On Wednesday evening I had the opportunity to share with the Commonwealth Transportation Board, at its regional public hearing, how the Northern Virginia transportation crisis looks from down here at ground level. Here is some of what I said.
To begin with, it is important that the Board know just how important this issue is to us in the 38th District, a densely populated inside-the-beltway slice of Fairfax County. The 38th includes parts of Falls Church, Annandale, Springfield and Alexandria. My constituents commute in all four directions and have no direct access to Metro. For many of us public transportation is not a realistic option. We depend heavily on the major traffic arteries of central Fairfax County to reach our jobs and get our kids to school. How we get around is directly connected to the quality of our lives and, simply put, that quality is being diminished.
My office receives more calls and complaints about streets, highways and the traffic thereon than it does about anything else. I certainly don’t wish to diminish the excellent job that VDOT does, but the Department works with cripplingly limited resources. For road maintenance the frequent result is what appears to be a stopgap or crisis-containment response: only the most critical repairs are undertaken at any given time, thereby assuring that the repair crews will be soon be returning and that the local residents’ alarm over the appearance and safety of the roadway, alarm which probably led to the repairs in the first place, will continue undiminished.
Unfortunately, the pressure on local roads will increase as major arteries become even more congested. An immediate example is the traffic load associated with the about-to-be-completed Mark Center development in Alexandria, but the phenomenon is a general one: frustrated drivers will search for alternate routes to avoid congestion. This puts stresses on local roads, stresses for which they were never designed. VDOT and the Board need to allot dollars for traffic calming initiatives in such areas. It is our understanding that VDOT has recently compiled a catalogue of traffic calming measures which can be undertaken, but this catalogue — and the means to undertake the measures it contains — need to be shared at the community level. What we are advocating is discourse among the stakeholders, not just VDOT, not just Fairfax County but the affected communities as well, so that imagination and creativity can be brought to bear to avoid some of these problems rather than remedying or containing them.
We all recognize that such problems, and most of the others that the Board will hear about this evening, are directly attributable to a scarcity of available funds. That scarcity is not the Board’s fault, but we do rely on the Board to remind us of its effects. Perhaps with enough such reminders my colleagues in the General Assembly and Governor’s office will recognize that Northern Virginia’s transportation crisis can be truly solved only by a new and dedicated revenue source. I hope so.
More on VDOT and our area: Jan Reitman, of Annandale, has surfaced two important issues arising from the HOT makeover on I-495.
Stair or ramp access to the Cross Country Trail at the Rt 236/I 495 intersection in Annandale, VA. This intersection is currectly under construction as a result of the HOT Lane project. The intersection will include sidewalks and bike lanes on both sides of Rt 236. The new sidewalks will pass over the county Cross County Trail, but I do not believe the trail will be accessible because of differences in elevation. The CCT is very close to large populations in Annandale and Mason District yet largely underutilized because of poor access. A ramp connecting the new sidewalk to the trail would be a valuable addition.
Pedestrian Bridge on Rt 50 over I495. I believe we need to plan for a pedestrian and bike trail on RT 50 over I-495. This interchange has expanded in recent years to the point that it is impossible for pedestrians to cross 495, and now an engineering solution is not obvious. For some reason the HOT lane project did not address the sidewalk issue, even though any other developer would have been required to provide a sidewalk because of the proximity of te High School. Students have no alternative except to be driven to and from school. On the other side, the hospital is a major employment center with many people focused on fitness but poorly served by a trail and sidewalk infrastructure. Also, Rt 50 is an obvious route for bike commuting, and a safe path over or though 495 would be welcomed.
Delegate Kory represents the 38th District in the Virginia House of Delegates. She may be emailed at [email protected].