Updated 11:15 a.m. — The VDOT in-person meeting will be held on Oct. 8, not Oct.7.
As traffic congestion increases on I-495, the McLean Citizens Association approved a resolution at last night’s meeting in support of a project to add express lanes.
The Virginia Department of Transportation is considering the express lanes as part of an expansion along the highway in McLean leading up to the American Legion Bridge
The changes, as they stand, would extend the I-495 Express Lanes north from the I-495 and Dulles Access Road interchange up to the American Legion Bridge and add two new tolled express lanes in each direction.
Discussion during MCA’s meeting last night on the express lanes focused on environmental concerns and the Maryland Department of Transporation’s plans to update its side of the bridge.
When it comes to environmental factors, the proposed changes would destroy 118 acres of trees and interfere with Scott Run’s Nature Preserve along with the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail, according to the proposal.
Yet another concern with the removal of trees would be the elimination of sound and visual barriers for some McLean residents, a board member said.
To minimize harm to the trees, MCA requested in the resolution that VDOT conduct a study to determine the species of trees that will be removed and that VDOT tries to minimize harm to healthy and established foliage, like having a replanting program.
Additionally, the project currently does not have a stormwater management plan, despite evidence that watersheds and drainage ponds would be interrupted.
The MCA indicated conditional support for the project as long as VDOT address these issues and make amends for potential damage.
“[The] greatest impact of the project will fall on the Scott’s Run Nature Preserve and GW Parkway. And every effort should be made to minimize the footprint of the facility and avoid temporary use of parkland during construction,” an MCA board member said at the meeting.
In terms of MDOT’s involvement with the project, many board members expressed concern about misalignment with the state’s timelines.
For example, the VDOT 495 NEXT project is expected to be completed years before MDOT improves the American Legion Bridge and the portion of I-495 between the GW Parkway and I-270, according to the resolution.
Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust said earlier this year that timeline misalignment would be a “huge” mistake.
Still, VDOT predicts that Virginia’s part of the work will reduce cut-thru traffic on local roads, increase I-495’s capacity and improve travel time on I-495 — even if Maryland doesn’t do anything, the resolution said.
Despite barriers and concerns, MCA Transportation Committee Chair David Wuehrmann suggested at the meeting that other board members vote in support of the resolution.
“If you’re not inclined to vote for this, you need to think about what will replace it,” he said, noting the importance of congestion relief on I-495.
Inevitably, the resolution passed last night by a 25-5 vote from the MCA board members.
Going forward, VDOT is scheduled to have an online public hearing on Oct. 5 and an in-person meeting on Oct. 8, according to an MCA board member.
Wuehrmann said that the MCA now has three goals when it comes to the 495 NEXT project — to reaffirm support for the project, encourage VDOT to commit to environmental relief and work toward congestion relief at the American Legion Bridge and connecting roads.
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