Planners of the long-envisioned Seven Corners ring road have officially ruled out disruptive new routes through Falls Church City, according to the latest study of remedies for a major headache for area travelers.
But the ambitious project for the broader area is advancing. The urgency?
Crash data from the Virginia Roads website plots locations for more than 100 traffic accidents near the Seven Corners central intersection from 2018-2023.
Pedestrians jaywalking across Wilson Blvd. to enter the Eden Center on crowded Saturdays have raised concern among staff at the AAA office across the street.
And commenters on TripAdvisor express a fear of driving through the 1950s-vintage namesake interchange that integrates nonstop traffic entering from both directions on Route 7 and Route 50, Hillwood Ave., Wilson Blvd. and Sleepy Hollow Rd.
Help is finally, if slowly, on the way.
The Fairfax Transportation Department last month released its “Seven Corners Phasing Study” laying out plans for the new ring road that will traverse parts of Falls Church, Arlington and Fairfax. The goal is to siphon off a portion of non-local traffic. from the overloaded central intersection.
Reflecting public comment from hearings held last November 10-11, the document details a four-phase construction plan to create the ring road designed to improve the roadway and ease bicycle and pedestrian access, as envisioned in the Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan.
“We do recognize the danger, and it’s a very complicated interchange to get through, both from pedestrian and vehicle point of view,” Mike Garcia, chief of the Fairfax County Transportation Planning Section, told the News-Press. “So the plan is to uncomplicate the interchange so it’s easier for people to walk through and bike through as well as navigate by vehicle. We want people to get directly to Route 7 and Route 50 and Wilson Boulevard by choosing a path that is more understandable. But we do not want to disperse them through the area.”
The new report, based on the work by project manager Nanditha Paradkar, consultants and traffic forecasts to 2030 and 2045, also reflects planning by a task force that received input from civic groups, property owners, and businesses. It envisions a four-lane ring road with bridges, sidewalks and a bus transit center on a service road around two thirds of the interchange—leaving intact entrances to the City of Falls Church.
Phase One would address the western entrance from Route 50; Phase two would redo the southern entrances to both major state routes; phase three would recast the central intersection as more of a square; and phase four would adjust Wilson Boulevard in front of the Eden Center to reroute traffic toward Roosevelt Blvd. and the East Falls Church Metro. The ring road is expected to spawn redevelopment and include landscaping.
The project was first broached in 2012 with organizing on broader “quality of life” issues at Seven Corners by Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross. Early proposals to loop Falls Church City in the new ring were later removed after resistance from residents on Hillwood Ave.
“Seven Corners is a gateway to the City, connecting us to the Northern Virginia Region,” Susan Finarelli, the city’s director of communications and Public Information Officer, told the News-Press. “The City looks forward to continued discussions with Fairfax County.”
Arlington County was also part of the intergovernmental review team, noted Katie O’Brien, director of communications and public engagement at its Environmental Services Department.
“We advocated for improved bike/pedestrian connectivity on Wilson Blvd. and for transit access on Roosevelt Blvd. – the two facilities that connect into Arlington.”
Also abandoned is any plan to route the ring road behind the Eden Center, which is itself being re-envisioned. “The first and fourth phases should relieve the central interchange of traffic, and bring more traffic to Eden via Route 7 and Wilson Blvd.– which is a good thing,” said Alan Frank, senior vice president and general counsel of Capital Commercial Properties, which owns Eden Center.
Next steps include “a look at various funding options available to apply for,” said Garcia, along with some refinement of the first phase engineering this fall. The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority in 2022 allocated $4.2 million, but groundbreaking may still be years in the future.
Last November’s feedback on the project was “a little mixed,” Garcia said. “Some wanted small changes and are a little concerned about the reconfiguration. Some wanted environmental assessments, but that’s later in the process. There were not too many comments, which means most are okay with what we produced.”
One commenter predicted the ring road detour “will likely be underused by drivers. Why? Because of human nature. People always like to use the shortest distance between two points whether walking or traveling, for several reasons, one of which is instinct.”
Kirit Mookerjee, an Arlington resident and civic activist who works in Falls Church, told the News-Press that “pedestrian safety in Fairfax and Falls Church is not high.” He points to the Willston Shopping Centre area at Patrick Henry Drive and Arlington Boulevard, where “people cross where they shouldn’t. And with the current effort by Falls Church City at community engagement with the Eden Center, I’m concerned that they solve this problem.”