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Friday, July 26, 2013

Route 7 transit study previewed for public

Route 7 heading, east toward the Skyline Center.
Local residents got a first glimpse of plans for the Route 7 Transit Alternatives Study at a public outreach meeting July 27 at the Skyline Center.

The study will explore options for improving transportation along the heavily traveled Route 7 corridor between Tysons and Alexandria. It is being carried out by the Parsons Brinckerhoff consulting firm for the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC).

Possible alternatives include express buses, rapid transit, light rail, and streetcars. In addition to the mode of transit, the study is exploring how much of Route 7 should be covered, whether a transit line should operate in a dedicated lane or a lane shared with traffic, and whether it should link to the Columbia Pike streetcar, the East Falls Church Metro station, the Van Dorn Metro station, the Mark Center, or other transit systems under consideration for  Alexandria’s West End.

Michael Flood describes the transit study.
The study is not just looking at expensive new rail systems, said Michael Flood, a planner with Parsons Brinckerhoff. Quick fixes, such as improvements to the existing system, are being considered, too. For example, buses with limited stop services, buses with off-board fare collection, or traffic light communications systems that allow buses to get through intersections quickly might be enough to reduce traffic delays.

Phase 1 of the Route 7 Transit Alternatives Study, to be completed in October, will examine current conditions on the corridor. Phase 2, to start in early 2014, will examine various transit options. The next public meeting will be Sept. 18, 7-9 p.m., in the Skyline 7 Building, 5275 Leesburg Pike.

The jurisdictions of Alexandria, Arlington, Falls Church, and Fairfax County would collaborate on the project, Flood said. There would also be linkages with the countywide transit study underway in Fairfax County and the Columbia Pike streetcar project.

Although the Columbia Pike streetcar initiative failed to get a federal grant, it’s still going ahead. Proponents of the project hope federal funding will be approved in the next round of grants from the Federal Transit Administration.

Fairfax and Arlington counties have developed a plan to spend $1 million for design and environmental planning for the streetcar line. The Arlington County Board already approved the plan, which calls for Arlington to contribute about 80 percent of the cost of the next phase. The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors will vote on the agreement July 30. Completion of the system has been pushed back to 2017 or 2018.

A corridor needs a certain population density to justify various types of transit, so the Route 7 study is looking at demographics, employment, commuting patterns, and other trends through 2035-40, Flood said. Other factors under consideration include the number of potential riders, the impact on the environment, operating costs, and options for federal funding.

The Route 7 corridor has 300,000 residents in 131,000 households. Population growth has slowed in the past decade but is expected to increase 37 percent by 2040, he said.

The number of single occupants and childless couples in the area is growing. In 1990, 34 percent of households had children. By 2010, that dropped to 26 percent. According to a recent survey of residents, only 8 percent don’t have car, and only 9 percent rely on transit to get to jobs in the corridor.

When asked about the possibility of widening Route 7, Flood said that would likely be too expensive, although spot widening at some intersections might be possible.

The Route 7 transit project will have a huge impact on future redevelopment in Bailey’s Crossroads and Seven Corners.

The Seven Corners Land Use and Transportation Task Force already heard presentations on the Route 7 study at its May 14 and July 11 meetings.

The task force plans to take “a strong position on one of the NVTC Route 7 Transit Study alternatives” at its Sept. 10 meeting, “and we will present that position at the Sept. 18 public forum,”  wrote task force co-chair John Thillman in a letter to Fairfax Supervisor Jeff McKay (Lee), chair of the NVTC. Meanwhile, Thillman recommends the Route 7 study to include “a fixed guide-way system” is one of the preferred options.

By next summer, the task force expects to have a revitalization plan for Seven Corners ready for a public hearing before the County Planning Commission and for a hearing and decision by the Board of Supervisors.

The Seven Corners plan needs a transportation  improvement component, Thillman says, but “the architecture of the existing major roadways and intersections will only allow improvements within their current rights of way,” so there’s an “absolute need for transit alternatives.”


  1. Excellent update.............thank you.

    As for ridership numbers, build it and they will come. Have we learned nothing from Arlington? The wise planners that built the metro down the Rosslyn/Courthouse corridor has turned Arlington from a DC backwater community to a self-sustained thriving and youthful County, while Fairfax snubbed the metro for reasons I don't dare mention.

    Turn Fairfax into a 21st Century community and make our inner beltways neighborhoods the envy these struggling communities once were. A renaissance is sorely needed!

    1. Amen to the comment above! We live in an area that has everything going for it except transit options. We are close to the city and our jobs but our only way to get anywhere is in our car. Having fancy buses will not make people want to live here and that won't bring in businesses we want to patronize. It's our turn to get real transportation solutions. I agree build it and they will come. Don't let our government officials take the easy way out by thinking if they change the timing of the traffic lights the problem is solved. We've supported Tysons Corner, the Silver line, Merrifield, and we should be in line and actually ahead of Springfield Mall but it takes residents demanding it or nothing will happen.