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The current end of the I-495 North Express Lanes in Tysons (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

A lane closure is coming for I-495 in McLean, the first of what will likely be many similar changes to the roadway over the next few years.

The left-shoulder lane on northbound I-495, also known as the Capital Beltway, will close permanently between Old Dominion Drive and the George Washington Memorial Parkway interchange as soon as next Tuesday (May 31), the Virginia Department of Transportation announced yesterday (Wednesday).

Typically open during peak travel periods from where the existing I-495 Express Lanes end near the Dulles Toll Road in Tysons to the GW Parkway, the lane will be shut down to make room for construction on the 495 NEXT project, which will extend the express lanes 2.5 miles toward the American Legion Bridge north of McLean.

“The closure of this shoulder lane is necessary to make space in the center of the Beltway for construction of new bridges that will span the wider, future Beltway at Old Dominion Drive, Georgetown Pike and Live Oak Drive,” VDOT said in a news release.

Officials broke ground on the $660 million project in March, but on-site work so far has consisted only of soil collections, surveying, and other preliminary activities.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin announced at the groundbreaking that full construction work will start this summer, even though no news has come out of Maryland on its Beltway toll lanes project. Fairfax County officials have argued that toll lanes on the other side of the Potomac River are necessary for 495 NEXT to relieve traffic congestion as promised.

The I-495 North left-shoulder lane will soon be permanently closed, requiring a new traffic pattern (via VDOT)

The upcoming lane closure in I-495 North will be accompanied by some other changes as well, VDOT says:

  • Closing the southbound center shoulder
  • Restriping and realigning the general purpose lanes to create additional space in the center of I-495
  • Placing temporary barriers to secure the center work zone for the safety of drivers and workers.

“Periodic lane closures are required to complete this work, but will be scheduled during non-peak travel hours,” VDOT said. “Travelers approaching the construction area should anticipate delays and plan accordingly.”

The department says it will update the public on traffic changes throughout construction with roadway signs, news releases, social media posts, emails, and “outreach to directly-affected stakeholders.”

VDOT, Express Lanes operator Transurban, and contractor Lane Construction will soon hold the first public meetings on the project since late September. There will be an in-person meeting at Langley High School from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on June 6, followed by a virtual one during the same time frame on June 7.

According to the project page, the meetings will provide updates on coming construction activities, including an initial timeline, as well as changes to the design and efforts to coordinate with the Maryland toll lanes project and the National Park Service’s plan to rehabilitate the GW Parkway.

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Fairfax County police car (file photo)

An 83-year-old Annandale woman, Eileen Garnett, died yesterday morning (Wednesday) following a crash on Friday (May 20) where a driver crashed into four people in a parking lot, police said.

The crash in the 7200 block of Maple Place in Annandale involved four pedestrians who were discussing a community project, according to the Fairfax County Police Department.

After the driver collided with the group, the driver’s 2008 Nissan Sentra continued into a nearby metal fence and came to a rest, authorities said.

The four pedestrians as well as the driver and passenger of the car were taken to the hospital. The other pedestrians — two adult women and an adult man — were treated for non-life-threatening injuries, police said.

Police have not identified the driver or announced whether they have been charged.

“The driver dropped food and spilled a drink inside her Nissan,” police said. “As she attempted to recover the dropped items, she lost control of the vehicle crossing the center median.”

Garnett is the seventh pedestrian to die in a vehicle crash in the county so far this year.

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Morning Notes

Passing the pedestrian bridge over Route 50 in Seven Corners (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Victim of Bailey’s Crossroads Crash Identified — Gladis Suyapa Deras, 54, of Falls Church died in a two-vehicle crash outside Skyline Plaza on Tuesday (May 24), police confirmed. Investigators say the occupants of the other vehicle initially ran from the scene, and one of them was arrested for allegedly being drunk in public. [FCPD]

Herndon Man Arrested for Sexual Battery of Minor — “Town of Herndon Police arrested a 53-year-old Herndon man in connection with the aggravated sexual battery of a juvenile victim who was known to him, according to the weekly crime report. Police arrested Jenaro Alberto Hernandez Jovel on May 6 for an incident that occurred in the 500 block of Florida Avenue, according to police.” [Patch]

