GMU and the community prepare for construction of West Campus Connector

Photo courtesy of GMU Parking Services
Photo courtesy of GMU Parking Services

This fall, construction will begin on the West Campus Connector, a road that will provide easier access between George Mason University’s central Fairfax location and the facilities just west of campus.

“The construction timeline is still being developed. Tentatively we think some part of the construction will start in November this year,” said Erik Backus, an engineering planner for the university.

According to Backus, there are still parts of the project that require additional planning and coordination with the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) throughout construction.

“We are right now negotiating the contract,” said Brad Glatfelter, project engineer for the university. “We are waiting for the final signature from the president.”

The project, totaling $15 million, is a product of years of planning.

“Conceptually, it's been decades,” Glatfelter said. “Ever since we gave land up to VDOT to widen [Route 123] there was an agreement to build the connector.”

In 2011, Mason released a traffic study that detailed two different options for the project. The first option was to build a road along Rapidan River Lane and enhance University Drive to become the main access for West Campus.

In the end, the university decided on the second option which was to build the road along Rapidan River Lane, then upgrade an access road just south of George Mason Stadium. An underpass will be built beneath Route 123, and branch off towards Mason Pond Drive and the parking lot off Mason Inn Lane.

         GMU Parking Services (This is a rendition of the West Campus Connector at the entrance of the field house. Photo courtesy of GMU Parking Services)

Under this plan, the new road will be built north of the Kelley Lane neighborhood. Several members of the community have expressed concern over possible safety hazards, noise and traffic near their homes. 

“I think that the university went to great lengths to make the community apprised and involved,” said Cliff Keenan, president of the Country Cub View Civic Association, which represents the neighborhood just south of University Mall.

Although the Kelley Lane community does not have an organized neighborhood association, many members of the community were involved in the planning process.

“We regularly meet with the West Campus Advisory group,” said Glatfelter. “It consists of the City of Fairfax, the county, homeowners association, [George Mason] and VDOT.”

“Given the nature of the project, you’re not going to make everyone happy,” said Keenan. “I give [George Mason] a lot of credit, I think they’ve done a lot of work to make everyone aware.”

As part of the planning process, Mason agreed to leave at least 90 feet worth of space between the road and the neighborhood.

“The university is committed to maintaining the 90 feet buffer and is going to work with the neighborhood association,” said Glatfelter. “Drainage improvements will be included in the Kelley Drive neighborhood.” The improvements will also be included in the overall costs.

Mason will continue to hold community forums as construction progresses, including a presentation at the Fairfax Campus Advisory Board later in September.

“The only problem that I think is still out there. I think that the current plan is going to call for open space is going to be turned to athletic fields. And I think there was concern of lighting,” Keenan said, referring to the possibility of floodlights being installed on the fields.

Since Mason owns the land, the university has the final decision.

“We have worked very closely with the surrounding area to ensure what we do is in the best interest of the county,” said Glatfelter. “We're doing our best to not to disrupt anyone's livelihood.”

University officials do not believe that there will be significant traffic impacts while the road is under construction.

“We have directed the contractor that the primary route for construction related traffic to go is out through the western end of the project (near to where the west campus parking lot entrance is today),” Backus said in an email interview. 

Apart from the road construction, there will be several renovations added to West Campus.

“Included in this project, we’re building a super big field in West Campus and new tennis courts,” said Glatfelter. The tennis courts currently located behind the RAC will be removed, and replaced by six to eight courts in West Campus.

Another part of the project is that the entirety of the West Campus parking lot will be paved.

Several renovations are also being made for pedestrian travel back and forth between the west and central campuses.

“There will be a new pedestrian walkway between the stadium and the field house,” said Glatfelter. Sidewalks will be installed along the road, and a new bus drop-off will be added next to the field house.

All work is set to be complete by mid-summer 2014.

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