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Route 29 Task Force Refines Scope Ahead of Final Report

A VIRGINIA TECH GRADUATE STUDENT reviews some of the residents’ key concerns and what part of Route 29 they were most attributed to. (Photo: News-Press)

A grassroots community effort focused on addressing a variety of issues along Route 29 met for the second time Monday night, where attendees reviewed data from its first meeting and discussed the upcoming steps in the process to improve the roadway.

“This really grew out of a genuine desire from residents of both sides of the City [of Falls Church]-[Fairfax] County boundary to come together,” Andrew Painter, one of the group’s organizers, said, citing the Greater Hillwood Association as another community that also brings residents from both jurisdictions together. “This area, maybe by virtue of the fact that it’s split between the two [municipalities], has never gotten the attention it deserved. So beautification and pedestrian safety primarily are of concern.”

Formally known as the Falls Church 29 Task Force, the group got its start after reaching out to City director of planning James Snyder in February about its qualms with the stretch of Rte. 29, S. Washington St./Lee Highway that runs from Tinner Hill Road to Graham Road.

Snyder advised the citizens to reach out to Virginia Tech’s Urban Affairs & Planning Department, based at the satellite campus in the City’s west end, to do some pro bono work, according to Painter. That way the residents could package up a proposal and submit it to both Falls Church City Council and the Providence District Supervisor’s office for review, Painter added, since neither could dedicate much attention to it with their own staffers.

Though F.C. Vice Mayor Marybeth Connelly and councilmember Letty Hardi both made appearances, with Hardi reminding the audience of roughly 35 people that despite an absence of City resources being committed to this effort, it doesn’t diminish its importance.

State Delegate Marcus Simon and a representative from Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik’s team were also at the meeting.

The Monday meeting piggybacked off the inaugural meeting in October where the community got to see what the consensus was on its concerns, followed by recommended solutions and the timeline of events moving forward.

Sidewalks, crossings, traffic signals and bus stops constituted the top issues according to the data. Graduate students from Virginia Tech suggested the sidewalks be widened, particularly in the west end toward Graham Rd., as well as looking into mural programs to beautify the strip and adding a community gateway to establish a sense of place.

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MEMBERS OF THE TASK FORCE mingled with interested citizens before and after the meeting to help clarify next steps as well as discuss the best forms of action to take. (Photo: News-Press)

The students acknowledged that there is a Bus Stop Master Plan for the City, but residents specifically noted the lack of access at the stop in front of the clinic at 900 S. Washington St. and wanted crossings synced up relatively close to bus stops.

Crossings themselves were another area of focus, with the crossing at Marshall St. receiving special attention and residents generally wanted more crossings as well.

Lastly, a traffic signal was wanted at the intersection S. Maple Avenue and S. Washington St., which the Virginia Tech students reported was in the works and slated to be completed sometime in the next year.

Other topics covered during the Q&A session included grant funding sources and distribution and the possibility of streamlining the confusing Lee-Highway-S. Washington St., signage

Devin Pharr, the president of the Jefferson Village Civic Association, also asked whether the many businesses that dot the streetscape had been alerted to this effort.

Painter told the crowd that the task force wanted to wait until the report was finalized before reaching out to retail operators and property owners to get their input, though organizers had put some time into preliminarily filling the businesses in on its plans.

Allison Richter, Virginia Department of Transportation’s liaison for Arlington and Fairfax Counties, told the News-Press that the group’s all-encompassing approach makes its priority to the jurisdictions more optional than if it were mainly targeting a safety concern. She added that the portion of the route that’s being emphasized by the group isn’t any more dangerous than others just like it throughout the region.

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For example, the Shreve Road Community Working Group was able to get Fairfax County police to add an electronic speed monitor near Shrevewood Elementary School while VDOT updated the road’s signage and reduced the speed in certain parts of the byway. The changes were largely brought on in the aftermath of a felony hit-and-run accident that killed one woman and injured a child back in early August.

The Shreve Rd. group also threw its weight behind a City of Falls Church grant proposal submitted to the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority that would make multimodal improvements from Route 7 to the Washington & Old Dominion Trail crossing within the northern third of the neighborhood.

However, Richter also noted that it has been a regional trend lately to retrofit neighborhoods designed for car usage with more pedestrian accommodations. Outside of Shreve Rd., another local example of a soon-to-be retrofitted residential area that also has a major state route running through it is the Sleepy Hollow neighborhood near Seven Corners, which has a sidewalk installation project currently underway.

The Virginia Tech students will submit its draft of the report to the task force in early 2020 with the last community meeting being held in March. The report aims to be finalized in June of next year and presented to City and county officials in late June, prior to the July 4 holiday.