VDOT, Fairfax officials celebrate upgrades at busy McLean crossing

State and Fairfax County officials on Aug. 22, 2019, celebrated the recent intersection improvements at Balls Hill Road and Georgetown Pike in McLean. (Photo by Brian Trompeter)

Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and Fairfax County officials, along with local residents, on Aug. 22 celebrated the opening six days earlier of a series of intersection upgrades at Balls Hill Road and Georgetown Pike in McLean.

“This is one of those rare occasions where we meet at this intersection on a happy note,” noted Supervisor John Foust (D-Dranesville).

Located just south of Georgetown Pike’s crossing over Interstate 495, the intersection often has traffic backups that make it hard for neighboring residents to leave their homes.

Using an existing VDOT staging area across the street from nearby Cooper Middle School, the agency restriped lanes on eastbound Balls Hill Road to add a right-turn lane and extend the street’s left-turn lane by 550 feet, allowing the stacking of up to 30 vehicles.

The project, executed by VDOT crews, took about three months to complete and was done entirely within the agency’s right-of-way. VDOT and Fairfax County split the roughly $500,000 cost.

VDOT workers managed to finish the initiative before the start of fall classes at Cooper Middle School, despite having been diverted elsewhere following the massive July 8 rainstorm, said Steven Welch, an assistant director of transportation and land use for VDOT.

The project’s biggest challenge was traffic control, with crews working hours in the middle of the day to accomplish their tasks, Welch said.

“The guys worked really quickly because the afternoon thunderstorms were creeping up on them,” he said.

In addition to the lane restriping, VDOT added new curb and gutter along the right-turn lane on eastbound Balls Hill Road, installed new signage and modified the intersection’s traffic signal. The signal features not only the traditional green arrow that gives the go-ahead to traffic turning left onto Georgetown Pike, but also a light below with a flashing yellow that activates once those initial turning vehicles have cleared the intersection.

Motorists on eastbound Balls Hill Road now have separate lanes to go straight, left or right at the intersection.

“The cars that are trying to get on the Beltway can get right over there and not block the cars that are trying to go right or straight,” said Allison Richter, VDOT’s transportation and land-use director for Arlington and Fairfax counties. “Just being able to separate out that turn lane of traffic, for the people who live over this way or back across the intersection, at least gives them a chance to be able to get to and from their homes without getting so much stuck in the Beltway traffic.”

“It’s a great project,” Foust said. “We’re not going to solve the Beltway-congestion issue until Maryland addresses the American Legion Bridge and its Beltway, but we can work at mitigating impacts and I think that’s what we’ve done here, to make it a little better. For those going straight at this intersection or turning right, it should be a significant improvement.”

Constituents who have contacted his office have been “very grateful” for the upgrades, Foust said.

“Everything takes longer than it should, but this actually got done in a very timely way once the money was identified,” he said, adding, “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen VDOT so focused. It’s awesome.”

Foust credited the McLean Traffic Advisory Group (MTAG), made up of local residents, for pushing for the project. MTAG chairman John Schell credited VDOT officials with accepting input from the residents’ group and keeping it informed at all times about the project.

State Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31st) also credited McLean resident April Georgelas for her efforts in seeking the upgrades.

“I’m thrilled,” Favola said. “We can actually point to a project that got done in a short period of time and addressed a real problem.”

The project succeeded because officials were able to define its scope narrowly and use VDOT right-of-way, she said.

“Think long and hard before you sell state land,” Favola advised.

“I know we have harassed you beyond compare, probably, but you came through for us and I think this is really going to make a difference,” Del. Kathleen Murphy (D-34th) told VDOT officials. “I think the community will really appreciate that you stepped up and got the job done.”

VDOT earlier constructed a pull-over area along northbound Georgetown Pike just north of the intersection, where county police can stop motorists who commit infractions at the crossing. Even though the intersection improvements are finished, that area will remain in use, officials said.

Fairfax County police Capt. Alan Hanson, commander of the McLean District Station, credited good communication between the involved parties for the project’s success. The improvements will be a “great step in the right direction,” he said.

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