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Republican General Assembly candidates, led by Senate District 37 contender Ken Reid, propose changes to Virginia’s I-66 and I-495 tolling policies (via Ken Reid/YouTube)

(Updated at 9:30 p.m. on 10/26/2023) Several Republicans campaigning to represent parts of Fairfax County in the General Assembly have vowed to change up Virginia’s interstate tolling system if they’re elected on Nov. 7.

With the McLean Metro station in Tysons as a backdrop, the candidates unveiled a “Tolling Equity and Relief Plan” last Friday (Oct. 20) that they argued would reduce congestion and lower the cost of using the Express Lanes on I-66 and the Capital Beltway (I-495).

Crafted by former Congressman Frank Wolf, who represented Virginia’s 10th district from 1981 to 2015, the proposal calls for frequent Express Lanes drivers to get rebates from toll and state tax revenues, lower high-occupancy vehicle requirements, and standardization of toll rates on I-66 inside and outside the Beltway.

“We are hearing many complaints about the high cost of the tolls — especially on the new I-66 express lanes but also I-495 and other toll roads, which is adding to the cost of living of Northern Virginia families,” said Ken Reid, who organized the press conference. “Government must do its part to give the region’s motorists a break.”

A former Loudoun County supervisor, Reid is vying for the State Senate District 37 seat against Saddam Azlan Salim, who won the Democratic primary in June over longtime Sen. Chap Peterson. The district includes Tysons, Vienna, Oakton, Merrifield and the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church.

Other candidates who endorsed the proposed legislation include:

According to a press release from Reid’s campaign, the Tolling Equity and Relief plan would offer rebates to commuters who use the I-66 and/or I-495 Express Lanes more than 30 times a month, similar to a SunPass toll relief program that took effect in Florida this year.

The plan would also reinstate HOV-2 “at certain hours” on both interstates. Drivers were able to use the I-66 Express Lanes for free if they had at least two passengers until last December, when the Virginia Department of Transportation raised the requirement to HOV-3.

Per the press release, the plan would allocate toll revenue to widening I-66 to three lanes in each direction from the Dulles Access Road in Pimmit Hills to the Nash Street tunnel in Rosslyn.

“No funds would go to bike trails or other modes of transit until that project is done,” Reid’s campaign said.

Virginia currently uses I-66 and I-395/95 toll revenue for a Commuter Choice grant program that supports road and public transit improvement projects in those corridors. Recently funded projects include a north entrance for the McLean Metro station and Fairfax City’s first Capital Bikeshare stations. Read More

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Virginia State Police vehicle (photo by John Calhoun/JC Photography)

A McLean woman died Saturday (Oct. 21) after crashing into another car while driving in the Capital Beltway (I-495) Express Lanes.

According to state police, Annette M. Ozaltin, 44, was heading south in the northbound I-495 toll lanes when her 2013 Toyota Prius struck a northbound 2018 Chevrolet Cruze head-on around 2:07 a.m.

“The impact of the crash caused the Toyota to spin around, run off the left side of the interstate and strike the cement Jersey wall,” the Virginia State Police said in a news release last night (Sunday).

The crash occurred in Annandale near the 51-mile marker, just south of the Gallows Road interchange.

Ozaltin was taken to Inova Fairfax Hospital, where she died from her injuries that morning.

The Chevrolet driver has been identified as 34-year-old Stephanie Leiva from Dumfries. She was transported to a hospital “for treatment of serious injuries,” police said.

Both women were wearing seatbelts at the time of the crash, according to police.

“The crash remains under investigation,” the VSP said.

This appears to be the 32nd fatal crash to occur within Fairfax County this year and the fourth on I-495, according to state data. As of last night, October fatalities, including Saturday’s crash and a hit-and-run that killed a pedestrian on Richmond Highway on Oct. 6, haven’t yet been counted in the Department of Motor Vehicles database.

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Virginia State Police vehicle (photo by John Calhoun/JC Photography)

(Updated at 12:35 p.m.) A pedestrian died last night (Sunday) after being hit by a driver on the Capital Beltway (I-495) near Merrifield, Virginia State Police say.

The state police responded to calls about a pedestrian being struck on a northbound I-495 service road to Route 50 around 9:14 p.m., according to a VSP spokesperson.

Identified as Douglas C. Haskett II, a 55-year-old Ashburn resident, the pedestrian was hit by the driver of a Chevrolet Traverse, who fled the scene. Haskett died at the scene, according to police.

A dispatcher asked for any unit on the Beltway that could “check on a pedestrian walking in the road,” according to scanner traffic on Open MHz.

“There’s people standing on that ramp north to 50,” the dispatcher told the responding troopers.

Troopers shut down the ramp from Gallows Road, reporting that there were “multiple vehicles” on the scene. However, the vehicle responsible for the crash was not present, a trooper told the dispatcher.

At 9:39 p.m., a Fairfax County police officer said they had “received a call from a citizen who believes he might be the hit-and-run driver,” according to the scanner.

“During the course of the crash investigation, state police were notified by Fairfax County Police that they had received a call from the driver of the Chevrolet,” VSP spokesperson Corinne Geller confirmed in an update around 12:20 p.m. today (Monday).

The call came from a parking garage in the Mosaic District. Upon locating the Chevrolet in the garage, troopers arrested the driver — Brian C. Diffell, 46, of Falls Church — and charged him with a felony count of hit-and-run.

“The investigation remains ongoing and in consultation with the Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney,” Geller said.

