Tysons, VA

(Updated at 10:15 a.m.) Tysons area commuters heading to and from Maryland on the Beltway may see some relief from the constant traffic woes.

The governors of Virginia and Maryland announced an agreement Tuesday morning that would see the construction of a new American Legion Bridge.

The agreement to rebuild the bridge is being billed as “historic” and “a big win for Northern Virginia, the metro region, and our entire Commonwealth” by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D).

The new bridge will “relieve congestion at one of the country’s worst traffic chokepoints,” according to a press release, below. “The project is expected to cut commuting time in half for many travelers, reduce congestion in the regular lanes by 25 percent, provide 40 percent more lane capacity over the old bridge, and include bicycle and pedestrian paths across the Potomac River.”

The new bridge will be build on largely the same footprint as the existing bridge, but with two new express lanes in both directions. The initial stages of construction could begin as early as 2021.

More via a press release from the governor’s office:

Governor Ralph Northam (D-VA) and Governor Larry Hogan (R-MD) today announced a bi-state, bipartisan accord to create a new, unified Capital Beltway, replace the aging American Legion Bridge and relieve congestion at one of the country’s worst traffic chokepoints. The two governors made the announcement at the annual Capital Region Transportation Forum in Washington, DC.

“A new bridge means commuters will get to work and back home faster,” said Governor Northam. “Our teams have identified a way to fix one of the worst traffic hot spots in the country. This demonstrates what can get done when leaders come together to find shared solutions to tough regional problems. This is about helping people see their families more, grow their businesses, and further unlock the region’s vast economic potential.”

“The ‘Capital Beltway Accord’ is a once-in-a-generation achievement for the capital region,” said Governor Hogan. “A bipartisan, commonsense, interstate agreement such as this has eluded elected leaders throughout the region for many decades. Together with our partners in Virginia, we are building a foundation for even greater economic growth, greater opportunity for our citizens, and advancing real, lasting, transformative improvements for the entire Washington metropolitan region.”

The project complements ongoing plans by both governors in their jurisdictions–advancing a region-wide vision for a seamless network of reliable travel options around the Capital Beltway, and along Interstates 270 and 95, 395, and 66.

The project is expected to cut commuting time in half for many travelers, reduce congestion in the regular lanes by 25 percent, provide 40 percent more lane capacity over the old bridge, and include bicycle and pedestrian paths across the Potomac River.

The American Legion Bridge has been operating beyond its capacity for nearly four decades. Daily traffic has grown 390 percent since the bridge opened in 1962, with 235,000 vehicles using it daily. More than 40 percent of the region’s population travels this segment of the Capital Beltway, and the region expects to grow by another 1.2 million people by 2040. Both governors have made it a top priority to identify a long-term, seamless solution for the Capital Beltway.

The project will replace the existing lanes in each direction across the Potomac River and add two new Express Lanes in each direction for approximately three miles between the George Washington Memorial Parkway in Virginia to the vicinity of River Road in Maryland. New bicycle and pedestrian access will connect trails on both sides of the Potomac River. The project is being designed predominantly within the footprint of the existing bridge and right-of-way to minimize impact to travelers, the environment, and surrounding communities. No homes or businesses are expected to require relocation.

“This is once-in-a-generation project that will improve accessibility throughout the region,” said Virginia Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine. “This is a milestone in regional cooperation. We in Virginia look forward to working hand-in-hand with Maryland to deliver this transformative transportation solution.”

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The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved yesterday (Tuesday) plans to urbanize a Merrifield office park engulfed by I-495, Lee Hwy and Route 50.

The changes to the Merrifield Suburban Center will turn Fairview Park into a mixed-use development with more office space, multi-family homes, a hotel, retail and recreational uses.

Additionally, the changes urge developers to include affordable housing dwelling units or workforce dwelling units, along with senior living and student housing options.

The changes to the plan will also alter an area catty-corner to Fairview Park near the Inova Fairfax Hospital.

Fairview Park currently has offices — including the four-story-tall HIIT Contracting building — by a lake and residential communities. A tributary of Holmes Run runs along the southern edge of the area. Northrop Grumman Federal Credit Union and the 2941 restaurant are nearby.

“The justification for the nomination states that the existing single-use office park model that was successful in the 1980s is no longer competitive with mixed-use work environments that provide retail and service amenities, as well as the opportunity to live near work,” according to a staff report.

Elizabeth Baker, a senior land use planner for Walsh, Colucci, Lubeley & Walsh, previously told the Planning Commission that only three of the eight previously planned office buildings have been built for Fairview Park, which had a 29% office vacancy rate last year.

Baker told the supervisors last night that Fairview Park’s offices were the “gold standard” in the 1980s. While the office park has been well maintained, she said that retaining tenants has been a struggle.

