Tysons, VA

The Virginia Department of Transportation is moving forward with plans to overhaul the intersection of Towlston Road and Leesburg Pike (Route 7), but despite requests from local residents, the highway’s speed limit will not be reduced after construction is finished.

VDOT officials say the need to move traffic to and from Tysons will keep the speed limit on Route 7 at 55 miles per hour.

VDOT discussed the changes coming to the Route 7 and Towlston intersection at a virtual town hall hosted by the Great Falls Citizens Association on March 31.

The need for improvements to the intersection emerged in the aftermath of a fatal crash in December. At the meeting, officials said the incident occurred when a vehicle traveling southbound on Towlston Road attempted a left turn onto Leesburg Pike. A distracted driver ran through the red light and struck the turning vehicle.

“What the community is seeking is an assurance that the intersection will be as safe as possible when VDOT completes its work under the widening project,” GFCA executive board director Mike Barclay said.

Barclay said that the intersection improvements need to ensure that, when a car turns left on Route 7 from Towlston, the driver “will have an unimpeded view of traffic traveling west on Route 7.”

Public feedback at the meeting ranged from urges to reduce the speed limit to a call to convert the intersection into a four-way stop.

Some of those concerns, particularly regarding sight-lines, should be waylaid by the current project to widen Route 7 from Reston to Tysons, VDOT said.

As part of the project, extended turn lanes will be added to Leesburg Pike to make it easier for trucks to turn onto Towlston Road, a response to the common complaint that trucks turning at the intersection often block several lanes of traffic.

Steve Kuntz, transportation business unit manager for consultant Dewberry, said sight-lines at the intersection will be improved as part of ongoing work at the intersection.

“We’re still not in the final configuration,” Kuntz said. “It is still a work in progress. We want to make sure everyone recognizes: what you see today is not the permanent configuration.”

But VDOT said there are no plans to reduce the speed limit on Leesburg Pike.

“Reducing speed on Route 7 is not an option,” VDOT district construction engineer Bill Cutler said. “It’s a highway to Tysons and needs to be able to move people along.”

However, changes will be made to Towlston Road, which will be reduced to 25 miles per hour near the intersection.

Cutler said VDOT will also be working with the contractor and the operations center to optimize timing at the signal as part of a broader effort to synchronize signals throughout the Route 7 corridor.

“We expect that this will function well,” Cutler said. “Now, it won’t function perfectly because we’re in Northern Virginia. Nothing functions perfectly, but it should function better than it has in the past. We’ll take counts and see how that holds up compared to our forecasts, and certainly to reality.”

Photo via Google Maps

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The Fairfax County Department of Transportation will host a series of virtual discussions next month for community members to share their thoughts on walking, bicycling, and other modes of travel that don’t involve getting inside a car.

The community conversations are intended to give county staff insight into people’s travel habits and areas where the county could improve bicycle and pedestrian access or facilities as part of FCDOT’s efforts to develop a new ActiveFairfax Transportation Plan.

“Community input is critical to the success of this planning effort,” FCDOT spokesperson Anna Nissinen said in a statement. “We want to hear all perspectives, from families biking and walking within the community to individuals who use scooters and bike share as part of their commute. This is the only way to create a comprehensive and functional plan that truly supports the needs of the community.”

12 online meetings have been scheduled, starting with an evening conversation for Mason District residents on April 8. The meetings focused on the Tysons area include:

There will also be a meeting in Spanish on April 15 at 7 p.m. and two “Lunch and Learn” sessions at noon on April 13 and 23.

A recording of the event and the presentation will be available on the ActiveFairfax webpage for anyone unable to attend a meeting. There is also an online survey for community members to share their perspective on barriers to non-motorized travel, potential trail and bicycle network improvements, and other topics.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors directed FCDOT to review its plan for active transportation — defined by the county as “self-propelled, human-powered travel” such as walking, cycling, or using a scooter or wheelchair — in January 2020.

Launched last summer, the project is divided into two phases. First, FCDOT is developing a vision statement laying out the county’s goals, evaluating existing conditions, and creating a plan for a systematic safety program. Then, the department will come up with recommendations, including potential comprehensive plan updates and project and policy prioritization.

