Plans to extend the I-495 Express Lanes three miles north from the Dulles Toll Road in Tysons to the George Washington Memorial Parkway in McLean are moving full steam ahead.
Now backed by federal approvals, the 495 Northern Extension project (495 NEXT) is on track to develop a more detailed design this fall, Virginia Department of Transportation officials told Fairfax County leaders and community members at separate meetings last week.
With a financial close on a contract projected to come this winter and the design getting finalized next year, VDOT anticipates starting the right-of-way acquisition process and construction in 2022. The new toll lanes are scheduled to open in 2025.
While the project has faced skepticism over whether its benefits will outweigh the impact of construction on the environment and neighborhoods, state transportation officials say expanding the Capital Beltway to the American Legion Bridge — and, ideally, beyond it into Maryland — will provide needed relief at one of the worst traffic bottlenecks in the D.C. region.
“I’ve never heard anyone say the American Legion Bridge is great,” VDOT Chief Deputy Commissioner Rob Cary said during a virtual public information meeting on Wednesday (Sept. 29). “It’s an issue. Everybody knows it’s an issue, and this project is going to move forward and fix that.”
The additional capacity created by the new express lanes will allow for transit across the Potomac River that’s currently stymied by the amount of congestion on and around the bridge, VDOT Northern Virginia Regional Transportation Program Susan Shaw told the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors’ Transportation Committee last Tuesday (Sept. 28).
VDOT has committed to introducing bus service between Tysons and Montgomery County in Maryland as recommended by a study that the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation and Maryland Department of Transportation completed in March.
VDOT will provide $5.2 million to purchase buses, and contracted Express Lanes operator Transurban has agreed to cover the transit service’s operating costs with $2.2 million per year once tolling begins, according to the presentation delivered at both of last week’s meetings.
At Fairfax County’s urging, the state has been looking at the possibility of launching the bus service before the new toll lanes open, especially since Shaw admits conditions “will be degraded some” during construction, which could last into fall 2027, when Maryland expects to open its Beltway toll lanes.
“Those years of degradation are what really concern us,” Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik said at the transportation committee meeting. “So, getting ahead on transit and a program to really get people on transit, out of their cars during that congestion, I think, would be very helpful to be successful.”
However, it will be difficult to provide consistent, timely bus service until the express lanes are available, Shaw says. Read More
Virginia’s plan to extend the I-495 Express Lanes to the George Washington Memorial Parkway in McLean, just south of the American Legion Bridge, is now one step closer to becoming a reality after the project received key federal approvals late last week.
The Federal Highway Administration (FWHA) and National Park Service (NPS) both determined that the I-495 Express Lanes Northern Extension (495 NEXT) project would have no significant environmental impact based on an assessment submitted by the Virginia Department of Transportation, which announced the news on Friday (July 9).
FHWA also approved the project’s interchange justification report, which analyzed the potential traffic impacts.
The approvals allow VDOT to move forward with the design and construction process, even as many community members and local elected officials remain skeptical that the project should advance with Maryland’s Capital Beltway expansion plans in limbo.
“This is an essential step toward bringing relief and multimodal solutions to a section of I-495 that faces daily congestion and unreliability,” VDOT Deputy Commissioner Rob Cary said in the news release. “We are appreciative of the collaboration and partnership from our federal partners, as we work together to implement the best possible solutions to improve travel on the Capital Beltway and in our region.”
Signed on June 29, the FWHA Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) considered the project’s implications for surrounding communities, land use, historic properties, water and air quality, noise, and other factors.
The report says building the proposed three-mile toll lanes extension “could result in short-term reduced water quality, floodplain impacts, and forest and wetland impacts,” but the impacts could be minimized with “the implementation of state-mandated best management practices and conformance with current stormwater regulations.”
“Overall cumulative effects of the project are not expected to be significant,” FWHA says in the report. “In addition, current regulatory requirements and planning practices help to avoid or minimize the contribution of present and future actions to adverse cumulative effects for socioeconomic, natural, and historic resources.”
According to the NPS FONSI approved on June 7, 495 NEXT would permanently affect 0.9 acres of George Washington Memorial Parkway because land is needed to tie the project into the existing interstate near the American Legion Bridge. 1.3 acres of park land would be temporarily affected during construction, including the clearing of forest canopy and plants.
Still, the park service concluded the impacts will be minimal compared to the anticipated benefits of the project, which VDOT says will reduce traffic congestion, improve trip reliability, and support more travel options, with the addition of a shared-use path from Lewinsville Road to Live Oak Drive and bus service between Virginia and Maryland.
