Tysons, VA

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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Tempers ran high during the Virginia Department of Transportation’s virtual public meeting on its Interstate 495 Express Lanes Northern Extension (495 NEXT) project on Wednesday (Nov. 18).

With a Dec. 4 deadline for public comment on the project’s environmental assessment and initial design plans approaching fast, some community members criticized VDOT for a perceived lack of transparency and asked why the project is being pursued now instead of waiting for Maryland to undertake its long-gestating plan to improve the American Legion Bridge.

“More has to be done now to look at the basics, because the studies that VDOT has presented are inadequate,” McLean resident April Georgelas argued. “It’s inappropriate to pursue this any further and put citizens through the stress that we don’t need right now for a project that will only do harm for our area.”

Initiated in the spring of 2018, the 495 NEXT project proposes extending 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.

VDOT would replace bridges to accommodate the express lanes, add a bicycle and pedestrian trail, construct new noise walls where necessary, and provide stormwater management facilities.

Virginia transportation officials say extending the 495 Express Lanes will help reduce congestion in one of the most congested corridors in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan region, while also improving travel reliability and reducing the amount of cut-through traffic that currently goes through neighborhood streets in McLean and Great Falls.

According to VDOT’s analysis, the 495 NEXT project would move approximately 2,500 more people per hour in both directions through the corridor starting in 2025. It would move 5,400 more people an hour if Maryland completes its American Legion Bridge project, though that is not likely to be finished until 2027.

By 2045, I-495 would be able to carry an additional 7,600 people an hour in both directions combined with the express lanes extended, VDOT says.

“This facility will provide a running way for carpools, vanpools, and transit vehicles to be able to provide reliable and faster trips than what could be accomplished under the current congested conditions,” VDOT Special Project Development Associate Manager Abraham Lerner said.

While the McLean Citizens Association has expressed support for 495 NEXT, many community members have raised concerns about the planned bike trail location, the ramps that have been proposed as modifications to the Dulles Toll Road interchange, and potential environmental and neighborhood impacts.

According to VDOT Megaprojects Director Susan Shaw, the project is anticipated to affect 35 acres of trees with its first phase of construction and about 3,000 feet of stream in Scotts Run, 70% of which is already significantly degraded.

Shaw says VDOT has committed to doing a tree survey prior to any removals to determine what trees should be replanted where possible and working with Fairfax County on stream restoration.

Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust urged VDOT to look for alternatives for the Dulles Toll Road interchange. The current plan involves three phases of new ramps being constructed.

“The impact of those ramps on that area of the county, which includes residential neighborhoods and Tysons – which we’re trying to create as a transit-oriented community – is going to be overwhelming,” Foust said. “Clearly, there’s a lot of traffic there, but right now…what you’re ending up [with] there is a spaghetti network of ramps that’s going to be very destructive to that entire area of Fairfax County.”

Photo via Google Maps

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Despite — or maybe because of — the coronavirus, the Virginia Department of Transportation is on track to open new express lanes on I-66 in December 2022.

“There have been some project benefits in terms of reduced traffic volumes in the corridor,” VDOT megaprojects director Susan Shaw said during a virtual presentation and Q&A last Thursday (Oct. 29).

Longer-term lane closures were possible this year that would have resulted in gridlock pre-pandemic, she said.

Construction on I-66 continues during daytime and overnight hours, as weather allows. VDOT, I-66 Express Mobility Partners, and FAM Construction — the design-builder for the Transform 66 Outside the Beltway Project — updated commuters and residents through two online meetings last week.

Although the express lanes are predicted to open in December 2022, some construction on the project will continue into 2023.

Many lane closures will extend through end of the year, but in areas where congestion has started to snarl during peak hours, officials are looking to add back some lanes and abate traffic.

And with the pandemic showing no signs of ending, it is “really hard to say how the overall project will be impacted,” Shaw says.

All the late-night construction means there will be noisy nights, but VDOT is working with Fairfax and local supervisors’ offices to communicate construction plans to residents, she said.

“There are some activities that have to be done at night and do have to be noisy,” Shaw said.

The ramp from I-66 East to Route 28 North was closed from 11:30 p.m. on Tuesday to 4 a.m. on Wednesday to allow for a traffic shift onto a temporary left exit ramp from Route 28 North to I-66 East, VDOT said in an email.

Officials expect the temporary ramp to be in use for four weeks, while crews finish constructing a permanent ramp from Route 28 North to I-66 East.

