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and News Briefs
VDOT Announces Federal Approvals for 495 NEXT HOT Lanes Project
In a Press Release issued on July 9, 2021. the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) announced it received a “Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI),” from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and National Park Service (NPS) on its environmental assessment for the I-495 Express Lanes Northern Extension (495 NEXT) project. This approval enables the project to advance into the design and construction phase. Additionally, VDOT received approval from FHWA on the project’s interchange justification report, a traffic study that includes analysis of traffic impacts and benefits associated with the 495 NEXT project.
VDOT’s environmental assessment (EA) kicked off in April 2018 to find solutions that would reduce congestion, provide additional travel choices, improve travel reliability and enhance safety on the northernmost section of I-495 in Virginia. The EA evaluated site-specific conditions and potential effects that a proposed express lanes extension would have on the natural and human environment. Guided by technical study and analysis, and public input, the recommended project was determined to have no significant impact on the environment. VDOT reported the 495 NEXT project includes the following improvements and features:
Three-mile extension of the 495 Express Lanes from near the Dulles Toll Road and I-495 interchange to the George Washington Memorial Parkway in the vicinity of the American Legion Bridge with additional express lanes access at the Dulles Toll and Dulles Access Road interchange, and the George Washington Memorial Parkway interchange.
New bridges to replace existing I-495 crossings at Old Dominion Drive, Georgetown Pike and Live Oak Drive with sidewalks and trail crossings for bicyclists and pedestrians.
More than two miles of new and improved bicycle and pedestrian facilities including a shared-use path parallel to I-495 spanning from Lewinsville Road to Live Oak Drive, with accommodations for extensions to tie into future improvements when pedestrian facilities can be added to the American Legion Bridge.
Replacement of nine existing noise walls, and construction of a new noise wall along Live Oak Drive in the vicinity of the George Washington Memorial Parkway interchange.
Improved stormwater management features that will improve the quality and quantity of water leaving the I-495 Beltway in the area of the project to include new outfalls and stream bank stabilization at Scotts Run, and a funding commitment from VDOT’s private project partner for Fairfax County’s planned stream restoration, which will restore approximately 3,000 linear feet of the stream.
Although sponsors have cited overall improvements to traffic congestion on the Virginia side of the Beltway, the continuation of the HOT LANES project on the Maryland side of the American Legion Bridge appears to have stalled, for now, as a result of a Maryland regional planning board’s rejection of the plan in June. Nevertheless, Maryland Governor Hogan is working to gain local support in order to secure needed votes to keep the project moving.
Opponents of the roadway project have criticized the project as a 1970s-style highway expansion, at a time when what is needed is a multimodal, 21st-century solution that moves people, not just cars. Maryland Congressman Anthony Brown wrote to US the Transportation Secretary that the project will do little to address the sources of congestion in the long-term and that modern transportation planning shows that road-widening only induces demand, limiting the benefit of extra roadway. He added the best way to address the Capital area’s traffic problems is to create options to take cars off the road, with public transit and other solutions--building additional roadways only encourages people to drive and does not address the source of traffic.
Construction on the 495 NEXT project is expected to begin in 2022, with the express lanes extension opening in 2025.
GFCA Work Group Seeks Permanent Funding
A letter endorsed by the GFCA Executive Board at its June meeting has been sent to Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton requesting her assistance to ensure that $100,000 of permanent and continuous federal funding be provided beginning in October of this year. These funds would be for the specific purpose of traffic control by the U.S. Park Police at the intersection of Georgetown Pike and Old Dominion Drive on an on-going and as-needed basis. GFCA also requested that this function be included in the regular duties and responsibilities of the Park Police, and not performed on an overtime basis, as the need for traffic management is not a one-off event.
The letter was prompted by information received by the Great Falls Park Working Group that the Great Falls and McLean communities are in jeopardy of losing one of the most important tools that Great Falls Park uses to address hazardous congestion resulting from backups at the entrance station — the services of the Park Police to control traffic at the intersection when visitation to the park is high. Major congestion caused by the park routinely occurs on weekends from March through early November. The congestion severely limits access to homes north of the intersection, causes gridlock at the intersection, backs up both roads, and compromises safety in emergency situations for homes and pedestrians in the area.
Fortunately, sufficient funds have been set aside to cover the cost of Park Police services through this year; however, park officials have indicated that this is not sustainable going forward without additional funding. Although better access to the park would help, it is unlikely that any improvements will be undertaken in the foreseeable future given limited federal resources, preservation concerns, and the potential for adverse environmental impacts.While the park’s preference is to use its own employees to manage the intersection rather than the Park Police, traffic control on a state-owned road must be performed by either a police officer or someone deputized to direct traffic pursuant to the Code of Virginia. Other alternatives that have been pursued by the GFCA Working Group, such as using VDOT-certified flaggers at the intersection, are not authorized under state law. Since the Fairfax County Police Department does not have the resources to staff the intersection on a routine as-required basis and congestion directly stems from park visitation, using the Park Police is the primary alternative.
Turner Farmhouse Foundation Seeks Special Exception for
Grief and Bereavement Support
Over the last several months, the Land Use & Zoning Committee (LUZ) has met with residents of the Foxvale Farm and Falls Manor HOAs, interested residents of Great Falls, County staff, and Planning Commissioner John Ulfelder, about the Special Exception Application filed by the Foundation in order to operate. Because of the participation of neighbors and community concerns expressed over the broad nature of use expressed in the application, development conditions have since been applied that will narrow that use to the initial purpose of offering weekend retreats for grief and bereavement support.On June, 29, 2021 LUZ held an additional meeting in Webinar format for all interested parties. LUZ is working to provide the applicant, her representative, and county staff with the final concerns, recommendations, and development conditions for the Special Exception in advance of the public hearings. The Planning Commission hearing date, originally in May, was rescheduled due to errors identified by the LUZ chair in the public notification process. The new hearing date is July 14, with the Board of Supervisor’s Hearing on July 27.
weekends, if the park fills & parking is not available, the
Park entrance will close. When the intersection at Georgetown Pike & Old
Dominion Dr. is blocked by Police, you may not enter until it reopens.
There is NO ON-STREET PARKING where signage has been posted. Updates at Great Falls Park Facebook.
Town Hall re: Springvale Rd. Bridge Replacement -
What is the GFCA?
The Great Falls Citizens Association is an
all-volunteer, non-profit, 501(c)4 organization that advocates solutions and
government actions that benefit Great Falls.
Since Great Falls is not an incorporated municipality like the Town of Vienna, or City of Falls Church, we lack a town/city government to represent our local interests. The GFCA acts in an unofficial capacity to represent the voices of the citizens of Great Falls on these matters, and works with county, state, and national government to get things done. On Great Falls issues, no other organization has GFCA’s influence with elected leaders at the County and State level, or is as respected by them.
Our charter calls for GFCA to "serve as a community organization to promote all aspects of community interest accruing to a common good and, in general, to preserve the historic, low density, semi-rural character of Great Falls and its natural resources."
The following was published in the April 1999 GFCA Newsletter: