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Congestion-easing transportation project approved in Northern Va.

Thursday - 7/25/2013, 8:17am  ET

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One of the 32 new transportation projects in Northern Virginia is to widen Route 28 from the Dulles Toll Road to Route 50 from six to eight lanes. (WTOP/Ari Ashe)

FAIRFAX, Va. - Taxes have gone up in Virginia as part of a new transportation package to ease congestion across the region.

And, on Wednesday night, the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) approved 32 road and transit projects to help achieve that decongestion.

"It's a historic night for us because we've approved a package of projects that will definitely make a difference in the lives of people across Northern Virginia," says Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chair Sharon Bulova.

Fairfax County in particular has several projects that were approved, including two projects to widen Route 28 between the Dulles Toll Road and Route 50 from six to eight lanes. Construction will cost in total about $31 million for the northbound and southbound lanes and could begin next spring.

Route 28 is a roadway that connects Prince William, Fairfax and Loudoun counties.

NVTA Board Chair Martin Nohe says Route 28 was a top priority.

"The impact this has on a per-foot basis is one of the biggest in the region. If you want to look for an example of a shovel-ready project with a big bang for the buck, Route 28 is it," he says.

"It's extremely congested and it can be a parking lot sometimes during the day. By 2015 when this project is complete, it'll help stop the crunch along this stretch of road," Bulova says.

More than 111,000 vehicles use Route 28 each day, according to the NVTA. Transportation officials rate the freeway as a level of service E. Level of service is a grading system similar to a report card from A to F, with A being free-flowing traffic and F being total gridlock. A NVTA analysis says the project will improve it to a grade of D.

Drivers in Chantilly, Va., near the interchange of Route 50 and 28 agree that the freeway could be much better.

"During rush hour, it's terrible. It's bumper to bumper, stop and go. I call it the slinky effect where you stop and then everyone catches up with you," says Mike Freeman of Middleburg, Va.

"Route 28 is pretty bad right now, but that's true all over Fairfax County. Hopefully over the next five years, Fairfax is somewhere you can drive around and you'll have some idea of how long it'll take to get from point A to point B," says Danny Cook of Oakton, Va.

But some say they believe that the NVTA should have paid more attention to other intersections along Route 28 that deserve more attention.

Mark Schuefler of Manassas Park is one of those critics.

"Route 28 improvements in Fairfax County will not provide any congestion relief. You can look on your smartphones right now and there's no congestion. There hasn't been all day. There's no need for that project right now, it's what I would consider a 2025 project," he testified during an NVTA public hearing.

Delegate Bob Marshall, R-Prince William, also believes the NVTA got it wrong.

"The stretch of 28 getting money will not make a big difference in congestion. It's a game of political pork on what projects are getting money," he says.

"They should have funded improvements to 28 at Walney Road-Braddock Road, just before I-66. After that it moves, but, just before it, you are sitting there and you could read Tolstoy."

Marshall voted against the original transportation bill in the General Assembly. He tells WTOP that he's seriously considering a lawsuit to challenge the authority of the NVTA. Marshall was part of the lawsuit in 2007 that eventually led to a court ruling against the NVTA.

Nohe tells WTOP that those projects aren't shovel-ready like those approved, but the NVTA is working with the Virginia Department of Transportation on fixes to key interchanges near I-66.

"I know these projects are shovel-ready, but if these are the best projects in the queue, I am not sure why there was a dire need to raise the sales tax. Improving congestion on Route 28 should start at I-66," says Schuefler.

Delegate Jim LeMunyon, R-Fairfax/Loudoun, wouldn't go as far in his disapproval, but says he believes the NVTA hasn't done enough analysis to approve projects.

"The law says the [NVTA] has to provide a quantitative analysis of how each project would help save time on commutes. Some of them have good information, but it's hard to evaluate projects along Route 28 because the data is lacking," he says.

Bill Yaust of Vienna echoed those sentiments during his testimony.

"When you try and get out of this area south on I-95 or west on I-66, you cannot ever expect a certain time frame. It can be an hour, it can be two hours or five hours. I think it's absurd we're talking about spot improvements. Score these projects carefully and make sure we understand the impact of spending this money. Otherwise you'll never see the money again from the state," he says.

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