‘Bulldozers Not on Their Way Yet,’ Gross Quips on 7 Corners Plan

Penny Gross,
Penny Gross,

“Bulldozers are not moving up Route 7 now,” Fairfax County’s Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross quipped to the News-Press in a phone interview this week about concerns that have been raised about the county’s Seven Corners Revitalization Plan that includes a vision for a “ring road” around the bottlenecked Rt. 7/Rt. 50 intersection that would necessarily involve City of Falls Church property.

Supervisor Gross, who appointed the task force that has been working on numerous aspects of the Seven Corners area bordering Falls Church, said that “it will be at least a few years” before the transportation improvement elements of the planning get considered, and that officials from the City of Falls Church will be fully engaged at that point.

Still, more than a few City officials have expressed alarm that the county has gone ahead and made plans for involve Falls Church territory without seeking the City’s OK in advance. But there are two City staff personnel, including Planning Director Jim Snyder, who’ve been sitting in on the task force meetings without formal standing, and according to what they’ve told Falls Church City Manager Wyatt Shields, as Shields told the News-Press this week, “the task force is committed to a good collaborative planning effort.”

Gross reminded the News-Press that despite the petitions from a spate of citizens and neighborhood groups speaking at last week’s task force meeting demanding that the transportation component come first, not last, in the planning, the way funding is set up for the overall project, infill and new development must precede the proposed transportation changes.

Kris Morley-Nikfar of the Fairfax County Department of Transportation made this clear at last week’s meeting. “New transportation funding is dependent on redevelopment. It all works together,” he said. The developers would be responsible for creating new street grids on their properties and those streets need to be in place to support construction of a new interchange and ring road around the Seven Corners intersection, he explained, as Ellie Ashford posted on her blog.
But still, Gross said, a fresh re-examination is underway to see if some change in the sequencing of the redevelopment plans can be made.

Shields added that he expects the scheduled briefing by task force leaders set to be given before the Falls Church City Council on Sept. 15 will clarify many of these issues.
Even that will be preliminary, Gross said. She, herself, will be arbiter of the final plan that will go to her colleagues on the Fairfax County Board. Nothing is final until she, herself, has signed off on it.

Falls Church Mayor David Tarter said he is committed to meeting with Gross before the Sept. 15 meeting, and Gross said she would pull together a meeting with task force leadership, including co-chair John Thillman, and the News-Press to explain all aspects of their thinking and planning.

Falls Church Vice Mayor David Snyder, who spearheads all the City’s efforts when it comes to regional transportation planning and cooperation, told the News-Press yesterday that he has two major concerns with the Seven Corners planning:

“First,” he said, “When it comes to transportation issues, one jurisdiction cannot claim to impact another without that other’s full support in advance. Second, putting down more asphalt has never solved anything. It won’t cure the problem. We have to push forward as much as possible solutions that involve light rail and bus rapid transit.”

He said also that Falls Church officials will be happy to work together with both the City and county business communities to achieve the best results. “There has to be more cooperation than there has been so far,” he added.

In their report, the task force includes “Seven Corners Interchange Recommendations” that call for “a ring road as shown on our transportation recommendations map,” reconfiguration of the existing (Rt. 7/Rt. 50) interchange to create a four-legged intersection of Leesburg Pike (Rt. 7), Wilson Boulevard, Sleepy Hollow Road, one new crossing over Arlington Blvd. (Rt. 50) on the west side of the Seven Corners interchange connecting East Broad to Sleepy Hollow Rd. with ramps to Arlington Boulevard westbound and from Arlington Boulevard eastbound.”

It also calls for the “extension of Castle Place, across Sleepy Hollow Road, to connect to the new crossing over Arlington Boulevard and the west side of Seven Corners, interchange; one new crossing over Arlington Blvd., on the east side of Seven Corners interchange, connecting the intersections of Roosevelt/Wilson Blvd. To Castle Road/Leesburg Pike, with ramps to Arlington Blvd. eastbound and westbound.

It calls for Leesburg Pike to be improved to six lanes from the City of Falls Church to Columbia Pike, also accommodating high quality transit.”

Falls Church Planning Commission members who heard a briefing from the task force on Aug. 4, said they did not agree with the characterization by co-chair Thillman about how his presentation was received before their group. He told the Aug 12 task force meeting it was well received by the Planners. “Not as far as I was concerned,” two planners told the News-Press in the past week.