Image from VDOT.

In Fairfax County, some residents are worried about squandering a real opportunity to reduce traffic into Tysons.  State officials want to expand Route 7 between Reston Avenue and the Dulles Toll Road, but can’t consider transit because of the county’s comprehensive plan.

The Virginia Department of Transportation would like to widen Route 7 from 4 car lanes to 6 in a location literally at the western entry to the county’s new downtown. 8 months ago, in a bold and uncustomary move, VDOT formed a project advisory group, including residents such as myself.

Since then, agency staff and consultants have presented lots of information about crashes, engineering issues and land use along the six-mile stretch. But having seen the details, we community members have concluded that the big picture needs to change.

It didn’t take long to realize that this project is just one piece of a major corridor connecting burgeoning Loudoun county (and beyond) with Fairfax County’s biggest jobs magnet. For that reason, no one can afford transportation business as usual.

To simply add more car lanes will only make it easier for traffic to inundate the heart of Tysons. We need a new paradigm to provide more options. That’s why we’d like the entire length of Route 7 from Loudoun to Fairfax to offer high-quality mass transit. I’d favor something like Portland’s MAX light rail.

But there’s a roadblock. The current Fairfax County comprehensive plan doesn’t allow for enhancing transit on Route 7. So, with comment time running out on this phase of the project, there’s only one thing to do: tell VDOT to work with Fairfax County to change its comp plan so Route 7 is designated an “Enhanced Public Transportation Corridor,” just as it is on the east side of Tysons.

Only by doing that can VDOT begin to consider transit options along the route. Ideally, the 2 new lanes should be dedicated from the outset to bus and HOV-3. They should connect to a system of commuter park-and-rides in church and retail parking lots, as well as on public land such as behind the new fire station at Beulah Road.

Time is of the essence. This summer, VDOT breaks ground on an adjacent Route 7 project at Georgetown Pike. In this case, they are widening the road from 4 car lanes to 6 for just one mile, but it will cost $37 million and have no provision for transit. We want to make sure the Reston Avenue project and the remainder of the corridor doesn’t suffer the same costly, short-sighted fate.

Send comments on the Reston Avenue project by this Saturday to meeting_comments@ using “Route 7 Widening project” in the subject line.