small in number, should be the victims of nearby 'progress' to this extent."

At the request of Swiney and local government officials, including Waddell and county Supervisor James M. Scott (D-Providence), highway department officials conducted a traffic study on the two roads in October, but they determined that there was not enough traffic along Fairfax Farms Road to warrant placing a traffic light at the intersection.

The major problem with placing a traffic light there, said highway department traffic engineer Julian Brown, is "not so much that it would cause problems at the intersection as that it would back up traffic on I-66 during rush hour, which could be very hazardous." Fairfax Farms Road is only about 500 feet from the ramp connecting I-66 with Rte. 50.

In addition, noted Brown, a light at the intersection would probably cause more accidents than occur there now. There were eight reported accidents in 1983 and 13 in 1984, plus many more fender benders, according to the state department of highways.

Adding a traffic light frequently increases rear-end collisions on the roads involved, Brown said. The light would not be visible from the ramp, he said, which would increase the likelihood of an accident even further.

According to the highway department study, a total of 321 cars exited Fairfax Farms Road onto Rte. 50 between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Oct. 4, reaching a peak of 46 between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. However, VDHT requires an average of 52 cars per hour over a 12 hour period to warrant the addition of a traffic light, said Brown.

The study also showed an average wait of 31 seconds to get onto Rte. 50 from Fairfax Farms Road, with a maximum wait that day of 220 seconds (three minutes, 40 seconds).

Resident Peggy Case, a Fairfax County school bus driver, said she recently switched bus routes after transporting children from the Fairfax Farms area for 10 years because "I don't want to be responsible for getting those kids killed."

Residents want a so-called actuated signal or "trip-light" installed to change the signal only when a car driving south on Fairfax Farms Road or east in the left-turn lane of Rte. 50 trips the traffic signal mechanism. "Most of the time, the light would be green on Rte. 50," said 11-year resident Leo Skorupinski. "We wouldn't impede traffic at all."

Skorupinski suggested that a signal change lasting for as little as 15 seconds would be satisfactory to Fairfax Farms residents. "All we want is to be able to get across Rte. 50, no more," he said.