A consultant study of traffic on Rt. 15 won’t surprise anyone who’s driven north of Leesburg: it’s bad.
But a recently completed project quantified just how bad it is, with a line of cars stretching uninterrupted from Whites Ferry Road past the Battlefield Parkway intersection during the evening rush hour. In particular, the study gave failing level-of-service marks to the Battlefield Parkway and King Street intersections, and the entrance to Frances Hazel Reid Elementary School and Smarts Mill Middle School during the evening commute.
A failing grade means average delays of a minute and 20 seconds or more. The study found drivers headed westbound in the evening rush hour face average delays of three and a half minutes at the intersection of Battlefield Parkway and Rt. 15. Drivers headed north on Rt. 15 face delays of only a few seconds less.
The study also found that the major cause of the congestion is the complicated merge at North King Street and Rt. 15.
The study also looked at a variety of improvements, focusing on two options. Both would turn the intersection of King Street and Rt. 15 into a more traditional T-intersection with a stoplight and widen Rt. 15 to four lanes from Battlefield Parkway to north of Whites Ferry Drive. One plan would also put a traffic signal at Whites Ferry Drive; the other would put a two-lane roundabout.
Those options range in price from an estimated $31 million on the low end for the two traffic signals up to a $43 million high-end price tag for the traffic signal and roundabout—if the county had the money today. There is a placeholder in county’s infrastructure plan beyond its six-year window, but nothing scheduled or funded sooner.
Both concepts get traffic moving through 2020, but are projected to back up again by 2040 without adding lanes throughout the Rt. 15 corridor.
Supervisor Geary M. Higgins (R-Catoctin) said he would prefer roundabouts generally.
“Traffic lights don’t move traffic, they stop traffic,” Higgins said. “I’d much rather see some option there for roundabouts.”
On Thursday, county supervisors voted unanimously , with Supervisor Ron A. Meyer Jr. (R-Broad Run) absent, to expand the study the rest of the way to the Maryland line at Point of Rocks, for an additional $400,000. They will also set up a stakeholder committee and organize public outreach sessions along the Rt. 15 corridor.
They will also have to amend Loudoun’s Countywide Transportation Plan, which currently designates Rt. 15 as a scenic byway with no more than two lanes.
“It’s a very beautiful, very congested drive,” remarked County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large).
In the meantime, the consultant also devised an option to get work started sooner, by breaking the project into chunks, starting with a longer northbound merge lane at the King St. intersection. That’s estimated to cost between $1.7 million and $2 million. If the county does the improvements piecemeal, it could get work started sooner but cost as much as $52 million overall to finish.
The study was conducted by Kimley-Horn, the same consulting firm on a team of consultants leading the Envision Loudoun rewrite of the county comprehensive plan.