FCPS Releases Data on New TJ Class — Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology’s Class of 2026 will have 550 students as the second accepted under the revised admissions process. Asian students ticked up to 60%, as did low-income students (33%), while Hispanic students dropped slightly (8%) and white and Black students stayed level (21% and 6%). [The Washington Post]

Fairfax Senator Drops Support for Football Stadium — State Sen. Chap Petersen (D-34) doesn’t intend to vote for a $1 billion plan that he supported in January to bring a new Washington Commanders stadium to Virginia. He says he no longer believes the NFL team “will be good for business,” citing sexual harassment and financial misconduct allegations as well as its name change. [WUSA9]

Kingstowne Chick-fil-A Opens — “The Chick-fil-A in Kingstowne will be opening Thursday morning, the restaurant has announced…The restaurant is near the intersection of South Van Dorn and Kingstowne Boulevard, at 5808 Kingstowne Center. Hours will be 6:30 a.m.-10 p.m.” [Alexandria Living]

Firefighters Meet People Helped in Route 7 Crash — “On April 2, a serious two-car crash occurred on Leesburg Pike. 2 adults and a child were trapped in back of one car w/serious injuries. Recently, units who responded to the incident had the pleasure of hosting them. #FCFRD are happy they are doing well & were grateful for visit.” [FCFRD/Twitter]

Park Authority Summer Hiring Underway — The Fairfax County Park Authority will offer a few new benefits this year to summer employees, including $100 sign-up and retention bonuses and free access to all rec centers for the season. Hiring events are scheduled at The Water Mine in Reston and the Providence Rec Center in West Falls Church. [FCPA]

Dinosaur Encounter Opens in Centreville — “Dinosaurs are returning from extinction with The Jurassic Encounter in Northern Virginia. The outdoor walk-through dinosaur exhibit is the first of its kind at the Bull Run Events Center, home of the Annual Bull Run Festival of Lights, now through May 30 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.” [WTOP]

It’s Thursday — Overcast throughout the day. High of 70 and low of 59. Sunrise at 5:50 am and sunset at 8:25 pm. [Weather.gov]

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The Lake Accotink dam in Springfield (staff photo by David Taube)

A 42-year-old man from Lorton faces criminal charges after allegedly sexually assaulting a kid at Lake Accotink Park, the Fairfax County Police Department announced today (Wednesday).

According to police, Louis C. Allen approached the victim at a playground in the park (7500 Accotink Park Road) around 6 p.m. on Saturday (May 21). He “unlawfully touched” her multiple times, first while talking to her in the play area and again after following her into the water when she left to avoid him.

“The victim advised family members of the assault,” the FCPD said. “When family members confronted the man, the suspect got into a vehicle and left the area.”

The assault was reported to police that day, and the family was able to provide identifying information on the man using cell phone footage, including the registration number for his vehicle, according to the FCPD.

FCPD detectives obtained a warrant for aggravated sexual battery and arrested Allen yesterday (Tuesday) with assistance from the U.S. Marshals Service. Allen was also served with three outstanding warrants: two counts of failure to appear and one for simple assault against a family member.

Allen is currently being held at the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center without bond.

The FCPD says anyone who might have information about the case or any other incidents of inappropriate sexual contact involving Allen can contact its Major Crimes Bureau at 703-246-7800, option 3. Tips can also be submitted to Fairfax County Crime Solvers.

“Victim advocates from our Major Crimes Bureau’s Victim Services Division have been assigned to this case to ensure the victim’s family is receiving appropriate resources and assistance,” the police department said.

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The exterior of the NRA building in Fairfax (via Google Maps)

Following yesterday’s mass shooting at an elementary school in Texas, Fairfax Democrats plan to host a vigil tonight (Wednesday) at the National Rifle Association’s building in Fairfax.

“Nearly ten years after Sandy Hook, little children and teachers are mass murdered in their classrooms,” the Fairfax County Democratic Committee’s event site reads. “Another young adult male with easy access to assault weapons matches the suburban teen who murdered with racist rage in Buffalo. Take action now. Join us tonight.”

A gunman killed 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas, reviving the debate over how to address gun violence across the country.

In Fairfax County, the shooting prompted a school board member to advocate for adding security vestibules at schools. In Arlington County, police stepped up security at schools today in light of the shooting.