Drivers traveling from Lee Highway South to Route 28 North will not be able to access the temporary ramp. These drivers will need to take detours farther south on Route 29 to the I-66/Route 29 interchange in Centreville until the permanent right-side ramp from Route 28 North to I-66 East is opened.

Tysons area residents and commuters can expect a number of other construction activities to affect travel starting in mid-November, including:

  • Closure of the I-66 East and Nutley Street North loop ramp, redirecting travelers exiting I-66 for Nutley onto temporary ramps
  • Continued construction of a new Gallows Road bridge over I-66 in Dunn Loring, which is occurring in two phases to maintain traffic flow during construction, according to Smith
  • Temporary realignment of the W&OD Trail at Idylwood Park, starting in late November and continuing for four to six months as crews build a new, permanent alignment

A new ramp at the I-495 interchange was completed recently, and deck work for a new bridge is starting soon, FAM Construction spokesperson Nancy Smith said. The I-495 interchange will have eight ramps to connect the express I-66 East/West lanes to I-495 North/South general purpose lanes.

Construction on VDOT’s I-66 Outside the Beltway project has been ongoing since 2017, starting after new express lanes opened on I-66 inside the Beltway on Dec. 4 of that year.

Watch an animated video of changes planned for I-66 here:

Photos via VDOT/Youtube 

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Updated 11:15 a.m. — The VDOT in-person meeting will be held on Oct. 8, not Oct.7. 

As traffic congestion increases on I-495, the McLean Citizens Association approved a resolution at last night’s meeting in support of a project to add express lanes.

The Virginia Department of Transportation is considering the express lanes as part of an expansion along the highway in McLean leading up to the American Legion Bridge

The changes, as they stand, would extend the I-495 Express Lanes north from the I-495 and Dulles Access Road interchange up to the American Legion Bridge and add two new tolled express lanes in each direction.

Discussion during MCA’s meeting last night on the express lanes focused on environmental concerns and the Maryland Department of Transporation’s plans to update its side of the bridge.

When it comes to environmental factors, the proposed changes would destroy 118 acres of trees and interfere with Scott Run’s Nature Preserve along with the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail, according to the proposal.

Yet another concern with the removal of trees would be the elimination of sound and visual barriers for some McLean residents, a board member said.

To minimize harm to the trees, MCA requested in the resolution that VDOT conduct a study to determine the species of trees that will be removed and that VDOT tries to minimize harm to healthy and established foliage, like having a replanting program.

Additionally, the project currently does not have a stormwater management plan, despite evidence that watersheds and drainage ponds would be interrupted.

The MCA indicated conditional support for the project as long as VDOT address these issues and make amends for potential damage.

“[The] greatest impact of the project will fall on the Scott’s Run Nature Preserve and GW Parkway. And every effort should be made to minimize the footprint of the facility and avoid temporary use of parkland during construction,” an MCA board member said at the meeting. 

In terms of MDOT’s involvement with the project, many board members expressed concern about misalignment with the state’s timelines.

For example, the VDOT 495 NEXT project is expected to be completed years before MDOT improves the American Legion Bridge and the portion of I-495 between the GW Parkway and I-270, according to the resolution.

Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust said earlier this year that timeline misalignment would be a “huge” mistake.

Still, VDOT predicts that Virginia’s part of the work will reduce cut-thru traffic on local roads, increase I-495’s capacity and improve travel time on I-495 — even if Maryland doesn’t do anything, the resolution said.

Despite barriers and concerns, MCA Transportation Committee Chair David Wuehrmann suggested at the meeting that other board members vote in support of the resolution.

“If you’re not inclined to vote for this, you need to think about what will replace it,” he said, noting the importance of congestion relief on I-495.

Inevitably, the resolution passed last night by a 25-5 vote from the MCA board members.

Going forward, VDOT is scheduled to have an online public hearing on Oct. 5 and an in-person meeting on Oct. 8, according to an MCA board member.

Wuehrmann said that the MCA now has three goals when it comes to the 495 NEXT project — to reaffirm support for the project, encourage VDOT to commit to environmental relief and work toward congestion relief at the American Legion Bridge and connecting roads.

Image via Google Maps

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The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors plans to tackle traffic problems along Old Meadow Road as the Tysons One East project advances.

Yesterday, the board approved a rezoning request to increase the floor area ratio for a planned office tower near the McLean Metro station.

Akridge and the Ronald D. Paul Companies are plan to develop 1690 Old Meadow Road, a triangular spot between Dolley Madison Blvd and the Old Meadow Road, into a 15-story tower with Class A offices, restaurant, retail space, parking podium and outdoor terrace.

