County supervisors need to decide quickly on the design parameters of an interchange that won’t exist for years to come—at an intersection that hasn’t been built yet.
The intersection of Rt. 50 and Northstar Boulevard is planned to one day be a confluence of two six-lane limited-access highways, although today Northstar doesn’t yet connect to Rt. 50. Work is underway to design and build that section of the road. Ultimately, it will serve as a major north-south connector in Loudoun, reaching from Rt. 7 past Rt. 50 to Braddock Road.
But property owners with land near the future intersection of Rt. 50 and Northstar are already looking into developing their land—including with data centers—and the county transportation staff has advised supervisors to choose a design for that interchange now to make sure there’s space for it later. With site plans already filed for some of those projects, supervisors have been encouraged to make a decision before the planning staff approve those projects through their normal processes.
“We really need to plan, because there’s a lot of development going on in that area,” said Susan Glass of the county Department of Transportation and Capital Infrastructure. One corner of the future transportation project may also be blocked in by the nearby Virginia Department of Transportation Arcola Area Headquarters.
“The more time that goes by before the adoption of a footprint for the interchange, the more time land uses could be approved that would be within that planned footprint, and then it would make it that much more difficult to construct the interchange even though that would be a long time in the future,” said Preliminary Engineering Manager Jim Zeller.
Although they were presented with options ranging from a full cloverleaf interchange to a minimal design that would put Northstar Boulevard on a bridge with stoplights over Rt. 50, county supervisors voted to push back their decision until March 21 to give nearby property owners a chance to learn about the options.
“There are property owners in this area that have not seen these concepts at all, and we do need to give them at least some ability to digest it and figure out how it affects their project,” said Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles).
However, Letourneau has already indicated a preference for a more expensive and expansive project than a Northstar Boulevard bridge, since a partial cloverleaf is projected to give drivers better service. Options include Northstar bridge for an estimated $74 million, with the smallest footprint and impact on surrounding properties; the cheapest, called a diverging diamond interchange, for $70 million; the largest, a full cloverleaf, for $77 million; and the most expensive and the best for traffic, a partial cloverleaf for $83 million.
The consulting firm, Kimley Horn, said it was unable to analyze traffic on the full cloverleaf.
Northstar Boulevard has been a storied road project for Loudoun. In 2016, county leaders were frustrated in their efforts to win state funding when the Commonwealth Transportation Board voted to move $43 million away from Northstar Boulevard and into a Rt. 7 project in Fairfax County.
Then in 2018, the project won a $25 million federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery or TIGER grant, the largest possible award of that grant and, according to County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large), the first time a locality had won a TIGER grant.