The revitalization of West Falls Church will start small with new traffic signals, wider sidewalks, and other infrastructure tweaks, but over the next decade, these changes will add up to an entirely new look for the area between Route 7 and the West Falls Church Metro station.
City of Falls Church officials gathered at George Mason High School on Aug. 26 and broke ground on multimodal transportation improvements planned for Route 7 and Haycock Road, a project being implemented in conjunction with a mixed-use development proposed for a nearby 10-acre site off of Leesburg Pike.
The West Falls Church and Joint Campus Revitalization District Multimodal Transportation Project represents a too-rare instance of supporting infrastructure being put into place proactively instead of as a reaction to new development, City of Falls Church Councilmember David Snyder says.
“It’s not only important for the city, but it’s important for the county,” Snyder said. “…Too often, the development occurred and then people thought about transportation later. The exciting thing about this project is that it’s being planned and implemented at the same time.”
As part of the transportation project, the City of Falls Church will install or replace four traffic signals, including ones at the Route 7 intersections with Haycock Road and Chestnut Street and at the intersection of Haycock and an access road into George Mason High School.
A high-intensity pedestrian activated crosswalk, also known as a HAWK signal, will be added on Haycock Road to give pedestrians better access to the George Mason campus. Rather than being timed, HAWK signals are activated by a pushed button.
The project also calls for pedestrian and bicycle improvements, including wider sidewalks, along with enhancements to bus stops around the intersections that are receiving new or upgraded traffic signals.
The bicycle access improvements will be especially vital now, since the City of Falls Church had a Capital Bikeshare station installed at the corner of Route 7 and Haycock just two months ago.
The city now has 10 Bikeshare stations after joining the system in May. The company also serves Fairfax County, Arlington County, the City of Alexandria, Washington, D.C., and Montgomery County in Maryland with more than 500 stations in the metropolitan region.
Work on undergrounding and relocating utilities as part of the West Falls Church transportation project had already begun on Monday, the noise of a jackhammer tearing through asphalt audible in the background as Snyder, City of Falls Church Vice Mayor Marybeth Connolly, and other speakers delivered remarks at the formal groundbreaking.
All of these infrastructure changes were made possible by a $15.7 million grant to the city from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, which provides long-term planning and funding for regional transportation projects.
Snyder represents the City of Falls Church in the organization and helped champion the West Falls Church transportation improvements project for funding, according to NVTA executive director Monica Backmon.
When staff were determining which projects to prioritize for the Fiscal Year 2018-2023 Six-Year Program that the authority adopted on June 14, 2018, the West Falls Church project stood out for the cost compared to the amount of congestion it was expected to reduce and for addressing the needs of a variety of transportation options.
In addition to upgrading traffic signals and making improvements for pedestrians, bicyclists, and bus riders, the project focuses on an area within a quarter-mile of the West Falls Church Metro station to the north and the Washington and Old Dominion Trail to the east.
“It was a true win for us,” Backmon said. “Having multimodal solutions is very important, because…there’s no one mode that’s one-size-fit-all here in Northern Virginia, so giving commuters and pedestrians options are very important, especially if these options reduce congestion.”
The West Falls Church transportation project falls in line with the Falls Church City Council’s vision of creating a “destination place” where residents, visitors, and commuters have a range of travel options, Falls Church assistant city manager Cindy Mester says.
The Route 7 and Haycock intersection’s proximity to a Metro station and the W&OD Trail makes it a prime location in the City of Falls Church, so upgrading the streets’ infrastructure will be critical for supporting the many development projects planned for the area.
The mixed-use community Founders Row proposed by private developer Mill Creek Residential will be located three blocks away on Broad and West Streets. It will feature a six-story building with ground-floor retail and an 800-seat movie theater, 322 apartment units, and a five-story hotel.
About 1.5 miles away is the Rushmark Properties development at 301 West Broad Street, which boasts a seven-story mixed-use building with a Harris Teeter grocery store and 282 residential rental apartments.
However, the development most closely linked to the West Falls Church transportation project is the Little City site intended to serve as a “gateway” to Falls Church City.
The product of a public-private partnership with developers EYA, PN Hoffman, and Regency Centers that the city council approved on Nov. 19, Little City will occupy 10 acres between the West Falls Church Metro station and George Mason High School with a mix of housing, retail, office space, and a hotel.
Centered on an open space called the Commons, the development is currently expected to have up to 725 traditional residential units, about 25 percent of which will be condominiums and 75 percent multi-family apartments, according to EYA executive vice president of acquisition and development Evan Goldman.
There will also be between 150 and 250 units of senior housing. 6 percent of all residential units will be affordable, meaning they will be priced below market value for households with low or moderate incomes.
Approximately 123,400 square feet of retail have been planned for Little City, which will also have approximately 20,000 square feet designated for a music venue or another kind of civic space, according to the City of Falls Church.
The Little City developers are working together through a limited-liability company called FCGP Public Infrastructure, which Falls Church has also contracted for the West Falls Church multimodal improvement project.
Goldman says that FCGP Public Infrastructure LLC has been working closely with the City of Falls Church Public Schools to ensure that the development will be compatible with the new George Mason High School, which is currently under construction.
“We’re trying to create a place where the community can come together and gather,” Goldman said.
The West Falls Church multimodal improvement project is being scheduled in coordination with both the Little City development and the George Mason High School campus construction, which is being funded almost entirely by Falls Church City and is aiming for a 2021 completion date.
Since the transportation improvements will not be implemented until after the George Mason campus is finished, city staff anticipates that design, engineering and environmental work will begin in Fiscal Year 2021 with construction likely starting in FY 2022.
In addition to working with FCGP Public Infrastructure LLC and the NVTA on the multimodal project, the City of Falls Church has been coordinating with Fairfax County since the project site is close to the city’s border with the larger jurisdiction.
“We’ve worked closely and will continue to work closely with Fairfax County, which, by the way, surrounds a lot of this project…so that we have a truly multimodal project that will serve not only our citizens, but the citizens of Fairfax County and anyone who will come and work or live in the development that’s planned on the site,” Snyder said.