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Rural life, sprawl and crawl butt heads in western Fairfax

Wednesday - 10/9/2013, 11:55pm  ET

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Vehicles drive on the intersection of Braddock Road and Pleasant Valley Road. (WTOP/Neal Augenstein)

CHANTILLY, Va. -- The area near Cox Farms at Braddock Road and Pleasant Valley Road is one of the few places left in Fairfax County that remains rural. But as development grows, the population booms and people commute, traffic is becoming a problem that could threaten the rural life.

VDOT is working on a project that would take the Braddock-Pleasant Valley intersection, which is currently a 4-way stop, and convert it into a roundabout.

"It sees significant delays during rush hour. It can people 20 or 30 minutes to get through the intersection. It's clear something needs to be done," says Loudoun County Supervisor Matt Letourneau, who calls this project his number one priority.

But some may ask: why is Loudoun County commenting on an intersection project in Fairfax County?

The answer is that the intersection is less than a mile on the Fairfax-Loudoun border and Fairfax County officials gave their Loudoun counterparts permission to do the project, if they paid for it.

Loudoun agreed to fund the $4 million project because the backups affect Loudoun County commuters trying to get to Interstate 66.

"A lot of commuters in Loudoun and Prince William are using Braddock Road as the west to east connection and it directly goes to I-66, which makes it popular with some people," says Letourneau.

VDOT Project Engineer Nicholas Roper says this project will very much save commuters time.

"Delays for commuters are anticipated to be no more than 15-40 seconds to get through the intersection, which is significantly different from the 10 minutes it could take them now," he says.

Why a roundabout and not a four-way traffic light?

"A roundabout moves people through an intersection more safely and more quickly than a traffic light, plus it takes the least amount of land and has the least environmental impact," says Roper.

Part of the problem comes from the fact that traffic on Route 50 is already pretty bad and some drivers use Braddock Road near Pleasant Valley as an alternative. But the road is one lane in each direction and wasn't building for the traffic it currently experiences.

Opponents though near the intersection want VDOT to wait.

"The key opposition message is that we prefer the 'do nothing' alternative until a complete and thorough traffic analysis is done on the intersection and surrounding roadways which can only be accomplished after the completion of the Route 50 widening project," says Ted Troscianecki, who represents the Virginia Run community.

Virginia Run along with two Sully Station housing complexes, totally a couple thousand homeowners, oppose the project and demonstrated outside a public meeting on Wednesday night.

"This project, fast-tracked and driven hard by politicians, will facilitate unabated traffic flow from Loudoun County into the communities of Western Fairfax further clogging our rural and residential roads with traffic. This project will benefit Loudoun residents only and will negatively impact all in Western Fairfax. This project is a bad idea," says one handout that Troscianecki provided WTOP

The opposition also is upset about the environmental impact a roundabout will cause to Cox Farms and other rural land in the area, saying even the roundabout is too much.

"Loudoun County is focused on protecting its rural crescent in western Loudoun County. This is our rural crescent. Let's fight to protect it," says the handout.

But Letourneau says while he respects the opponents, he disagrees with them.

"Regardless of what we do on a Route 50, we know the population growth is here and will continue to occur. People are already moving out to live in this area. That's just a fact. I would actually like to get a little bit ahead of the curve for once on a road improvement," he says.

Opponents point to VDOT's own study that shows the work will only improve the level of service from an F to a D. Level of service is a transportation term similar to a school report card from A to F, with A being no traffic and F being total gridlock. But Roper and Letourneau counter that every little bit will help.

If the project moves forward, a request for proposals would come in December with construction likely beginning in the spring. The roundabout could open in late 2014.

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