Local officials have been looking at ways to enhance Fairfax County’s bikeability and walkability, particularly in urbanizing areas like Tysons and Reston, to improve safety and reflect people’s evolving travel habits.

The National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board’s most recent Regional Travel Survey found that the number of bicycle trips in the D.C. area has doubled over the past decade, though the amount of daily walking trips has remained steady.

“The plan will establish a vision and a roadmap for implementation of safe, convenient, and enjoyable streets, sidewalks, bike facilities, and trails in Fairfax County for people of all ages and abilities,” Nissinen said. “The plan will support livable street design through the development of a transportation network that connects people to where they live, work, play, learn and take transit.”

Photo by Michelle Goldchain

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The Virginia Department of Transportation’s period for public comments on proposed pedestrian and bicycle improvements around the Vienna Metro station will close on Monday (March 29).

VDOT held a virtual public information meeting on March 18 to discuss its plans, which are being developed in conjunction with efforts to construct a network of pedestrian and bicycle facilities along Interstate 66 as part of the Transform 66 Outside the Beltway project.

The I-66 parallel trail network will cover 11 miles between Gallows Road in Dunn Loring and Centreville, connecting existing regional trails — including the Washington & Old Dominion Trail — and adding new pedestrian bridges over I-66, according to Andrew Beacher, VDOT’s preliminary engineering manager for Fairfax and Arlington counties.

“The Vienna Metro bicycle and pedestrian improvements project is a key portion of that larger network that’s going to be implemented in the coming years,” Beacher said. “…It is an extensive planned network that we hope will ultimately serve the community well.”

The Fairfax County Department of Transportation told Tysons Reporter in February that the Vienna Metro portion of the project is being implemented separately, rather than as I-66 is widened, because the trail has to deviate from the interstate “for engineering reasons and for access-to-the-community reasons.”

Divided into three segments between Blake Lane and the Vienna Metro surface parking lot, improvements currently being considered include:

  • The addition of a 10-foot-wide shared-use path on Sutton Road
  • Removal of one eastbound through lane on Country Creek Road and Virginia Center Boulevard, which would create room for a road diet and two-way cycle track and sidewalk on the south side of the road
  • The construction of a new 10-foot-wide shared-use-path on Virginia Center Boulevard close to the westbound I-66 ramp adjacent to the parking lot
  • The installation of new pavement markings and signs
  • Upgraded crosswalks, traffic signal optimization, and other intersection changes

In addition, two new bus stops will be added on Sutton Road “to provide convenient access to Oakton High School faculty, staff, and students,” and six existing stops on Country Creek Road will be relocated to align with the proposed new crosswalk locations, FCDOT project coordinator Caijun Luo said during the March 18 meeting.

At Fairfax County’s request, VDOT is also looking at possible interim solutions to bridge the anticipated gap between the completion of the Transform I-66 improvements in late 2022 and the conclusion of the Vienna Metro project, which is not expected to finish construction until spring 2025.

State transportation planners have proposed restriping Country Creek Road and Virginia Center Boulevard to create a two-way, 10-foot-wide cycle track with a buffer of concrete or flex posts to separate bicyclists from drivers.

According to VDOT project manager Zamir Mirza, it will be harder to implement temporary measures on Sutton Road due to variations in road width, especially approaching the curve near the southern entrances of Oakton High School.

“We are considering design options for this segment, including removing parking on the northwest side of the site for the bicyclists,” Mirza said. “We may need to consider widening the existing sidewalk also, or have a combination of the two options.”

Mirza added that the project website will be updated when VDOT finishes studying the proposed interim options for Sutton Road.

The Vienna Metro improvements project has a total estimated cost of $9.4 million.

A public hearing on the project design will be held this summer before getting approved in the fall. VDOT plans to begin right-of-way acquisitions and utility relocations in the spring of 2022, and construction is expected to begin in summer 2024.

Community members can submit comments to [email protected] or by mail to VDOT’s Northern Virginia District office. VDOT also has a survey to gather feedback.

