Following a final “pardon our dust” public hearing slated for last night at the Luther Jackson Middle School, the Virginia Department of Transportation is launching the next, construction phase of its long-awaited $110 million improvement project at the intersection of Route 29 (Lee Highway) and Gallows Road in Merrifield.
After three years of preparations, including the removal of the world’s most popular Taco Bell at that corner more than two years ago, VDOT is finally ready to move in the bulldozers and begin work on the project, expected to take until late November 2012 to complete.
The massive undertaking – designed, according to VDOT, to “improve multi-modal options” in the area by “increasing safety, reducing congestion and enhancing bicycle and pedestrian access” – comes as work on the massive mixed-use development adjacent that intersection, known as the Mosaic, also gets underway. That will bring residential condos, a movie theatre, a Target store and more to the location that once was occupied by the also-long-gone Merrifield Multiplex theaters. The intersection is also near the Dunn Loring Metro station.
Heavy construction work is no stranger to the area, as ongoing nearby work on the new HOT lanes on the Beltway, involving widening of I-495 to accommodate new “high occupancy” paid travel lanes, have entertained residents and motorists in the neighborhood for more than a year already.
The previous three years involved, concerning the Gallows-Lee Highway intersection, relocation and right-of-way acquisition efforts by VDOT. The elements of the intersection improvements will be as follows:
• Widening Route 29 from two to three though lanes in each direction between Merrilee Drive and I-495 (about 0.6 miles).
• Widening Gallows Road from two to three through lanes in each direction between Gatehouse Road and Prosperity Avenue (about 0.8 miles).
• On Route 29, a six-foot sidewalk on the westbound side and a five-foot sidewalk on the eastbound side.
• On Gallows Road, a 10-foot asphalt shared-use path on the west side, and a six-foot sidewalk on the east side.
• Dual left-turn lanes on Route 29 at Gallows Road.
• Landscaped medians on both approaches.
As expected, not everyone is pleased. A bicycling advocacy group, Fairfax Advocacy for Better Bicycling, stated on its website this week, “Gallows Road is a major north-south connector for all modes of transportation, and a 10 foot shared-use path isn’t sufficient to serve the pedestrian and bike traffic expected in this area. The five and six-foot sidewalks along Rt. 29 are even worse.”
They claim the plans are contrary to the Countywide Trails Plan, which has major paved trails (eight feet or more) on each side of both roads.
According to VDOT, drivers can expect to see traffic periodically reduced to a single lane through the area, although they hope to limit that to nighttime off-peak hours. Access to businesses will be maintained, and efforts will be made throughout to minimize traffic disruptions.
The total of $110 million for the effort involves $76 million to acquire for 70 right-of-way parcels, extensive utility work to move seven underground fuel tanks and a separate $8 million project to relocate and upgrade water mains, $10.6 million for preliminary engineering, and $23 million for the next, direct construction phase.