With the construction of a third westbound lane on Rt. 7 west of Leesburg, the satisfaction of evening commuters heading up Catoctin Mountain knows no bounds.
But it’s a different picture for eastbound commuters, who face daily back-ups at Clarke’s Gap’s Rt. 9 interchange each morning.
Some say the congestion is worse than it was before the interchange improvements were completed last year. Among those is Purcellville Vice Mayor Patrick McConville, who is garnering support from leaders in several western Loudoun towns to sign on to a letter pressing the Virginia Department of Transportation and state representatives to fix the problem.
Round Hill and Lovettsville agreed last month to be co-signors, and the Hamilton Town Council has signaled its intent to join the effort.
The problem is two-fold. The twin roundabouts designed to speed Rt. 9 traffic at the interchange have worked in that regard, but motorists on Rt. 7 Business are finding long lines trying to merge with that traffic. Also, the merger of traffic from the interchange onto eastbound Rt. 7 continues to be the source of long morning backups on the highway.
McConville normally heads to his job with Bowman Consulting in Leesburg between 6:30 and 7:30 a.m.
“I think it’s worse because Rt. 9 traffic now has priority,” McConville said.
“My letter was more [intended] to be a big overview about our concerns,” he added. He appreciates the support from the other towns.
“We agree with them,” Hamilton Mayor Dave Simpson said. “We’re farther east than they are. We bear the brunt.”
“We’re asking VDOT to look at better ways to handle traffic heading east,” Simpson said. “We need Richmond to come here and look at it, we need them to confer with us. We live it every day,” he said, noting eastbound Business Rt. 7 traffic in the morning has a hard time even getting onto the roundabout—leading to long back-ups.
McConville hopes for a positive reception from VDOT representatives. “We’ll have to look at alternatives, look for money. As long as they go in with an open mind, I think we can come up with a solution.”
Farid Bigdeli is VDOT’s transportation and land use director for Northern Virginia, with specific responsibilities for Loudoun County. He is aware of the commuter unhappiness.
“We are looking at the situation. It’s a combination of things,” Bigdeli said. “We’ve always known we need capacity in both directions—originally we had plans to widen [in both directions] but there were not enough funds.
“We do understand eastbound problems at the roundabouts,” he said. “We have asked for a look at what solutions we might find [and] to see what we can do operationally to ease the situation.”
Ideally, a third eastbound lane between Clarke’s Gap and the Dulles Greenway would be built to handle the traffic levels, he acknowledged, but noted that there isn’t money available for any more work on that section of Rt. 7.
The agency has contacted state officials, and plans to conduct a formal analysis of the situation, which Bigdeli hopes to conclude shortly.
“There are limited options. We’re focusing on seeing whether there are operational improvements we can make to lessen the problem. Until we finish the analysis we won’t know,” Bigdeli said.
“Those who know me” the affable regional director said, “know I’m always willing to meet with people, to listen and try to partner with our users, or customers, to look at some ideas.”
“I’m all ears,” Bigdeli said.
To contact McConville, write to Patrick McConville@purcellvilleva.gov. To write Bigdeli, email him at faridbigdeli@VDOT.Virginia.gov.