Image via VDOT

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People who live and work in Tysons are one step closer to getting a bus rapid transit route through the area.

Fairfax County began studying options for bus rapid transit in Tysons two-and-a-half years ago as part of the larger Envision Route 7 BRT project from the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission, which would establish bus service between Tysons and the Mark Center in Alexandria.

Now, the Fairfax County Department of Transportation has settled on a preferred route within Tysons, which it will recommend to the NVTC as the organization embarks on the fourth phase of study for the Envision project.

The county’s preferred route goes up Route 7 and takes International Drive up to Spring Hill Road, where it loops onto Tyco Road to rejoin International Drive. It will make six stops, FCDOT BRT Route 7 Project Manager Sean Schweitzer said during an informational meeting Wednesday night (March 24).

FCDOT chose the route out of three proposed alternatives because it would serve the most households, the greatest population — about 6,700 people — and the largest employment area in Tysons, according to Schweitzer.

Staff had narrowed nine options down to three after considering cost, sustainability, and accessibility, among other factors, he said. The second option, which is much shorter, branches off Route 7 to loop past Tysons Corner Center and the Tysons Metro station.

Schweitzer said the third alternative most closely resembles the NVTC’s vision for a route through Tysons, circling around Tyco and Spring Hill roads but remaining aligned with Route 7 by passing through the Greensboro Metro station.

FCDOT staff will accept comments on the proposed paths through April 14 via the Route 7 BRT Survey. The NVTC will incorporate the selected route into the final phase of its Envision Route 7 BRT study this summer and fall, Schweitzer said.

“BRT is a more efficient form of local bus, which typically operates in zone-exclusive lanes,” he said. “BRT usually has enhanced stations with raised platforms for level boarding, smart digital fare, and real-time passenger information and bus times. Stops are more limited than local bus and are more distanced.”

BRT is comparable to light rail but at a lower capital cost, he said.

Like the BRT service operated by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority in Alexandria, pictured above, a service in Tysons could run along the median for part of the route. To further reduce conflicts with cars and bicycles, buses would get transit signal priority, and bicycle lanes would run behind the stations.

The buses would drive in mixed traffic, turning left onto Spring Hill and transitioning into a bus-and-turn lane before returning to the median lane, according to Schweitzer.

The service would run from 5 a.m. to 1 a.m. on weekdays and 6 a.m. to 12 a.m. on weekends, seating 110 passengers, he said.

After the meeting, FCDOT planner Mike Garcia told Tysons Reporter that the county obtained input from residential and commercial management groups, homeowners and civic associations, faith communities, libraries, recreational centers, schools, and other stakeholders, including the Tysons Partnership, in coordination with district supervisor offices.

“The pandemic did limit our outreach efforts to physically reach out to communities,” he said.

Map via FCDOT, photo via Google Maps

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The Fairfax County Department of Transportation (FCDOT) has developed three potential routes for a bus rapid transit system (BRT) that would travel through Tysons and along the Route 7 corridor.

County staff will hold virtual public meetings at noon on Friday (March 19) and at 7 p.m. next Wednesday (March 24) to share details about the proposed routes, including possible station locations and performance analyses based on tests of the options.

Fairfax County has been studying options for bus rapid transit in Tysons since October 2018 as an offshoot of a larger Northern Virginia Transportation Commission Envision Route 7 BRT project that would establish bus service between Tysons and the Mark Center in Alexandria through Falls Church.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors recently approved $140,000 in funding to support the next phase of NVTC’s study, which will evaluate mobility benefits, impacts, and potential issues that could arise from the proposed bus system.

The county’s Route 7 BRT study focuses specifically on the Tysons portion of the project, which encompasses approximately three miles of Leesburg Pike from the Spring Hill Metro station to the I-66 interchange.

Based on a map from FCDOT, the three routes currently being considered are:

  • Alternative 1 circles around Tyco and Spring Hill roads via the Spring Hill Metro station and travels along International Drive before connecting with Route 7 at Gallows Road
  • Alternative 2 branches off Route 7 to loop past Tysons Corner Center and the Tysons Metro station
  • Alternative 3 circles around Tyco and Spring Hill roads but stays aligned with Route 7, passing through the Greensboro Metro station

FCDOT staff will present a preferred route out of those three options during the two upcoming public meetings, and there will be time for questions and provide feedback.

