A recently completed Congestion Assessment (CA) study of Great Falls Park by the National Park Service (NPS) formally documents what nearby residents and those living in our community already know—that the park has had significant problems with traffic and congestion for many years. Congestion primarily occurs during peak hours on weekends and holidays in the spring, summer and fall, as well as on NPS “fee-free” days when the public can enjoy the park at no cost. (See * below.)
While congestion primarily relates to back-ups from the entrance station where fees are collected, parking capacity is also a problem. Over the past year NPS has introduced measures that have reduced processing time. However, limited parking remains an issue and the park continues to deal with the problem as the number of visitors continues to grow.
An analysis of vehicle counts has revealed increasing traffic to the park—from approximately 160,000 vehicles in 2006 to 268,000 in 2016. Recreational visitation trends (e.g. the number of visitors to the park) are similar: a 65% increase was seen over the ten year period.
On December 12th, NPS and VDOT staff met with representatives from GFCA and Supervisors Foust’s office to discuss possible alternatives from the NPS “toolbox” that were noted in the CA report. Among the concepts that may be piloted are (i) variable message boards (digital information systems) that would only be used when needed; (ii) cameras at the Georgetown Pike/Old Dominion Drive intersection, possibly combined with traffic light control and sharing real time parking lot/congestion data with the public; and (iii) a second window at the entrance station for pass holders. Other options, such as entrance prepayments, are also being discussed. How quickly alternatives might be implemented varies and funding is an issue. To review the report, see: GRFA Congestion Assessment_11-15-17_FINAL_updated.pdf
*In 2018, the four “fee-free” days are: January 15 – Martin Luther King, Jr. Day; April 21 – First Day of National Park Week; September 22 – National Public Lands Day; and November 11 – Veterans Day.
On November 14th, VDOT Design Project Manger William Dunn and members of the Route 7 engineering design team updated Great Falls residents on the Route 7 Corridor Improvements Project. The presentation covered various topics, including the project schedule, design changes, storm water management, environmental and noise concerns, and communications. Questions raised by the community were also addressed.
VDOT began by discussing the procurement process for selecting the contractor and the anticipated timeline for the project. Proposals by three design-build contractors have been submitted. It is anticipated that the contract will be awarded in spring 2018. Right-of-way acquisition will begin in fall 2018 and construction should start in late 2018/early 2019. The project is expected to be completed in late 2023.
There have been numerous changes to the original plan due to budget constraints and other considerations. The shared-use path buffer from will be reduced from 8 feet to 5.5-foot on both sides of Route 7. In addition, the median between Reston Avenue and Colvin Run Road/Carpers Farm Way has been narrowed (from 28 to 16 feet) in order to reduce right-of-way and utility impacts. A revised design for the Colvin Run Mill/Difficult Run area will reduce the amount of wetlands impacted (from 6.56 acres to just over 2 acres). As the project has been grandfathered under previous storm water management regulations, the ponds originally proposed at Dog Run and on the Borgus property (near Lewinsville Road) have both been eliminated.
The design-build contractor will be responsible for the final noise analysis. Part of this analysis will include asking residents who would benefit from having a noise wall to vote on whether they want one. While a sound wall is currently shown adjacent Colvin Run Mill, it has yet to be decided if one will be constructed. Although reforestation is planned, there is, unfortunately, little funding available for this in the budget.
Traffic on Georgetown Pike and other local roads will be monitored during construction. VDOT was clear that there will be no lane closures on Route 7 during peak hours. Road closures will only be allowed between the hours of 9:30am - 3:00 pm and 10:00 pm - 5:00 am for night work. If the design-build contractor violates this agreement, it will be subject to fines. Construction noise will be governed by the Fairfax County noise ordinance.
Residents were assured that the design-build team chosen will put a communication plan in place so that Great Falls and other communities impacted by the project will be kept informed as the project progresses. VDOT will also maintain an online presence. For more information, please see VDOT’s website: WWW.ConnectRoute7.org.
