The daunting heat did little to damper the enthusiasm of the crowd gathered to celebrate the county’s newest transportation enhancement—the completion of the interchange at Rt. 7 and Battlefield Parkway in Leesburg.
Monday afternoon, the ceremonial ribbon was cut on the $77 million interchange, which is expected to open to traffic after the evening rush hour. Within view of the ribbon-cutting was the soon-to-be-former traffic signal at Rt. 7’s intersection with Cardinal Park Drive, which will be taken out of service overnight.
Those in attendance to celebrate the completion of the 20-month-long construction project were elated that the arrival of the interchange will allow the removal of the last Rt. 7 traffic signal between Sterling and Clarke County, giving commuters 30 miles of signal-free driving. Supervisor Kristen Umstattd (D-Leesburg) noted that the removal of the signal will enable 80,000 motorists a day to enjoy the signal-free drive, with 20,000 cars a day estimated to use the new Battlefield interchange.
“This takes transportation in Leesburg to a whole new level,” said Bill Cuttler, VDOT’s Northern Virginia district construction engineer, in kicking off Monday’s ceremony.
Leesburg Mayor Kelly Burk, a more than 40-year town resident, recalled when she was a teacher at Seneca Ridge Middle School in Sterling. Then, there was one traffic signal between Leesburg and Sterling, but many would sprout up along Rt. 7 over the years as the area’s population grew. She said she was thrilled to once again be at a point of a signal-free commute along the highway. She said the project “represented the culmination of a decade of transportation planning,” that began in earnest not long after the Rt. 7 link between nearby Kincaid Boulevard and Battlefield Parkway debuted in 2008. Burk also thanked area residents for putting up with the inconveniences caused by the project, including an almost yearlong closure of the parkway link between the Marketplace at Potomac Station shopping center and Russell Branch Parkway.
County Chair Phyllis Randall (D-At Large) had the unique role of both overseeing the county board and chairing the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority when the project secured $58 million in NVTA funding, the lion’s share of the cost of the project. Randall heaped praise on both county staff and NVTA staff for educating her on the importance of the project, and on NVTA leadership for seeing its value to the region as a whole. She said the NVTA is always looking to support transportation projects that bring congestion relief relative to cost that will help to move the region’s commuters. The new interchange is will essentially help move traffic in a tristate area, Randall said, as many commuters from points east and west, as well as from Maryland and West Virginia, are likely to use it on a daily basis.
“This particular interchange will save 2.4 million hours of driving between now and 2040,” for area commuters, Randall said. “It’s probably the gem of everything we’ve done over the past few years.”
Both Del. Wendy Gooditis (D-10) and Del. Dave LaRock (R-33) applauded the interchange for giving commuters a much more affordable alternative to the Dulles Greenway.
“Does some of my pleasure derive from the fact that I can skip travel on another beautiful yet expensive highway? Perhaps,” Gooditis said to laughs.
Umstattd, who served as the town’s mayor when Battlefield Parkway arrived on the transportation network, said the project was another byproduct of decades of regional collaboration on transportation. She and others who spoke Monday also took time to thank the men and women behind Wagman Construction, the contractor for the project, who built the interchange under particularly difficult circumstances.
Wagman President and COO Gregory Andricos applauded his team for completing the job, in the midst of a pandemic and with spells of material shortages. Work was largely wrapped ahead of the July 4 holiday target, despite losing 400 man days to COVID-related quarantines, he said.
While the interchange is wrapped up, some work associated with the project will continue through the fall. That includes the addition of auxiliary lanes on Rt. 7 eastbound from the Leesburg Bypass to the new interchange, and from the interchange to River Creek Parkway; and a shared-use path along northbound Battlefield Parkway and a sidewalk along southbound Battlefield Parkway.