Tysons Corner, VA

The Jones Branch Connector is coming along, though construction has necessitated a series of weekend closures over the last few weeks.

A video put together by the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) laid out the goals of the Jones Branch Connector and a look at what’s ahead for the project.

The project first had a partial opening in December — with one lane of traffic opening in each direction — giving drivers a preview of the bridge that will connect east and west Tysons. According to the video, new bike lanes and sidewalks are planned to open sometime in the spring and a second lane opening in each direction.

“VDOT and Fairfax County have really partnered together to improve transportation in Tysons,” William Cuttler, a VDOT engineer, said in the video. “This $60 million project is going to go a long way to provide multimodal connections and helping to transform this city.”

Cuttler said the connection will aim to not only benefit drivers looking to cross over the Beltway, but also offer residents of western Tysons quicker access to the McLean Metro station at the east end of the bridge.

“Currently the Beltway operates as almost a barrier between the east side of Tysons and the west side,” Tom Biesiadny, director of the Fairfax County Department of Transportation, said in the video, “so building additional connection across the Beltway is really important.”

Mike McGurk, from Transurban corporate relations, said the Jones Branch Connector would also help the accessibility of the I-495 Express Lanes.

The project is expected to be completed this fall.

Photo via VDOT

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If the roads have seemed a little rougher than normal, it’s not just you.

According to the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) officials at a meeting earlier this month, the past year has been one of the worst years on record for potholes. The pothole problem is also prevalent in D.C.

According to Allison Richter, liaison to Fairfax and Arlington counties for VDOT, fewer than half of the secondary roadways are in good condition. For 2018, interstates were 86 percent in fair or better condition — down from 93 percent in 2016. But secondary roadways were assessed at only 41 percent fair or better condition, an improvement from 2016 but still bumpy for drivers.

“This is possibly the worst year for potholes that I’ve seen,” said Richter.

Richter said many roads throughout the area qualify for paving, but VDOT hasn’t been able to get to all of them. Road repaving is based not just on the condition of the pavement, but on traffic volume, whether the whole neighborhood can be repaved, and various costs.

“Paving funding has gone up and down,” said Richter. “We’re behind, it’s why so much is in the red.”

Total repaving funding for Northern Virginia over the last decade has grown from $58.1 million in 2013 to $140.9 million in 2018, but in 2019 it dipped back down to $105.9 million.

While Northern Virginia generates a disproportionate amount of tax revenue compared to the rest of the state, Richter said road funding is one area where the region uses proportionately more funding than other parts of the Commonwealth.

In addition to years of repaving neglect, Richter said the pothole situation is the result of record high rainfall and dramatic temperature swings.

Richter said repaving is scheduled to get started this month once temperatures are warm enough.

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Locals can provide input on proposed road improvements near Tysons Corner Center at a meeting tonight (Wednesday).

The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and Fairfax County Department of Transportation (FCDOT) have teamed up to provide residents the opportunity to speak directly with road engineers and transportation planners at a community meeting.

VDOT and FCDOT are considering a redesign of the connection between Gallows Road, Tysons One Place and Route 7, possibly creating a three-way stop condition at the intersection of Kidwell Drive and Tysons One Place to improve traffic flow.

The design also suggests creating a designated space for left-turning vehicles and bike lanes in both directions on Kidwell Drive, which would complete the designated bike route between the Washington and Old Dominion Trail and downtown Tysons.

A separate proposal would stripe parking lanes where parking is allowed along West Street.

The meeting is set to start at 6 p.m. at the Providence Community Center at 3001 Vaden Drive in Fairfax.

The comment period for the proposal ends on April 3. Paving work will then start later that month and end in November.

Photo via Fairfax County

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A series of closures are planned on and around the Jones Branch Connector this weekend to facilitate more bridge deck work on the bridge.

According to a press release from the Virginia Department of Transportation, the following streets will be closed:

  • The southbound 495 express lanes between the Jones Branch Connector off-ramp and the Jones Branch Connector on-ramp
  • The eastbound Dulles Toll Road ramp to southbound 495 express lanes
  • Eastbound and westbound lanes of the Jones Branch Connector between Jones Branch Drive and the 495 express lanes.

