Cash infusion moves Loudoun Co. closer to removing stop lights on US 50

Drivers stopping and going on congested U.S. 50 in Northern Virginia won’t feel the relief today, but Loudoun County is closer to its goal of removing traffic signals along the major east-west commuter route.

“Loudoun County Parkway and Route 50 is the most important intersection in the southern part of Loudoun County,” said Matt Letourneau, supervisor of the Dulles District, on the county’s board of supervisors. “It has the highest traffic volume, and unfortunately, it’s also among the top two or three intersections, in terms of the number of crashes, every year.”

The traffic lights at the intersection stop many of the 32,000 to 38,000 drivers who pass it daily on 50.

The intersection doesn’t just slow east-west commuters on 50 — it infuriates drivers on Loudoun County Parkway, who live in Loudoun’s quickly-growing communities.

“It’s serving South Riding, Brambleton, Aldie, and points west, everything out to Middleburg and Winchester,” Letourneau said.

As the county has grown, the intersection has been expanded over the years. “We’ve added lanes — right now I think it’s six lanes, with turn lanes,” said Letourneau. “It’s been upgraded as much as it can be — from a design standpoint — as an intersection with a traffic signal.”

The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority — which prioritizes and funds regional projects — has now awarded Loudoun County $35 million to eventually build a highway interchange, to replace the traffic lights.

“If you’re traveling east or west on 50, as you approach Loudoun County Parkway, the goal is you’re going to be able to go straight, without having to stop,” Letourneau said. “If you’re exiting to go to South Riding, or Ashburn, or Brambleton, you’d be getting off a ramp.”

Though the idea of not stopping through the intersection sounds appealing, Letourneau said it will take time — and money — to accomplish.

“Typically, it can take more than a decade to complete this type of project, from start to finish, when you’re talking about design and accumulating all the funding,” Letourneau said. “The current estimate for the cost of the interchange is about $500 million, so it’s going to take more than just Loudoun County’s investments to get this done.”

Over the past decades of growth, Loudoun County has prioritized upgrading its roads, to keep residents and commuters moving.

“Route 28 was upgraded. It used to have signals and stoplights, and now it’s all interchanges,” Letourneau said.

The next sequence of replacements was on Virginia Route 7 — last year completion of the Battlefield Parkway interchange provided a stoplight-free 30-mile stretch of Route 7 from Clarke County’s town of Berryville to Countryside Boulevard in Loudoun County’s Sterling.

Now it’s time to begin work on removing lights on U.S. 50, Letourneau said.

“This is the first one of those Route 50 projects,” he said. “Since this is the highest volume intersection, it makes sense that this is the one we’re looking at first.”

While the $35 million won’t provide immediate relief, it will help in the multistep process required. Letourneau said the county is currently going through a VDOT process, called an interchange access report, to verify the need for an interchange. “I have no doubt that’s going to be proven,” Letourneau said.

Letourneau said his goal is after getting VDOT’s approval, going through the preliminary design process and taking preliminary steps to have money available for any right of way conflicts, “then we’d be in a position get significant investment from state and federal sources to help Loudoun County fund this project.”

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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