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

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The Virginia Department of Transportation will build a shared-use path on Old Meadow Road and a pedestrian/bicycle bridge over I-495 (via VDOT)

The Virginia Department of Transportation has selected Shirley Contracting Company to build a bridge and shared-use path along Old Meadow Road, providing a crucial connection from Tysons Corner Center to the McLean Metro station over I-495.

The contract was awarded in June but has not been finalized yet. VDOT project manager Abraham Lerner confirmed that construction is still expected to start this summer.

“At this time we do not have a specific date when the construction of the Tysons Old-Meadow Road project is expected to begin,” Lerner told Tysons Reporter by email. “We need to finalize the administrative processes related to getting the contractor under contract…We will reach out to the community prior to starting construction work.”

Based in Lorton, Shirley Contracting is an affiliate of Clark Construction, which has been involved in numerous other projects in Fairfax County, including the second phase of Metro’s Silver Line project.

The project will provide a bridge over the Capital Beltway for pedestrians and bicyclists, who currently have no easy way to cross the interstate at the Route 123 interchange. It will also involve the addition of a 4,662-foot-long, 10-foot-wide trail along the west side of Old Meadow Road.

Construction will unfold in two phases due to the availability of funding, according to Lerner.

The first phase will introduce the bridge and a portion of the shared-use path up to the Provincial Drive intersection. Construction will be supported by $8.5 million in funding and is expected to be complete in the summer of 2022.

The shared-use path will then be extended to Route 123 during the project’s second phase, which will begin construction once “additional funding becomes available,” VDOT says.

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Morning Notes

McLean District Leads String of Vehicle Thefts — Fairfax County police have been investigating a series of stolen vehicle reports since early June. The incidents usually take place overnight and involve the suspects entering unlocked vehicles with the keys inside. The majority of thefts have occurred in the McLean District, which has 15 cases. [FCPD]

Tysons Boulevard Closure Delayed — Plans to close a section of Tysons Boulevard’s northbound lane for bicyclists and pedestrians have been postponed “due to a small delay in installation.” The temporary closure was scheduled to begin today (Tuesday) but will instead start next Wednesday (June 14). [Fairfax County Department of Transportation]

I-495 Ramps in Idylwood to Close Overnight — “The ramps from northbound I-495 to I-66 East and I-66 West are scheduled to be closed nightly Tuesday, July 6, through Thursday, July 8, from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m., and Friday night, July 9, from midnight to 4 a.m. for paving and implementation of a traffic shift…The I-66/I-495 Interchange is being rebuilt as part of the Transform 66 Outside the Beltway Project.” [VDOT]

Nearby: Tornado Touched Down in Arlington — The National Weather Service confirmed on Friday (July 2) that a tornado touched down during the thunderstorm that passed through the D.C. area the previous day. The twister charted a 4.4-mile path from northern Arlington to the National Mall and brought winds that reached 90 miles per hour. [ARLNow]

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Morning Notes

Lantana flowers by Spring Hill Road post office in McLean (photo by Joanne Liebig)

Construction Closes I-66 West Overnight — Starting last night (Wednesday), all lanes of I-66 West approaching I-495 in the Dunn Loring area will be closed from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. every night through Saturday (June 19). The closures are necessary for overhead bridge work on the interchange as part of the Transform 66 Outside the Beltway project. [VDOT]

Rally in Support of Public Schools Tonight — The Fairfax County Democratic Committee is organizing a rally in support of Fairfax County Public Schools ahead of the school board’s meeting at Luther Jackson Middle School. The school board has faced criticism from some for making political statements and closing schools last year due to COVID-19, including a recall campaign led by a parents’ group that identifies as bipartisan but has received substantial funding from Republican donors. [Fairfax Democrats/Twitter]

Rick Springfield Fans Once Shut Down Tysons Corner — “June 17 is the 40th anniversary of the day Rick Springfield shut down Tysons Corner. Larry Houck was there. ‘Talk about having a front-row seat,’ said Houck, who worked at the Variety Records in Tysons Corner Center, where Springfield was scheduled to meet fans.” [The Washington Post]

McLean Startup Raises $60 Million — The McLean-based kidney care startup Somatus Inc. has secured $60.12 million in new funding, bringing the company’s total funding to $165 million over its five years of existence. The funds come from an equity offering that had its first sale on June 1 and will be used to support the company’s continued expansion as it now serves more than 150,000 patients in the U.S. [Washington Business Journal]

Maryland Beltway Project in Jeopardy — The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ Transportation Planning Board voted yesterday to remove Maryland’s Capital Beltway toll lanes plan from a list of long-term transportation projects, jeopardizing its ability to secure federally required environmental approval. The project will also replace and expand the American Legion Bridge and is considered a necessary supplement to Virginia’s 495 NEXT project in McLean. [The Washington Post]

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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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Updated at 4:10 p.m. on 5/21/2021The Commonwealth Transportation Board unanimously approved the resolution to designate the 495 NEXT lanes as high-occupancy toll lanes during its meeting on Wednesday (May 19).