Each of the meetings will begin with an open house followed by a formal presentation and a Q&A session. There will be map display boards for residents to view unfunded projects as well as transportation projects currently underway. Upcoming meetings will be held at:
Information is also available online at: https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/fcdot/tpp2017.htm. Comments can be submitted via FCDOT's website. Deadline: November 6.
There are two categories of unfunded Great Falls-related projects on the list:
Intersection Project: Project ID 466 - Georgetown Pike and Walker Road: Add additional signalized pedestrian crossing on East and North legs
The National Park Service (NPS) is asking the public to comment on a proposed fee increase at Great Falls Park and reinstatement of the reciprocal agreement between Great Falls Park and Chesapeake and Ohio Canal.
While it is doubtful that an additional increase will significantly affect the number of visitors to Great Falls Park (and traffic volume), you are encouraged to comment on the proposal via one of the websites shown below. The public comment period will remain open until November 6, 2017.
For more information, see GWMP_GRFA_CHOH_PRESS RELEASE_ FINAL 1.pdf
On September 18, Supervisor Foust, Delegate Murphy, and Senator Favola, in partnership with the McLean Citizens Association, hosted a meeting to discuss resident concerns regarding backups on the Beltway (Route I-495) and the resulting cut-through traffic in McLean.
While the current focus is on neighborhoods located east of the beltway between George Washington Parkway and Route 123, some residents feel that the traffic study should be expanded to include areas on the western side of I-495 given the high volume of commuter traffic between Georgetown Pike and Tysons.
Of the 32 suggestions submitted by the community that were evaluated by the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and Fairfax County Department of Transportation (FCDOT) only 26 are being explored further. Some are not feasible because there is no legal authority. Other ideas are not being pursued because they would have adverse impacts, present safety issues, or offer little, or no, benefit. Further examination of those measures considered to be viable is underway. Implementation will depend on how long it takes to reach a consensus as some measures are more controversial than others. To review meeting materials and the 32 suggestions see: http://www.virginiadot.org/projects/northernvirginia/mclean_traffic_analysis.asp
Additional ideas proposed at the meeting included (i) relocating the Route 267 toll plaza located near Springhill Road to a point just west of Route 7 in order to encourage drivers to use 267 between Route 7 and the Beltway, (ii) tolling drivers at the Georgetown Pike exit in order to discourage commuter traffic, (iii) peak period tolling on the bridge, and (iv) revisiting the proposal to build a new bridge further west that would connect Route 28 and western Montgomery County.
Unfortunately, none of the proposed measures will address the underlying issue that the volume of traffic exceeds the current capacity of the American Legion bridge and I-495 north between the river and Route 270. Although VDOT has discussed widening the bridge or extending the Express Lanes over the bridge, Maryland has not taken significant steps to address the problem. VDOT feels that its I-495 North Shoulder Lane project is an interim solution. However, this view is contested by some residents who point out that traffic from the hot lanes and GW Parkway merge at the same point creating massive backups that, in turn, compel drivers to find alternate routes through local neighborhoods using apps like Waze.
Feedback from the community is still being accepted. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Great Falls residents are encouraged to think about how commuter traffic affects our community, whether similar measures should be considered here, and send ideas and comments to email@example.com.
* For information on the I-495 North Shoulder Lane project see: (http://www.virginiadot.org/projects/northernvirginia/i-495_shoulder.asp)
The Transportation Committee (TRN) invites you to GFCA’s November Town Hall meeting in order to learn about the Route 7 Corridor Improvements Project. Staff from the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) will be updating residents on the project. This is your opportunity to hear about design changes made since the last Design Public Hearing in November 2016, the updated schedule, construction approach, and find out how the project may impact your neighborhood.
In preparation for the meeting, we are asking you to submit any issues, concerns or questions about the project to firstname.lastname@example.org no later than Tuesday, October 24th. These will be shared with the VDOT project management team in advance of the meeting so that they can focus on, and better respond to, issues that are important to Great Falls.
Further details on the Town Hall will be in the November 1 newsletter and posted on the website.
