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Cars travel westbound I-495 on the Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge (via Google Maps)

Work to expand the I-495 Express Lanes to the north is only just warming up, but the Virginia Department of Transportation is now turning its attention to the southern end of the Capital Beltway.

The I-495 Southside Express Lanes environmental study is evaluating possible express lane additions on an 11-mile stretch of the corridor east of the I-395 interchange in Springfield to Maryland Route 210 in Prince George’s County.

Crossing over the Potomac River, the corridor currently has two to five lanes typically, though a divided highway splits local and pass-thru routes. There is also a portion with six lanes, but the corridor overall has no express lanes presently.

VDOT presented its proposal at a virtual meeting yesterday (Wednesday), kicking off a series of meetings during a public comment period that’s slated to end June 6.

In-person meetings will take place tonight in Maryland, Monday (May 23) at John R. Lewis High School in Springfield, and the Nannie J. Lee Memorial Recreation Center in Alexandria on May 25.

The study is seeking to reduce congestion, address safety concerns and provide other improvements.

“In the morning, there is significant congestion going in the westbound direction, or from Maryland towards Virginia,” Abi Lerner, a VDOT engineer for megaprojects, said during the virtual meeting.

According to VDOT’s weekday data for the interstate, there’s approximately two hours of congestion in the morning from around 6:30 to 9, Lerner said. In 2019, average travel speeds could be as low as 30 mph during peak commuting times.

In Virginia, there’s significant congestion for an even longer time frame from approximately 3 to 7 p.m. for traffic going eastbound to the Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge.

Expressing several concerns, resident Poul Hertel asked for the public comment deadline to be extended to June 18. VDOT said that would be considered and updated, if possible, on its project page.

The study is also evaluating whether express lane exit and entry connections could be added, an idea that drew mixed reactions.

“It’s very distressing to see that you have exit points into Old Town Alexandria,” Hertel said. “I would strongly urge you to remove that from your list.”

Meanwhile, multiple Maryland residents weighed in, with Prince George’s County Councilmember Jolene Ivey noting the area’s opposition to toll lanes there.

Lerner responded that whatever VDOT ultimately recommends “is going to require buy-in…from the Maryland side” of the Beltway.

Oxon Hill resident Howard Herrnstadt said it seems that a small number of affluent and time-stressed motorists use existing express lanes, questioning how the infrastructure expense would be justified.

Lerner said VDOT has seen significant usage of the express lanes for carpooling, which enables drivers to use them for free, but he was unable to provide data. Herrnstadt challenged that narrative.

According to VDOT, the proposed changes wouldn’t interfere with the possibility of light rail in the future, which the Woodrow Wilson bridge was designed to accommodate.

The study will inform any recommendations, including no changes, or potential projects in the future. VDOT plans to present options this fall or winter and finish its review in the fall of 2023 or winter of 2024.

Photo via Google Maps

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Traffic builds up on I-495 after a crash in Tysons (via VDOT)

(Updated at 11 a.m.) A fiery crash on the Capital Beltway in Tysons last night (Tuesday) resulted in two deaths and another person being hospitalized.

According to the Virginia State Police, the crash occurred around 10:15 p.m. in the northbound lanes of the Beltway, also known as I-495, near the exit for Chain Bridge Road.

Confirming a preliminary report that the crash came after a driver was spotted going in the wrong direction in that area, police reported this morning (Monday) that a Mazda was traveling south on I-495 North and hit a Buick Encore head-on, causing the Buick to catch fire.

One occupant was reported heavily entrapped and another was ejected. The drivers of the two vehicles, both men, died at the scene, according to police.

“A female passenger in the Buick was transported to Inova Fairfax Hospital and then on to Washington Hospital Center for treatment of life-threatening injuries and burns sustained in the crash,” the VSP said.

Police say that none of the people involved in the collision were wearing seatbelts.

“The crash remains under investigation,” state police said.

Angela Woolsey contributed to this report.

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I-495 South (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

(Updated at 3:45 p.m.) Fairfax County police were pulled into a chase on I-495 during rush hour after a reported armed robbery in Tysons yesterday afternoon (Wednesday).

Two men and a woman allegedly stole several pairs of shoes from a person who had agreed to meet them to sell property in the 1900 block of Old Gallows Road around 5:30 p.m.

“One juvenile approached the victim, displayed a firearm, and took property,” the Fairfax County Police Department told FFXnow.

