(Updated at 3:15 p.m.) Construction to extend the I-495 Express Lanes from Tysons to the George Washington Memorial Parkway is moving full steam ahead, despite continued skepticism from many McLean residents.
The Virginia Department of Transportation shared revised designs for portions of the I-495 Northern Extension (495 NEXT) project at two public meetings earlier this week, one that convened in-person at Langley High School on Monday (June 6) and another held virtually yesterday (Tuesday).
Tweaks to the Live Oak Drive bridge as well as the Georgetown Pike and GW Parkway interchanges had some community members suggesting construction should be put on hold, citing safety concerns and arguing that coordination and public engagement on Maryland’s Capital Beltway toll lanes plan has been insufficient.
VDOT officials said they plan to continue working with Maryland and local residents, especially in McLean, to address specific design concerns, but they shut down the possibility of delaying the entire project.
“We are moving forward with construction,” VDOT Northern Virginia Megaprojects Director Susan Shaw said during last night’s virtual meeting. “We have a schedule, we have a budget, and we’re working to the plans as they have been approved.”
The project will extend the I-495 Express Lanes 2.5 miles from the Dulles Toll Road in Tysons to the GW Parkway. After breaking ground in March, construction on the actual interstate began about two weeks ago, VDOT project manager Rimpal Shah confirmed yesterday.
For the rest of this year, workers with contractor Lane Construction will focus on building piers for new Live Oak Drive and Georgetown Pike bridges over I-495, according to the presentation.
Live Oak Drive
The planned bridge on Live Oak will have two lanes and a new 6-and-a-half-foot-wide sidewalk on the south side. Work scheduled in the next six months will include vegetation clearing and noise barrier demolition and construction.
Located south of the existing bridge, the new bridge has been slightly redesigned since the last public meeting in September to reduce disruptions to the adjacent residential neighborhood and keep an existing I-495 retaining wall in place during construction, VDOT staff reported.
The new plan will require narrowing a 1,200-foot section of Live Oak Drive down to 22 feet across, raising concerns about the safety of bicyclists and pedestrians who use the road due to its proximity to the Scott’s Run Nature Preserve.
“We’re trying to minimize the shift toward the neighborhood as much as possible while providing a safe roadway,” Shaw said. “We do understand it’s a very local street, but we’ll continue to work on what a typical section will look like.”
Though technical issues prevented him from speaking during last night’s meeting, Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust, who represents McLean, said in an email to FFXnow that the narrowing proposal is “unacceptable.”
“VDOT and its engineering consultants have a very wide beltway to work with,” he wrote. “They need to design the widening project so they do not have to squeeze Live Oak Drive down to 22 feet, with no sidewalks and effectively no berm against the soundwall.”
VDOT has also revised its design for the Georgetown Pike interchange, adding a trail connection to Scott’s Run Nature Preserve and widening a planned six-lane bridge that will include a 6-and-a-half-foot-wide sidewalk on the north side.
In addition, the pike’s westbound ramp to northbound I-495 will now have a free-flow right-turn lane, and merge lanes from the northbound I-495 on-ramp have been elongated to provide more distance.
In the next six months, construction workers will demolish the existing median on the Georgetown Pike Bridge and a portion of the bridge’s north side, shifting traffic to the south side.
VDOT says it has been able to reduce right-of-way and visual impacts from the George Washington Parkway interchange.
In anticipation of Maryland eventually rebuilding the American Legion Bridge and constructing Beltway express lanes into Virginia, the 495 NEXT project has been adjusted so it can tie into Maryland’s work:
- A ramp will fly over southbound I-495 instead of northbound traffic
- Northbound I-495 general purpose lanes have been shifted further north to tie into a ramp in the Maryland project
- A planned pedestrian tunnel will now be constructed by Maryland
- The GW bridge will be replaced by Maryland, with Virginia just doing some repairs on the existing bridge
A stormwater management pond located inside the interchange’s loop ramp has also been enlarged so fewer facilities will be needed elsewhere in the project corridor.
Maryland work in Virginia questioned
At the recent public meetings, several community members expressed surprise at Maryland being responsible for some construction in Virginia, questioning whether enough outreach has been done to keep residents informed.
Matt Harrell with the Maryland Department of Transportation said the state has conducted seven public hearings on its project so far, including some virtual ones. However, MDOT had no in-person meetings in Virginia, though it did participate in VDOT’s September community meeting.
Foust says he doesn’t recall getting any public notices about meetings on Maryland’s draft environmental impact statement and wants to know if any Virginia elected officials were contacted.
“The extent of Maryland’s role on the Virginia side of the American Legion Bridge has only recently started to become clear and [it’s] not surprising Live Oaks residents were not focused on Maryland’s DEIS meetings,” Foust said, noting that clearer, more detailed graphics illustrating the planned construction could help.
VDOT says 495 NEXT will provide benefits even if Maryland doesn’t follow through, including by adding bicycle and pedestrian trails along the I-495 corridor, but Shaw agreed it “will be more beneficial if the Maryland project happens.”
MDOT expects to release a final environmental impact statement on its project on June 17.
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