Monday, September 18
7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Cooper Middle School
977 Balls Hill Road, McLean
On Monday, September 18, the McLean Citizens Association (MCA), in partnership with elected officials and state & county staff, will be hosting a community meeting to discuss options for addressing back-ups and cut-through traffic caused by the lack of sufficient capacity on the American Legion Bridge. VDOT and FCDOT staff will address numerous suggestions that have been received, and residents will have the opportunity to share their concerns and provide comments on the proposals.
Great Falls residents who are interested in learning about what measures are being considered and how these may affect our community are encouraged to attend.
For more information about the meeting, contact Jenny Kaplan in Supervisor Foust's office at Jennifer.Kaplan@fairfaxcounty.gov or 703-356-0551.
Please feel free to share this information with your friends and neighbors.
As we approach the end of summer and before the leaves start to fall, the Transportation Committee encourages you to look for dead trees along our local roads. These trees may be partially masked by nearby healthy trees or covered by vines that have grown up a dead tree, as shown in the attached photos. Dead Tree at Georgetown Pike and Old Dominion.jpg Dead Tree Covered by Vines.jpg
Please refer to the following website for more information on how to spot and report a hazardous tree: http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/news/2012/updates/how-to-spot-a-dangerous-tree.htm
Although the issue of weekend back-ups from the park entrance was originally raised by local residents in 1992 and changes have been made over the years, a long-term solution has yet to be found.
In July, the Transportation Committee (TRN) met with Alexcy Romero, Superintendent, George Washington Memorial Parkway, National Park Service (NPS), to discuss recent actions that have been taken to address the problem and their proposed “carousel” concept to turn vehicles around when the parking lot is full. A follow-up meeting with representatives from NPS, Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), Supervisor Foust’s office and TRN took place on August 15th.
Unfortunately, the planned “carousel” pilot test has yet to take place because it would involve a change in park ranger duties which requires negotiation with their union.
As TRN has some reservations about the NPS concept, the committee has been advocating for measures to divert traffic away from GFNP when the parking lot is nearing capacity. The idea is to discourage drivers from turning north onto Old Dominion Drive from the intersection at Georgetown Pike. Such measures would include surveillance cameras that monitor incoming traffic and “parking lot full” or “no access/no turn” signs that could be activated by rangers from the entrance station. VDOT is currently investigating this option in coordination with NPS.
NPS is also conducting a congestion management study of the park to document traffic flow and identify other measures that might be taken, such as a reservation system, greater use of social media, variable message boards in locations further away from the park, e.g. on Georgetown Pike at Route 495 and/or adjacent the Old Carriage Road near the Difficult Run Parking Lot.
Unfortunately, hiring off-duty police officers or contracted flaggers to direct traffic is too expensive. Although it has been suggested that a dedicated access road on park property from Georgetown Pike might be the best solution, it would necessitate removal of trees and other vegetation. This is a highly unlikely scenario given the environmental impact and overall cost of such a project. Similarly, off-site parking and shuttle bus service doesn’t appear to be a viable solution.
The increasing popularity of national parks across the United States has also meant growing traffic congestion affecting both visitors and local residents. While high profile parks, including Yosemite, Arches, and Canyonlands, have prompted the National Park Service to develop management plans for addressing the issues, similar actions for smaller parks like Great Falls National Park (GFNP) has been slow in coming.
During the past two years the NPS has increased entrance fees and taken steps to reduce processing time. However, continuing growth in the number of visitors and limited parking contribute to back-ups on weekends and holidays when the weather is nice. While NPS and USPP agency regulations and budget constraints limit what might be done, the NPS is considering various alternatives, including using social media and signage to alert visitors, turning cars around, and contracting for flagging or similar services when the lots are nearing, or at, capacity. NPS is also conferring with its traffic management experts on a congestion management study.
A follow-up meeting on this and other transportation issues is scheduled for Wednesday, July 12, 7:30 PM, at Great Falls Library. GFCA members and Great Falls residents are invited to attend.
The opinions expressed on these pages are those of the authors and may not reflect the views of the Great Falls Citizens Association
Great Falls Citizens Association
PO Box 27 • Great Falls, VA • 22066