VDOT Announces Transit Initiatives For I-66, Chestnut St. & Pimmit Hills

AN ACCIDENT MAP of the Chestnut St./Route 7 intersection that keeps track of collisions between 2014-17. A new a median will be built to mitigate accidents in the coming years. (Photo: Virginia Department of Transportation)

It may just seem like everything involving Northern Virginia transportation is about I-66 and its changes coming, but offshoots from it are on the drawing boards, too, and likely to be more popular than toll lanes and widening the road.

Planning is underway by the Virginia Department of Transportation for a pedestrian/bicycle bridge across the Beltway to connect Pimmit Hills with Tysons Corner Center, an eastbound connector ramp to carry I-66 motorists direct to the West Falls Church Metro station, and for the closure of the median at Chestnut Street and Route 7 in order to reduce the intersection’s high number of crashes.

Two design workshops for community residents to help VDOT refine the design elements for the “bike/ped bridge” over 495 are set for Nov. 9 and 28 at Westgate Elementary School from 7 – 9 p.m., Abi Lerner, VDOT’s associate manager of special project development, told the News-Press in an e-mail interview.

Considerable public discussion about the facility was heard earlier this year at VDOT-hosted meetings where almost unanimous support in favor of the route from Pimmit Hills over the Beltway to connect near Tysons’ Barnes and Noble (Bridge Over the Beltway) became the choice VDOT ultimately selected.

On the agenda for the November meetings are lighting, screening, aesthetics, “architectural treatments” and approaches to the bridge which must meet VDOT’s budget and standards.

VDOT wants everyone to attend both meetings since the Nov. 28 gathering will refine what’s brought up on Nov. 9 and still more public input will be sought, according to Lerner.

Fairfax County’s Department of Transportation and its Bicycle Master Plan play a major role in the project, Lerner added. That plan identifies several Beltway bridges for pedestrians and bikers, and this is one.

The bike/ped project includes an off-road shared use path along Old Meadow Road from Route 123 to the Dolley Madison Apartments and the bridge, which will be adjacent to the apartments and the Encore Condominiums.

The schedule calls for a design public hearing next spring and a construction start in 2020. Estimated cost, says VDOT on its website, is approximately $6.2 million, down from an earlier estimate of $7.6 million.

To help ease motorists’ trips to the West Falls Church Metro station from I-66 heading east towards Washington, D.C. a ramp will be constructed to connect two existing ramps to the Metro station. Drivers will be able to skip the hurried and crowded route they navigate now when they exit the interstate onto Route 7 before enduring some hasty lane changes to take another left to the West Falls Church Metro station.

Construction is set to start next spring and finish by late 2020 at a cost of $3.3 million, VDOT estimates. Not only should drivers save time on the new loop, but they will save wrecks and near misses which occur on the present route along Route 7’s juncture with Chestnut Street across from George Mason High School.

That intersection has so many crashes VDOT is seeking other monies for a quicker fix than what’s already been approved by the federal government, said Ivan Horodyskyj, VDOT district traffic engineer. Plans call for Chestnut to become “right in, right out.”

Chestnut residents have been complaining about the dangerous intersection for about a year, but the high number of crashes there had already brought it to VDOT’s attention, Horodyskyj said.

Construction will not begin until the money is “in the bank” which may take four years and explains VDOT’s urgency to find faster money to complete the project earlier.

Horodyskyj said VDOT submits applications every year for federal dollars and it’s working on projects now which are five years out.

“We need community support to do [Chestnut Street and Route 7] because the closure will restrict access to the neighborhood,” Horodyskyj said. Closing the median will change traffic patterns, but “it’s a matter of safety versus convenience which will be better for the community.”

In its analysis to improve safety at the crossing, VDOT studied several alternatives and decided closing the median was the best, he wrote.

This project may overlap with construction planned for adding the high occupancy toll lanes to I-66. When funds are allocated, VDOT’s schedule calls for design work next year or in 2019.