Highway Access Pits East Against West

Highway Access Pits East Against West

Connecting the Springfield-Franconia Parkway to I-95 has pitted east against west in Springfield. With the public hearing at Key Middle School on Wednesday, Nov. 19, the first skirmish over the issue has passed. One resident summed up what is to come.

"Fight’s on," he said after Supervisor Elaine McConnell (R-Springfield) put forward her reasons for supporting the project.

The meeting at Key, which is in the middle of Lee District, was dominated by Lee District residents, who, for the most part, are against the idea. Extensive on and off ramps, traffic backing up at the Bonnie Mill Lane intersection, safety and funding are among the negatives residents discussed.

Dan and Jennifer Ruiz live in the townhouses on the Springfield-Franconia Parkway near the Bonnie Mill intersection. When they get on the Parkway from Backlick Road, they already have to cross three lanes in less than a half mile to make the left turn on Bonnie Mill.

"It’s going to be a nightmare," said Dan Ruiz, looking at the results of past road improvements.

"They’re going to build more houses, and the amount of traffic will fill those lanes," he added.

Proponents of the project, McConnell and Del. Dave Albo (R-42nd) looked out for the interests of western Springfield.

"I represent the other side of the issue," said McConnell. "This has been an unfair thing for a number of years. Our people feel it’s unfair to not be able to get on those lanes."

A majority of the room seemed to rally around Supervisor Dana Kauffman (D-Lee). Although he admitted that the issue had two sides to it, he was against the plan.

"This is not a simple on-ramp and off-ramp," he said.

The plan was for eastbound traffic from Springfield-Franconia Parkway (Route 7900) to take an exit ramp near where it crosses Backlick Road and merge onto I-95 north. Another ramp will take traffic from southbound I-95 directly onto Route 7900 westbound. The project involves the Interstate Interchange Project but is not part of it. Lanes have already been built as part of the Interchange Project to handle the traffic once it gets on I-95. Officials estimate the total price tag at $75 million to $80 million. However, the project has not been funded and could be years down the road. Steve Titunik, Interchange Project spokesperson, looks at the plan as necessary for successful commuting.

"It’s a natural, two major thoroughfares being connected," he said.

COMPLETING the segment of the Fairfax County Parkway (Route 7100) through Fort Belvoir’s engineer proving ground is one alternative. Commuters on I-95 would get on Route 7100 at the existing Fort Belvoir-Newington exit and head west, picking up Route 7900 about two miles up the road, either east or west. The money is already allotted for that project, and it is scheduled to be completed in the next few years, depending on the U.S. Army’s participation.

"That was originally designed to handle SOV (single occupancy vehicles). That’s the way it’s got to be done," said Lee District transportation administrator Bob Heittman.

This would mean westbound parkway commuters would have to pass the Parkway, take the exit and backtrack. Some see that as unreasonable. Albo said it would be going 1.5 to 2 miles south to go north.

"We want to make that road convenient so they can go on and off," Albo said.

SOV is the project’s buzzword for single occupancy vehicles vs. HOV, high occupancy vehicles, but in essence, SOV means any type of vehicle. An exit onto the parkway already exists for HOV traffic from the special lanes on I-95.

In 1996, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved the project by one vote. But opponents say times have changed since then, and traffic has increased. Kauffman looked at the Springfield-Franconia Metro station traffic hitting the traffic coming off I-95 around the Bonnie Mill intersection, where 18 lanes of traffic go down to six lanes. He estimated 45,000 additional cars on the Parkway if the project goes through.

"If you’re coming from there [Metro station] to the west, have fun getting home if this project is built," he said.

Another thing Heittman was looking at was the traffic getting on I-95 north on right-hand lanes, and having to get over a few lanes to go to the through lanes, similar to the old "mixing bowl" that the whole Interstate Interchange Project was designed to eliminate.

"You’re putting the weave right back in," he said.

According to its time frame, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) will collect comments by e-mail and letters until Jan. 5, make any adjustments if applicable, and complete the final design by December 2004.

"I speak for the Board of Supervisors. They have endorsed this project," McConnell said.

Kauffman pointed to other projects that need the money more than the ramps from I-95 to Route 7900. One project in Springfield, he said, is an upgrade separation at Neuman Street, one block west of Bonnie Mill Lane.

ONE PROJECT that will enable traffic from west Springfield to access I-95 is the opening of Fullerton Road from Rolling Road. After 20 years of planning and negotiations, that intersection finally opened on Friday, Nov. 21, providing another commuter access to and from Rolling Road. Officials and residents gathered at the new intersection for the official opening.

"It’s basically going to be our missing link to the Fairfax County Parkway, while we wait for it to be built," Kauffman said.

Work on the intersection began last year, and the final product was completed under the budgeted $996,235 price tag, according to VDOT.