The development was held up by the acquisition of a public right-of-way.

“This application was filed on land area inclusive of VDOT right-of-way which was in the process of being acquired by the applicant,” according to county documents. “While VDOT on behalf of the Commonwealth concurred in the filing of the application, they generally will not sign the proffers, and would not in this case.”

Now that the right-of-way woes have been resolved, the county, developers and residents are trying to find ways to change the Old Meadow Road.

Scott Adams, the attorney with McGuireWoods who is representing the developer, said that the project includes a proffer for a traffic signal improvement at Colshire Meadow Drive and funds to build and improve roads in Tysons.

Amy Tozzi with the Old Meadow Coalition told the county officials during the public hearing yesterday that nearby residents have traffic and safety concerns that they worry won’t get addressed by the project.

“We understand all development is messy, but it shouldn’t imperil existing communities,” she said.

In response to Tozzi, Adams said that issues with the grid of streets in Tysons and accessing Old Meadow Road from Route 123 are too large for the project to address.

“Some of the concerns that they have are broader in scope than the smaller application we have,” he said.

As part of the board’s approval, county staff will work to create a plan to speed up transportation improvements to calm traffic along Old Meadow Road.

The changes could include:

  • realigning the Old Meadow Road and Route 123 intersection
  • constructing Lincoln and Roosevelt streets from Old Meadow Road to Magarity Road
  • advance previously approved proffered transportation commitments like the traffic signal at the intersection of Old Meadow Road and Colshire Meadow Road and the Tysons East grid of streets

“In identifying improvements and solutions, staff should coordinate with stakeholders on Old Meadow Road, including residents and business owners and property owners,” according to county documents.

Image via One Tysons East

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Updated 3/12/2020 — VDOT announced that the meeting will be postponed to a date in April.

Updated at 7:15 p.m. — A Dranesville District Supervisor email this evening says that the meeting will be live streamed. 

Earlier: For people avoiding meetings to prevent the coronavirus, an upcoming meeting on the plans to extend the 495 Express Lanes will be filmed.

The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) is set to present the results of the I-495 NEXT environmental study and traffic analysis on Thursday, March 12.

The meeting is scheduled to last from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at Langley High School (6520 Georgetown Pike). People will have a chance to provide comments and ask questions after the presentation at 7 p.m.

VDOT said in an email today (Wednesday) that the video of the meeting will be available online starting Monday (March 16).

Currently, the 495 Express Lanes Northern Extension project — a.k.a. 495 NEXT — would extend the 495 Express Lanes north from the I-495 and Dulles Access Road interchange up to the American Legion Bridge and add two new tolled express lanes in each direction.

People will have through April 15 to submit comments either online, at the public hearing, by email or by mail.

“Questions or requests for more information can be emailed to [email protected] virginia.gov, and a project representative will respond,” VDOT said.

VDOT said that the meeting would be rescheduled if Fairfax County Public Schools close. If inclement weather happens, the meeting would get moved to next Wednesday, March 18.

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Commuters can expect delays today on I-495 south of Leesburg Pike (Route 7) while truck fire clean-up is underway.

As of 9:43 a.m., the south right outside lane and right shoulder are closed, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation.

VDOT said that drivers can expect delays. As of 10 a.m., traffic is heavy on I-495 between Leesburg Pike and I-66.

Lauren DeMarco, a Fox 5 reporter, tweeted a video of the traffic back-up and firefighters and medics on the scene around 10:30 p.m. on Monday.

The video captured firefighters working to extinguish the truck fire.

WTOP reported this morning that clean-up is underway.

https://twitter.com/WTOPtraffic/status/1237369269752680448?s=20

Map via Google Maps

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A Tysons citizen group recently sent a list of concerns to Fairfax County officials.

The Greater Tysons Citizens Association was founded in 2008 and is made up of residents and organizations in the Tysons area, including the Vienna Town Council and McLean Citizens Association.

In the letter dated Jan. 29, the association noted that with the upcoming 10-year-anniversary of the Tysons Comprehensive Plan, the group is worried about the impact of Tysons’ transformation on surrounding communities.

The letter was sent to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, Planning Commission and School Board.

The letter goes on to outline four main concerns:

  • traffic congestion
  • reaching the goal of 20 urban athletic fields in Tysons
  • infrastructure funding and Tysons school planning
  • recent interpretations of the Tysons Comprehensive Plan

The association then provided requests for each item.

For traffic congestion, the association would like the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors to look into short- and long-term solutions with community members.

As the athletic fields, the group would like the Board of Supervisors to revisit a follow-on motion decision that allowed a developer of The View to make a monetary contribution to be allocated to a community center.