Charlie Hall, a Falls Church resident who chaired the task force that helped to evaluate the proposed changes, told the supervisors that the new vision “closely align with the task force’s recommendations.”

“Every major dispute has been resolved,” Hall said. “This is exactly what [the taskforce] wanted to come out of this.”

Hall urged the board to make an immediate commitment to improving the public sector in the nearby area to keep pace with the increased number of people from the upcoming urbanization, echoing concerns from residents worried about worsening traffic and housing congestion, along with added strain on overcrowded schools.

Providence District Supervisor Linda Smyth said that it’s important to make sure that Merrifield — the center of Fairfax County — does not become a “congestion center” that will hurt not only locals, but also people traveling through that area.

The board approved the proposal, along with five follow-on motions from the Planning Commission, which include:

  • conducting a multi-modal transportation study
  • conducting a study of the connectivity barriers created by I-495
  • working with property owners to reduce single-occupancy car trips
  • working with Fairfax County Public Schools staff to determine school capacity needs
  • developing a funding plan for transportation projects recommended in the Merrifield Suburban Center Comprehensive Plan

“Merrifield has been a success and the idea here was to keep the success going,” Smith said.

Image via Fairfax County, map via Google Maps

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Updated at 2:30 p.m. — The crash was cleared at 2:26 p.m., 511 Northern Virginia tweeted. 

Earlier: A crash on I-495 in McLean is causing travel delays for drivers headed toward the American Legion Bridge.

The crash is located just south of the Georgetown Pike. Around 2:05 p.m., a nearby traffic camera showed a car on a tow truck.

The north left lane is currently closed, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation.

Drivers can expect delays, according to VDOT. As of 2:10 p.m., northbound traffic is slowly moving from Route 738 to the bridge.

Image via Google Maps

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Updated at 11:35 a.m. — All travel lanes on I-495 reopened around 10:30 a.m. 

Earlier: A multi-car crash on I-495 is causing substantial delays in Tysons.

Shortly after 9:30 a.m., the north right outside lane and right shoulder closed, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation.

Drivers can expect delays, according to VDOT. As of 9:50 a.m., traffic is crawling along northbound I-495 up to Route 123.

First image via VDOT, second image via Google Maps

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(Updated at 10:20 a.m.) The driver of a tractor-trailer died today (Thursday) in a crash and fire on I-495.

Right before 2 a.m., Virginia State Police responded to a crash in the southbound lanes of I-495 at Exit 49, which heads onto westbound I-66, Corinne Geller, a spokesperson for the Virginia State Police, said.

The tractor-trailer ran off the right side of the interstate and struck the cement barrier, which ruptured the truck’s fuel tank, police said.

“This caused the vehicle to catch fire and become engulfed in flames,” Geller said. “The impact with the barrier wall also dislodged the vehicle’s axles, which ended up blocking several travel lanes.”

The driver of the vehicle died at the scene, and the Office of the Medical Examiner in Manassas will conduct an autopsy, examination and identification, Geller said.

The crash is currently under investigation, Geller said.

Map via Google Maps

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As work continues on the Jones Branch Connector project, drivers can expect nightly closures on and around the bridge this week.

The ramps from the eastbound Dulles Toll Road and the eastbound Dulles Airport Access Road to southbound I-495 are scheduled to be closed from 10 p.m.-4 a.m. from today (Monday) to Friday (June 21), according to VDOT.

VDOT said drivers can take the following detours:

  • eastbound Dulles Toll Road to southbound I-495: Eastbound Dulles Toll Road and southbound Route 123 (Exit 19A) back to the southbound I-495
  • eastbound Dulles Airport Access Road to southbound I-495: Northbound I-495 and westbound Route 193 (Exit 44) back to the southbound I-495
  • eastbound Dulles Toll Road traffic will still be able to access the southbound 495 Express Lanes

Additionally, Scotts Crossing Road closures between Jones Branch Drive and the I-495 Express Lanes will be closed during those times as well.

The closure will let workers continue work on the bridge, which is part of the $60 million project to relieve traffic along Route 123 at the I-495 interchange.

Pedestrians can expect the Jones Branch Connector sidewalk to open mid- to late summer.

The entire project is slated to finish this fall.

Map via VDOT

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The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors recently made a $51 million investment in Tysons-area roads, but improvements to a troubled McLean road didn’t make the cut.

Balls Hill Road runs parallel to the Beltway through much of McLean up to Georgetown Pike, turning the two-lane residential street into a preferred get-around for Beltway traffic on navigation apps.

During rush hour, the intersection of Balls Hill Road and Georgetown Pike (Route 193) is frequently a backed up, apocalyptic free-for-all. Solutions to alleviate the congestion — including a controversial plan to close Georgetown Pike off from the Beltway entirely — have been proposed.

