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Effort to relocate cell tower by I-495 in McLean still ongoing

The cell tower by I-495 at the Old Dominion Drive bridge in McLean (via Google Maps)

(Updated at 3:45 p.m. on 1/5/2023) The search is still on for a new site to host a cell tower in McLean that has to be removed to make room for the widening Capital Beltway.

The monopole, which is owned by American Cell Towers and supports AT&T and T-Mobile service, was officially decommissioned on Dec. 9, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation.

“Cell providers are working to minimize any potential impacts to existing service, and VDOT is working with the project’s design-build contractor to facilitate a relocated cell tower as soon as possible,” the department told FFXnow.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors expressed concern at a Sept. 30 transportation committee meeting that losing the tower may cause wireless service disruptions, something that AT&T admitted was a possibility.

Fears of disruptions were particularly high after the removal of a cell facility at Lake Anne in Reston resulted in slow, spotty service for residents in that area over the summer, including for 911 calls.

Fortunately, those anticipated issues don’t seem to have come to fruition. Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust’s office, which represents McLean, says it hasn’t gotten any emails from constituents about the decommissioned cell tower, as of Dec. 20.

VDOT had hoped to see the tower relocated by Dec. 31 — an extension from the original deadline of Sept. 30 — but a new location still hasn’t been identified. VDOT didn’t respond by press time when asked if the deadline got extended again.

“[There’s] no timeline yet,” Jane Edmondson, Foust’s chief of staff, said by email. “The County has not yet received an application for a new location.”

Located by the Old Dominion Drive bridge, the 135-foot-tall monopole needs to be moved to make room for the I-495 Northern Extension (495 NEXT) project, which is adding about three miles of toll lanes on the Beltway from the Dulles Toll Road in Tysons to the George Washington Memorial Parkway in McLean.

The project will also replace the Old Dominion bridge, which has one lane each for eastbound and westbound traffic. The new bridge will have two lanes and a 14-foot-wide shared-use path on the south side. (Correction: This article initially said two lanes would be added on the bridge in each direction.)

While touted as necessary to mitigate traffic congestion, 495 NEXT has been criticized by some McLean residents as harmful to their neighborhoods and the environment.

Construction began in mid-2022 and is expected to continue into 2026, with the new express lanes opening in 2025.

Photo via Google Maps

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