In its current state, the American Legion Bridge doesn’t work. Anyone who has driven across the bridge during rush hour knows the pain of being stuck in hours of back up as traffic bottlenecks, but a new study aims to relieve some congestion with proposed bus routes between Maryland and Virginia.
Conducted by the Maryland Department of Transportation and the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, the transit and transportation demand management study examined the existing traffic congestion on the bridge and finalizes recommendations for future bus routes with dedicated transit lanes in the I-495 corridor.
According to the study, traffic on the American Legion Bridge has continued to increase over the past two decades:
Between 2002 and 2017, the traffic volumes on the Bridge increased by 18 percent. Population and employment growth is projected to continue in the region, specifically in Tysons and the surrounding area, putting further strain on the existing infrastructure. The Traffic and Transportation Technical Report for the I-495 Express Lanes Northern Extension also found that trips travelling across the Bridge have a wide-range of origins and destinations, with many existing and projected future trips originating and ending in locations outside of Fairfax County and Montgomery County — the two jurisdictions connected by the Bridge.
And it’s likely to get worse. Based on projected population growth in areas like Tysons, the study says traffic on the bridge is expected to increase by 31% over the next two decades, with 1,833 additional trips per year, primarily from Maryland residents coming to attractions or workplaces in Virginia.
“The majority of existing trips are generated in Maryland, clustered along the MD 355 corridor, along with smaller clusters around Frederick and the US 29 corridor,” the study said. “In Virginia, trip generation is concentrated in the activity centers of Tysons, Dunn Loring, Alexandria, and Arlington.”
The study noted that aside from Metro, no existing transit options offer any inter-state connections, and the Metro routes circuitously travel through Rosslyn.
“Commuter bus routes running on managed lanes could be more efficient to commuters travelling between these key activity centers rather than a circuitous transit trip on Metrorail,” the study said. “In addition to local and commuter bus service, access to managed lanes can drastically improve travel times for carpool and vanpool users.”
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors recently endorsed plans to extend the I-495 Express Lanes to the American Legion Bridge, but the viability of the 495 NEXT project depends on Maryland widening its portion of the highway, a proposition that remains tentative at best.
If the planned dedicated transit lanes on the American Legion Bridge do come to fruition, the study looked at several potential bus routes that could run between Tysons and Maryland, including lines to Bethesda, Germantown, Silver Spring, Frederick and Gaithersburg.
The study found that the routes to Bethesda, Silver Spring and Gaithersburg all scored fairly highly when it came to factors like connections to low-income areas and potential ridership.
The study included a range of options based on different levels of investment in transit infrastructure.
The baseline transit expansion was for $2.2 million to $3.5 million in annual operating costs. This would offer a pair of routes that run from Spring Hill to Lakeforest Mall in Germantown and Bethesda.
A medium-cost expansion would run from Spring Hill up to Frederick and to Bethesda as well as Silver Spring, with another line connecting Frederick down to Rosslyn and L’Enfant Plaza. This package has estimated annual operating costs of $6.8 million to $11.6 million.
The highest investment package would include all the above, plus a line out to Reston Town Center and Dulles Airport and another to the Mosaic District. The annual operating cost would be between $11.4 million and $19.8 million.
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