“We urge investigating and pursuing other funding sources for construction of the Tysons community center,” the letter says. “We urge the PC and BOS to return to the long-accepted practice of requiring in-kind contributions rather than monetary contributions when the calculated field contribution exceeds 1/3 field.”

The association had several suggestions for the school issue:

  • complete the revamp of the methodologies used in the capital improvement and proffer formula for better school population projections
  • increase staffing in the facilities branch of FCPS
  • identify and implement new options to acquire land and fund construction of new schools

Finally, the group requested that the Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission have an in-depth review regarding interpretations of the comprehensive plan and any “potential ramifications.”

Tysons Reporter received a copy of the letter from the McLean Citizens Association (MCA).

Sally Horn, the chair of the Greater Tysons Citizens Association, is set to discuss the letter with the MCA tonight.

The MCA meeting will start at 7:30 p.m. at the McLean Community Center (1234 Ingleside Avenue).

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Tomorrow (Feb. 4), the Fairfax County’s Transportation Committee will meet to discuss upcoming projects around the area.

Board members will kick off the meeting, which begins at 3 p.m. in the Fairfax County Government Center, with updates and progress regarding the I-495 Express Lanes Northern Expansion project.

According to the documents posted ahead of the meeting, the I-495 project will include expansion of express lanes to George Washington Memorial Parkway, replacement of existing overpasses, implementation of a shared-use path and addition of new noise barrier walls.

Upgrades could save drivers up to 25 minutes during their peak-hour commute, especially with ease cut-through traffic congestion in local communities, according to the documents.

Other items on the agenda include bus and Metrorail improvements and the Bicycle Master Plan.

For people who bike to work, a shared-use bike path behind the noise wall will connect the American Legion Bridge to Maryland, the presentation said.

Meanwhile, an ongoing I-495 Regional Transit Study is expected to become public sometime this year.

A public forum to discuss the discuss environmental and technical reports from the project is set for March 12 at Langley High School (6520 Georgetown Pike) from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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In a newsletter to constituents today, Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust said a meeting in March will solicit community input on the American Legion Bridge.

Currently, the 495 Express Lanes Northern Extension project — a.k.a. 495 NEXT — would extend the 495 Express Lanes north from the I-495 and Dulles Access Road interchange up to the American Legion Bridge and add two new tolled express lanes in each direction.

The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) is set to present the results of the 495 NEXT environmental study and traffic analysis on Thursday, March 12.

Foust’s newsletter said that “one of the biggest transportation challenges in the McLean area is the congestion caused by inadequate capacity on the American Legion Bridge and the Maryland side of the Beltway.”

More from the newsletter:

In early 2019, VDOT signed a nonbinding Development Framework Agreement with Transurban. Delivering the project through this public private partnership would mean that no public funding by the Commonwealth is needed to extend the Express Lanes network. If approved, the project will replace Live Oak Drive, Georgetown Pike, and Old Dominion Drive Bridges and allow for the installation of pedestrian/bike facilities along the corridor. Construction could begin as early as 2021.

Virginia officials have been cautious about moving forward with the project because without replacing the American Legion Bridge, bottlenecks and congestion will only be relocated, not resolved.

A major development occurred late last year when Virginia Governor Northam and Maryland Governor Hogan announced “The Capital Beltway Accord.” The agreement is a commitment to work together to create a new, unified Capital Beltway and replace the aging American Legion Bridge. The cost of the bridge project is expected to be $1 billion and both states will contribute to the cost through public-private partnerships. The private entity will pay the upfront costs in exchange for future toll revenue meaning toll payers rather than taxpayers will foot the bill.

The new bridge will have four express toll lanes, in addition to eight free lanes, as on the current span. The tolls will fluctuate based on congestion, rising to keep traffic flowing freely. Construction could begin in 2022 and would likely take five or six years.

The next key piece of the puzzle is ensuring that the widening of I-495 just over the bridge in Maryland is done in coordination with the bridge project. Governor Hogan recently obtained a key vote to advance a plan to widen the Beltway from the American Legion Bridge to the Interstate 270 spur, and along the lower part of I-270 between the Beltway and Interstate 370.

“I am excited that we are making progress on addressing congestion issues that have plagued our communities, but I want to be sure that the project is done in a way that actually addresses our problems, rather than just moving them,” Foust said in the newsletter.

At the March 12 meeting, attendees will be able to provide input during a public hearing.

The meeting is set to run from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at Langley High School in McLean (6520 Georgetown Pike).

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