A groundbreaking ceremony today (Monday) marked the beginning of construction on the much-debated I-495 Northern Extension project to build express lanes on a notoriously congested stretch of the Capital Beltway.
The $660 million 495 NEXT project will create two northbound and two southbound lanes between the Dulles Toll Road in Tysons and the Potomac River north of McLean, adding 2.5 miles onto the existing I-495 Express Lanes operated by the toll road company Transurban.
“Today, we’re kicking off the start of construction on this important initiative that will provide much-needed congestion relief and improve travel on this vital corridor in Virginia,” Virginia Department of Transportation Commissioner Stephen Brich said at the event, held at The Perch on top of Capital One Hall in Tysons.
VDOT began preliminary site work in the affected area of I-495 late last year. The project is part of an agreement with Maryland to expand the Beltway with express lanes and rebuild the American Legion Memorial Bridge.
Local opposition and legal challenges have held up Maryland’s toll lanes project, leading to some anxiety from Fairfax County officials, but Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin said today that he is working with Gov. Larry Hogan to ensure Maryland completes its portion of the so-called Beltway Accord.
A Great Falls resident, Youngkin said he spent considerable time in traffic, waiting to get somewhere. He told media after the event how he’s seen worsening regional congestion over the years.
“One day, we will see…this stretch of the Beltway move in an extraordinary way: No more backups on the GW Parkway in the afternoon at 5 o’clock, people getting home to see their families,” Youngkin said.
In addition to extending the express lanes, 495 NEXT includes bridge upgrades as well as new bike and pedestrian connections. It will also pave the way for planned bus service between Tysons and suburban Maryland.
As Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay noted, there currently aren’t any public buses that cross the American Legion Bridge.
The Commonwealth is providing $5.2 million to launch the bus service, and Transurban has agreed to contribute $2.2 million annually. An estimated 170,000 people are expected to use it each year.
The Beltway improvements are projected to reduce traffic crashes by 20% and reduce commuting times in express lanes during rush-hour traffic by 50%, officials said.
The new express lanes are slated to open in 2025.
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