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New Northfax street connection in doubt

by on 12/14/2016
University Drive-Northfax connector street

Proposed University Drive – Northfax connector street. Photo courtesy of the City of Fairfax.

The City Council voted last night to defer a decision on the University Drive-Northfax street extension to January 24, 2017. The 5-1 vote followed a public hearing in which most of the 29 speakers voiced opposition to the project, mostly due to concerns that the new connection would generate added traffic on University Drive.

Earlier this year, the City was awarded $9,994,370 in federal funds for this new street connection. In September 2015, the City Council had approved submitting a funding application to the state for the project. The project would provide a central north-south connecting street from Fairfax Boulevard to Eaton Place. This new street would be the first step in building out a compact street grid in Northfax, the City’s central commercial area on Fairfax Boulevard.

A compact, interconnected street grid is essential to making Northfax a more vibrant and walkable place. Creating this grid is a central goal of Fairfax City’s comprehensive plan for Northfax (p. 171). A compact grid of streets in Northfax was a goal of the 2007 Fairfax Boulevard Master Plan, which was created after a broad community engagement effort that hundreds of City residents participated in.  The funds were awarded after a very competitive scoring and selection process under the state’s SmartScale program.

Now the project’s future is in doubt. City Councilmembers indicated that any new street would have to completely remove vehicle access to University Drive south of Fairfax Boulevard. It is by no means certain that the Virginia Department of Transportation would approve this change from the original project application.

The prospect of having to return nearly $10 million in federal funds that the City worked hard to get, for a project identified as a priority in its plans, reflects a major problem in the City’s planning process.

Several speakers at the public hearing observed that moving forward with the project seemed imprudent in the absence of a clear plan for Northfax.  Although the City has long identified Northfax as an area for mixed-use redevelopment, and a grid of streets as central to this redevelopment, this criticism is justified. The City has not actively developed or promoted a plan for redevelopment of the area since the 2007 Master Plan, which the City never formally adopted. The City has made only sporadic and inconsistent efforts to integrate the Master Plan in its comprehensive plan.

The City is currently updating its comprehensive plan, and creating a new multimodal transportation plan. It is time to get these plans right, engage the public in developing and approving them, and use them as the basis for moving forward.

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One Comment
  1. Cuttie permalink

    Correction: Of the 29 speakers 24 were opposed, 3 were in favor (though none of them lived anywhere near the area that would be negatively impacted) and 2 were vague enough in their comments that they couldn’t be categorized one way or the other. There was also a petition of over 230 residents opposed to the plan presented to council along with 77 comments from the signers. This represents an overwhelming majority of citizens who oppose the project and wanted the council to vote to abandon it last night.

    You are correct that approval by VDOT for any variation to the current proposal is very unlikely. Which begs the question of why our city staff had not inquired as to what modifications would or would not be acceptable prior to this meeting. After all, these questions first surfaced at the Nov 1st outreach meeting, so there were 6 weeks in between to obtain guidance. There’s no excuse for them not to have been addressed even if only in general terms of what is or is not acceptable.

    It should also be noted that any solution which does not preclude additional commuter traffic from being diverted onto the residential part of University Drive will not be acceptable to the residents.

    It’s a shame that the Council decided to kick the can down the road instead of addressing the matter as promised. The sooner the City cancels this project, the sooner they can go back to the drawing board, come up with a better plan that is acceptable to the surrounding neighborhoods, and resubmit it for funding approval.

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