VDOT offers new park to make up for 495 NEXT encroaching on Scott’s Run Nature Preserve

The Potomac River seen from Scott’s Run Nature Preserve in McLean (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

The ongoing widening of I-495 from Tysons to McLean will require the permanent taking of 1.15 acres from Scott’s Run Nature Preserve.

As compensation, the Virginia Department of Transportation has proposed building a new park for the Fairfax County Park Authority on a 1.83-acre site at the corner of Georgetown Pike and Balls Hill Road that it currently uses as a maintenance yard.

“This is a commitment that we made and worked very closely with the park authority to provide all the features that they require,” VDOT Megaprojects Director Susan Shaw told the Board of Supervisors’ transportation committee last Friday (Sept. 30).

According to a draft agreement dated July 12, VDOT will dedicate a 1.27-acre portion of its property to a park with seating, bicycle racks and a repair station, “passive open space,” and a plaza at the head of a 10-foot-wide connection to a trail along Georgetown Pike.

The trail is part of a regional network that VDOT has committed to providing as part of the I-495 Northern Extension (495 NEXT) project, which is extending the interstate’s toll lanes about three miles from the Dulles Toll Road toward the American Legion Bridge.

“The expanded trail network will likely exacerbate the currently stressed parking situation at the [Scott’s Run] Preserve, a very popular park in Park Authority’s system that became overwhelmingly popular during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the agreement shared with FFXnow says.

To support that increased demand, VDOT’s proposed park will have a circular parking lot with 25 spaces, four of them designed as ADA-accessible. The department will also construct a 5-foot-wide sidewalk along Balls Hill Road, leading into the park.

The Virginia Department of Transportation has proposed a park in McLean to replace land needed for its 495 NEXT project (via VDOT)

VDOT needs to obtain “a right of entry” by Nov. 15, but the park authority has been “very helpful in working together with us,” Shaw said.

“There are still some final steps. It’s very tight, but we feel like we’re on track to meet that Nov. 15 date,” she said.

An FCPA spokesperson says the authority hasn’t officially agreed to the swap, since it still needs to be approved by state agencies and the National Park Service.

“We are working with VDOT on their 495 project,” the park authority said in a statement to FFXnow. “We are awaiting further input and documentation from the state and NPS, so technically we have not signed off on the discussions but are working closely with all parties to resolve issues and fulfill all environmental requirements and regulations.”

When asked what issues still need to be resolved, the spokesperson said “that is simply a reference to fulfilling all environmental requirements and regulations” and that “there is really nothing more to share at this time.”

In the draft agreement, VDOT says it will dedicate the park land once 495 NEXT reaches “substantial completion,” which is currently expected to come in December 2025.

“This will allow the Design-Build Contractor to use the existing maintenance yard from I-495, without mixing with school traffic at Cooper Middle School to maximize the safety of school traffic,” VDOT says.

County officials expressed concern about 495 NEXT’s potential environmental impact, particularly on Scott’s Run, throughout the planning process, though the Board of Supervisors ultimately endorsed the project as necessary to relieve congestion on the Capital Beltway.

As part of an agreement between VDOT and the board, I-495 Express Lanes operator Transurban will provide nearly $1.4 million to help restore approximately 3,000 linear feet of Scott’s Run and stabilize stream banks at two locations, Shaw said.

That work won’t begin until after 495 NEXT is completed in 2026, so workers can take into account the Beltway’s new footprint, according to Shaw. The county’s public works department told FFXnow in July that it won’t have construction funding until July 1, 2025 at the earliest, anyway.