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UPDATED: Construction on I-495 toll lanes can continue during lawsuit, judge says

I-495 North approaching the George Washington Memorial Parkway and Georgetown Pike exits (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

(Updated at 2:10 p.m.) Construction on the widening of the Capital Beltway (I-495) can continue while a lawsuit filed by McLean residents works its way through the court system, a federal judge ruled this morning (Friday).

The Northern Virginia Citizens Association had urged U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema to issue a preliminary injunction against the project that would halt all work until further environmental analysis is conducted.

The ruling, which came after a 10 a.m. hearing at the district court in Alexandria, gave an initial victory to federal and state transportation officials and express lanes operator Transurban, who have argued that the additional review sought by residents is unnecessary.

“We remain confident that this project is in compliance of all environmental regulations and associated requirements and approvals, Transurban Director of Corporate Affairs and Marketing Tanya Sheres said in a statement to FFXnow. “Alongside our project partners, we continue to focus on minimizing impacts to communities as we work to deliver the expanded travel choices, environmental enhancements, and improved safety that the more than 230,000 daily travelers of this corridor are relying upon.”

Filed on March 16, the NOVA Citizens Association’s complaint detailed health and environmental impacts of construction on the I-495 Northern Extension (495 NEXT) project, which is adding 2.5 miles of express lanes from the Dulles Toll Road in Tysons past the George Washington Memorial Parkway in McLean.

The Federal Highway Administration approved an environmental assessment for the project in 2021, finding that it would not have a significant impact and allowing it to proceed.

However, the NOVA Citizens Association says that subsequent design changes to stormwater facilities and ramps at the GW Parkway interchange should’ve necessitated another review with an opportunity for public input.

“Defendants’ activities will irreparably damage Plaintiff’s neighborhood and the surrounding human and natural environment in violation of federal law,” lawyers for the association wrote in a memo on their injunction request. “The Project’s adverse effects already vastly exceed the scope of what the Virginia Department of Transportation (“VDOT”) submitted and the Federal Highway Administration (“FHWA”) approved.”

In declarations opposing an injunction, VDOT and FHWA officials argue that the changes to the GW Parkway design reduced its impact on nearby residential properties and were accounted for in a Interchange Justification Report Addendum approved by FHWA on Jan. 14, 2022.

“The revised configuration of the GWMP interchange lessened the overall impacts of the Project by eliminating conflicts with large utility transmission towers and reducing the need for right-of-way acquisition,” VDOT Northern Virginia Megaprojects Director Susan Shaw said.

According to Shaw, a relocation of ponds by the GW Parkway interchange improved stormwater management, including avoiding work adjacent to the Potomac River, and the changes stayed within the scope established by the completed environmental assessment.

A one-year delay of construction on 495 NEXT, which broke ground in March 2022, would cost VDOT an additional $16.4 million in management and oversight costs, Shaw estimated. If the delay goes into a second year, another $17.2 million would be added to that bill.

“If the Project is enjoined, the current work would need to be suspended in its current condition, with accommodations as needed to ensure the safety of the traveling public,” Shaw wrote. “This would require the lane closures, concrete barriers, temporary environmental controls, to remain in place with all the traffic congestion and disruption those active work zone features create. The duration of construction impacts would be extended, such as noise, dust, traffic delays, and lack of full shoulders.”

Construction on 495 NEXT is currently projected to continue into 2026, with the new express lanes set to open later in 2025.

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