Fairfax County board to take stance on 495 NEXT project

(Updated at 10:10 a.m. on 4/13/2021) The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors will take an official position on the Virginia Department of Transportation’s much-debated Interstate 495 Express Lanes Northern Extension (495 NEXT) project when it meets on Tuesday (April 13).

A prepared letter to Virginia Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine suggests the board plans to endorse the project, which will extend the I-495 Express Lanes about three miles from the Dulles Toll Road interchange in Tysons to the American Legion Memorial Bridge.

However, whether the board will actually approve the letter as it currently stands remains to be seen.

Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust told Tysons Reporter on Friday (April 9) that he hopes to revise the letter with firmer language calling for closer coordination with Maryland’s plans to widen the American Legion Bridge and I-270 and objecting to the design of the Capital Beltway/Dulles Toll Road interchange.

“If I can’t get those revisions made, I won’t be able to support it,” Foust said.

The letter says the 495 NEXT “will improve mobility” in the D.C. region by connecting the existing 495 Express Lanes to toll lanes that Maryland is considering constructing on its side of the Potomac River.

It indicates that Fairfax County and VDOT have made progress on addressing transit, pedestrian and bicycle facilities, and stormwater management concerns that have been raised throughout the project’s development.

According to the letter, VDOT will fund the capital and operating costs of one of the Tysons-Montgomery County bus routes proposed by the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation’s transit demand management study.

The state has also now committed to continuing its planned regional trail toward Tysons instead of stopping it at Lewinsville Road, and the county is working with VDOT to secure an agreement that would require the 495 NEXT builder to contribute funds to Scotts Run stream restoration efforts.

At the same time, county officials say they “remain concerned” about the possibility that Maryland will further delay its express lanes project. Without a widened American Legion Bridge, the 495 NEXT project would simply move the congestion that currently plagues drivers on the Beltway further north.

“The continuation of an express lanes system into Maryland over the ALMB remains a critical priority to realize the maximum benefit of the I-495 NEXT project,” the Board of Supervisors letter says. “The Board continues to strongly encourage VDOT to coordinate with Maryland to minimize the time between the opening of the I-495 NEXT express lanes and Maryland’s managed lanes.”

Foust says he hopes to revise the letter to tell the Commonwealth Transportation Board “to wait until we are certain that Maryland is going to move forward with their project before we authorize [express lanes operator] Transurban to begin construction of 495 NEXT.”

He also wants to make clear his opposition to the proposed design of the Dulles Toll Road interchange.

“I suspect that it is designed to move cars very effectively, but it is just outrageously huge and visually unacceptable for that location adjacent to Tysons,” he said.

Virginia and Maryland’s Beltway plans have also drawn criticism from environmental advocates.

The Coalition for Smarter Growth, Audubon Society, National Parks Conservation Association, and Sierra Club chapters from both states released a “Best Smart Growth Plan” on Friday, urging officials to pause the projects and conduct a comprehensive analysis to find “a less destructive and more sustainable and equitable solution.”

Foust says he is “sensitive” to the groups’ environmental concerns, noting that some impact on parks, trees, streams, and open space is unavoidable with an infrastructure project of this size.

However, he believes Virginia and Maryland have already waited too long to address the traffic issues at the American Legion Bridge, and postponing action for another 15 years, when the bridge is expected to need a replacement, would be “absolutely unacceptable.”

“We’ll have to mitigate those impacts, but there’s no reason to incur them if Maryland doesn’t move forward with their project to connect to 495,” Foust said.

VDOT acknowledged that there have been persistent concerns about 495 NEXT in a statement to Tysons Reporter:

VDOT continues to collaborate with the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and staff to listen to and address their concerns on VDOT’s I-495 Northern Extension Express Lanes Project. The issues identified by Fairfax County remain important to VDOT and to our efforts to develop and deliver the best possible multimodal transportation solution for the I-495 corridor, and make a positive impact on our Commonwealth.

Photo via Google Maps

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