Upgrades at Route 7’s intersection with Towlston Road will boost safety with more generous turning radii and better sightlines, state transportation officials told the Great Falls Citizens Association (GFCA) at a March 31 online meeting.
The upgrades, part of VDOT’s project to widen Route 7 between Reston and Tysons, are being executed by the design/build team of Dewberry and Shirley Contracting.
GFCA’s main concerns are the intersection’s post-construction safety and functionality, said Scott Knight, who co-chairs the group’s Transportation Committee.
Safety is poor for drivers entering Route 7 from Towlston Road, GFCA members said. Local resident Steve Meyer said he hoped Route 7’s speed limit there could be lowered to 45 mph after construction is finished. Route 7 is designed for speeds up to 60 mph and Towlston Road for 35 mph, said Steve Kuntz of Dewberry, VDOT’s design consultant for the project.
VDOT has reduced Route 7’s speed limit to 45 mph in the construction area, as many of the roadway’s elements did not support speeds of 55 to 60 mph before work began, he said. VDOT plans to raise the speed limit back to 55 mph when the improvements are finished.
Towlston Road’s speed limit is 35 mph, but VDOT is moving to reduce it permanently to 25 mph between Route 7 and Leigh Mill Road, VDOT district construction engineer Bill Cuttler, who is overseeing the Route 7 widening project.
Michael Barclay, the other co-chairman of GFCA’s Transportation Committee, sought confirmation that sightlines at the redone intersection would meet or exceed VDOT’s design standards, especially for motorists turning left from southbound Towlston Road onto eastbound Route 7.
When the project is finished, motorists on southbound Towlston Road will be able to see 1,100 feet to the east on Route 7, Kuntz said. A signal pole now on the northeast corner of the intersection will be relocated this summer, allowing for improved sightlines and turning movements, he said.
The project will lengthen turn lanes leading up to the intersection and provide three southbound lanes on Towlston Road approaching Route 7, including dedicated left-turn, right-turn and through-traffic lanes, Kuntz said.
The intersection’s permanent configuration will not be finished until 2024. “It is still a work in progress, so we still have time to make tweaks if tweaks are warranted,” Kuntz said.
The turning radius for drivers turning right from westbound Route 7 onto northbound Towlston Road currently is so tight that large vehicles often encroach on Towlston Road’s southbound lane when executing that maneuver, Barclay said.
The new crossing will be designed so shorter, articulated tractor trailers with trailers up to 33 feet long, as well as non-articulated vehicles such as school buses and fire engines, can turn onto Towlston and remain in their own travel lane.
Trucks with 53-foot-long trailers, such as those used by long-haul semis and large moving vans, would have to turn wider or encroach briefly on opposing traffic lanes when turning onto Towlston, he said.
Several callers at the meeting told cautionary stories about safety at the intersection. GFCA members also expressed concerns about traffic impacts from Toll Bros.’ Arden development, which will build at least 100 houses just north of the intersection and have one entrance onto Towlston Road.
The Arden development likely will produce more traffic on Georgetown Pike and Old Dominion Drive, said GFCA board member Pam Grosvenor.
“The Pike cannot and should not serve as a high-volume, east-west commuter route,” said Grosvenor, who favored encouraging motorists to use Route 7 instead.
“Transportation is the most critical issue facing Great Falls at this point,” said GFCA president Bill Canis, citing the Route 7 widening project, proposals to replace a pair of one-lane bridges in the community and the 495 NEXT project, which will extend Express Lanes on the Beltway up to the American Legion Bridge.
To view the GFCA’s meeting, visit https://youtu.be/FXdel1pYOkc.
SIDEBAR: Some of the concerns voiced during about safety at the intersection during the Great Falls Citizens Association’s (GFCA) March 31 meeting:
• Michael Barclay cited a Dec. 6, 2020, accident in which a southbound car on Towlston Road was struck while turning by a pickup truck headed west on Route 7, killing Great Falls resident Holly Kuga, 72.
“What the community is seeking is an assurance that the intersection will be safe as possible when VDOT completes its work under the widening process,” he said.
• GFCA member Karl Pierson recounted how on March 22 a tractor-tractor driver had skidded into the tight turn to avoid hitting his daughter’s vehicle.
• Longtime Great Falls resident Susan Blakely told how she had been involved in a serious accident at that intersection four years earlier. “It cannot be denied that cars travel well above the speed limit on Route 7,” Blakely said.
• David Marion, vice president of Leigh Mill Meadows Homeowners Association, said the group’s members want a dedicated left-turn arrow for drivers entering the intersection on southbound Towlston Road.
• Four-decade resident Bill Glikbarg said he learned years ago not to accelerate immediately upon getting a green light on Towlston Road, as drivers on Route 7 often run that stoplight. He wondered whether a system could be installed to warn Route 7 motorists of impending red lights.
[Sun Gazette Newspapers provides content to, but otherwise is unaffiliated with, InsideNoVa or Rappahannock Media LLC.]