A once-spacious Loudoun County area tries to deal with traffic tie-ups

Traffic jams, such as this one on Braddock Road in South Riding, are common every morning and evening for commuters. (WTOP/Ari Ashe)

SOUTH RIDING, Va. — Back around 2000, those living in South Riding, Brambleton, Arcola and Stone Ridge didn’t have to worry about traffic. In 2014, it’s a daily part of their lives.

As sprawl has developed in the area west of Washington Dulles International Airport, roads such as U.S. Route 50, Braddock Road and Va. Route 606 (Old Ox Road) are seeing traffic that planners didn’t anticipate.

“When I first moved into South Riding 10 years ago, I could get to work in Fairfax in 20 minutes or less. Now it’s double that, on the best days,” says Brian Jackson of South Riding. “For me to get from South Riding to 28 could take 30 minutes on something that should take less than 10 minutes. Probably 20 to 25 of that is getting out of the residential areas because people are bailing out to places like Braddock Road.

“Sure, it’s morning; it’s rush hour — I expect some traffic. But I don’t think it should take 30 minutes.”

Others in South Riding agree it’s a big problem.

“606 is typically backed up from 28 to Route 50. Route 50 is typically backed up from South Riding Boulevard to 28. So in the mornings, trying to head north or trying to head east is nearly impossible,” says Margaret Morales.

On a scale of 1 to 10, she ranks the commute a 2.

“I could probably walk faster than driving most days,” she says.

Gordon Shankman, of Stoneridge, fights similar traffic.

“It took me almost an hour to go 6.5 miles this morning,” he said on Tuesday. “Today was a good day.”

Del. David Ramadan represents this area in the General Assembly. How long does he say it takes?

“My average constituent today? One and a half hours each way. That’s how hard this commute is, especially for those in the Dulles South area,” he says.

The Virginia Department of Transportation held a two-hour public hearing on Tuesday at Liberty Elementary School to discuss several options to address the congestion with several hundred residents.

“Who wants to leave their family in the evening to come to a VDOT hearing unless they were really hurting on a daily basis? It’s three hours a day. Three hours a day is a lot of time to spend in a car. It’s a lot of time away from your family,” says Ramadan.

While four options are on the table, only two are being seriously considered to provide some congestion relief to these residents: They’re being called Alternative 2 and Alternative 3C.

Alternative 2 would be a new limited-access roadway that would begin at U.S. 50 and North Star Boulevard, go north and east, and connect to the western side of Dulles Airport. The roadway would have four lanes, two in each direction.

Alternative 3C, VDOT’s preferred option, would widen U.S. 50 to six lanes, with one lane in each direction being a limited-access express lane from North Star Boulevard to the airport.

“The purpose and need of this project will be to improve access to the airport, relieve congestion, improve access for future development and offer passengers better connections to the terminal. All the alternatives meet these needs. When you compare Alternative 2 to 3C, you find that 3C has the least environmental impact on our resources,” says VDOT Project Manager Tom Fahrney.

But many in attendance disagree with VDOT. Dozens of people were wearing stickers that read, “No More Construction on 50.”

Those residents want a solution, but prefer Alternative 2 because it doesn’t involve more construction on a road that has seen a lot of it over the last several years.

“Building new access is a good thing, but I’m tired of construction on Route 50. Option 2 will go through new land and have minimal impact on residents. Sitting in traffic on Route 50 without any viable alternatives is impossible and it needs to end,” says Shankman.

Ramadan agrees that VDOT should reconsider Alternative 3C and pick Alternative 2. He plans on sitting down with new Transportation Secretary Aubrey Lane to express his opinion.

“Practically for the same amount of money, you can double the amount of road in an undeveloped area with no impact on residents during construction and give more east-west access,” says Ramadan. “But with Alternative 3C, VDOT will waste taxpayer money to dig up work that’s already been done on Route 50, and only have two lanes versus the four in the [other] option. A 9-year-old given the choices between these would pick option 2.”

Alternative 2 would cost $239.7 million and 3C would cost $244.6 million.

The VDOT public comment period ends May 7.

The Commonwealth Transportation Board and the Federal Highway Administration will ultimately decide between the two, although no date has been set for either to choose.

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