Earlier: Plans to extend the I-495 Express Lanes from the Dulles Toll Road to the American Legion Bridge are about to inch a little closer to a reality.

The Commonwealth Transportation Board’s meeting agenda for today (Wednesday) includes a vote on whether to designate the Virginia Department of Transportation’s I-495 Express Lanes Northern Extension (495 NEXT) project as high-occupancy toll lanes.

The move would pave the way for 495 Express Lanes operator Transurban to expand its operations into McLean past George Washington Memorial Parkway, if VDOT’s plans to widen the interstate with two dedicated travel lanes in each direction materialize.

VDOT’s Northern Virginia Megaprojects Office, which is handling the 495 NEXT project, told Tysons Reporter that it expects the Federal Highway Administration to issue a decision on the Environmental Assessment by the end of May 2021.

“A final project agreement between VDOT and Transurban, or commercial close, is expected in August 2021, followed by the project’s financial close in December 2021,” VDOT said.

In addition to formally designating the proposed lanes as HOT lanes, the CTB vote will establish a high-occupancy requirement of three or more individuals and authorize Virginia Commissioner of Highways Stephen Birch to develop a new memorandum of understanding with the Federal Highway Administration to govern the extended lanes.

According to the resolution, if approved, the HOT lane designation will officially take effect once a “Service Commencement Notice to Proceed” is issued, meaning the lanes are opened for public use, which VDOT now says it doesn’t anticipate happening until 2025.

VDOT is asking the CTB to approve the resolution in anticipation of amending an agreement that it originally signed on Dec. 19, 2007 with Transurban, which has operated the existing 14 miles of 495 Express Lanes since they opened in 2012.

Like its MOU with the FHWA, VDOT’s agreement with Transurban needs to be revised to include the two miles of lanes that would be added with the 495 NEXT project.

As with the existing express lanes, the tolls for the new lanes will likely be determined using congestion pricing, which fluctuates based on the number of vehicles on the road at a particular time, according to the resolution.

The 495 NEXT project has been in the works since late 2019, when Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and his Maryland counterpart, Larry Hogan, announced an accord to replace the American Legion Bridge and widen the Capital Beltway to relieve traffic congestion.

The project has been endorsed by local chambers of commerce and, more recently, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, but many community members and officials — including members of the county board — have expressed concerns about the potential environmental impact and the prospect of Maryland failing to follow through on its half of the Beltway accord.

The Maryland Department of Transportation decided last week to shrink the scope of its I-495/I-270 HOT lanes project, opting to focus on the western section that includes the American Legion Bridge.

Officials said the move will allow the project to move forward more quickly, since it cuts out a large portion of the design that drew strong opposition from residents and local leaders in Montgomery County.

In a statement to Tysons Reporter, the VDOT Northern Virginia Megaprojects Office says it will continue to work with Maryland “to coordinate our two projects”:

Maryland’s announcement regarding the state’s modified approach for their environmental document indicates Maryland’s continued focus on the American Legion Memorial Bridge (ALMB) and the I-495 segment between the ALMB and the I-270 Spur. The new recommended preferred alternative (RPA)  by Maryland and FHWA, known as Alternative 9, Phase 1A South, includes the same two HOT managed lanes in each direction on I-495 that were in Maryland’s previous RPA, and is compatible with Virginia’s 495 NEXT project.

Photo via Google Maps

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Morning Notes

Early Voting Begins Today — At 9 a.m., Fairfax County voters can start casting their ballots for the June 8 Democratic primary. Early voting has expanded from previous years, with all registered voters now allowed to participate and the county immediately offering three locations with Saturday hours. [Fairfax County Government]

McLean Downtown Plan Public Hearing Pushed Back — The Fairfax County Planning Commission will defer a public hearing on the McLean Community Business Center study that was scheduled for next Wednesday (April 28). A new date for the public to comment on the much-debated draft plan will be announced on April 28. [Fairfax County Planning Commission]

I-66 West in Dunn Loring Closed Tonight — “All lanes of I-66 West approaching I-495 will be closed during the overnight hours Friday, April 23, to allow for continued installation of bridge beams for new ramps at the I-66/I-495 Interchange. All I-66 West traffic will be detoured around the closure via Route 7 (Leesburg Pike) West and I-495 South.” [VDOT]

