Transportation Makeover, Mason Edition

Posted: January 19, 2011 at 1:02 am, Last Updated: January 18, 2011 at 9:10 pm

By Dave Andrews

After 12 months of research, Mason recently completed its largest and most extensive traffic and transportation study, directed by Vanasse Hangen Brustlin Inc. (VHB), an infrastructure and development consulting firm.

The proposal identifies approximately $116 million of potential infrastructure and transportation program investments.

The largest portion of that total is an estimated $70 million in new parking structures, $20 million in an overpass across Route 123 to the west side of the campus and $5 million in new roads in the southwest corner of campus near the Patriot Center.

The rest of the proposal is largely dedicated to smaller projects such as intersection modifications, parking programs and pedestrian improvements.

Last January, the university formed a traffic and transportation master planning committee made up of Mason faculty members and administrators. The committee’s goal was to identify the traffic, parking and pedestrian areas of the Fairfax Campus that were in need of an overhaul.

After categorizing the identified problem areas, VHB took a comprehensive look at Mason’s overall parking and transportation plan and examined the potential benefits of implementing multiple design improvements.

“We felt the study went very well, especially because there was a high level of transparency throughout the process,” says Cathy Wolfe, campus planning director.

“There was a great deal of communication between Mason, the City of Fairfax, Fairfax County and VDOT [Virginia Department of Transportation]. Everyone was included in the decision-making process.

“It also worked really well internally because it included such a wide cross section of people throughout the university, allowing as many groups as possible a chance for their voices to be heard.”

A main goal of the study was to address the ever-increasing need for more parking. VHB estimated that by the year 2020, at the university’s current growth rate of 2 percent annually (supposing no parking improvements were made), Mason would need to create 2,500 additional parking spaces.

However, by employing the proposal’s suggested parking improvements outlined above, the university’s overall parking demand would decrease by more than 10 percent.

But VHB didn’t just put together a wish list of improvements. VHB and Mason representatives understood that this study was to create realistic plans for the near future.

“This study wasn’t just limited to planning,” Wolfe says. “It also provides a detailed analysis of implementation. We told them from the beginning that we didn’t want a plan that was up in the clouds. We wanted plans that we could act on.”

According to Chris Conklin, office manager of VHB’s Maryland office, this is one of the rare proposals that will not “sit on the shelf” for years and years. Instead, Mason officials clearly showed they were anxious to improve the campus’ transportation plans and were ready to take action.

Many of the projects outlined in the study were implemented even before the study was finished.  Those projects include raised crosswalks, re-striped bike lanes and sidewalk improvements.

Other projects, such as a new parking lot assignment program and programs to encourage carpooling, could get started as early as this summer because they can be funded out of general operating budgets.

Facilities Management is currently drafting its plan for capital funding requests with a six-year outlook. The proposal will include a prioritized list of the larger projects. The plan will be submitted to the state by the end of May.

With budget approval, work on the more sizeable projects — such as the overpass to the west side of campus, a transit center near the Sandy Creek Parking Deck and turn-lane reconfiguration on Braddock Road and Roanoke River Road — could begin as early as the summer of 2012.

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