Newsletter

Morning Notes

Reduced Metro Service Will Continue to Nov. 15 — Metrorail riders can expect reduced service and extended wait times at least until Nov. 15, WMATA General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said yesterday (Thursday). The transit agency is still developing a plan to bring back its 7000-series cars, which make up almost 60% of its fleet and have been sidelined since investigators found safety issues in the wake of the Oct. 12 Blue Line derailment. [The Washington Post]

VDOT Finishes Beltway Bridge Work Early — The Virginia Department of Transportation has canceled lane closures on I-495 South over the Dulles Toll Road in Tysons that had been scheduled for this weekend (Oct. 29-Nov. 1). VDOT says the joint bridge work that prompted the overnight closures was finished early, rendering them unnecessary for the last of the three planned weekends. [VDOT Northern Virginia/Twitter]

FCPS Pushes Back Start Date for Student COVID-19 Testing — Previously expected to roll out in phases starting with student-athletes on Nov. 1, FCPS says it will now begin COVID-19 screening testing for all students on Nov. 15, citing the need to give the school system and its contractors “time to ensure all components, including the portals are up and running and staff are fully trained.” [FCPS]

Vienna PD Reports Successful Drug Take Back Day — “On October 23, 2021, the Town of Vienna Police Department, in conjunction with the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (D.E.A.), participated in the 21st National Prescription Drug Take Back Initiative. As a result, the Town of Vienna Police Department collected and safely disposed of 205 pounds of expired or no longer needed medications from area citizens.” [Vienna Police]

What to Know About Pediatric COVID-19 Vaccinations — Approximately 97,000 children in the Fairfax Health District could become eligible for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in early November. A CDC advisory committee will determine whether to authorize the vaccine for children 5-11 years old on Tuesday (Nov. 2) after an FDA advisory panel recommended allowing doses at a third of the amount used for older individuals. [Fairfax County Health Department]

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Morning Notes

New Early Voting Sites Open Today — “Fairfax County will open an additional 13 early voting sites starting Thursday, Oct. 21. In total, there will be 16 voting locations available across the county until the last day to vote early on Oct. 30 at 5 p.m. Early voting began last month starting with three sites open.” [Fairfax County Government]

Gallows Road Bridge to Be Demolished This Weekend — “Southbound Gallows Road travel lanes will shift to a new Gallows Road bridge over I-66 during the daytime hours on or about Thursday, October 21. Pedestrian access across I-66 will shift to the sidewalk on the east side of Gallows Road, with detours using the crosswalks at Cottage Street and Avenir Place/Bellforest Drive.” [VDOT]

Local DJ Brings New Restaurant to Tysons Corner — A new Spice Road-inspired restaurant from D.C.-based DJ and music producer Bikram Keith will open at Tysons Corner Center in early November. Located by Nordstrom’s, the 210-seat venue will serve cuisine from the Middle East, Persian Gulf, and Northern India in a 5,000 square-foot dining room, lounge, and patio. [Patch, Northern Virginia Magazine]

FCPS Allows for Limited Snow Days — “FCPS has announced updates to its inclement weather policy for the 2021-22 school year. The first five inclement weather days will be traditional inclement weather days…Once these five days have been taken, FCPS will use the flexibility provided by the General Assembly to have unscheduled virtual learning days, wherever possible, to maintain continuity of learning.” [FCPS]

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The old Gallows Road bridge over I-66 (via Google Maps)

Preparations for the upcoming demolition of the Gallows Road bridge over I-66 in Dunn Loring are about to get underway.

Northbound traffic on Gallows will shift to a new bridge during daytime hours tomorrow (Thursday) with southbound traffic expected to follow suit next week, the Virginia Department of Transportation announced yesterday (Tuesday).

VDOT anticipates starting to demolish the existing bridge around Oct. 23, a process that will take 30 to 40 nights.

Here are more details on the traffic changes from VDOT’s news release:

Pedestrians will continue to use the west side of the current bridge until southbound Gallows Road traffic shifts to the new span. At that time, pedestrian access will be shifted to the east side of the new bridge, with detours using the crosswalks at Cottage Street and Avenir Place/Bellforest Drive.

Following this traffic shift, the current Gallows Road Bridge over I-66 will be demolished to allow for construction of the new southbound bridge span. Demolition of the current bridge is anticipated to begin on or about October 23. Most of the bridge is directly over I-66 or the Dunn Loring Metrorail Station and will need to be demolished during the overnight hours, when multiple lanes can be closed on I-66 and the Metrorail Station and tracks can be closed to safely accommodate this work. Demolition activities will occur during the daytime hours when feasible, to minimize impacts to the nearby communities. Additional information and updates about demolition work and traffic closures will be provided on the project website. All work is weather dependent and schedules may shift if inclement conditions occur.