The closures will run from 5 a.m. tomorrow (Saturday) to 4 a.m. on Monday (March 4).

The northbound 495 express lanes ramp will remain an option, but only for drivers turning right towards Route 123 via eastbound Scotts Crossing Drive.

The bridge partially opened in December with final completion planned for fall 2019.

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A meeting tomorrow (Thursday) will look at the current status of some surprisingly controversial efforts to make I-66 more bike and pedestrian friendly.

The meeting will be held by the Fairfax Alliance for Better Bicycling in the Providence District Office (3001 Vaden Dr.) at 7:30 p.m.

Susan Shaw, the VDOT Project Manager for Transform I-66, and Fairfax County Department of Transportation representatives are scheduled to attend and offer an update on the status of the trail.

The planned trail will run from Gallows Road in Vienna, near the Dunn Loring Metro station, to Route 29 in Centreville. Three miles of the trail will be adjacent to the interstate while eight miles will be removed from the interstate.

The section of the trail running alongside I-66 inside the highway’s noise walls drew sharp criticism from cycling advocates, including the Fairfax Alliance for Better Bicycling, who pushed to have all of the trail outside the walls. But neighbors living along the highway refused to have the trail run near their properties, prompting some squabbling between state officials and lawmakers over the project.

The trail is planned to be 10 feet wide with two-food-wide shoulders on each side. Access to the trail is planned to be implemented at every half-mile.

Image via VDOT

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Morning Notes

VDOT: Slow Down, Beware of Slick Spots — “[VDOT] crews worked overnight to treat roads and will continue to do so today, as needed. If you can delay travel until the sun comes up, great. If not, please assume that all surfaces are icy. Your commute *will* take longer today. Reduce speeds, no heavy braking, and use your headlights!” [Twitter]

Fairfax County Government Open on Time — “Fairfax County Government offices are open on Wednesday, Jan. 30, however employees have been granted unscheduled leave. Employees are reminded that they should notify their supervisor if they elect to use unscheduled leave. Emergency service personnel should report as scheduled.” [Fairfax County Emergency Information]

Fairfax Connector Running Extra Service — “To accommodate passengers who are reporting to work later than usual this morning due to inclement weather, Fairfax Connector will operate extra service on the following routes today: 394, 395, 599, 698, 699.” [Twitter]

Wind and Wind Chill Warnings — Fairfax County is under a Wind Advisory through 6 p.m. tonight; wind gusts of up to 50 mph could result in downed trees and power lines. A Wind Chill Advisory will go into effect at 9 p.m., as whipping winds and falling temperatures cause wind chills to dip to -5 to -10 degrees. [Weather.gov, Weather.gov]

Prison Sentence for Fraudster — “A woman was sentenced in Alexandria federal court to 15 years in prison for defrauding over 50 victims out of more than $5.4 million. Among the victims was a 71-year-old McLean woman with cancer.” [Patch]

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Fairfax County government offices are opening at 10 a.m. today as VDOT crews continue to work to clear roads around Northern Virginia.

Most highways and main routes around Tysons appear to be clear. VDOT says it is working to clear neighborhood streets, some of which remain snow-covered.

“We’re focusing on neighborhood streets today,” the agency said on Twitter. “If you haven’t seen us yet, don’t worry, you will. If you’re clearing your driveway today, please pile snow to the right or it may get pushed back. No one wants to shovel a driveway twice.”

County courts opened on time today and trash collection started after daybreak, according to Fairfax County. Vacuum leaf collection has been suspended. Fairfax Connector service is operating on a Saturday schedule, with some delays expected.

Fairfax County Public Schools, meanwhile, are closed today, as is the federal government.

Officials are urging residents to completely clear snow from their cars before driving and to be careful on the roads.

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Update at 4 p.m. — Fairfax County Public Schools will be closed Monday, the school system just announced.

Earlier: The snowiest D.C. area storm since 2016 is starting to wind down — though more snow is on the way and another 2-3 inches of accumulation possible.

