In three years, life in Haymarket could be better than ever. Commute times would be shaved by 20 minutes or more; the frustrating (and scary) spectre of waiting, on the side of westbound Interstate 66, would be replaced by one of the nation’s most sophisticated interchange systems.
Or it could be worse.
Time and planning will tell, but for now residents in the fast-growing Haymarket, Gainesville and Warrenton area are left to hope for the best as engineers plan and politicians talk. From the tone and tenor of the audience at Wednesday night’s I-66 and Route 15 Interchange Reconstruction meeting at Battlefield High School, in fact, most were skeptical and slightly confused about the shift from a “semi-directional diamond interchange” to the currently planned “diverging diamond interchange.” The reason for the shift? No left turns. According to engineers at the informational meeting, eliminating left turns creates a better traffic flow, and, while the speed limit is lower, so-called conflict points are reduced by half.
That sounds great. But what took so long to adopt this approach? Considering that a diverging diamond interchange is being studied or implemented in at least 10 states and for countless congested interchanges, the fact that the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) took over two years to study one approach – only to scrap it for a better approach – is a fair concern.
Highlights from the meeting include:
- Cost: VDOT awarded Lane Construction Corp., of Chantilly, $36 million to do the interchange work. It’s part of a larger, $60 million award given to the company.
- Completion: The planned date of completion is Fall 2017.
- What it Does: Diverging-diamond interchanges work because they keep the flow of traffic moving
- What’s the Impact: It requires more land for the limited access line/lane, so 16 parcels will be purchased and there will be three resident displacements. According to officials there should be little to no interruption to our current commute. That’s funny.
- When Does it Start: The plan should be approved around the end of November and then construction can begin.
The larger project also includes several important initiatives. Surprisingly, however, it doesn’t include an overpass for the route 15 train tracks, which is a key traffic congestion point for travelers to Warrenton. The $60 million includes work to implement:
- Improvements on route 15 from north of the railroad tracks to just south of Heathcote Blvd.
- Wider intersections at Heathcote Boulevard adding turn lanes to both sides.
- A 10-foot-wide shared-use path on the east side of U.S. 15 for pedestrians and bicyclists.
One thing is sure: anything has to be better than what we have. But whether a diverging-diamond interchange is the best solution – now or 10 years from now – is a happy day we’ll all have to hope for, as VDOT moves forward with the long awaited project. Construction begins by the end of November. For more information, go here.