The replacement of the Gallows Road bridge is part of the Transform 66 Outside the Beltway project, which will extend the I-66 Express Lanes more than 22 miles west from the I-495 interchange in Dunn Loring to Gainesville.

The new bridge will feature improved sightlines, bicycle lanes and wider sidewalks in each direction, and connections to the shared-use path that’s being constructed alongside I-66, according to the project website. It’s being built in two phases, with the southbound side expected to be completed next summer.

The overall Transform 66 project is on track to open the new express lanes in December 2022, VDOT confirmed at a public information meeting last week.

“Drivers should be alert for changing traffic patterns on Gallows Road near I-66 as construction continues through 2022,” VDOT said. “Drivers are reminded to slow down and pay attention to lane markings and roadway signs at all times.”

Photo via Google Maps

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A portion of I-495 South, also known as the Capital Beltway Outer Loop, will be fully closed during overnight hours starting tomorrow (Oct. 8) so construction crews can continue installing overhead bridge beams at the I-66 interchange in Dunn Loring.

The closure will extend to the I-66 West ramp to I-495 South, the 495 South Express Lanes, and several 495 Express Lanes ramps.

“Drivers traveling on I-66 and I-495 during this time should expect delays and consider using alternate routes,” the Virginia Department of Transportation said in a news release. “Message boards across the region will direct drivers on I-95 and I-495 to use alternate routes those nights.”

Here are more details on the impending closures from VDOT:

I-495 South approaching I-66

  • Two lanes will be closed Friday (Oct. 8) from 10 p.m.-6 a.m., Saturday (Oct. 9) from 10 p.m.-7 a.m., and Sunday (Oct. 10) from 9 p.m.-5:30 a.m.
  • All lanes of I-495 South will be closed Friday and Saturday from midnight to 5 a.m., and Sunday from 11:30 p.m. to 4:30 a.m.

Ramp from I-66 West to I-495 South

  • The ramp will be closed Friday and Saturday nights from 10 p.m.-5 a.m., and Sunday night from 11:30 p.m.-4:30 a.m.
  • 495 Express Lanes and ramps will be closed from 10 p.m.-5 a.m. every night.

Traffic will be detoured onto I-66 West to the Nutley Street exit in Vienna before looping onto I-66 East back toward I-495 South.

Traffic from the I-495 South and I-66 interchange will be detoured to Nutley Street overnight on Oct. 8-10 (via VDOT)

VDOT notes that the construction work depends on the weather and could be rescheduled if there are inclement conditions.

This will be the third consecutive weekend of construction-related closures on I-495 after recent lane closures on the Beltway at the Dulles Toll Road interchange in Tysons for joint bridge work there.

This weekend’s beam installation is part of work on a new flyover ramp that will connect I-495 North to I-66 West, one of several changes coming to the interchange courtesy of the Transform 66 Outside the Beltway project to add toll lanes on I-66 from Dunn Loring to Gainesville.

According to VDOT, the reconfigured interchange will provide access to and from the 495 Express Lanes to the new I-66 Express Lanes, enable drivers to switch between express and general-purpose lanes when changing roadways, and replace existing noise walls while adding new ones on I-66 near Idylwood Park.

Work has been ongoing throughout the I-66 corridor since 2018. Just this past weekend, two new ramps from Nutley Street to I-66 West opened to traffic in Vienna. The express lanes are expected to open to traffic in December 2022.

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A rendering of the new Gallows Road Bridge over I-66 (via VDOT)

Construction crews will soon demolish the Gallows Road bridge over I-66, a process that is expected take 30 to 40 nights, starting on or about next Wednesday (Oct. 13).

The work will involve breaking up the concrete deck with jack hammers, saw cutters and heavy equipment consisting of hoe rams. It’s part of the Transform 66 Outside the Beltway project, which is adding express lanes on the interstate from I-495 in Dunn Loring to Gainesville.

“These are not necessarily 30 to 40 consecutive nights of demolition, and…some demolition activities are less disruptive than others,” said Nancy Smith, a spokesperson for FAM Construction, the design-builder of the project.

The company said at a public information meeting on Monday (Oct. 4) that the demolition will occur after traffic shifts.