One plan involving intersection improvements was considered at meetings last fall, but the proposed improvement was not included in the Board of Supervisors’ budget.

“The Balls Hill and 193 improvements were not included in the Board’s $51 million [budget],” said Robin Geiger, head of communications for the Fairfax County Department of Transportation.

Potential intersection improvements included short-term solutions like widening shoulders to allow for increased traffic enforcement and painted boxes to stop drivers from stopping in the intersection and blocking traffic.

Longer term solutions focused on coordinated efforts to improve the American Legion Bridge and the nearby Beltway to reduce backups onto Georgetown Pike.

Meanwhile, another project to improve another troublesome intersection on Balls Hill Road is moving forward. The Balls Hill Road and Old Dominion Drive intersection is notoriously crash-prone with 29 crashes in a five-year span, due in part to poor sight-line conditions.

Geiger said in December, the Board of Supervisors approved the T-intersection proposal for the site and the project is currently in a preliminary engineering design phase. Funding for that project is approximately $21.5 million with construction scheduled to start in spring 2023.

Image via Google Maps

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An 82-year-old man from Falls Church died after he was struck on I-495 near Tysons on Saturday (June 8).

Barrington Holt was driving his 2014 Honda Accord northbound on I-495 when he ran off the right side of the interstate and struck a concrete barrier and a guard rail, Corinne Geller, a spokesperson for the Virginia State Police, said.

Holt got out of his car and tried to cross the northbound lanes of I-495 when he walked in front of a northbound tractor-trailer.

“The tractor-trailer tried to avoid Holt by braking suddenly, but was unable to avoid striking the man,” Geller said. “The tractor-trailer was then rear-ended by a northbound tractor-trailer.”

The fatal crash occurred less than a mile south of Route 7 around 12:30 a.m.

Holt died at the scene, Geller said. The tractor-trailer drivers, who were both wearing seat belts, were not injured.

Virginia State Police Trooper L. Vajglova is investigating a fatal crash in Fairfax County, Geller said.

Map via Google Maps

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Updated 5/22/2019 — A new plan could widen the Beltway in McLean, but nearby residents say the plan won’t do anything to fix the bottleneck of traffic.

At a meeting in Cooper Middle School (977 Balls Hill Road) yesterday (May 20), the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) presented plans to add new toll lanes from the Dulles Toll Road to the American Legion Bridge to help alleviate a severe bottleneck in the region.

The plans for the toll roads have been in the works since last June, but the need for a solution to Beltway congestion was highlighted in March when a tanker crash paralyzed regional traffic.

VDOT’s plans call for the expansion of express lanes to the bridge and connections with the Dulles Toll Road. A connection to the George Washington Parkway is being considered, but options are included to not have the express lanes connect to the parkway.

VDOT officials said the three bridges in McLean that pass over the Beltway would be replaced and would include new pedestrian and bicycle facilities.

But for over an hour, McLean residents expressed outrage at the expansion of the Beltway and a perception that the decision had already been made behind closed doors. Residents who felt empowered by a recent rejection of a proposal to limit access to Georgetown Pike from McLean — a proposal that new state legislation means could come back — asked why this expansion was being treated as a done deal.

“[That] was a transportation solution for a neighborhood problem,” Susan Shaw, megaprojects director for VDOT, said at the meeting. “This project is a regional transportation project. We will consider input from communities, but we will also be considering transportation improvements for the region. If we only let direct impact communities decide — we would never provide any regional project.

One of the biggest criticisms — raised by State Senate candidate Nicole Merlene running against Barbara Favola — was that the success of the project seemed dependent on the expansion of the bridge and connection to toll roads on the Maryland side, projects that are still in early stages.

Shaw said that no traffic analysis was ready yet to show the impact of the toll lanes without improvements on the Maryland side, but she said that would be considered before final approval.

“We don’t have that traffic analysis yet, but I would expect there to be a bottleneck without increased capacity on the bridge,” said Shaw. “I think the question is, ‘Are there other improvements that we would see on this project? If there’s a period of time where Virginia is in on this project and Maryland is not, are there transportation benefits?’ That will be included in the assessment.”

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Lane closures are expected around Vienna this week as part of the I-66 Outside the Beltway Project.

According to the Virginia Department of Transportation, crews will continue corridor-wide roadway maintenance this week with multi-lane closures along I-66 including stretches near the Dunn Loring Metro station and the Beltway interchange.

On Friday (May 17), I-66 is expected to have lane closures from the Beltway to Nutley Street in Vienna. Three lanes will be closed on the westbound side from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. to implement long-term lane shifts. At the Nutley Street intersection, repaving work is also planned for the median.

VDOT estimates an extra 20-minutes of stoppages, and slowdowns should be expected.

Photo via VDOT

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