Trail Feature:
Grade-Separated Interchange at South Van Dorn Street and Franconia Road

Tax Map 81-4

  Article Prepared By Robert Michie
Sidewalks and Trails Committee, Lee District
Last Reviewed: 10 September 2006
Revision 1.0


Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services and the Virginia Department of Transportation are doing an environmental assessment for a new road project. The project has two objectives:

  1. Construct a new grade-separated interchange at the intersection of South Van Dorn Street and Franconia Road.
  2. Add a new northbound lane on South Van Dorn Street from Crown Royal Drive to the Capitol Beltway.

The improvements will be in the already-existing 150-foot wide and Variable right-of-way. A typical cross section would have the following features:

bulletA variable-width (28-foot maximum) raised grass median strip;
bulletCurb and Gutter along the roads;
bulletA five-foot wide concrete sidewalk on one side of the road;
bulletA ten-foot wide asphalt trail on the other side of the road;
bulletA four-foot wide bike lane on both sides of the road.

In August 2006, agents for the project's design team began the assessment by identifying environmental constraints, developing project concepts and alternatives, and identifying other concerns relevant to the assessment. The Fairfax County Sidewalks and Trails Committee was asked to participate by responding to five questions listed in the Discussion section later in this article.

Note to Neighbors: Environmental assessments are usually conducted ten years or more before the start of construction. For example, South Van Dorn Street to Telegraph Road had several environmental assessments before construction. The last one was in the 1993-1994 time frame, and construction did not start until 2001. In short, don't hold your breath for the start date announcement for this one.

Exhibit 1: Map of Subject Area Exhibit 2: South Van Dorn Street at Franconia Road, 9/2006


South Van Dorn Street and Franconia Road is a major traffic node in Lee District. Not only is it our chief northbound access point for the Capitol Beltway, the Van Dorn Metro Station, and the City of Alexandria,  it is an important southbound access point for just about every neighborhood in eastern Lee District. The intersection must also accommodate twelve separate traffic directions. A typical signal light cycle takes about eight minutes.

A grade-separated interchange has been under discussion since about 1980. Grade separated interchanges can eliminate some of the signal-controlled traffic directions, and shorten the cycle times for the remaining traffic directions. It will not completely eliminate the need for signal lights . The best example of what a grade-separated traffic interchange may look like at this location already exists at the intersection of Frontier Drive and the Franconia-Springfield Parkway.

Exhibit 3: Grade-separated intersection at Frontier Drive and Franconia-Springfield Parkway near Springfield Mall and the Metro Station. Note the five-foot sidewalk on one side of the road (Frontier Drive), and the 10-foot trail on the other side.

Although east-west travel on the Parkway crosses the intersection without interruption, signals are required for the other directions. This design, however, eliminates signal control for most right turns, Compared to the current state at Franconia Road and South Van Dorn Street, signal controlled directions are reduced by half.

This particular design does not include bike lanes.

Exhibit 4: South Van Dorn Street at Crown Royal Drive, looking north.  Note the five-foot sidewalk on one side of the road, and the 10-foot trail on the other side.

The white building in the background marks the Capitol Beltway interchange ramps. The right turn lane next to the trail adjoins County property, but the tree line just before it marks the boundary of a townhouse development.

This particular design does not include bike lanes.

Questions About the Project's Objectives

The Design Team asked the Sidewalks and Trails Committee to consider the following issues:

1. Does the Proposed Improvement satisfy the goals of non-motorized transportation through the project area?

The project potentially solves serious traverse issue at Franconia Road and South Van Dorn Street. The big attractors in the area are Edison High School; shopping and entertainment in the Kingstown area; and two churches near the intersection. The pedestrian and other non-motorized traffic feeders are all the housing shown in Fairfax County Map Grid 81-4 (Exhibit 1's map shows only about two-thirds of the area in 81-4), This intersection is also used by foot and other traffic moving through the area.

A particular problem at this intersection is that only two of the four logical pedestrian crossings have pedestrian signals. In Exhibit 2, the pedestrian in the photograph has one crossing on her left (north-south for South Van Dorn Street) and the other one directly behind her (east-west on Franconia Road). There is considerable pedestrian demand to fix this problem. Individuals who find themselves at the northwest corner of this intersection, for example, find there is no obvious method to cross either street. A comparison of the Frontier Drive design in Exhibit 3 with the map in Exhibit 1 shows a tough problem: supplying four-corner pedestrian crossings means placing additional traffic signals in the intersection. This might be fixed by providing a wide sidewalk as part of the "top" side of the grade-separated interchange.

Another issue is the present lack of a sidewalk or a trail on the west side of South Van Dorn Street south of Franconia Road. A new housing development is expected to add one, but its design may not match the rest of South Van Dorn Street's engineering.

2. Are there any specific improvement or design alternatives you would like to see evaluated in the study and indicate what benefits you think could be realized?

South Van Dorn Street north of Franconia Road has bus stops and three east-west signalized pedestrian crossings. These features must be maintained. The pedestrian trail to the Van Dorn Street Metro Station follows Oakwood Road, which is visible in Exhibit 4 at the end of the right turn lane in the photograph. Night lighting along Oakwood Road to the pedestrian tunnel would be a great improvement. This suggestion was made in a recent discussion about the pedestrian route to the Van Dorn Street Metro Station.

The study area already includes the Oakwood Road intersection, but it stops short before the next signalized intersection: South Van Dorn Street at Castlewellan Drive/Lake Village Drive. These streets offer important alternatives for walkers and bicyclists moving between the Kingstowne Shopping Center area and points along Franconia Road. This intersection should be considered along with the other intersections going north to the Beltway.

3. What role do you see the proposed grade separation and widening playing in accomplishing non-motorized transportation goals for the area?

The grade separation corrects issues with non-motorized traffic at South Van Dorn Street and Franconia Road. The bike lanes proposed in the area will also encourage bicycle traffic interconnection with the bike lanes on Beulah Street. It also allows bike traffic to reach two major recreational resources in Lee District: Lee District Park and Huntley Meadows Park. During the week, the same lanes also encourage commuter bicycle traffic to both the Van Dorn Metro Station and to the bike routes along Eisenhower Avenue.

4. What other non-motorized transportation activities are planned by the County in the project vicinity that should be taken into account?

Consideration is now being given to adding sidewalks from the South Van Dorn Street intersection with Viceroy Drive to Telegraph Road. That will produce a walking path of approximately one and a half miles that allows residents from every neighborhood that connects to South Van Dorn Street to reach Huntley Meadows Park.

5. What are your Comprehensive Plan's provisions with respect to transportation in the study area?

The South Van Dorn Street and Franconia Road grade-separated interchange is a major objective of the Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan for the Rose Hill Planning District (Area IV). The specific major objective is to develop trails and mass transportation resources to provide access to the Van Dorn Metro Station and the Joe Alexander Transportation Center. The plan also mentions a redesign of the Beltway Interchange.


Recommendations are under development.


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