Segments over I-66 will be affected overnight — typically 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. — when multiple lanes of the interstate can be closed, Smith said. For work not over I-66, demolition will take place during the daytime.

Information on lane closures and other travel changes will be posted on the project website, which also has provides information via email notifications and traffic alerts.

The demolition timeline extends into the late fall due to weather and other factors, but no demolition work will occur over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

Project officials previously expected the demolition work to start in mid-August. VDOT told Tysons Reporter that the slippage in the schedule is not expected to impact the overall project schedule.

The new I-66 express lanes are still slated to open in December 2022.

The Gallows Road bridge is just feet above the Dunn Loring-Merrifield Metro station, requiring coordinating with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

To minimize impacts, crews will haul concrete away to be processed off site, position work area lighting to face toward the roadway and away from residences, implement “dust control measures,” and monitor construction vibrations and noise, Smith said.

At Monday’s information meeting, however, neighbors compared previous construction to an earthquake and reported that vehicles have been running red lights amid “frustration and confusion” as traffic goes over the bridge.

VDOT megaprojects director Susan Shaw said she would coordinate with their team to notify county police about the safety concerns.

Among the traffic adjustments, FAM Construction reported that:

  • Northbound bridge traffic will shift to the new bridge starting next week or around that time
  • Southbound bridge traffic will shift into a temporary alignment onto the new bridge on or about the week of Oct. 18
  • Pedestrian access will remain on the west side of the old bridge until southbound travel lanes shift on or about the week of Oct. 18. Once those southbound lanes shift to the new bridge, pedestrian routes will be on the east side of the bridge
  • The shift in travel lanes on Gallows Road does not affect the entrance at Stenwood Elementary School as the changes are south of the school entrance

Updates will be posted to outside.transform66.org/gallowsroad as demolition progresses.

Community members can share questions about construction by calling 703-662-3892 or emailing [email protected] or [email protected]

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Another piece of the I-495 Northern Extension project (495 NEXT) has fallen into place.

Toll lanes operator Transurban has selected the Connecticut-based Lane Construction as the contractor that will design and build 2.5 miles of new express lanes from Tysons to the American Legion Bridge area in McLean, the Virginia Department of Transportation announced yesterday (Tuesday).

Transurban previously worked with Lane Construction on the 395, 95, and existing 495 Express Lanes, according to a press release from the contractor.

VDOT also said that it has executed a comprehensive agreement with Transurban, which operates the existing I-495 Express Lanes that currently stop just north of the Dulles Toll Road.

“This project is the latest extension of the Commonwealth’s 90+ mile express lane network planned for Northern Virginia,” Virginia Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine said in the press release. “Through 495 NEXT and the on-going investments in multimodal options, I believe we will unlock one of the most congested highways, significantly improve the region’s transportation network, and contribute to economic growth and opportunity.”

With an estimated cost of $600 million, approximately $440 million of which is for design and construction, 495 NEXT will add two express lanes in each direction as part of an agreement with Maryland aimed at relieving congestion on the Capital Beltway by adding more toll lanes and replacing and widening the American Legion Bridge.

Other elements of the project include:

  • Funding for new bus service between Tysons and Montgomery County, including $5.2 million from the state to purchase the vehicles and a $2.2 million annual commitment from Transurban for operations
  • Four miles of new bicycle and pedestrian connections, including a shared-use path parallel to I-495 from Lewinsville Road to near Live Oak Drive
  • Replacement or rehabilitation of seven bridges with sidewalks, bicycle lanes, and crossings at Old Dominion Road, Georgetown Pike, Live Oak Drive, and Lewinsville Road
  • Replacement of nine existing noise walls and the construction of a new noise wall along Live Oak Drive near the George Washington Memorial Parkway interchange
  • New storm water management facilities along I-495 and funding for Scott’s Run stream restoration efforts

According to VDOT, the planned bus service across the American Legion Bridge “is projected to move more than 170,000 riders each year and remove 4.7 million passenger miles from the road, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by more than 1,650 metric tons each year.”

VDOT anticipates reaching a financial close for 495 NEXT in December with a final design and the start of construction coming in 2022, despite continued uncertainty about whether Maryland’s toll lanes project will get approved.

Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust, who represents the McLean area, has maintained that VDOT should wait until Maryland gets federal approvals for its project before starting construction on 495 NEXT.

“I believe 495 NEXT should not go forward unless and until Maryland gets approval for its project to increase capacity of the American Legion Bridge and to add lanes on the Maryland Beltway,” Foust said in a statement to Tysons Reporter. “I am disappointed that VDOT and the CTB have decided to go forward without waiting. However, given their decision to go forward, I’m glad they chose Transurban. I have worked with them in the past and I believe they are qualified to deliver the project.”