According to police, the trio drove away in a Mercedes E320 that was “quickly located driving south on I-495 at Little River Turnpike” in Annandale.

Police officers attempted to stop the vehicle, but the pursuit continued down through Springfield onto I-95. It concluded when the Mercedes hit a curb and was disabled near Alban Road in Newington.

“The three occupants of the vehicle were taken into custody. No injuries were reported,” the FCPD said.

An FCPD spokesperson later added that the stolen property and two firearms were recovered from the Mercedes.

A 20-year-old woman from Dumfries has been charged with two counts of robbery and disregarding a police signal to stop. Police have also obtained petitions for the other two individuals, who are aged 17 and 15.

Alan Henney contributed to this report.

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Morning Notes

At the Turning Point Suffragist Memorial in Lorton’s Occoquan Regional Park (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

SCOTUS Lets TJ Admissions Policy Stay During Appeal — With three justices dissenting, the Supreme Court denied the Coalition for TJ’s request to block the new admissions policy for Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. The denial will let Fairfax County Public Schools use the policy to evaluate the incoming Class of 2026, as the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond considers the case. FCPS says the appeals court has approved its request for “an expedited schedule to resolve the legal issues involved in the admissions process.” [SCOTUSblog/Twitter, FCPS]

No Injuries in Turnpike Shopping Center Crash — The driver of a sedan that crashed into an empty storefront next to Kokee Tea in the Fairfax City shopping center on Saturday (April 23) survived unharmed, city officials said yesterday (Monday). Damages to the building at 9668 Main Street are estimated to be between $20,000 and $30,000. [City of Fairfax Fire Department, Patch]

Police Partner With DNA Lab to Solve Tysons Murder — “The young woman’s skeletal remains were discovered in 2001, near a drainage ditch behind an apartment complex in what’s now known as Tysons, Virginia — and Fairfax County police still have far more questions than answers…The crowdfunded effort with Othram Inc. and DNASolves would pay for cutting-edge testing…which isn’t currently available through the state labs.” [WTOP]

Pollen Plagues D.C. Area — “Pollen counts are way up again. Today’s tree count of 1,405.75 grains per cubic meter is the second-highest of the year so far. The highest value was recorded March 7, when the count topped 2,300. Intense pollen seasons are becoming worse and longer in a warming world.” [Capital Weather Gang]

Herndon Man Wins Lottery After Buying 30 Tickets — “A Virginia man collected a total prize of $147,500 when he bought 30 identical tickets for a single lottery drawing. Benjamin Shuler of Herndon told Virginia Lottery officials he bought 30 tickets for the March 28 Pick 4 night drawing, all bearing the numbers 0-8-1-6.” [UPI]

Tysons Pedestrian Bridge Moves in Place — The Virginia Department of Transportation has photos of a truss for the new pedestrian/bicycle bridge being built over I-495 at Tysons Corner Center. The bridge was put in place over this past weekend and is scheduled to open later this year, though it’s unclear when work on a second phase that will extend a shared-use path to Route 123 can begin. [VDOT/Twitter]

County Archaeologists Start Newsletter — “The Fairfax County Archaeology and Collections Branch (ACB) is launching an e-newsletter. The ACB identifies, documents, and interprets the material culture of Fairfax County to promote shared stewardship of cultural resources, nurture a deeper understanding of the past, and inspire future generations.” [Fairfax County Park Authority]

It’s Tuesday — Possible light rain in the afternoon and evening. High of 64 and low of 54. Sunrise at 6:18 am and sunset at 7:58 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Morning Notes

Construction at Reston Station (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

“Beltway Accord” Still a Mystery — More than two years after Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and then-Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced plans to rebuild the American Legion Bridge, an actual, documented agreement remains elusive. Conflict over Maryland’s Capital Beltway toll lanes project has been a source of anxiety in McLean, where officials broke ground on the I-495 widening last month. [Maryland Matters]

Advocacy Groups Meet Incoming FCPS Superintendent — “On Friday, April 15, representatives of several advocacy groups met with Dr. [Michelle] Reid, as well as Fairfax County School Board Chair Stella Pekarsky and Vice Chair Rachna Sizemore Heizer, to discuss their concerns about the superintendent selection process.” [FCPS]

Registration Opens for Kids’ Summer Program — “The Fairfax County Park Authority is accepting registrations for Rec-PAC this summer at 30 elementary school locations across Fairfax County. Rec-PAC is an affordable, structured, six-week summer program for children in grades one through six featuring a different theme each week.” [FCPA]

