How to fix traffic gridlock near Ft. Belvoir

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Virginia officials have unveiled an initial study into how to solve traffic on U.S. Route 1 from the Capital Beltway to Virginia Route 123 using mass transit.

The report finds that among the viable options are bus-rapid transit, light-rail and a hybrid of extending Metro’s Yellow Line to Hybla Valley and add bus service.

An option to study extending the Yellow Line from Huntington to Ft. Belvoir, ending in Woodbridge didn’t survive the initial study. Researchers found there may not be enough land, business development and ridership to support Metro, but also the project would cost too much money.

Bus-rapid transit refers to a system where buses get a dedicated lane to travel that other automobiles can’t use, allowing the bus to bypass any normal traffic and offer an attractive alternative for commuters. Light-rail would refer to an above ground line, similar to those in San Diego, New Orleans, Cleveland and what’s being considered in Maryland’s Montgomery and Prince George’s County with the Purple Line.

“Fort Belvoir plays a major role in the traffic volume in the region. Fort Belvoir is a destination we’ve absolutely considered throughout this process, working with them on the roadway extension they’re in charge of. Making sure we have good connections to Ft. Belvoir is going to be key in this,” says Amy Inman of the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transit.

Later this year, the Department of Defense will begin a project to widen Route 1 near Ft. Belvoir between Pohick Road and Mt. Vernon Memorial Highway to three lanes in each direction. Fairfax County has put in their six-year plan projects to fill in the gaps south to the Occoquan River and north toward the Alexandria city line.

The state study also looks at the stretch from the Capital Beltway to 123, just south of the Occoquan. Both projects will leave room on the road to put in whichever mass transit option ends up being the final choice.

Fairfax County Supervisor Jeff McKay advocates for the project and told an audience this week at the South County Government Center there needs to be both short and long-term solution.

“People here don’t want to wait 30 years for a solution. They want answers now to the traffic. I think a bus-rapid transit system is a good short-term solution and allows us to transit into light-rail when we’re ready,” says McKay.

“I think we could have bus-rapid transit before 2020. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be shooting for that goal,” he says.

Stewart Schwartz of the Coalition for Smarter Growth is also a supporter of the study because he believes bigger highways won’t solve our traffic problems in the long-term. His organization is a strong supporter of mass transit as a solution.

“We’re still spending way too many money on big interchanges and expansions. It’ll just move the bottlenecks down the road where the traffic will return. We need to invest in the next generation of transit networks. So this study is important because it will tell us what is the best option on Route 1. There’s no one size fits all approach,” says Schwartz.

McKay says he agrees with that, pointing out that the Silver Line works for Tysons, streetcars could work on Columbia Pike in Arlington, and bus-rapid transit could work in Alexandria, so Fairfax County needs to find the right fit for this corridor.

Inman and other state officials will now take several months to study bus-rapid transit, light-rail and the Metro hybrid option more in-depth. They will look at cost, land use and project how many people would ride each option.

A final recommendation will be issued this summer. Then it’s up to Fairfax County officials to determine what to do with the recommendation and how to make their choice a reality for the people living and commuting on Route 1.

“We’ve prioritized the Route 1 corridor for funding from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, which puts us in a position to get money for preliminary engineering. We’re doing this at a great time where there’s money for transportation. NVTA is looking for regionally significant projects and this does that because Route 1 connects multiple jurisdiction in the region. The next step after this is to get it on NVTA’s list for money,” says McKay.

The NVTA is currently meeting to develop their funding projects for the next fiscal year. The organization is charged with taking the higher taxes passed by the General Assembly last year for transportation and putting them towards projects that will bring the greatest congestion relief.

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