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Route 7 widening project aims to deliver some relief for commuters

Beltway traffic approaches the Route 7 exits.
Beltway traffic approaches the Route 7 exits. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

Your Route 7 commute may soon get better. Honest.

Transportation leaders broke ground Thursday on a project that will widen the busy road to six lanes from four between Reston Avenue and Jarrett Valley Drive, and add pathways for cyclists and pedestrians.

The $313.9 million project is designed to ease congestion on a section of Route 7 that links northern and western Fairfax County and includes the busy Tysons area, which is undergoing a massive transformation of its own. The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority provided $10 million in funding. Other money for the project comes from Fairfax County and the state.

“We are extremely excited about this,” said Monica Backmon, executive director of the transportation authority. “Tysons is a huge activity center, not only for Northern Virginia, but for the entire D.C. region.”

This seven-mile segment is part of a larger effort to remake the nearly 73-mile roadway, which stretches from downtown Winchester to Alexandria. A 13-mile portion between Tysons and Alexandria has long been problematic because the number of lanes shrinks to four in Tysons and then one in Alexandria.

The widening project also will help make way for a planned Bus Rapid Transit line along the corridor, officials said.

Rebuilding Route 7 has long been a priority for officials in Fairfax, which has encouraged development along the corridor. Portions of Metro’s Silver Line run through the median of Route 7 in Tysons and the area is evolving to include more high-rise buildings.

The growth has worsened congestion. Transportation officials said that in 2011, this seven-mile stretch carried up to 52,000 vehicles a day, but by 2040 that number is expected to grow to as many as 86,000 vehicles a day.

Officials say that by 2040, the improvements could save road users nearly 24 million hours of time that might otherwise be spent sitting in traffic.

“Fairfax County is committed to enhancing mobility, relieving congestion and providing better connections throughout the region,” said Sharon Bulova, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. “Widening Route 7 reflects that commitment and closes an important gap in multimodal connectivity to employment, activity centers and transit hubs.”

The work is expected to be completed in summer 2024.

While some transportation advocates say that adding roads won’t ease congestion in the long term, Backmon emphasized that the project includes 10-foot-wide pathways on each side of Route 7 for cyclists and pedestrians. The pathways will also link to local trails to create a more robust network. Ultimately, users will have more options for how they will travel along the corridor, officials said.

For Route 7, a plan that could ease traffic congestion and boost transit

“In Northern Virginia, there is no one-size-fits-all solution,” Backmon said. “We are focused on multimodal. While we are widening the roadway there is also a bike and pedestrian shared-use trail.”

She added that the additional lanes may help buses move more quickly along the corridor.

“You have to remember, when people are taking buses, buses sit in the same traffic as cars, so the hope is that this project will improve those headways,” she said.

Michael Guarino, section chief of capital projects for the county’s Transportation Department, said the community can’t build its way out of congestion simply by widening roads. That’s part of the reason the county pushed for other elements to be added to the project.

“I understand the argument, but what people often don’t think about is what happens if we don’t widen the road,” Guarino said. “Widening offers much better capacity than not building when there is increased demand.”

During construction, drivers should expect some lane closures during off-peak travel hours. Check for those and other updates, including details on periodic public meetings as construction progresses.

Last year, officials completed a project that modernized the Route 7 bridges over the Dulles Toll Road and widened a portion of the roadway between Tyco and Jarrett Valley roads to six lanes from four.

Along with adding lanes, the project will include construction of a pedestrian underpass at Colvin Run Mill Park to improve access to the park. Forestville Road will be widened to add southbound left- and right-turn lanes. The project also will improve access by building sidewalk ramps that comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act and marking pedestrian crosswalks at spots including Towlston, Forestville and Baron Cameron Avenue.

“Just a year ago we finished completely rehabilitating Route 7 over the Dulles Toll Road, and added more than a mile of new shared-use paths, pedestrian tunnels and walkways in Tysons,” said Helen Cuervo, Northern Virginia district engineer for the Virginia Department of Transportation. “With our partners we are excited to be delivering another project that benefits all users and represents years of community collaboration coming to fruition.”

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