Several local chambers of commerce have come out in favor of the Virginia Department of Transportation’s much-debated 495 NEXT project, which will extend the I-495 Express Lanes approximately three miles from the Dulles Toll Road interchange to the American Legion Bridge.
The Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce announced its endorsement of the project yesterday (Monday). It was joined by the Tysons Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Greater McLean Chamber of Commerce, as well as chambers representing Reston, Springfield, Mount Vernon, the City of Alexandria, Arlington County, and Prince William County.
The organizations, which represent businesses that collectively employ about 600,000 people across Northern Virginia, say expanding the 495 Express Lanes will help reduce one of the region’s biggest chokepoints and generally improve local travel conditions, particularly in the Tysons area and in between Virginia and Maryland.
“The I-495 expansion will bring a much-needed economic boost to the area and provide long-term economic benefits,” Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Julie Coons said. “It will also add new transit choices that will help attract more businesses and help existing businesses flourish.”
According to the NOVA Chamber of Commerce, the 495 NEXT project is expected to create an estimated 6,300 new jobs and generate $880 million in economic activity during its development and construction.
VDOT is currently waiting for the Federal Highway Administration to issue a decision on the project based on an environmental assessment that was released last February. If the assessment is approved, the state agency expects to issue a contract, finalize the design, and start construction later this year.
The 495 NEXT project is being developed in parallel with a Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation study of transit options for the I-495 and American Legion Bridge corridor. State officials have proposed expanding bus service between Northern Virginia, particularly Tysons, and Maryland, though a final report is not expected to come out until March.
“The expanded transit service will help Tysons reach its long-term goals to reduce congestion and increase accessibility for Tyson’s residents, businesses, employees, and consumers, improving our quality of life and economic outlook,” Tysons Regional Chamber of Commerce President and Chairman Andrew Clark said.
VDOT says that the 495 NEXT project will enable 2,500 more people per hour to move through the corridor starting in 2025.
However, it would be able to move even more people if Maryland finishes its plans to introduce toll lanes on the American Legion Bridge, leading some to question why the timelines for the two projects are not aligned. The environmental assessment for Maryland’s managed toll lanes study is not scheduled to be completed until this fall.
Community members and public officials have also raised concerns about the project’s potential impact on surrounding neighborhoods and the environment, especially when it comes to water quality.
The chambers of commerce that have backed 495 NEXT say it is necessary to “set the stage” for improvements to the American Legion Bridge, which currently sees over 230,000 trips per day.
“For years, neighborhoods in McLean have been inundated by cut-through regional commuters seeking to avoid the endemic Beltway backups approaching the American Legion Bridge,” Greater McLean Chamber of Commerce President Paul Kohlenberger said. “495 NEXT will alleviate this cut-through traffic, increase travel time reliability, and offer additional travel choices to the residents, customers and workers of the Greater McLean area.”
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