The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) hosted two public meetings in early June to present revised designs for its I-495 Express Lanes Northern Extension Project (495 NEXT). Construction began this year and VDOT expects that the express lanes, which are being extended from the current terminus north of Tysons Corner to the American Legion bridge and the George Washington Parkway, will open in 2025.
495 NEXT is intended to integrate with a companion project in Maryland that calls for (i) adding two tolled express lanes in each direction along I-270 between the I-495/Capital Beltway and Frederick, Md. and (ii) replacing the American Legion Bridge with a new bridge that can accommodate connections with Virginia’s express lanes. However, Maryland has not yet received approval or funding for its project.
The first VDOT meeting, held at Langley High School (LHS), drew a sizable number of McLean and Great Falls residents; the second meeting was held virtually. Several GFCA board members who have been engaged with VDOT about the design for the Georgetown Pike bridge over I-495 attended these sessions.
Representing VDOT at the LHS meeting were Susan Shaw, P.E., VDOT Northern Virginia Megaprojects Director, and Abi Lerner, P.E., VDOT Special Program Manager for Megaprojects. Representatives from VDOT’s project partner, Transurban, and contractor, Lane Construction, also attended, as did representatives from the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT).
Georgetown Pike Interchange
While design refinements for several areas were discussed, including those at the Live Oak Bridge and the George Washington Memorial Parkway interchange, GFCA’s focus was on changes affecting historic Georgetown Pike.
VDOT updated its plans for the Georgetown Pike interchange by adding a trail connection to Scott’s Run Nature Preserve and widening the planned six-lane bridge so as to include a 6.5 foot wide sidewalk on the north side. Georgetown Pike’s westbound ramp to northbound I-495 will incorporate a free-flow right-turn lane, and merge lanes from the northbound I-495 on-ramp have been lengthened to reduce traffic backups.
Over the next six months, the existing median on the Georgetown Pike Bridge, and a portion of the bridge’s north side, will be demolished, thereby shifting traffic to the south side. Great Falls residents should be aware that demolition has already begun.
Highlights from Q & A Session Following the Presentation
VDOT’s presentation sparked a very spirited question and answer session in which meeting attendees raised a number of concerns about the project, including the integration of VDOT’s 495 NEXT project with MDOT’s companion initiative to extend Maryland express lanes over a new Potomac River bridge and the integration of those express lanes with VDOT’s 495 NEXT express lanes. In a surprise to many attendees, VDOT explained that it expects that MDOT may be responsible for some construction work in Virginia if its project moves forward. Attendees asked how Virginia citizens would interact with MDOT under this scenario and questioned the public outreach effort associated with MDOT’s anticipated work in Virginia.
A representative from MDOT said that a final environmental impact statement on its project is expected to be released this month. He went on to say that MDOT has conducted seven public hearings on its project so far, including some virtual ones. He added, that while MDOT had conducted no in-person meetings in Virginia, it did participate in VDOT’s September community meeting. Supervisor Foust said he did not recall receiving public notices about meetings on MDOT’s draft environmental impact statement (DEIS).
A number of attendees suggested that VDOT suspend work on 495 NEXT citing insufficient coordination and public engagement on Maryland’s Capital Beltway toll lanes plan by MDOT as well as the uncertainty over project approval and funding in Maryland.
Susan Shaw, VDOT’s Northern Virginia Megaprojects Director, said that VDOT officials plan to continue working with Maryland and local residents, especially those in McLean, to address specific design concerns. She was, however, resolute that the project will proceed as planned. “We are moving forward with construction,” said Shaw. “We have a schedule, we have a budget, and we’re working to the plans as they have been approved.”
A video recording of the June 7 virtual meeting may be found on VDOT’s 495 NEXT Project website.