Newsletter

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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Morning Notes

Police Arrest Suspect in Tysons Sexual Assault — “Fairfax County Police have arrested and charged a man in a July sexual assault at a Tysons hotel…Patrick Michael Chaloupka, 38, of Woodbridge, was arrested Thursday at his home. He was charged with rape and abduction with intent to defile and is being held at the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center without bond.” [Patch]

Patrick Henry Park and Ride Up for Transit Funding — A park-and-ride lot for Patrick Henry Library in Vienna is one of four projects under consideration for the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission’s I-66 Commuter Choice program, which uses toll fees to fund transit improvements. NVTC staff haven’t recommended the Patrick Henry proposal for funding, citing the $5 million cost, but the public can comment on the proposals until Sept. 17. [Reston Now]

495 NEXT Public Meeting Set for This Month — “VDOT will hold a virtual Public Information Meeting on Wednesday, September 29, 2021, beginning at 6:30 p.m. to present the latest updates and information related to the 495 NEXT Project. The project is advancing to the design and construction phase, following…the receipt of a ‘Finding of No Significant Impact‘ from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and National Park Service on its environmental assessment, and an approval from FHWA on its interchange justification report.” [Virginia Department of Transportation]

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Morning Notes

Environmental Advocates Urge Warner to Act on Climate — “Environmental activists protested outside the Tysons Corner office of Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) Thursday afternoon, calling on him to commit to ending federal fossil fuel subsidies as Congress debates separate budget and infrastructure bills.” [Patch]

Tysons Area Beltway Lane Closures Start Tonight — “The southbound I-495 (Capital Beltway Outer Loop) general purpose lanes will have nightly triple lane closures along the three bridges over the Dulles Toll Road (Route 267) and related ramps, weather permitting, Friday, Aug. 27 and Saturday, Aug. 28 for restriping to implement a temporary traffic shift for bridge joint work.” [VDOT]

McAuliffe Leads Gubernatorial Poll — “Democratic candidate for Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe is ahead of his opponent, Republican Glenn Youngkin in the latest poll released Thursday morning. McAuliffe is leading 50% to 41%, according to Christopher Newport University’s Wason Center-AARP poll. About 6% of voters remain undecided two months ahead of the November 2 election.” [DCist]

Deadline Approaching to Recognize Vienna Volunteers — “Nominations are now being accepted for volunteers who are worthy of recognition as Vienna Hometown Heroes. Since last year’s event had to be cancelled for pandemic-related reasons, this year’s celebration will recognize individual and group volunteer efforts for 2020 and 2021…Nominations for individual heroes are due Aug. 31.” [Town of Vienna]

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Construction workers stand on a retaining wall between Colvin Run and future eastbound Route 7 lanes (via VDOT)

Updated at 12:30 p.m. on 8/25/2021 — The Virginia Department of Transportation announced today that the traffic shift on eastbound Route 7 between Lewinsville Road and Jarrett Valley Drive has been rescheduled for Sept. 1.

Earlier: The Wolf Trap area of eastbound Route 7 will look a little different to drivers starting tomorrow (Wednesday), the Virginia Department of Transportation says.

With work continuing on the project to widen Leesburg Pike between Tysons and Reston, traffic between Lewinsville Road and Jarrett Valley Drive north of the Dulles Toll Road will shift a lane to the south, away from the median.

While all residences, businesses, and public facilities will remain accessible, the lane shift will come with some traffic changes on the side streets off of Route 7, according to the VDOT news release:

  • The service road between Laurel Hill Road and McLean Bible Church (east exit) will be temporarily closed until late 2021.
  • Laurel Hill Road will reopen to traffic at eastbound Route 7.
  • Drivers on westbound Route 7 to Laurel Hill Road and Glenridge Court will U-turn at the Lewinsville Road traffic signal and use eastbound Route 7 to Laurel Hill Road.
  • Drivers on Laurel Hill Road and Glenridge Court to westbound Route 7 will follow eastbound Route 7 to Tyco Road, then U-turn to westbound Route 7. This traffic pattern will be in effect until late 2021.

“Please use caution and be alert to work zone signs, potential flagger or police direction, and watch for traffic shifts,” VDOT said. “Slow-moving vehicles and equipment may be entering or exiting the road.”

A map of the lane shift on eastbound Route 7 from Lewinsville Road to Jarrett Valley Drive (via VDOT)

Construction on the Route 7 widening project has been ongoing for more than two years now, as crews work to expand almost seven miles of roadway from four to six lanes. The project is also adding a shared-use path in each direction and making some intersection improvements.

While the project isn’t expected to be finished until July 2024, some progress has been made in the corridor in recent months, including the completion of noise barrier panel installations between Utterback Store Road and Great Passage Boulevard in Great Falls.

According to the August construction update from VDOT, work in the Vienna area from Jarrett Valley to Faulkner Drive has primarily involved storm sewer installations and the relocation of water main distribution facilities between Lewinsville and Towlston Road.

In July, workers also “began grading and placement of cement-treated aggregate, curb stone, and asphalt along westbound Route 7 between Beulah Road/Springvale Road and Towlston Road.”

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Morning Notes

Vienna ambulance behind Cedar Park at start of Virginia State Little League Majors Tournament Parade of Champions (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

McLean Drivers: Expect Delays on Georgetown Pike Starting Monday — “Georgetown Pike (Route 193) between Swinks Mill Road and I-495 (Capital Beltway) will have one lane of alternating traffic in each direction via flagging, weather permitting, Monday, July 26 through Wednesday, July 28 between 9 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. each day to replace a stormwater pipe at the Saigon Road intersection, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation.” [VDOT]

Founders Row II Proposal Modified — Developer Mill Creek presented revised plans for a second phase of its Founders Row project to the Falls Church City Council on Monday (July 19). Changes since it was first proposed in March include reductions of the height and number of rental residential units and the addition of “more street-level retail and amenities to please its neighbors.” [Falls Church News-Press]

Former Container Store to Host Tysons Block Party — The Celebrate Fairfax! Festival has been canceled for a second consecutive year, but the nonprofit that organizes it is returning next Friday (July 30) with a block party to kick off its 40th Anniversary Series. The event will go from 3-7 p.m. outside the former Container Store at 8508 Leesburg Pike with live entertainment, refreshments from Caboose Brewing Company, and more. [Celebrate Fairfax/Facebook]

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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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