Five years of construction work remain, but state and Fairfax County officials expressed confidence during groundbreaking ceremonies June 13 that the upcoming Route 7 widening project will produce big dividends for area residents.
“These improvements will increase capacity, improve safety, improve traffic flow and enhance mobility for cyclists and pedestrians,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova (D). “This project is the product of several streams of revenue that we were able to put together from a number of different partners. That is what makes transportation happen successfully in Virginia.”
Officials did not actually break ground for the project, but lifted up shovelfuls of dirt from ceremonial boxes arranged on the asphalt parking lot at Capital Church in the Vienna area.
The approximately $313.9 million project, slated to be finished by mid-2024, is being financed with federal, state, Fairfax County and Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) funds.
The contractors, Shirley Contracting Co. and Dewberry, will execute the project using the design-build method, which overlaps phases of design, right-of-way acquisition, utility relocation and construction to allow for faster completion.
VDOT will add one more lane to the two existing ones in each direction along nearly 7 miles of Route 7 between Reston Avenue and Jarrett Valley Drive near Tysons, plus intersection improvements and 10-foot-wide shared-use paths on both sides of the roadway. Contractors will keep two Route 7 traffic lanes open in each direction during the project.
The pedestrian and bicycling upgrades will improve safety on Route 7 and connect with other area trails, said Supervisor Catherine Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill).
“Our vision is truly a multi-modal community,” she said.
In addition, VDOT is having the bridge over Difficult Run replaced and will add a pedestrian underpass so people can access Colvin Run Mill Park.
VDOT estimates 52,000 drivers use that part of Route 7 daily and about 86,000 will by 2040. A 2016 VDOT study found the need for more than 500,000 square feet worth of sound barriers along the roadway. Transportation officials this year will perform a final noise analysis and then survey affected property owners before crafting the final design.
Washington Gas also is coordinating with VDOT to concurrently install $200 million worth of line upgrades along the Route 7 corridor.
One temporarily missing aspect of the project is a proposed $35 million “partial interchange” that would have put Route 7’s eastbound lanes below Baron Cameron Avenue/Springvale Road in order to improve traffic flow.
Transportation officials initially came up short by about $100 million in funding for the project, and removed the partial interchange from the project in favor of installing triple-left-turn lanes for Baron Cameron Avenue traffic seeking to access westbound Route 7.
“The county will consider building that [partial] interchange at some time, but at least it’s not holding the whole project back,” said Helen Cuervo, VDOT’s Northern Virginia district engineer. “We’re not waiting another five or 10 years to accumulate all of the funding that would have included that.”
The project will affect 232 properties and require one residential relocation near Lewinsville Road, said Jeff Austin, vice president of Shirley Contracting.
Bulova said the initiative complements other recent transportation improvements in the Vienna and Tysons areas, including new sidewalks along Route 7 under the bridge at Route 123 and the opening of the new Vesper Trail.
“We’re far from finished,” Bulova said. “With today’s groundbreaking, we’re going to make it easier to live, to work and to play in Fairfax County by giving us more time with our families and less time on the road, decreasing our carbon footprint and improving our health through biking and walking.”
Other elected officials added their two cents:
• Supervisor John Foust (D-Dranesville) thanked state Sen. Janet Howell (D-32nd) for acting on the Board of Supervisors’ 2010 funding request to widen Route 7. Ideally, the project will make it more attractive for drivers to stay on Route 7 instead of taking cut-through routes such as Georgetown Pike, Lewinsville Road and Old Dominion Drive, he said.
• Howell said in her 28 years in office, VDOT vastly has improved its public outreach and responsiveness. She also thanked residents for giving their input to improve the project.
• Del. Kathleen Murphy (D-34th) praised VDOT’s public engagement before the project. “I have high hopes that this is going to be a great thing for the community when this is finally over,” Murphy said.
• State Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31st) said more than 150 community meetings occurred before the project’s kickoff. Various groups had to compromise, but the “overriding umbrella, or the butter that kept everything together” was the agreed-upon need for sensible community growth, multi-modal transportation options, better stormwater management and access to parks, she said.
• State Sen. Jennifer Boysko (D-33rd) said her constituents were “very happy this project is happening.”
The project represents exactly what was intended by the passage of Virginia’s 2013 omnibus transportation act, said NVTA Chairman Martin Nohe.
NVTA member J. Randall Minchew said the initiative will save some motorists a bundle in toll charges. Leesburg residents, he joked, refer to Route 7 as “Toll Road Alternative No. 1.”
“This is where you want to drive if you want to keep that money in your pocket for your family,” he said.