About 100 people gathered in Leesburg on Monday evening at the first of three public input sessions to discuss potential solutions to alleviate traffic congestion on Route 15 north of town.
Loudoun County officials scheduled the meetings to gauge public reaction to a consultant’s recommendations for reducing traffic backups. Participants met in small groups to discuss possible solutions and to offer their priorities for the highway corridor between Leesburg and the Potomac River bridge at Point of Rocks.
The session focused on two related issues. Heavy northbound traffic is creating long backups that start near Whites Ferry Road and extend well into Leesburg, clogging not only Route 15 but the streets that feed into it. And the steady stream of traffic can make it nearly impossible for people who live along the Route 15 corridor north of town to cross or merge onto the highway.
Loudoun Supervisors Geary M. Higgins (R-Catoctin) and Kristen C. Umstattd (D-Leesburg) and Board Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) were among the local and state elected officials at the meeting.
“Traffic is like water,” Higgins said in an interview. “It’s going to seek its own level. We’ve got to make the main thoroughfares move traffic, or people are going to bleed off onto all the side streets.”
Umstattd said in an interview that the traffic backups affect Leesburg side streets mostly during the evening rush hours, when thousands of Maryland residents use Route 15 to return home from their jobs in Northern Virginia.
Christopher Tuck, 31, of Leesburg said he takes the Dulles Greenway to return home from his job in Reston. Although he lives near the intersection of the Route 15 Bypass and Battlefield Parkway, he said, he exits the bypass and drives through town to avoid the long backups of northbound traffic.
“It takes me 45 minutes extra to get home [using the bypass rather] than to go through Leesburg and take all the back streets,” he said in an interview, describing the stretch of highway between Battlefield Parkway and Edwards Ferry Road as “a 45-minute sit.”
Representatives of the consulting firm Kimley-Horn reviewed recommendations from their report on Route 15 traffic congestion, the most significant of which was widening the road to four lanes north of Battlefield Parkway to a point beyond Whites Ferry Road.
When asked to give their reactions to several proposed alternatives for improving the intersection where North King Street joins the bypass, participants expressed the most interest in an overpass or underpass that would eliminate a difficult merge and keep traffic flowing continuously.
Responses were mixed to the recommendation of adding one or more roundabouts near the intersection of Route 15, Whites Ferry Road and Raspberry Drive. Several participants said they “loved roundabouts,” and others argued that they are dangerous because drivers are not familiar with them.
Although some participants advocated widening the highway to four lanes all the way to Maryland, Martha Polkey of Lucketts said the additional lanes would make it even more difficult for residents who live along the corridor to turn onto the highway.
“There are 120 roads, entrances and driveways all along that segment from Leesburg to the river,” she said. “If you make it four lanes, you’ve just increased the number of lanes they have to wait to clear before they can make a left turn.”
Higgins said, “It doesn’t do us any good to four-lane all the way up, because there are only two lanes at the bridge. If you look at traffic counts, as you get farther north, the traffic bleeds off to all the developments. By the time you get to Lucketts, most of that traffic has bled off and you can do two-lane.”
Higgins added that he understood the frustration expressed by some of the participants.
“We’ve got to have a project to fund,” he said. “That’s why these sessions are so important. We’ve got to get a consensus, or at least a good majority that want a certain solution. And then, once we have that solution, we can go and get funding. But we can’t get funding until we have solutions.”
Two more public input sessions are scheduled July 8 and 15, 9 to 11 a.m., at the Lucketts Community Center.