Members of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors share numerous concerns about the environmental impact of the I-495 Express Lanes Northern Extension (495 NEXT) project.
Based on an environmental assessment released in February, the board’s comments highlight everything from traffic and transit to stormwater management, along with recommendations to minimize the impact on trees, waterways, streams, historic properties and noise.
“The Board requests that VDOT continue to allow time for the public to provide feedback on the project prior to executing a final contract,” Chairman Jeffery McKay said in a letter to Virginia Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine that the board is scheduled to approve when it meets today (Tuesday).
The project is intended to add more capacity to I-495 to take some of the cut-through traffic off nearby McLean streets, but without expanding the American Legion Bridge and I-495 on the Maryland side, some are concerned the express lanes will only push the bottleneck further north.
A traffic analysis found that generally, travel time along the Capital Beltway corridor will improve in both 2025 and 2045 once Maryland completes their managed lane system.
Until Maryland completes its improvements, the analysis predicted delays along general purpose lanes going north on I-495. In response, the board urged the Virginia Department of Transportation to shorten the time between the opening of the two projects.
“It is critical that VDOT address the temporary impacts of opening prior to Maryland’s managed lanes,” they said.
As part of the 495 NEXT project, VDOT has committed to building a major regional trail in accordance with Fairfax County’s Comprehensive Plan. The Board of Supervisors is requesting that the trail continue through Tysons instead of ending at Lewinsville Road.
They also urged VDOT to find money to promote transit access along the corridor, which will help reduce single-occupancy vehicle ridership and encourage sustainable transportation system.
Stormwater management ranks among Fairfax County’s top environmental concerns for 495 NEXT. Noting that flooding has particularly been an issue in the McLean area, the board wants VDOT to meet county requirements, rather than being grandfathered into lenient state standards.
“If meeting our local stormwater management requirements is not attainable, VDOT should implement requirements to the maximum extent practicable and provide documentation demonstrating that the technical requirements are not fully feasible,” McKay said in the letter.
The project will pipe runoff into Scotts Run Stream and the Potomac River, affecting 19.8 acres of wetlands and 76 acres of water bodies and bordering land that drain into the Chesapeake Bay. The supervisors say it will not meet water quality requirements.
“While the Board recognizes the constraints faced by linear projects like I-495 NEXT, we also believe that transportation projects, particularly of this magnitude, should strive to minimize negative effects on water quality, local streams, and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay,” McKay said in the letter.
“The cumulative impact from the project’s failure to address each of the bullets above will worsen the already degraded condition of the Scotts Run Stream Valley,” he continued.
The board also offered recommendations for minimizing or avoiding impact to the natural surroundings and the residential neighborhoods nearby, including:
- quickly replacing sound walls after they are removed
- minimizing night construction near neighborhoods
- developing a landscaping and tree replacement plan
- minimizing disruptions, including those to bus services
- maintaining visibility at night and during bad weather with temporary striping
They request that VDOT avoid or minimize its impact on:
- the George Washington Memorial Parkway
- the Georgetown Pike
- Beaufort Park
- the Shiloh Baptist Church
- Scotts Run Nature Preserve
- the 4.6-acre private property near Langley Club
Photo via Google Maps