Attendees can register online to receive a link to the WebEx meetings or dial in by phone at 1-844-621-3956. Comments can also be provided through an electronic survey that will be available after the meetings or through the project team’s feedback form.

Comments on the Route 7 BRT study will be accepted until April 14.

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New crosswalks and other facility upgrades are coming to Shrevewood Elementary School in Falls Church, thanks to state grants that will fund road safety improvement projects in Fairfax County.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on Tuesday (March 9) to accept $1.5 million from the Virginia Department of Transportation for three projects in the county’s Transportation Alternatives program, which focuses on infrastructure improvements that support walking, cycling, and other non-motorized forms of travel.

The Shrevewood Elementary project is part of VDOT’s Safe Routes to Schools initiative, a federally funded program intended to make it easier and safer for students to walk or ride their bicycles to school.

For the project, the Fairfax County Department of Transportation plans to add three new crosswalks outside of the elementary school (7525 Shreve Road):

  • a marked crosswalk across Shreve Road at Fairwood Lane to the west
  • a marked crosswalk at the school’s eastern driveway that will cross the bifurcated portion of Shreve Road
  • a crosswalk across Virginia Lane at Virginia Avenue

The project also entails the addition of new connections to existing sidewalks and paths, curb ramps, curb extensions, and school crosswalk signs and markings.

FCDOT says these changes will improve access to Shrevewood from neighborhoods to the north. Shreve Road currently has no marked crosswalks within a half-mile of the school despite its proximity to many pedestrian and bicycle facilities, including the Washington & Old Dominion Trail, which runs parallel to Shreve Road and Virginia Lane.

“I know my community at Shrevewood Elementary will be thrilled to hear this,” Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik said during the board meeting.

The Shrevewood Elementary project is part of a broad effort by transportation officials and community advocates to improve the safety of Shreve Road, particularly in the wake of a vehicle crash in 2019 that killed a pedestrian.

VDOT added two temporary, flashing beacons at the W&OD Trail crossing on Oct. 28, and a report with recommendations for additional short-term and long-term improvements in the Shreve Road corridor came out in late December.

Karl Frisch, who represents Providence District on the Fairfax County School Board, thanked Palchik and the other county supervisors for accepting the VDOT grant funding to move the Safe Roads to Schools project forward.

“The new signage, ground markings, and crosswalks coming to the Shrevewood community will help keep students safe and give parents peace of mind when their children walk or bike to school,” Frisch said.

The Commonwealth Transportation Board approved a $560,000 Safe Routes to Schools grant for Shrevewood Elementary in October. The grant requires a local match of $140,000, which will come out of Fairfax County’s Fund 40010 for county and regional transportation projects, according to county staff.

As part of the vote on Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors also authorized FCDOT to accept $160,000 for a Safe Routes to Schools project at Orange Hunt Elementary School in Springfield and $780,000 to add a sidewalk, crosswalk, and curb ramps on Columbia Pike between Backlick Road and Tom Davis Drive in Annandale.

The three projects will collectively require $375,000 in county funds to match the state grants. Design work will commence once county staff sign project agreements with VDOT.

Photo by Michelle Goldchain, image via Google Maps

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Bike lanes could soon connect Leesburg Pike and Idylwood Road via Pimmit Drive in Tysons.

The Fairfax County and Virginia transportation departments will hold a virtual public meeting at 6:30 p.m. tomorrow (Wednesday) to gather input on that proposal, along with plans for additional bike lanes in Oakton, as part of the 2021 Providence District paving and restriping program.

According to the Fairfax County Department of Transportation, the proposed Pimmit Drive bike lanes would run from Leesburg Pike to Idyl Lane “where space permits.”

“This proposal will maintain most legal on-street parking on both sides of the road but will remove on-street parking along the Idylwood Plaza frontage to improve road safety,” FCDOT said.