Initial results from Tysons Reporter’s extremely unscientific poll on the project show a roughly even split between people who completely oppose 495 NEXT and those who decidedly support it, with the former gaining a slight edge. Other respondents indicated that they could support the proposal but have reservations due to the timing or inclusion of amenities for forms of travel other than driving.

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By this time next year, the I-495 Northern Extension project (495 NEXT) could be under construction.

The Virginia Department of Transportation secured required federal approvals in July for its $550 million effort to add express lanes on three miles of interstate from Tysons to the American Legion Bridge area in McLean.

With that hurdle surmounted, state transportation officials expect to advance the project fairly quickly over the next year, awarding a design-build contract this winter and finalizing the design next year. Right-of-way acquisitions and construction work could also start in 2022, putting the toll lanes on track to begin operations in 2025.

While traffic volumes are projected to increase roughly the same amount regardless of whether 495 NEXT is implemented, VDOT says extending the I-495 Express Lanes toward the American Legion Bridge will reduce travel times and congestion, moving 2,500 more people per hour through the corridor when they open in 2025.

A chart showing how extending the I-495 Express Lanes will improve travel times, according to VDOT (via VDOT)

The project also includes transit in the form of new bus service between Tysons and Montgomery County, a trail for bicyclists and pedestrians parallel to I-495, and funds to assist with stormwater management and stream restoration efforts along Scott’s Run.

However, 495 NEXT has encountered some resistance from McLean residents concerned about its potential impact on their neighborhoods, and environmental advocates.

An environmental assessment found that the project will affect 4.11 acres of Scott’s Run Nature Preserve, 19.8 acres of wetlands, and more than two acres of land around George Washington Memorial Parkway, though the Federal Highway Administration (FWHA) and National Park Service (NPS) determined that the effects could be mitigated enough to be outweighed by the benefits.

Some residents and elected officials have questioned whether that would be the case, though, if Maryland’s plans to replace the American Legion Bridge and widen its part of the Beltway fall through, which remains a possibility even after the state approved a pre-development contract.

Now that it’s getting closer to becoming a reality, how do you feel about 495 NEXT?

Would the project make your life easier, or are you more concerned about the inevitable environmental and neighborhood impacts of a major infrastructure project? Should Virginia hit pause until Maryland fully commits?

Chart via VDOT

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Plans to extend the I-495 Express Lanes three miles north from the Dulles Toll Road in Tysons to the George Washington Memorial Parkway in McLean are moving full steam ahead.

Now backed by federal approvals, the 495 Northern Extension project (495 NEXT) is on track to develop a more detailed design this fall, Virginia Department of Transportation officials told Fairfax County leaders and community members at separate meetings last week.

With a financial close on a contract projected to come this winter and the design getting finalized next year, VDOT anticipates starting the right-of-way acquisition process and construction in 2022. The new toll lanes are scheduled to open in 2025.

While the project has faced skepticism over whether its benefits will outweigh the impact of construction on the environment and neighborhoods, state transportation officials say expanding the Capital Beltway to the American Legion Bridge — and, ideally, beyond it into Maryland — will provide needed relief at one of the worst traffic bottlenecks in the D.C. region.

“I’ve never heard anyone say the American Legion Bridge is great,” VDOT Chief Deputy Commissioner Rob Cary said during a virtual public information meeting on Wednesday (Sept. 29). “It’s an issue. Everybody knows it’s an issue, and this project is going to move forward and fix that.”

The timelines for Virginia and Maryland’s projects to add toll lanes on the Capital Beltway (via VDOT)

The additional capacity created by the new express lanes will allow for transit across the Potomac River that’s currently stymied by the amount of congestion on and around the bridge, VDOT Northern Virginia Regional Transportation Program Susan Shaw told the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors’ Transportation Committee last Tuesday (Sept. 28).

VDOT has committed to introducing bus service between Tysons and Montgomery County in Maryland as recommended by a study that the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation and Maryland Department of Transportation completed in March.

VDOT will provide $5.2 million to purchase buses, and contracted Express Lanes operator Transurban has agreed to cover the transit service’s operating costs with $2.2 million per year once tolling begins, according to the presentation delivered at both of last week’s meetings.

