Seminary Road has seen delays beyond standard reconstruction work as the city implements the new Complete Streets configuration, according to a staff memo to City Council.
The plan takes the four lanes on Seminary Road from N. Howard Street to N. Quaker Lane down to one travel lane in each direction and a turn lane also accessible to emergency vehicles. The change allows for a new bicycle lane to be placed on the street, part of a push to make Alexandria more accessible to non-vehicle forms of transportation — and a broader effort called Vision Zero to reduce or eliminate traffic fatalities.
The plan has been controversial, with advocates arguing that the change right-sizes transportation uses to make the streets safer and more accessible to cyclists, while critics said the plan will create further congestion for drivers.
In a memo to the City Council, Hillary Orr, deputy director of Transportation and Environmental Services (T&ES), said that the paving of Seminary Road has been completed and crews are now working on implementing the road reconfiguration, but the street has seen additional traffic delays in the month since the project started.
“While we understand that delays are frustrating, the corridor is still under construction and all of the components that work together to make this project work are not yet complete,” Orr said. “While there have been some increased queues during the peak half-hour in the morning, we are still generally seeing vehicles able to get through a signal in one cycle. The evening peak is a bit longer, and we have seen some delays between 5:30-6:30 p.m., with 6-6:15 p.m. as the peak.”
Orr said other delays have been caused by the disconnection of signal hardware that tells traffic lights when there are vehicles on the roads. Once paving was completed, Orr said these were reinstalled and reconnected and those delays have eased.
“With any road reconstruction and design reconfiguration, delays are to be expected while the project is implemented and motorists get used to new traffic patterns,” Orr said. “This is one example of how construction impacts travel times, and there are numerous other instances that occurred this week and caused residents to reach out regarding delays.”
If you were one of the people caught on Seminary Road last Thursday (Nov. 7), Orr said the delays were part of a spike in traffic throughout the region.
“This was largely due to major delays on the interstates as well as higher than normal travel times on key corridors across the city,” Orr said “When there is higher than normal congestion in the region, the city tends to see more cut-through traffic. On Thursday, while travel times were approximately 60% higher on Seminary/Janneys, they more than doubled on corridors such as Route 1, Duke Street, GW Parkway and Van Dorn.”
This week, Orr said staff is working on installing new signage and markings as well as continuing to work on median islands.
In the meantime, drivers have not been shy about expressing their frustrations over the Seminary Road traffic on Twitter.
The seminary road project has definitely caused traffic delays. 30 min on seminary to the Hilton. 1 hr from Hilton to 95 exit on Thursday evening. If slowing the traffic pattern was the goal, city of Alexandria was successful #fox5dc
— Mocha_Butterfly (@MissCocoaMD) November 12, 2019
The road diet won’t negatively effect your neighborhood they said. This will actually help your neighborhood they said. Yes, well this backup is a new phenomenon — and it is between MacArthur and Quaker on the approach to the new Seminary Road diet. @AlexTimesNews @AlexGazette pic.twitter.com/tVfWWnb48A
— Jill Hoffman (@JHoffman_DC) November 7, 2019
Others were quick to point out the other factors across the region as compounding factors for the increased traffic on Seminary Road.
As for a “traffic disaster” any traffic issues might be attributed to time change to standard time, earlier darkness and Wilson Bridge problems. For example, I don’t think Seminary Road improvements caused major traffic problems the other night on Route 1 in Fairfax County.
— Allen Lomax (@AclomaxAllen) November 9, 2019
The frustrations have not gone unheard by city staff.
“We understand that you have been hearing a lot from the community during this time,” Orr told City Council, “and we appreciate your and the community’s patience as we complete this project.”