The county is also looking to add bike lanes in both directions on Idyl Lane from Pimmit Drive to Idylwood Road, resulting in a half-mile stretch of bike lanes between Leesburg Pike and Idylwood. FCDOT says the Idyl Lane project would preserve existing on-street parking on the east side of the road but remove it on the west side.

In addition to passing by Idylwood Plaza, the bike lanes would be in fairly close proximity to the Tysons-Pimmit Regional Library and several parks, including Ruckstahl Park, Idylwood Park, and Lemon Road Park, though the latter would still require crossing Route 7.

“The proposed bike lanes on Idyl Lane and the western section of Pimmit Drive will improve bicycle access to Tysons, the McLean Metro [station], and the W&OD [trail],” FCDOT’s active transportation team said in a statement to Tysons Reporter. “This improvement is in line with the recommendations put forward in the Fairfax County Bicycle Master Plan.”

For Providence District, FCDOT is also proposing adding bike lanes on Tobin Road in Annandale as well as Borge Street and Bushman Drive in Oakton.

Community members can register online to attend the meeting, which will be held through WebEx. A video of the meeting presentation will be available online afterwards, and comments can be submitted electronically to FCDOT through March 24.

The Virginia Department of Transportation repaves and stripes roads in Fairfax County every year from April to November as part of its annual maintenance work. The county says it routinely uses the occasion to implement road and crosswalk improvements intended to improve driver, bicycle, and pedestrian safety.

Public meetings on proposed changes in the Dranesville and Hunter Mill districts have been scheduled for March 25 and April 6, respectively.

Images via Google Maps (photo, map)

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Tuesday Morning Notes

Fairfax County Public Library Introduces Text Service — “Beginning today [Mar. 1], you can text your #Fairfax library questions to 571-556-5025 and receive answers in real time 10 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. Monday thru Friday. If it’s not during those real-time hours, send a text & a ticket will be automatically generated. We’ll respond when available.” [Fairfax County Public Library/Twitter]

New Police Reform Laws Take Effect — Several police reform laws passed during the Virginia General Assembly’s special session last year took effect yesterday, including a ban on no-knock search warrants, new statewide training standards related to racial bias and deescalation, and a “Marcus Alert” system that limits the role of law enforcement in responding to behavioral health issues. [@GovernorVA/Twitter]

Fairfax County Seeks Input on Active Transportation Plan — “The ActiveFairfax Transportation Plan will establish a vision and a roadmap for implementation of safe, convenient, and enjoyable streets, sidewalks, bike facilities, and trails in Fairfax County. “Community input is critical to the success of this planning effort,” said Chris Wells, the Active Transportation Program Manager at FCDOT.” [Fairfax County Department of Transportation]

McLean High School Kicks Off Football Season With a Win — “The McLean Highlanders opened their high-school football season with a 28-14 victory over the visiting Mount Vernon Majors on Feb. 27. McLean fell behind 7-0 on a long touchdown pass, then rallied.” [Sun Gazette/Inside NoVA]

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Friday Morning Notes

Fairfax County Planning Commission Defers Vote on zMOD — The commission was scheduled to vote on the county’s proposed modernized zoning ordinance when it met on Wednesday (Feb. 24). Commissioners decided to defer the decision to Mar. 3 “to take some additional time for consideration.” [Fairfax County Planning Commission]

Wawa Customers Could Get Payout From 2019 Data Breach — “Between March 4, 2019 and Dec. 12, 2019, Wawa’s stores and fuel pumps were targeted by a data breach at all of its 850 stores in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Florida and Washington, D.C…Now, a proposed settlement could lead to a payout for affected customers by way of Wawa gift cards and even cash.” [Patch]

Northam and Hogan Praise Progress on American Legion Bridge Project — The Virginia and Maryland governors issued a joint statement yesterday saying that the effort to replace the aging, oft-congested American Legion Bridge is “truly a generational project, and we are excited to move forward.” Fairfax County leaders and residents have been advocating for the timeline of the 495 NEXT project in McLean to be more closely aligned with Maryland’s express lanes project. [Virginia Governor’s Office]