“The Build Alternative will result in both beneficial and/or adverse impacts on the Park,” the NPS said. “However, the NPS has determined that the Build Alternative can be implemented without significant adverse effects.” Read More
County Board Approves PIVOT Grant Program — The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted on Tuesday (June 8) to create a new grant program that will use $25 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds to support businesses hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. The program will focus on the hotel, food service, retail, and arts and culture industries with applications scheduled to open from June 23 through July 9. [Fairfax County Government]
Armed Robberies Reported in Falls Church — Fairfax County police are investigating a series of armed robberies that have occurred in the 3300 block of Glenmore Drive since Saturday (June 5). In all four cases, a masked man described as white and between 17 to 25 years of age approached victims with a knife and demanded cash or property before running away. [FCPD]
Reckless Driving in Tysons Subject of Capitol Complaint — Architect of the Capitol J. Brett Blanton is under investigation by the agency’s inspector general after a woman “recklessly” drove his work-issued vehicle around Tysons on March 6. A complaint says the vehicle was traveling at a high speed and made an unauthorized stop at Walmart, and the driver “made obscene gestures at the person who reported the incident.” [Roll Call]
Developer Starts Selection Process for Maryland Beltway Project — The development group selected to carry out Maryland’s plan to widen the Capital Beltway at the American Legion Bridge will launch a competitive procurement process on June 16 to identify design and construction contractors. The process will be watched by Virginia, particularly in McLean, as the Commonwealth moves forward with its 495 NEXT project. [Accelerate Maryland Partners]
Reminder: Idylwood Substation Public Hearing Tonight — The State Corporation Commission will hold a public hearing at 7 p.m. today (Thursday) on Dominion Energy’s plans to rebuild a substation in Idylwood. The project has been repeatedly delayed, and the utility company has proposed pushing the timeline for completion back even further to 2026. [SCC]
A Maryland resident was killed in a car crash in the McLean area of northbound Interstate 495 on Friday (June 4), the Virginia State Police says.
According to a news release that came out today (Monday), state troopers responded at 11:56 p.m. to a two-vehicle crash that occurred south of the American Legion Bridge:
A 2019 Hyundai Kona was traveling in the far left lane at a high rate of speed when it crossed two lanes, struck a 2018 Freightliner tractor-trailer in the center lane and continued to travel off the right side of the road. The Hyundai spun as it ran off the road, running into the ditch, hitting two trees and overturning.
The driver of the Hyundai, who has been identified as 36-year-old Daniel E. Gluckman of Rockville, Md., died at the scene.
State police say Gluckman was wearing a seatbelt, but speed is considered a factor in the crash. The tractor-trailer driver was notinjured.
“The crash remains under investigation,” the VSP said.
Vienna Resident Pleads Guilty to Money Laundering — A Vienna resident pleaded guilty in federal court on Monday to a money laundering scheme tied to the terrorist group Hizballah. Prosecutors say the decade-long scheme was deployed to ship electronics equipment to a television station in Lebanon. [Patch]
Spring Hill Turf Field to Be Replaced — Spring Hill Park in McLean will undergo maintenance work starting on June 21 to replace a synthetic turf field. Work hours will be limited to 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays, though the contractor can work on Saturdays to avoid project delays if there is inclement weather. The project is expected to be mostly complete by Labor Day. [Fairfax County Park Authority]
Maryland to Downscale Beltway Project — The Maryland Department of Transportation will limit its planned Capital Beltway expansion to the construction of a new American Legion Bridge and the addition of two toll lanes in each direction on the bridge from I-270 to I-370. The project is considered critical to the success of Virginia’s 495 NEXT project to extend the I-495 Express Lanes to the bridge in McLean. [DCist]
Longfellow Finishes Second in National Quiz Bowl — “A quiz-bowl team from Longfellow Middle School finished second in the nation in the 2021 Middle School National Championship Tournament, held online the weekend of May 1. Longfellow’s “A” team made it 20 rounds into the competition before losing to the eventual champion, the “A” team from Winston Churchill Middle School of Carmichael, Calif.” [Sun Gazette/Inside NoVA]
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.