Man Arrested for Capital Beltway Crashes — Virginia State Police arrested a 26-year-old man yesterday (Thursday) for allegedly crashing into two vehicles around the 53-mile marker of I-495 in Fairfax County and punching the drivers in an attempt to carjack their vehicles. The suspect is in custody in Maryland with charges pending as he awaits extradition to Virginia. [WTOP]

Fire Temporarily Closes Vienna’s Church Street — Fairfax County Fire and Rescue units responded to a fire in the basement of a building on the 100 block of Church Street NE in Vienna yesterday. The fire was extinguished with no reported injuries, but the activity temporarily closed the road between Center and Mill streets. [Patch]

Capital One Airport Lounge Coming to Dulles — “Capital One Financial Corp. plans to open its Dulles International Airport lounge sometime in 2022 and we now have renderings that show what the 9,100-square-foot space could look like. The Dulles location will be the second of a network of lounges the McLean-based financial giant is branding, Capital One (NYSE: COF) announced Monday.” [Washington Business Journal]

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(Updated at 2:10 p.m.) Officially, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors endorsed the I-495 extension of the express lanes on Tuesday (April 13), but the discussion leading up to that vote showed that some officials closest to the project still have reservations.

Supervisor John Foust, representing the Dranesville District that would ostensibly stand the most to gain from the project called 495 NEXT, said the project only addresses half the problem and, without the other half, could only worsen an already miserable bottleneck.

“I’ve lived with the horrible congestion caused by backups at the American Legion Bridge and I’ve supported widening or replacement of the bridge,” Foust said. “But without the Maryland project, 495 NEXT worsens traffic in the general portion lanes…Until the American Legion Bridge is widened, these adverse impacts are far greater than any public benefit.”

The plan would add new express lanes from 495’s intersection with the Dulles Toll Road up to the American Legion Bridge, where the plan was to connect with similar lanes on the Maryland-owned bridge and onto the Maryland side of the beltway. Foust’s frustration comes from Maryland dragging its heels on the project despite an earlier pledged commitment to widening.

Foust said that, as recently as December, the Board agreed that VDOT should only consider further action on widening once Maryland executed a comprehensive agreement with a developer to fulfill their half of the project.

“Of course that hasn’t happened, nothing significant has happened since December to justify us reversing our opinion,” Foust said. “I want to make it clear, I think it’s a mistake. Going forward without agreement from Maryland is exposing us to worsening impacts.”

But Fairfax County has faced mounting pressure to endorse 495 NEXT, most recently from Virginia Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine. Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay and others on the board described the endorsement as a good-faith move on Fairfax’s part.

“We don’t entirely control the schedule here,” McKay said. “There are some signfiicant benefits to this project. Everyone is familiar with the gridlock that Foust has explained…We’re close to a guarantee that Maryland is making significant progress.”

“This is a chance for Fairfax County to be a leader,” Supervisor Pat Herrity agreed, “and I think this encourages Maryland to move forward.”

The endorsement passed in a 8 to 2 vote, with Foust and Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn voting against it. The new lanes are scheduled to open to traffic in 2024.

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Morning Notes

Transportation Group Urges Support for 495 NEXT — The Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance reiterated its support for extending toll lanes on the Capital Beltway in a letter to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors ahead of its vote today. The organization argues that the project “will unequivocally improve the quality of life in Northern Virginia, spur further economic development, and meet the transportation needs of future generations.” [NVTA]

McLean Resident Urges Board to Delay 495 NEXT — A McLean resident argues in a letter to the editor that there has been insufficient community outreach about the project, which she says will result in increased congestion on the highway and in local neighborhoods. [Patch]

Madison High School Sets Graduation Ceremony Date — “IN PERSON GRADUATION! June 1 at Jiffy Lube Live. We have many details and logistics to figure out, but we are just excited to announce our graduates will be walking across an actual stage! Be sure to keep up with JMHS emails for details.” [James Madison High School/Twitter]

Fortune Names McLean Companies Among Top 10 Best Places to Work — “Fortune’s annual 100 Best Companies to Work For…puts two large companies with headquarters in the D.C. region in the top 10. Hilton Worldwide ranks No. 3, while Capital One Financial ranks ninth. Both are headquartered in McLean, Virginia.” [WTOP]

Falls Church City Highlights Reopened ParkBig Chimneys Park on Gibson Street reopened in January after undergoing an extensive renovation that included updating the playground equipment, addressing stormwater issues, and adding a new accessible trail to the Winter Hill neighborhood to the west. [City of Falls Church/Twitter]

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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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