In a decade or two, the intersection of Routes 7 and 123 in Tysons may consist of an at-grade intersection topped by an overhead park and pedestrian amenities.
In the meantime, drivers starting next year will benefit from refurbishments of a pair of two-lane bridges that now vault Route 123 over Route 7.
Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and Fairfax County officials outlined some of their plans for Tysons’ main crossroad during a public-information meeting May 30 at Freedom Hill Elementary School in the Vienna area.
The two existing 215-foot-long bridges were built in 1965 using concrete deck over steel rolled beams with cover plates. Each span has two 64-foot-long sections and ones that are 37 and 50 feet long.
The bridges are in sorry shape, so bad that a 4-on-a-scale-of-9 “poor” structure-condition rating for the existing decks qualified the spans for “State of Good Repair” project money. The spans’ piers and abutments rated “fair” with a score of 5 because of concrete deterioration, and the bridges overall scored a “satisfactory” 6.
VDOT officials estimated half of the bridges’ road surfaces now consist of patched areas.
Height also is an issue. The bridge on northbound Route 123 has a minimum clearance of 14 feet 4 inches and vehicles on occasion have struck the spans, officials said. (The author more than two decades ago observed the wreckage of a minivan that had been smashed after it hit one of those bridges while being ferried atop a car-carrier trailer.)
Upcoming improvements will include:
• Concrete-deck repairs.
• A new 1.5-inch asphalt overlay on the bridge decks.
• A paint job for the bridges’ steel beams.
• Repairs to the bridges’ beam bearings and concrete substructure, including piers and abutments.
• Slope-protection repairs.
• Galvanic-anode corrosion protection, plus waterproof coating.
• Installation of an asphalt-plug joint to prevent water leakage from the deck from damaging the structure below.
The estimated $2.5 million project will allot $300,000 for preliminary engineering and $2.2 million for construction. There will be no costs for right-of-way acquisition or utility relocation.
Officials will begin advertising for construction contractors later this year, start construction in early 2020 and finish it later that year.
VDOT will close one existing northbound and southbound lane on Route 123 during construction. Lanes potentially will be closed from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. on weekdays and 10 p.m. to 9 a.m. on weekends.
The project’s goal is to repair the bridges sufficiently to last for the rest of their expected useful life of 10 to 15 years, officials said.
Welcome as those improvements will be, drivers swooping around the curved entrance ramp from eastbound Route 7 to northbound Route 123 still will have precious little space to merge with traffic moving 35 mph on the latter road.
VDOT’s funding is only for the bridge repairs and those can extend only about 100 feet in either direction from the spans, said Gary Runco, VDOT’s Northern Virginia district bridge engineer.
As of 2016, the Route 123 bridges on average handled 31,000 vehicles daily, while Route 7 below saw about 64,000 vehicles each day. Officials could not answer some residents’ questions over how many vehicles the bridges will handle in the coming decades, especially with the headlong redevelopment of Tysons.
Jim Phelps, a member of the Greater Tysons Citizens Coalition, said he was pleased overall with the repair project, even though it does not address the dangerous merge area and other problems in the bridges’ immediate vicinity.
“If it’s going to be torn down in 10 or 20 years, I can see why they wouldn’t want to embellish,” he said.
Fairfax County officials in January unveiled a pair of 10-foot-wide concrete sidewalks on either side of Route 7 under the Route 123 bridges. Those areas now are much more pleasant for pedestrians, but there is no safe place to walk on the Route 123 bridges. Pedestrians must walk along the road’s shoulder, scurry across the road to the grassy median, then watch for traffic before walking along narrow, raised concrete platforms to reach the other side.
Fairfax County Department of Transportation officials are examining alternatives for replacing the bridges in the future. Some of the concepts being weighed draw upon elevated-plaza designs in Moscow, Seattle and Portugal.
County planners also are pondering an at-grade “continuous flow” intersection at the site (versus the current grade-separated arrangement) and would use a variety of exit and entrance ramps to speed up traffic flow.
“The idea is to separate the pedestrian from the vehicular traffic, connect them with a Metro station and create activity parks,” said Tad Borkowski, a transportation planner with the department’s Capital Projects and Traffic Engineering Division. “We want to make that the focal point of Tysons.”
Any new design for the intersection likely would not be implemented until about 2030, he said.