The event page encourages attendees to bring candles. It says the vigil will be held at 11250 Waples Mill Road from 7:30-8:30 p.m.

Photo via Google Maps

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Justice High School’s football field (via FCPS/Facebook)

More than half of Fairfax County’s public high schools have no permanent restrooms for their outdoor athletic facilities, leaving players and spectators to endure the stench and claustrophobia of port-a-potties.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors hopes to rectify the situation, unanimously approving a board matter to consider funding for new bathrooms at 15 schools in the coming fiscal year 2023, which starts July 1.

“We owe it to these schools to get them up to this standard for purposes of equity and public health and bottom-line fairness, so I hope we can support this and get this done as quickly as possible,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay, who introduced the measure yesterday (Tuesday).

Fairfax County Public Schools has 28 high schools and 559 athletic fields that are used by the general community as well as students.

However, FCPS didn’t provide permanent stadium bathrooms when many schools were built, and the following schools have yet to get upgrades, despite growing concerns that port-a-potties are inadequate for facilities that can seat as many as 15,000 people:

  • Annandale
  • Chantilly
  • Edison
  • Hayfield
  • Justice
  • Lake Braddock
  • Lewis
  • Marshall
  • McLean
  • Mount Vernon
  • Robinson
  • South Lakes
  • Thomas Jefferson
  • West Potomac
  • Woodson

“The School Board and the Board of Supervisors have been partnering for some time to identify a path forward to address the need and provide stadium bathrooms,” an FCPS spokesperson said by email.

Directing county staff to include the projects as a consideration item when revising the adopted FY 2023 budget this fall, McKay called the lack of permanent bathrooms an equity concern in terms of geography, income, and gender, noting that the schools where this is an issue are spread across the county.

“Permanent bathroom facilities at stadiums should be standard, not a matter of where you live,” the board matter said.

He credited Megan McLaughlin and Karen Corbett-Sanders, who respectively represent Braddock and Mount Vernon districts on the school board, with advocating for facility improvements.

Expressing support for “the anti-Port-a-John board matter,” Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn said outdoor bathrooms were one of the most anticipated benefits of recent renovations at Herndon High School.

According to Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck, West Potomac High School has been in need of permanent stadium restrooms since he was the PTA president “a couple of decades ago.”

“It frankly got down to economics, how you find the dollars to make this work,” Storck said.

The county estimates that approximately $15 million will be needed for all 15 projects. Exactly where that money will come from remains a question mark, but the Board of Supervisors suggested the costs will be shared between the county government and FCPS.

The board told staff to work with FCPS to determine how the costs will be split using data from a Synthetic Turf Task Force report published in 2013.

McLaughlin said in an emailed statement that she was “thrilled” to see the Board of Supervisors unanimously approve McKay’s board matter.

“This ongoing facility issue has been an important concern for many years among our principals, student activities directors, coaches, athletic boosters, student athletes, families, and County recreation leagues,” she said. “The lack of permanent bathroom facilities impacts students everyday with respect to PE classes, sports practices, and band practices. It also impacts spectators and County residents who use and/or visit our fields.”

McLaughlin said she and Corbett-Sanders, who were part of a working group convened by McKay on the topic, plan to submit a similar request for funding to the school board.

Photo via FCPS/Facebook

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Traffic from 2019 on eastbound Dolley Madison Boulevard at the Great Falls Street intersection in McLean (via Google Maps)

Fairfax County has some ideas for short-term fixes that could ease congestion on Dolley Madison Blvd. through McLean, but if traffic grows significantly further down the road, a more substantial overhaul may be needed.

For the first time in almost three years, the Fairfax County Department of Transportation returned to the community with updates on its efforts to address gridlock in the corridor between the Dulles Toll Road and Old Dominion Drive.

At a meeting on May 11, county staff shared revised traffic data and recommendations that they said take into account the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on people’s travel habits as well as infrastructure projects, like the Jones Branch Connector, designed to divert traffic from local roads.

According to the presentation, traffic in the D.C. suburbs is near pre-pandemic levels, with average daily volumes since July returning to about 90% of where they were in 2019, FCDOT project manager Maggie Qi reported.