At Fairfax County’s urging, the state has been looking at the possibility of launching the bus service before the new toll lanes open, especially since Shaw admits conditions “will be degraded some” during construction, which could last into fall 2027, when Maryland expects to open its Beltway toll lanes.

“Those years of degradation are what really concern us,” Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik said at the transportation committee meeting. “So, getting ahead on transit and a program to really get people on transit, out of their cars during that congestion, I think, would be very helpful to be successful.”

However, it will be difficult to provide consistent, timely bus service until the express lanes are available, Shaw says. Read More

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The effort to widen I-66 outside of the Capital Beltway will take one small step forward this weekend with the opening of two new, permanent ramps at the Nutley Street interchange south of Vienna.

Weather permitting, loop ramps from Nutley Street South to I-66 East and from Nutley Street North to I-66 West are scheduled to respectively open overnight on Friday (Oct. 1) and in the early morning on Monday (Oct. 4), the Virginia Department of Transportation announced today (Wednesday).

Under construction throughout the summer, the new ramps will end the use of a temporary traffic signal that directed Nutley Street drivers to turn left in order to get onto I-66.

With the I-66 West loop ramp opening by 5 a.m. on Monday, the existing left-turn ramp will permanently close around 8 p.m. on Friday so construction crews can conduct paving work, according to VDOT.

Traffic will be directed north to the Virginia Center Boulevard intersection, where drivers must make a U-turn from the turn lane farthest to the left, stay to the right, and follow signs to I-66 West.

Two new loop ramps will open to drivers from Nutley Street to I-66, shifting traffic to the left side of the street (via VDOT)

In addition to opening the ramps, VDOT will move travelers in Nutley’s northbound lanes to the west side of the bridge over I-66, which will have two travel lanes in each direction. The change is expected to remain in place through January.

Pedestrians on the west side of Nutley Street will still have access over I-66 between the Virginia Center Boulevard/Marshall Road and Saintsbury Drive/Swanee Lane intersections after the traffic shift takes effect overnight on Friday.

“This temporary traffic pattern will allow construction of the new Nutley Street Interchange to advance while keeping Nutley Street open to vehicles and pedestrians,” VDOT says.

A temporary ramp from I-66 West onto Nutley that opened in February will also stay in place to accommodate ongoing work on the new interchange, which is part of VDOT’s multibillion-dollar Transform 66 project to extend the I-66 Express Lanes from I-495 in Dunn Loring to Gainesville.

“When construction is complete, the rebuilt interchange will feature two roundabouts, which will provide safer, more efficient travel for vehicles entering and exiting I-66, and improve safety for vehicles and pedestrians traveling on Nutley Street,” VDOT says.

The new toll lanes are scheduled to open in December 2022.

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The Capital Beltway will have slightly less room to accommodate drivers in Tysons this weekend, with construction work shutting down one lane starting tonight (Friday).

The Virginia Department of Transportation announced yesterday (Thursday) that it will close the right general purpose lane on southbound I-495 over the Dulles Toll Road (Route 267) from 10 p.m. today to 5 a.m. Monday (Sept. 27) for bridge joint work.

The Beltway’s two right southbound lanes will also be closed overnight during the weekend, according to the following schedule from VDOT’s news release:

  • 11 p.m. Friday (Sept. 24) to 7 a.m. Saturday (Sept. 25)
  • 11 p.m. Saturday (Sept. 25) to 7 a.m. Sunday (Sept. 26)
  • 11 p.m. Sunday (Sept. 26) to 5 a.m. Monday (Sept. 27)

“At least two lanes of southbound I-495 will remain open at all times,” VDOT says. “Also remaining open will be the southbound I-495 general purpose lanes ramp to the westbound Dulles Toll Road (Exit 45A), and the southbound I-495 ramp to eastbound Route 267 (Exit 45B).”

In other I-495 news, state transportation officials will hold a virtual public information meeting this coming Wednesday (Sept. 29) to share updates on the 495 NEXT project, which will extend the Beltway’s express lanes from the Dulles Toll Road interchange to the American Legion Bridge area in McLean.

This will be VDOT’s first public meeting on the project since it received approvals from the Federal Highway Administration and National Park Service in July stating that the anticipated environmental impact will be minimal compared to its potential to improve travel in the corridor.

Since 495 NEXT got the federal approvals, Maryland has advanced its side of the effort to widen the Beltway, with the state’s public works board approving a design contract for the toll lanes in August.

Fairfax County officials have maintained that Virginia has to coordinate the 495 NEXT project with Maryland in order for its benefits for reducing traffic congestion and improving travel times to be realized.

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