New Concourse Planned at Dulles Airport — “A new 14-gate concourse at Dulles International Airport could open as soon as 2026 under plans outlined Wednesday…The $674.7 million project…would be the most significant upgrade to the airport in more than a decade. The planned 400,000-square-foot building would replace the single-story structure that handles regional and commuter flights at Dulles.” [The Washington Post]

Reston Station Adds Wealth Management Firm — Comstock announced on Tuesday (April 19) that the office and private investment firm Cresset Manager has signed a lease agreement for 11,500 square feet on the ninth floor of 1900 Reston Metro Plaza. The company is expected to relocate its D.C. area office, currently in Reston Town Center, to the new space in the third quarter of 2022. [Comstock]

Annandale Baseball Diamonds Renamed — “On Saturday, April 16, 2022, the Fairfax County Park Authority joined the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and the Annandale-North Springfield Little League (ANSLL) to rename the Pine Ridge Park baseball facilities to the Kehrer Baseball Complex…The change was made to honor two longtime ANSLL volunteers Darryl and Dawn Kehrer.” [FCPA]

Design Update Coming on Richmond Highway Bus Service — The Fairfax County Department of Transportation (FCDOT) will host three in-person meetings this spring on Richmond Highway BRT. The first one is scheduled for April 28 at Bryant High School and will provide updates on the design and intersection improvements at North Kings Highway and Shields Avenue. [FCDOT]

It’s Thursday — Mostly cloudy throughout the day. High of 66 and low of 44. Sunrise at 6:25 am and sunset at 7:53 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Morning Notes

Sunrise at Reston National Golf Course (photo by Terry Baranski)

Masks Now Optional on Metro — “Effective immediately, Metro will make masks optional on Metrorail, Metrobus and MetroAccess for its customers. Masks also will be optional for Metro employees. This change comes as a result of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) suspending enforcement, while the Biden Administration reviews a federal judge’s ruling.” [WMATA]

McLean Community Center Faces Anti-Equity Backlash — Protests of a “Drag Storybook Hour” at Dolley Madison Library last summer by some McLean residents have grown into broader opposition to MCC promoting diversity and inclusion in its programming. The tension has manifested in this year’s governing board race, where nine candidates, including a former Trump administration official, are vying for three open seats. [The Washington Post]

Capital Beltway Overnight Closures Planned in Tysons — “The I-495 (Capital Beltway) general purpose lanes and 495 Express Lanes will have nightly lane closures Friday, April 22 and Saturday, April 23 to allow crews to set the new pedestrian bridge truss in place as part of the Tysons/Old Meadow Road Bike/Ped Improvements project.” [VDOT]

Recess for Middle Schools Approved — “Middle school students in Fairfax County, Virginia, will get a short daily recess period beginning next year. The school board voted Thursday night to update its student and staff health and wellness policy to allow for a 15-minute recess period every day.” [WTOP]

Alcorn Plans to Seek Reelection — “Barely halfway through his term as Hunter Mill District Supervisor, Walter Alcorn has announced plans to seek re-election in November 2023 to a second 4-year term…His main reason is that he wants to see initiatives that he has worked on actually implemented.” [The Connection]

Research Reveals County Libraries Were Segregated — “Yes, FCPL was segregated. Yes, separate services were provided for White residents and for Black residents. The surface answer we had provided for years gave way to the truth, that our path to desegregation was mirrored across the region for our residents.” [The UncommonWealth]

Sediment Removal Project Underway in Reston — “Fairfax County Stormwater Management will be performing a sediment removal project at dry pond 0330DP located at 11950 Walnut Branch Rd. The project will start the week of April 18 and is expected to last a few weeks.” [Reston Association/Twitter]

Volunteers Needed to Pack Ukraine Donations — All the coats and other winter clothes collected for Northern Virginia’s donation drive for Ukrainian refugees will be delivered to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Oakton. Volunteers are needed on Friday and Saturday (April 22-23) to help pack the items for shipping to Poland. [Dalia Palchik/Twitter]

New Playground Opens at Lorton’s Laurel Hill Park — “The playground is appropriate for children ages 2 to 12 years old. Features include a large spinning Americans with Disabilities Act accessible play structure, small tot play composite and a large unique play structure for children 5 to 12 years old.” [Fairfax County Park Authority]

It’s Tuesday — Partly cloudy throughout the day. High of 47 and low of 37. Sunrise at 6:27 am and sunset at 7:51 pm. [Weather.gov]

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I-495 South under GW Parkway (via Google Maps)

A truck is leaking fuel onto I-495, prompting a closure of two southbound lanes under the George Washington Memorial Parkway in McLean.