VDOT crews have been working hard to clear roads throughout Fairfax County, but officials are still urging residents to stay home due to slick conditions.

Earlier this afternoon Virginia State Police said troopers in its Fairfax Division have responded to 34 crashes and 52 disabled vehicles since midnight. Statewide, more than 230 crashes were handled by VSP during that timeframe.

“Drivers be advised — looks can be and are deceiving!” state police said. “Highways may appear to be clear, but slick and icy conditions still exist.”

“On the second day of winter weather across northern Virginia, drivers are asked to continue to avoid unnecessary travel for crews to safely clear accumulating snow,” VDOT urged.

As of 1 p.m., just over 6 inches of snow had fallen on McLean, according to the National Weather Service.

In Tysons, NBC 4’s David Culver has been broadcasting from the parking lot of a local shopping center for most of the day.

The Vienna Community Center is closed today and “all programs, services, and rental activities for today (January 13) are cancelled,” according to the Town of Vienna.

In the City of Falls Church, a snow emergency has been declared and parking restrictions are in place.

More scenes from around the area, via social media:

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Morning Notes

VDOT Pre-Treating Roads — VDOT has been spreading brine on roads and highways in anticipation of accumulating snow this weekend. [Twitter]

Resources for Furloughed Feds — “Thousands of federal workers, contractors, vendors and service providers in our county are being impacted by the partial federal shutdown… Whether it is food, financial assistance or other needs, we can provide you with the resources to get you and your family through this difficult time.” [Fairfax County]

AT&T Offering Flexible Payment Options — “AT&T says it is offering flexible payment options to Mid-Atlantic customers affected by the government shutdown. ‘Just because the government shut down, doesn’t mean that your phone, TV, and internet should stop working too,’ the company said in an email.” [FairfaxNews]

Local Summer Camp Guide — “It’s winter, it’s cold, and the kids still have many months left in the school year. But as many parents know, this is the time of year when many families look ahead to summer months and how the kids will spend it.” [VivaTysons]

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(Updated at 6:50 p.m.) There’s skepticism in McLean about a plan to close Beltway access during weekday afternoons, but the McLean Citizens Association may vote to support a pilot phase for the project.

Tomorrow evening, the McLean Citizens Association (MCA) Board of Directors is scheduled to vote whether or not to endorse the Virginia Department of Transportation’s (VDOT) pilot program for a controversial proposal to close the northbound ramp from Georgetown Pike onto the Beltway during evening rush hour.

The MCA Board of Directors meeting is open to the public and will be held at 7:30 p.m. in the McLean Government Center (1437 Balls Hill Rd).

The logic of the MCA’s resolution is that the four-month inconvenience of testing the closure is better than a more permanent change based on traffic model predictions alone. Among alternatives proposed by the MCA to closing access to the Beltway would be tolling the ramp.

The proposal stems from the heavy amount of cut-through traffic driving through the largely residential McLean streets to avoid traffic jams on the Beltway. The northbound ramp from Route 193 (Georgetown Pike) onto the Beltway in McLean is the last entrance before the American Legion Bridge, a major bottleneck for regional traffic.

The problem has been exacerbated by the rise of apps like Waze and Google Maps, which encourage Maryland commuters to use McLean streets as a shortcut, according to local residents.

VDOT’s proposed pilot program would close the northbound ramp from 1-7 p.m. on weekdays for a four-month trial, during which VDOT would collect data on whether the closure was successful in reducing cut-through traffic.

VDOT has previously held two meetings on the subject, during which most of the feedback was critical of the proposal. Residents in McLean and Great Falls said the proposal would force residents to take a more inconvenient route to access the Beltway.

The MCA’s resolution expresses support for the VDOT proposal on the grounds of testing the proposal rather than relying on traffic models alone. The resolution says that the testing the proposal as a pilot project would show the real-life impact of the change.

Also under consideration is an alternative proposal put forward by one member of the MCA, which calls for VDOT to halt all consideration of the project entirely.

Photo via Virginia Department of Transportation

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