When VDOT held a Feb. 13 information meeting about safety and operational changes proposed for the Braddock/Old Lee roads intersection in Centreville, five alternatives were presented. But VDOT Preliminary Engineering Manager Andy Beacher told attendees it was simply a study, with no funding expected in the foreseeable future.
Yet on July 28 – quietly and without a public hearing beforehand – the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors recommended it receive almost $16 million in Smart Scale funding from the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB). Supervisor Kathy Smith (D-Sully) made the recommendation, advancing the alternative residents objected to most.
It means a new road will cut a swath through Kathleen Leggette’s land in Sully Estates, endangering both the wildlife and environment there. She’s angry about that, but even more about how this whole issue has been handled.
“As citizens, we’re so naïve – we believe we’ll be listened to and that we’ll have a voice,” she explained. “But we don’t; we’re just part of the required hearing process. No one told us at that February meeting that they were submitting the Smart Scale pre-application by March 1. It was deception.
“As citizens, we don’t know about Smart Scale. We entrust our elected officials to represent our best interests – and Kathy Smith failed us. She never informed any of us in western Fairfax County that this had been submitted for funding and what it would mean. She just slid it in.”
IN NORMAL TIMES, that section of Braddock carries 9,200 vehicles/day, with 8,200 on Old Lee. Eastbound Braddock has heavy traffic congestion and queuing during morning rush, and southbound Old Lee has the same thing in the afternoon – in addition to drivers trying to turn onto Braddock. And between 2010-2017, some 18 large trucks have gotten stuck in Braddock’s S curve just west of Old Lee.
Fairfax County’s current Comprehensive Plan calls for realigning Braddock and Old Lee to go into Rock Hill District Park and out again, with Braddock ending in a T at old Lee. But Beacher said it would cost more than $70 million, so VDOT was seeking “interim, low-cost improvements until that could be done.”
VDOT preferred Alternative 3 – adding a traffic signal, plus a 200-foot, southbound, right-turn lane and a 1,100-foot jughandle lane to accommodate the existing, eastbound left turns. The work would include realigning the S curve on Braddock by cutting 20 feet deep into the ground and removing a large section of rock.
Residents told Beacher that was the worst alternative because it would just add more traffic to Braddock from Loudoun County, making it harder for Centreville residents to access that road. But VDOT chose that plan, anyway.
After the February meeting, said Smith, VDOT coordinated with Fairfax County’s Department of Transportation, and the official, Smart Scale funding submission was placed on the July 28 agenda for action. “These are state owned and maintained roads,” she said. “And when VDOT studies these issues, it looks at the overall transportation network, not by jurisdiction.”
Based on VDOT’s safety/operational analysis, it chose that alternative, and Smith deferred to VDOT. “With any road project there can be differing viewpoints,” she said. “Similar arguments were made by citizens, when Supervisor Michael Frey was in office, that the safety improvements as part of the roundabout at Braddock Road/Pleasant Valley Road were made for the benefit of Loudoun residents. Again, these are public roads, and the safety enhancements are for the entire traveling public.”
But Leggette and others say these changes will come “at the expense of the environment and the Comprehensive Plan Fairfax County created 20 years ago to protect and preserve that land. “My property is in a 100-year floodplain, the Chesapeake Watershed and a Resource Protection Area,” said Legette. “I have foxes and turkeys living in my backyard, plus wood turtles, flora and fauna along a beautiful creek. As designed now, the road will be 12-18 inches from the base of Cub Run Stream.”
She said her yard would have to be elevated to avoid a quick drop in height along that road. “If you fix that S curve, people will speed down it and then be thrown into a jughandle, less than 2/10 of a mile away,” said Leggette. “How are drivers supposed to slow down quickly enough to get into it without having an accident?”
“Apparently, this is the next step in beefing up the two-lane parts of Braddock down to the new Route28/I-66 mixing bowl to speed up Loudoun commuters through western Fairfax,” said Virginia Run’s Jim Hart. “That seems a higher priority than floodplains, stream protection and threatened turtles.”
He said the more Loudoun traffic is shifted to Braddock, instead of to Route 50, the more the homes on Braddock with driveways, and the neighborhoods with entrances on Braddock, would be impacted. “This whole project is contrary to the Comprehensive Plan directive to protect the residential neighborhoods,” said Hart.
VDOT says environmental issues will be examined during the design phase, but Hart said that “seems backwards to me. Environmental impacts from all that disturbance in the floodplain ought to be part of the decision, not an afterthought. Too bad there was no public hearing, and nobody knew of the Supervisors’ [funding] vote. Folks could have raised some of these objections and tried to persuade the Board to stick to the Comp Plan.”
AGREEING, Virginia Run’s Jay Johnston said Alternative 3 “fails miserably to protect the environment and endangered species. It also fails to protect our residents from the impacts of Loudoun commuter traffic and trucks. Billions were spent building and modifying Route 50 as the primary route for traffic coming west. But this takes property from Fairfax County residents unnecessarily just to appease Loudoun.”
Like Hart, Centreville’s Chris Terpak-Malm is “disappointed with this supposedly public process for Braddock Road improvements. Decisions seem to be made with absolutely no input from the community. Kathy Smith is a huge disappointment. Her argument for the jughandle is that she's from New Jersey and they work there. I thought she represented us in Centreville.”
“The downzoned area along Braddock Road, with its environmentally sensitive floodplain – Cub Run which flows into the Occoquan, our drinking-water supply – is a horrible candidate for a jughandle,” continued Terpak-Malm. “We are not New Jersey. I’m further concerned with taking land from a private residence for this ‘road improvement’ which no one supports. There are choices far less intrusive. If this road goes through, anyone with land bordering Braddock is in jeopardy.”
An online, VDOT public hearing will be held next Wednesday, Sept. 30, at 7 p.m., at www.virginiadot.org/braddockandoldlee. Afterward, send comments until Oct. 12 to Andrew Beacher, P.E., 4975 Alliance Drive, Fairfax, VA 22030 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Put “Braddock/Old Lee Roads Safety and Operational Improvements Study” in the subject line.