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Monday, April 21, 2014

Improving Seven Corners traffic is long-term project


In 20 or 25 years or so, Seven Corners could be totally transformed with high-rise apartments, a town center, a pedestrian-friendly street grid, and new connections aimed at reducing traffic congestion at the intersection of Route 50, Route 7, and Wilson Boulevard.

At the Bailey’s Business Breakfast last week, Kris Morley-Nifkar, a planner with the Fairfax County Department of Transportation (FCDOT), provided more details on a traffic improvement plan produced for the Office of Community Revitalization and its Seven Corners Land Use and Transportation Task Force. The plan was developed by Kittelson and Associates.

Kittelson’s initial study of current conditions in the interchange area found most traffic is pass-through, originating elsewhere, Morley-Nifkar said. The study also found heavy traffic and the lack of safe crossings and sidewalks discourage pedestrians and bicyclists. The highest volumes of traffic are weekday evenings, followed by Saturday mid-day and then weekday morning rush hour.

Unless something is done about relieving congestion in Seven Corners, it’s going to get much worse. The land use concept tentatively endorsed by the task force calls for a total of 5,403 housing units in the Seven Corners study area. Currently, there are 589 units, and the area is zoned for 639.

The task force also calls for a total of about 2.4 million square feet of non-residential development. Currently there are about 1.3 million square feet of office and retail development, while the area is zoned for 1.8 million. 

All that new redevelopment translates into a lot more cars on the road, although the task force hopes to mitigate that impact by creating a walkable community with more access to transit.

To improve access for bicyclists and pedestrians, Morley-Nifkar said the proposed transportation plan calls for multi-use trails along both sides of Route 50 with landscaped buffers. All new streets in the area would have bike lanes, sidewalks, or both.

Kittelson initially came up with six options for improving traffic flow, then, based on input from the task force and county officials, proceeded with further analysis on the three determined to be most effective in controlling traffic and conforming with the task force’s vision for land use.

At its most recent meeting this month, the task force agreed to endorse “Concept B,” which would create an outer ring around the Seven Corners interchange by adding new overpasses on Route 50 and Route 7 connecting Roosevelt Boulevard to Castle Place, extending Castle Place via an overpass over Route 50 to Hillwood Avenue, to East Broad Street (Route 7), and to Roosevelt Boulevard.

The new overpass on Route 50 would have pedestrian access and would replace the current pedestrian bridge.

Another new road would connect Wilson Boulevard to Sleepy Hollow Road. The new roads would access Route 50 via new ramps. Another new road would connect Route 7 and Wilson Boulevard east of the interchange.

That plan is expected to provide better access to the East Falls Church Metro Station and improve walkability.

An analysis of current traffic conditions determined there is an average of 42.5 seconds per vehicle delay getting through the Seven Corners study area. If nothing is done to amend the Seven Corners section of the  Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan, the delay would be 98.3 seconds/vehicle by 2040. If Concept B is implemented, the delay would be reduced to 31.9 seconds/vehicle.

The task force, however, had some caveats on Concept B. They want the location of some of the new roads shifted to avoid cutting through the existing Seven Corners Shopping Center and avoid a negative impact on the Buffalo Ridge neighborhood.

FCDOT is carrying out a further analysis of Concept B and plans to submit a revised proposal to VDOT in May. If the county and VDOT agree to implement it, the target date for completion is 2040, Morley-Nifkar, said, although some components could be completed earlier. The challenge is staging the project to minimize disruption.

The design and constructions costs for Concept B are estimated to be $74 million to $97 million. Funding would come from a mix of state, federal, and local sources.

Linking redevelopment and transportation will also be a major challenge, added Jim Edmondston, of the E&G Group, which owns the Seven Corners Apartments complex between Route 50 and Wilson Boulevard. Redevelopment will need to happen to provide revenue for the taking of land to accomplish the road improvements. While housing with higher rents is needed to make the concept work, there’s also a strong desire among task force members to retain affordable housing.

“We’ll need to do a long-term study and figure out how all these puzzle pieces fit,” said Mason Supervisor Penny Gross.

Some of the recommendations for short-term improvements in the interchange area include improved striping, signage, road markings and restriping for the westbound lanes on Route 7 to allow dual left turns onto Route 50, adding dual eastbound and westbound left-turn lanes at Patrick Henry Drive, and relocating the signal on Olin Drive to improve access to Target on Route 50.

Medium-term improvements include pedestrian crossings on westbound Route 7 and Wilson Boulevard, closing westbound Route 7 right turns onto the frontage road, closing eastbound Hillwood access to Route 7, and closing eastbound Route 7 access to Sleepy Hollow Road.

Seven Corners Business Breakfasts, hosted by Public House No. 7, are supported by a Fairfax County grant to the Bailey’s Crossroads/Seven Corners Revitalization Corporation.

2 comments:

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