There are few more self-evident testaments in Fairfax County to the shortsighted follies of 20th century land-use planning than Seven Corners.
The groundwork for the confounding convergence of Route 7, Route 50, Sleepy Hollow Road, Wilson Boulevard, and Hillwood Avenue in the Falls Church area was laid before the Civil War. Arlington Boulevard and Leesburg Pike emerged from early county roads that intersected at Fort Buffalo, according to a 2015 article by the Washington Business Journal.
A literal crossroads between Fairfax and Arlington counties and the City of Falls Church, the intersection became more intricate post-World War II, as the area saw a population and development boom, epitomized by the introduction of the Seven Corners Shopping Center, once the largest mall in the D.C. region.
According to The Washington Post, traffic was already a “major headache” in the early 1950s, and “state and local governments spent millions to alleviate” congestion when the mall opened in 1956. But conditions have kept deterioriating despite a patchwork of fixes implemented since then, including the addition of the Route 50 overpass near Patrick Henry Drive in 2009.
“It’s too complex. If you drive through now, you get stuck, everybody blocks each other, it doesn’t work,” Mike Garcia, the Fairfax County Department of Transportation’s planning section chief, told Tysons Reporter last week. “They’ve gone through and adjusted the signals many times. They’ve got it about as good as they’re going to get it.”
Since inverting time to undo this knot isn’t an option, Fairfax County is now trying to at least loosen it, and this time, it is willing to take the time to hopefully do it right.
As part of a larger package of funding requests, the Board of Supervisors voted on Sept. 14 to authorize transportation staff to seek $94.8 million from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority for the first phase of a “ring” road that will eventually connect the west side of Route 7 to Wilson Boulevard.
The Seven Corners Ring Road project dates back to 2014, when a visioning task force charged with identifying possible land use and development improvements for the neighborhood recommended including the concept in a comprehensive plan amendment that the county board adopted on July 28, 2015.
According to Garcia, the county and task force considered six different options for improving the interchange, but they ultimately determined that a circular road looping through each of the main streets to create more traditional four-way intersections would be most effective.
“[It] would help at least clear up the area and make it a little more understood from the driver’s perspective, but also understood from the walking and biking perspective as well, because that’s as much the issue that we wanted to solve,” Garcia said.
In addition to constructing the ring road, the project calls for:
- A four-way intersection at Route 7 and Wilson Boulevard/Sleepy Hollow Road
- Widening Route 50 to six lanes from the Fairfax/Arlington county line, west to South Street
- New ramps connecting Route 50 to the ring road on each side of the new four-way intersection
- A new road linking the Willston Multi-Cultural Center and Village Center to Route 7
- Additional side streets between Leesburg Pike and Wilson Boulevard
The project will also add amenities geared toward bicyclists and pedestrians, including “sidewalks [on] both sides of the street everywhere,” a two-way cycle track on the inside of the ring road to minimize interference with the new Route 50 ramps, and 10-foot-wide shared-use paths on both sides of Route 50, Garcia says.
The Seven Corners Phasing Study
Because of the size of the project and, by extension, the anticipated expense, FCDOT is now evaluating the best way to break it up into more manageable segments.
The department introduced the phasing study with a pair of virtual community meetings in February, where staffers asked the public about hot spots and what areas they think should be addressed first.
The study team plans to conduct more public meetings this fall and in the spring, along with community pop-up events aimed at reaching as many people as possible — which is especially critical for a place like Seven Corners, where the population is racially diverse, low-income compared to the county overall, and often speaks languages other than English.
“Any information that we put out there, we’re trying to put out in multiple languages, have our meetings in multiple languages, or at least have the ability for translating services to be available,” Garcia said.
Even if it’s approved, the Ring Road funding that Fairfax County has requested from NVTA won’t kick in until fiscal years 2026 and 2027. Garcia says that gives the county time to refine its plans based on the outcome of the phasing study, which FCDOT hopes to complete by early fall 2022.
Putting in the funding request now, though, puts the county a step closer to committing to its overhaul of the Seven Corners interchange.
“We don’t have funding identified or available for any portion of it,” Garcia said. “We just know what we’re trying for this phase 1A, but as soon as we can get through this piece, we’ll figure out how we can break it apart to go after the next phases.”
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