Two right lanes on the I-495 Outer Loop are currently blocked, as crews work to plug the leak and contain the spilled fuel, according to the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department.

Emergency responders from Arlington and Montgomery counties are assisting with the effort.

The department says several units are returning to service, but workers are expected to remain on the scene for “an extended amount of time.”

“Consider seeking an alternate route,” the FCFRD said.

Photo via Google Maps

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Morning Notes

A grassy field outside Wolf Trap National Park’s Filene Center (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Annandale Chick-fil-A Opens Today — “Chick-fil-A will open Thursday, April 7, at 7130 Little River Turnpike, Annandale…To celebrate the grand opening, the restaurant will surprise ‘100 local heroes making an impact in Annandale with free Chick-fil-A for a year.'” [Annandale Today]

Starkist HQ in Reston Now OpenRelocating from Pittsburgh, the tuna manufacturer opened its new corporate and administrative headquarters at 1875 Explorer Street in Reston Town Center on Tuesday (April 5). The office can accommodate more than 70 employees, and the company is marking its arrival with a community distribution event for the Reston-based nonprofit Feed the Children. [Starkist]

Commonwealth’s Attorney Expands Diversion for Non-Violent Crimes — “Under the program, called Taking Root, Fairfax prosecutors and defense attorneys can jointly recommend to judges that certain people accused of crimes be assigned to intensive programming instead of being prosecuted…The new program expands on existing diversion programs in Fairfax that have narrower eligibility requirements.” [DCist]

Masks No Longer Required at GMU — “In a message to the school community posted Tuesday, university president Gregory Washington announced GMU had switched to a mask-optional policy on all its campuses. He said the decision reflected low transmission and positivity rates in Fairfax County and nearby communities.” [WTOP]

Great Falls Group Has Ideas for Beltway Bridge Design — “When the construction dust settles, the orange cones are gone and work crews have relocated to snarl traffic elsewhere after completion of the 495 NEXT Project, the Great Falls Citizens Association (GFCA) hopes an extra-nice-looking bridge will take Georgetown Pike over the Capital Beltway.” [Sun Gazette]

Vienna Could Get Specialized License Plate — The Town of Vienna plans to introduce a town-themed license plate after the Virginia General Assembly unanimously approved a bill from Del. Mark Keam letting localities cover the fees for the first 350 prepaid orders required by state law. The law takes effect on July 1, and the town council will then move to decide on a design. [Sun Gazette/Inside NoVA]

Squirrels Trigger Car’s “Check Engine” Light in Franconia — “Craftsman Auto Care — Alexandria, an auto repair shop at the Festival at Manchester Lakes shopping center, found three baby squirrels sleeping under the hood of a customer’s vehicle…As for the check engine light, it turned out that the babies’ mother squirrel had chewed through wiring in the vehicle.” [Patch]

It’s Thursday — Rain until evening. High of 55 and low of 46. Sunrise at 6:45 am and sunset at 7:39 pm. [Weather.gov]

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A groundbreaking ceremony today (Monday) marked the beginning of construction on the much-debated I-495 Northern Extension project to build express lanes on a notoriously congested stretch of the Capital Beltway.

The $660 million 495 NEXT project will create two northbound and two southbound lanes between the Dulles Toll Road in Tysons and the Potomac River north of McLean, adding 2.5 miles onto the existing I-495 Express Lanes operated by the toll road company Transurban.

“Today, we’re kicking off the start of construction on this important initiative that will provide much-needed congestion relief and improve travel on this vital corridor in Virginia,” Virginia Department of Transportation Commissioner Stephen Brich said at the event, held at The Perch on top of Capital One Hall in Tysons.

VDOT began preliminary site work in the affected area of I-495 late last year. The project is part of an agreement with Maryland to expand the Beltway with express lanes and rebuild the American Legion Memorial Bridge.

Local opposition and legal challenges have held up Maryland’s toll lanes project, leading to some anxiety from Fairfax County officials, but Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin said today that he is working with Gov. Larry Hogan to ensure Maryland completes its portion of the so-called Beltway Accord.