However, aside from noticeable dips in March-April 2020 and this past January, traffic volumes have stayed relatively level over the past two to three years, and the county anticipates that people working from home will continue to slow growth, at least in the near-future.

“At some point, the ultimate solution would wind up being an interchange, but if we can find a way to keep volumes steady, we may be able to avoid that,” Qi said.

Building off of a 2010 Tysons Neighborhood Study, the Dolley Madison corridor study has been underway since 2017 — long enough that its definition of “short term” has shrunk from 10 to five years, with 2027 as the end of the planned timeframe.

Identifying the Lewinsville Road/Great Falls Street intersection as the corridor’s most problematic, particularly during afternoon peak hours, FCDOT has developed eight possible solutions, six of which come from the last community meeting in 2019:

  • Concept 1: Three continuous lanes on eastbound Dolley Madison, providing additional capacity with a new lane after the Dulles Toll Road
  • Concept 2: Builds on the first concept by extending the three lanes through Lewinsville/Great Falls
  • Concept 3: Eliminate left turns from Balls Hill Road onto Lewinsville, which could get another lane
  • Concept 4: A “partial jughandle” with restricted left-turns from Dolley Madison onto Old Dominion in both directions and onto Ingleside Avenue for eastbound traffic
  • Concept 5: Widen Lewinsville/Great Falls to add two exclusive left-turn lanes, allowing the traffic signal timing to become more efficient
  • Concept 6: Three westbound travel lanes on Dolley Madison from Old Dominion to Lewinsville

Though staff said that it would significantly reduce congestion, the sixth concept is no longer being considered after residents expressed strong opposition, since it would limit access to adjacent neighborhoods from Dolley Madison. Read More

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Fairfax County hopes to build a new Reston Regional Library as part of a larger redevelopment plan (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Various pieces to redevelop land at the intersection of Bowman Towne Drive and Town Center Parkway — known as Reston Town Center North — are moving along as Fairfax County seeks applications for the project.

Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn directed staff at a Board of Supervisors meeting yesterday (Tuesday) to conduct a master plan study for the county-owned land in RTC North.

Alcorn encouraged staff to work closely with the ongoing effort to amend the Reston Comprehensive Plan and to complete the study by the end of the year.

“The time is right to move forward with a master plan with locations for critically needed community facilities in Reston Town Center North,” Alcorn said.

The project would include a new Embry Rucker Shelter, facilities for services and permanent housing, and a new Reston Regional Library.

In February, the county received an unsolicited proposal from Foulger-Pratt to redeveloping a nearly three-acre parcel of land owned by the county into an apartment building for working families, a new library and free parking.

The unsolicited proposal prompted the county to issue a call for other proposals for the project. The application period closed on May 16.

Alcorn established a Reston Town Center North Public Facilities Community Task Force through a board matter in April.

A review of proposed changes to Reston’s Comprehensive Plan is also underway. Staff are currently going through recommendations from a task force that produced a draft after hundreds of hours of meetings on the topic.

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The Justice Department logo (via DOJ)

(Updated at 1:40 p.m.) A man from Lorton has been sentenced to 22 years in prison after he gave a young woman a Xanax pill laced with fentanyl and tried to hide evidence of her death in a storage shed, court documents show.

Julian A. Velasquez, 36, was sentenced yesterday (Tuesday) following a plea deal in federal court. It came after authorities found he provided the woman with the drugs, sold heroin to a man before calling 911, and lied to emergency responders, according to court documents.

Velasquez also admitted to providing narcotics to two people who died from overdoses, one in 2017 and the other in 2018.

The most recent death happened in 2020, when the woman — a friend of Velasquez from Los Angeles, who’s identified in court documents as E.M. — visited him to take drugs in anticipation of her birthday, according to an FBI affidavit. She died due to fentanyl intoxication.

“She’s no longer with her friends and her family and her community,” Fairfax County Police Department Chief Kevin Davis said of the 29-year-old victim.

FBI assistant special agent in charge Timothy Thibault also expressed his condolences to the victims’ families.

Velasquez picked up the woman from Baltimore’s international airport on Aug. 8, 2020, and he reported to 911 that she was unresponsive the evening of Aug. 9.

