Morning Notes

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]

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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.

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Morning Notes

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]

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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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(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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Tuesday Morning Notes

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]

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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.

Tuesday’s meeting specifically focused on proposed recommendations to expand bus service through the corridor that the study team first unveiled in November.

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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Wednesday Morning Notes

Vienna Police Respond to Republican Senator’s Report of Vandalism and Threats by Protestors — “Officers were called to [Missouri Sen. Josh] Hawley’s home in Vienna, a Washington suburb, around 7:45 p.m. after someone reported that there were “people protesting in front of the house.” Officers who responded to the scene found that the “people were peaceful,” said Master Police Officer Juan Vazquez, a spokesman for the Town of Vienna Police Department.” [Associated Press/WTOP]

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

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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. Read More

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The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation is currently exploring possibilities for adding more transit routes to Tysons along the Interstate 495 corridor as part of its I-495/American Legion Bridge Transit and Transportation Demand Management Study.

Joined by Virginia Department of Transportation and Maryland Transit Administration officials, DRPT presented some potential options for new connections at a public meeting on Wednesday (Nov. 18) that provided updates on the transit study and VDOT’s I-495 Express Lanes Northern Extension (495 NEXT) project.

DRPT officials have identified Tysons, Dunn Loring, Reston, and Arlington as key destinations in the corridor, noting that there tends to be more demand for travel from Maryland to Virginia than the other way around.

“There is significant travel between activity centers on the Maryland 355 corridor and Silver Spring to destinations like Tysons, Dunn Loring, and the Virginia Route 7 corridor,” DRPT Northern Virginia Transit Planning Manager Ciara Williams said. “A great deal of transit services operate in the study area. However, there are no transit services today that directly link the major activity centers.”

After looking at a variety of potential transit connections between Virginia and Maryland on 495, DRPT singled out eight possibilities that merited further study and ranked them based on their ability to add ridership relative to their cost, the service they would provide to low-income and minority populations, and the number of people and jobs to which they would improve access.

Five out of the eight preliminary possible transit routes go to Tysons. A sixth route – and the one that received the highest score – goes through Tysons to connect Bethesda and Dunn Loring.

A proposed transit route that would go from Gaithersburg, Md., to Tysons during the morning peak period and in the other direction during the evening peak period is the only one that got a top score for productivity, equity, and connectivity.

However, the Bethesda-Dunn Loring and Bethesda-Tysons routes ranked higher, because a trips-per-day metric included in the productivity score was weighted higher to prioritize routes with the potential to yield the highest ridership levels, according to Williams.

The other routes that DRPT is considering evaluating further are Germantown to Tysons, Silver Spring to Tysons, Frederick to Arlington, Bethesda to Reston, and Frederick to Tysons.

The American Legion Bridge transit study started in December 2019 after Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced an agreement to fund the $1 billion project to replace and widen the bridge, which is part of the Capital Beltway and currently the only way to travel between Maryland and Virginia without going through Washington, D.C.

“495 is one of the most congested roadways in all of Maryland and Virginia, and traffic is forecasted to increase in the future,” Williams said. “…We see that there’s a need for transit and TDM solutions in conjunction with the planned and managed Express Lanes to efficiently and effectively serve travel across the bridge.”

The transit study is being conducted in parallel with the proposed 495 NEXT project, which extends the existing 495 Express Lanes roughly three miles from the Dulles Toll Road and I-495 interchange to the George Washington Memorial Parkway near the American Legion Bridge.

DPRT Transportation Chief Jennifer Debruhl says the study team anticipates releasing its draft recommendations for public comment in early December before finalizing the study early next year.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott, slides via Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation

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