(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
Virginia Detects First Case of COVID-19 Variant — “The first case of the SARS-CoV-2 variant B.1.1.7 has been identified in a sample from an adult resident of Northern Virginia with no reported recent travel history. The B.1.1.7 variant, which first emerged in the United Kingdom in late 2020, is associated with increased person-to-person transmission of COVID-19.” [Virginia Department of Health]
Additional Ice Accumulation Possible This Morning — “Icy roads and trees can be expected in many areas this morning, but the majority of wintry weather is now behind us. However, hazards may linger into this afternoon as temperatures will only rise slowly this morning.” [National Weather Service/Twitter]
Fairfax Supervisors Prepare to Endorse American Legion Bridge Transit Study — The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote on whether to support the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation’s I-495/American Legion Bridge transit demand study. Recommendations include several proposed routes to and from Tysons. [Sun Gazette/InsideNoVA]
Judge Allows Thomas Jefferson High School Admissions Lawsuit to Move Forward — “The ruling issued Thursday by Fairfax County Circuit Judge John Tran tosses out some aspects of the lawsuit but allows the core allegations to go forward. The lawsuit contends that state regulations require TJHSST to operate as a school for the gifted, as measured by scores on standardized tests.” [WTOP]
The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) hosted a virtual public meeting on Tuesday (Jan. 12), with transportation leaders from Virginia and Maryland to address questions and comments about its transit and transportation demand management study for Interstate 495 and the American Legion Bridge.
The study’s focus is to “develop and prioritize transit options and travel demand management for bistate travel across the bridge,” DRPT Northern Virginia Transit Planning Manager Ciara Williams says.
Williams presented three investment packages divided into baseline, medium and high designations based on their ability to improve productivity, equity and connectivity.
The baseline package focuses on two main route connections that would provide peak-period service from Tysons to Gaithersburg and Bethesda in Maryland.
The medium package features additional routes, increased frequency, and a Bethesda-Tysons route with off-peak service. It also adds service to Silver Spring, Germantown, Frederick, L’Enfant, and Arlington.
The high package offers all-day bus service, additional route connections, and even more frequency. It has an expanded scope that includes Dunn Loring, Reston, and Dulles.
DRPT Chief of Public Transportation Jennifer DeBruhl emphasized that the study is being conducted in coordination with partners at the Virginia Department of Transportation and the Maryland Transit Association.
“This study is really about the art of the possible,” DeBruhl said. “…We’re looking forward to continuing to work with them…to put together a really seamless network that we can develop and enhance as funding resources become available to do that.”
During a question-and-answer portion of the meeting, community members questioned the exclusion of a Dulles route from the baseline and medium packages.
According to DeBruhl, there wasn’t “much demand” seen in a connection to Dulles, but transportation leaders can reevaluate the possibility, either as part of the current study or in the future.
“This evaluation of transit options in the corridor doesn’t end with this study,” she said.
Members of the public also asked about the ability to accurately predict the potential traffic patterns that transit may create over the American Legion Bridge when transit currently does not exist there.
“This is, in a lot of ways, a very technical modeling effort to try to assess and predict the demand and willingness of individuals to shift from that single-occupant vehicle to a transit option if it’s made available and competitive from a time perspective,” DeBruhl said.
With DRPT now working to finalize its recommendations, Williams noted that no decisions have been made yet on which transit agencies would operate the proposed routes.
The public comment period for the study will be open through Feb. 1. DeBruhl anticipates that a final study report will be published in March.
“This study has covered a lot of ground in a relatively short period of time, but it is our goal to bring this study process to a conclusion before we get to far into the spring,” DeBruhl said.
Comments on the study may be made online, by phone at 703-253-3324, or by sending a letter addressed to Ms. Ciara Williams at DRPT, 1725 Duke Street, Suite 675 Alexandria, VA 22314.
Staff photo by Jay Westcott; slide via Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation
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VDOT Schedules Meeting on American Legion Bridge Transit Recommendations — “After draft transit recommendations for the Interstate 495 American Legion Bridge Transit and Transportation Demand Management study were shared, a virtual public meeting will be held on Jan. 12.” [Patch]
Fauci to Hold Virginia Town Hall on COVID-19 Vaccine — “Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, will speak about the COVID-19 vaccine during a virtual Friday afternoon event co-sponsored by Gov. Ralph Northam’s office, the state health department and faith leaders from around the state.” [Inside NoVA]
Local Students Named to Statewide Honor Choir — “Twenty-four Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) students from 13 high schools have been named to the 2020 Virginia Music Educators Association (VMEA) Senior Honors Choir. This group will present a virtual concert in March at a time and date to be announced.” [FCPS]
Staff Photo by Jay Westcott