Before the 911 call, though, investigators found that Velasquez sold heroin to a male Vienna resident on Aug. 9, according to prosecutors.

“On August 9, 2020, Velasquez found E.M. unresponsive but he did not call 911 or seek medical assistance,” prosecutors said. “Velasquez instead called his friend and drug customer, Enoel Comsti, 27, of Vienna, to assist in removing evidence of drug use and drug distribution from the crime scene at Velasquez’s residence.”

Comsti saw the woman lying on the bed and attempted to administer Narcan to reverse the overdose, according to authorities. Velasquez then tried to clean up the residence and remove evidence of drug use, according to a statement of facts that he signed as part of the plea deal.

The pair then tried to reach a storage unit when Comsti’s vehicle broke down with two flat tires, according to authorities. Velasquez continued by foot to the storage unit to hide drug evidence.

After returning home, Velasquez called 911, asked for an ambulance and made false statements to emergency responders, denying that the woman had a drug overdose.

“Velasquez told the dispatcher that he could not tell if [E.M.] was breathing and indicated that it appeared that [she] was biting her tongue,” the FBI said. “Velasquez told the dispatcher that he believed [the victim] may be diabetic and confirmed to dispatch that it was possible [she] was having a diabetic emergency.”

During the news conference, Davis also described a good Samaritan law meant to protect people if they help get medical aid to an individual who overdoses.

In another plea deal, a federal judge sentenced Comsti in February to a year and nine months in prison for “aiding and abetting tampering with evidence.”

Meanwhile, authorities are currently prosecuting multiple cases caused by fentanyl and other synthetic opioids in northern Virginia, federal prosecutor Jessica Aber said, in an effort to address not just low-level street crimes but international drug traffickers.

Aber said there’s a pill epidemic in the country in which pills are being laced with fentanyl. She said if you go to a party and someone gives you a pill, it could have fentanyl in it and kill you.

“If you are buying drugs on the dark web or other unlicensed licenses, you are potentially playing Russian roulette,” Thibault said. “Drug dealers are lacing virtually every drug with deadly fentanyl.”

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Members of the advocacy group Moms Demand Action join the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to designate June 3 as Gun Violence Awareness Day (via Fairfax County/Flickr)

(Updated at 3:15 p.m.) A Fairfax County School Board member plans to advocate for adding security vestibules at schools in the wake of the deadliest school shooting in the U.S. in nearly a decade.

Melanie Meren, who represents Hunter Mill District on the board, will introduce a motion at a meeting tomorrow (Thursday) requesting that Fairfax County Public Schools develop a plan to fund and install vestibules at all facilities, she said in social media posts last night (Tuesday).

Meren says she previously worked on the proposal when she joined the school board in 2020 to provide an additional layer of security on top of the intercom that most FCPS facilities use to grant entry.

“Security vestibules are a strategy for preventing intruders from gaining access to schools,” Meren told FFXnow by email. “A security vestibule requires visitors to be verified by staff in a secured sign-in area, before doors are electronically opened that grant the visitor access to the building.”

According to Meren, FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand has estimated it would take $15 million to install the enclosures and related electronic systems in facilities that don’t already have them.

Meren intends to put forward the motion as part of the school board’s scheduled vote to approve the fiscal year 2023 budget. She suggests the money could come from county funds left over from this current fiscal year, which ends on June 30, as well as state and federal funds that FCPS gets for security upgrades.

“This work is long over due,” Meren wrote. “Though yet again, public schools are responsible for addressing and funding responses to a public health crisis — gun violence is a public health crisis — while our mission is to educate children for a successful future.”

Meren was one of several Fairfax County elected officials to make public statements in response to yesterday’s mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, where an 18-year-old killed 19 children and two teachers.

The flags outside the Fairfax County Government Center have been lowered to half-staff and will remain there until sunset on Saturday (May 28).

The shooting reportedly started around 11:32 a.m. CDT — just two hours after the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted to designate June 3 as Gun Violence Awareness Day. The school board is set to take the same action when it meets tomorrow.

“As a parent, I am heartbroken for the families in grief tonight and angry that, as a nation, we have not made much progress protecting innocent people, most especially children,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said in a statement. “Our children deserve a world that puts their health and wellbeing at the forefront.” Read More

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