Supervisors Opt for Better Service, Higher-Cost Interchange on Rt. 50

Loudoun supervisors have opted to spend slightly more to get less traffic congestion on a future interchange at Rt. 50 and Northstar Boulevard.

Today, Northstar does not connect to Rt. 50, stopping short at Tall Cedars Parkway to the south and Shreveport Drive to the north. Work is underway to extend the road to connect as an intersection with Rt. 50 as a four-lane divided road.

Eventually, both Northstar and Rt. 50 are planned to be six-lane, limited-access roads. That will mean an interchange where they cross, with ramps instead of stoplights on Rt. 50—although so far in the future the county has not yet set aside any funding to begin planning it. But with the rapid pace of growth in that area of the county, supervisors and transportation planners felt pressed for time to set out their plans for a future interchange, so that no major development happens in that interchange’s future footprint.

There is already development hemming in the project, including the Virginia Department of Transportation Arcola Area Headquarters to the northeast and homes to the southwest. If the county attempts to buy land for an interchange where significant construction has already happened, planners worry, costs could be much higher.

County staff members recommended putting Northstar on a bridge over Rt. 50 with a stoplight at the intersection on top. Supervisors instead voted unanimously for a more expensive option for construction costs, a partial cloverleaf with loop ramps to the northwest and southeast. Those costs do not include the money needed to acquire right-of-way and relocate utilities—costs that may be comparable between the two options, which take up almost the same amount of land, just under 23.5 acres.

County consultant Kimley-Horn estimated the bridge would cost $74 million to build in 2030. The partial cloverleaf was estimated to cost $83 million. But the partial cloverleaf is also expected to have better traffic flow and meet VDOT’s highest standard for service.

“There’s a $9-million difference, but that said, look at the level of service difference, and for $9 million I think that’s a good investment,” said board Vice Chairman Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn). “… Why build it and spend $80 million and only get a level of service of C? Let’s get it right.”

District Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) said the partial cloverleaf actually leaves slightly more space around the homes to the southeast.

“If we can avoid getting a ramp right up onto somebody’s yard, then we should do that,” Letourneau said.

And Supervisor Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) pointed out that the traffic estimates in that study do not take into account the new comprehensive plan, which is expected to allow more homes in the area.

“That’s even more of an argument to do this, because much as I don’t want to add one more house, I know that’s going to occur, and it’s going to occur partially in that area,” Buffington said.

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.

rgreene@loudounnow.com

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