A Great Falls resident, Youngkin said he spent considerable time in traffic, waiting to get somewhere. He told media after the event how he’s seen worsening regional congestion over the years.

“One day, we will see…this stretch of the Beltway move in an extraordinary way: No more backups on the GW Parkway in the afternoon at 5 o’clock, people getting home to see their families,” Youngkin said.

In addition to extending the express lanes, 495 NEXT includes bridge upgrades as well as new bike and pedestrian connections. It will also pave the way for planned bus service between Tysons and suburban Maryland.

As Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay noted, there currently aren’t any public buses that cross the American Legion Bridge.

The Commonwealth is providing $5.2 million to launch the bus service, and Transurban has agreed to contribute $2.2 million annually. An estimated 170,000 people are expected to use it each year.

The Beltway improvements are projected to reduce traffic crashes by 20% and reduce commuting times in express lanes during rush-hour traffic by 50%, officials said.

The new express lanes are slated to open in 2025.

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Morning Notes

I-495 South under Route 7 overpass in Pimmit Hills (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Woman Dies in Crash on I-495 — Virginia State Police are investigating a fatal crash on I-495 near the Eisenhower Avenue Connector in the Rose Hill area. The crash occurred at 9:27 p.m. on Saturday (March 5) when a sedan hit a disabled vehicle, causing it to catch fire. The driver of the disabled vehicle died at the scene, while the sedan driver suffered minor injuries and was arrested on multiple charges, including driving under the influence. [Virginia State Police, InsideNova]

Trial for McLean Murder Suspect Begins — “Fairfax County police quickly announced that what unfolded inside the large, yellow home in McLean in 2017 appeared to be a tragic murder-suicide…But after a 16-month investigation, police offered a stunning turnabout: what initially appeared to be a murder-suicide was allegedly a double killing. They claimed the scene had been carefully staged by the real perpetrator.” [The Washington Post]

I-66 to Close Overnight in Fairfax This Week — “All lanes of I-66 West approaching Route 50 will close nightly, March 9-12, to allow for installation of bridge beams for a new access ramp from the future westbound I-66 Express Lanes to Route 50 West as part of the Transform 66 Outside the Beltway Project.” [VDOT]

No Injuries Reported in Reston Shooting Incident — Police responded to the 2200 block of Castle Rock Square around 11:17 p.m. last Tuesday (March 1) after members of the Shadowood Condominium complex community reported hearing gunshots. Officers found damage to a buildings and numerous cartridge cases in the area. [Patch]

Lorton Pizza Restaurant Robbed — According to Fairfax County police, a man entered Antonelli’s Pizza (8212 Gunston Corner Lane) around 9:53 p.m. on March 1 and assaulted an employee. The man walked behind the counter, discharged a firearm, and took property before leaving. The employee was treated for injuries considered not life threatening. [FCPD]

Sheriff’s Office Expands Mental Health Services for Staff — “Dr. Grace Davidson, Licensed Professional Counselor, recently joined the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office under contract full-time to provide behavioral health services for the agency’s 550 employees and their families.” [Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office]

McLean Teacher Gives Art Class to Support Ukraine Relief — “During the COVID-19 pandemic, Pamela Saunders has used art as a way to keep children engaged during virtual learning. Now she can use her platform as a way to show support for Ukraine after the Russian invasion.” [Patch]

Work Begins Today on New Lorton Playground — “The Fairfax County Park Authority will soon begin work on a new playground at Laurel Hill Central Green. Construction is scheduled to start the week of March 7 and is anticipated to be completed next month.” [FCPA/Twitter]

New Sidewalk Built to Park in Groveton — “The Telegraph Road Walkway project features more than half a mile of new sidewalk along the south side of Telegraph Road from 500 feet north of S. Kings Highway to the entrance of Lee District Park and Rose Hill Road. Watch the ribbon cutting ceremony.” [Fairfax TV Channel 16/Twitter]

It’s Monday — Showers are likely and possibly a thunderstorm, mainly after 4 p.m. Today will have a high near 80 and low near 42. It will be breezy, with a southwest wind 11 to 21 mph, with gusts as high as 34 mph. Chance of precipitation is 60%. New rainfall amounts between a tenth and quarter of an inch, except higher amounts possible in thunderstorms. Sunrise was at 6:30 a.m. and sunset will be at 6:08 p.m. [weather.gov]

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