General Assembly Passes Bill Requiring Full-Time, In-Person Learning — The State Senate voted 36-3 yesterday to send a bill that would require school districts to give students an option to attend in-person classes full-time, with some limited exceptions, including if a school has high levels of COVID-19 transmission. The legislation is now on Gov. Ralph Northam’s desk and would go into effect on July 1 if signed into law. [ABC7-WJLA]

Park Authority Warns Against Online Scam — “The Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) has been notified of a Facebook page that uses the FCPA logo and a misspelled version of Fairfax County to friend request and message people that they have won a prize. The recipient is asked to click on the link to claim the prize. THIS IS A SCAM.” [Fairfax County Park Authority]

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Fairfax County and the Virginia Department of Transportation are working on an agreement to include funding for Scotts Run Stream restoration efforts in McLean as part of the I-495 Northern Extension (495 NEXT) project, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said on Tuesday (Feb. 23).

McKay shared the news in a letter to Virginia Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine that reiterates some of the county’s lingering reservations about the project, which seeks to extend the I-495 Express Lanes approximately three miles from the Dulles Toll Road interchange to the American Legion Bridge.

“In conjunction with the stream restoration project planned by the County, the additional funds received from the I-495 NEXT concessionaire will provide a more holistic approach to stream restoration that helps promote streambank stabilization, enhanced outfalls, and an overall improvement to Scotts Run,” McKay said in the letter, which was unanimously approved by the full board during its meeting.

The board raised concerns about the environmental impact of 495 NEXT, among other issues, in a letter to Valentine in early December, stating that runoff from the proposed project would affect almost 100 acres of wetlands, water, and land around Scotts Run and the Potomac River and exacerbate flooding issues in McLean.

The potential Scotts Run agreement and Maryland’s announcement last week that it has chosen a consortium led by Tysons-based Transurban for its Capital Beltway toll roads project have eased some — but not all — of Fairfax County supervisors’ anxieties about 495 NEXT.

Urging VDOT to coordinate with its counterpart across the Potomac as closely as possible, Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust noted that, while last week’s announcement was a meaningful step forward, the actual realization of Maryland’s I-495/I-270 project remains far off.

“We have gone on record as saying that [495 NEXT] does more harm than good if we don’t get Maryland to move forward with their project,” Foust said. “They are making good progress. What happened last week, I think it was good news and very exciting, but they’re still not there yet.”

He also asked that McKay’s letter be amended to request more detailed renderings of planned ramps for the Dulles Toll Road interchange from VDOT, reiterating previously voiced concerns about the possible traffic and construction impacts on surrounding communities.

In addition, the Board of Supervisors wants VDOT to extend the shared-use trail included in the 495 NEXT project to Tysons, rather than ending it at Lewinsville Road, and fully fund one of the Tysons-Bethesda bus routes that have been proposed as a transit option for the I-495/American Legion Bridge corridor.

According to the board’s letter, the route would carry nine vehicles with an estimated initial cost of $5.2 million and annual operating costs of $2.2 million.

Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity cautioned against making too many demands of a project that already carried an estimated $500 million cost as of last March.

“Those requirements get paid by someone. They don’t get funded out of thin air,” Herrity said. “…Since these are just recommendations, I’m going to be supporting the letter, but I think we’ve got to be careful that we don’t push this project out of existence.”

Supervisor Walter Alcorn, who represents Hunter Mill District, said county leaders need to make their concerns about major projects like this known, especially since a private vendor will be involved.

“We have to make sure that the public interest and the environmental issues and everything else that’s important to the broader community is paramount,” Alcorn said.

VDOT issued the following statement to Tysons Reporter in response to the Board of Supervisors’ letter:

VDOT remains committed to continuing to work with the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to listen to and address their feedback on VDOT’s I-495 Northern Extension Express Lanes Project. The issues identified by Fairfax County are important to VDOT and will continue to be an important part of the dialogue as we work together to solve one of the Washington Metropolitan Area’s most congested transportation links. Through the continued collaboration among the staff of VDOT and Fairfax County, VDOT is confident that a multimodal transportation solution can be put in place, which will improve travel and make a positive impact on our Commonwealth.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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