(Updated at 2:15 p.m.) A crash involving three vehicles, including a Virginia State Police vehicle, has partially shut down the northbound Capital Beltway (I-495) near Merrifield, including all express lanes.

According to state police, the crash appears to have occurred around 12:36 p.m. when a trooper responded to a disabled vehicle in the northbound express lanes just south of Route 50.

“A multi-vehicle crash occurred several minutes later involving a box truck that overturned partially onto a state police patrol vehicle,” a VSP spokesperson said. “There is one reported injury in the box truck. The trooper was not injured.”

The trooper reported that he “got hit” and requested additional units, including a medic, at 12:50 p.m., according to scanner traffic on Open MHz.

Four people have been transported to the hospital, the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department says.

“One patient was extricated,” the fire department said in a 1:49 p.m. tweet. “Four patients were transferred. 3 with non life-threatening injuries and 1 with serious injuries.”

State police and FCFRD units remain at the scene to investigate.

Traffic from the blocked I-495 toll lanes is being diverted into the regular travel lanes. The north left and left center lanes are also closed, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation’s traffic cameras.

As of 1:36 p.m., traffic backups extended approximately 1.4 miles.

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Traffic on the American Legion Bridge headed north into Maryland (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

(Updated at 9:35 a.m. on 8/22/2023) Maryland has renewed its commitment to replacing the American Legion Bridge and adding express lanes on the Capital Beltway, much to the relief of Northern Virginia transportation officials.

The Maryland Department of Transportation has applied for a federal grant to fund the initial phase of its project to widen the Beltway (I-495/I-270) and reconstruct the aging bridge, which provides the only road connection between Fairfax County and Montgomery County, Maryland Gov. Wes Moore announced today (Monday).

The announcement is the first indication of how Maryland will proceed since private express lanes operator Transurban backed out in March over concerns about delayed environmental approvals, lawsuits and the change in leadership after Moore succeeded Larry Hogan in January.

Since Hogan and then-Virginia governor Ralph Northam announced an agreement in 2019 to replace the heavily used American Legion Bridge, Maryland’s cooperation has been seen as critical to the success of Virginia’s I-495 Northern Extension (495 NEXT) project, which is now under construction and will extend the Beltway’s toll lanes from the Dulles Toll Road in Tysons to the bridge north of McLean.

“Governor Moore’s plan ensures these long-awaited improvements will become a reality. This is great news for area travelers and the economic competitiveness of our entire region,” Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance President Jason Stanford said in a statement. “The Alliance applauds Governor Moore for finding a multimodal solution to address one of the region’s worst bottlenecks and move more people through one of our most congested corridors.”

The Virginia Department of Transportation has estimated that 495 NEXT will move 2,500 more people per hour in both directions when the express lanes open in 2025. However, it would move 5,400 more people an hour with Maryland’s project in place.

Skeptics of 495 NEXT, including Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust, have argued that widening I-495 in Virginia without a concurrent widening in Maryland will only push the existing congestion further north, leaving McLean residents to deal with the traffic, environmental and neighborhood impacts without getting any of the supposed benefits.

Noting that many details of Moore’s plan have yet to be shared, such as what kind of “managed lanes” will be involved, Foust called the announcement “great news” as a sign that Maryland is committed to helping address congestion on the American Legion Bridge.

However, assuming it secures the necessary approvals and funding, the Maryland project will still likely take years to complete, Foust said in a statement.

The estimate I have seen is that the project could be complete in eight years (by 2031) if all goes well. Unfortunately, that means commuters who cross the American Legion Bridge, and residents of the communities around the bridge, will continue to suffer from the impacts of severe congestion for at least that long unless something is done in the interim. Given the miserable traffic conditions around the bridge, eight years is too long to wait for any relief. That is why I believe VDOT needs to deliver interim solutions that mitigate the congestion impacts over the bridge and in the surrounding neighborhoods.

The 495 NEXT project was designed to seamlessly connect to a version of an American Legion Bridge project that we now know will not be built. In addition to very nasty congestion, established neighborhoods along the path of the 495 NEXT project are being severely impacted by construction activity. Given the dramatic change of plans and potentially major reduction of scope for the Maryland project, I believe VDOT should determine whether and by how much it can reduce the scope of disturbance of its project to help mitigate those construction-related impacts on the adjacent communities.

Shifting away from the public-private partnership that Hogan sought and that has built Virginia’s growing express lanes network, Moore emphasized in his announcement that Maryland’s project will incorporate transit and other multimodal improvements, including pedestrian and bicycle access. Read More

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The I-495 North Express Lanes are blocked by a four-vehicle crash near the Dulles Toll Road in Tysons (via VDOT)

Updated at 6:30 p.m. — All lanes on I-495 have reopened.

Earlier: The northbound express lanes of the Capital Beltway (I-495) are partially closed at the Dulles Toll Road in Tysons after a crash involving four vehicles.

Virginia State Police responded to the “chain reaction crash” near the Dulles Toll Road at 4:33 p.m., a VSP spokesperson said.

No injuries have been reported, according to police.

The crash initially blocked all of the northbound I-495 Express Lanes, but traffic is now being allowed through on the left shoulder, per the Virginia Department of Transportation’s traffic cameras.

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A sign for the Georgetown Pike exit off of I-495 North (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

(Updated at 11:05 a.m. on 8/7/2023) Traffic on the Capital Beltway will be periodically stopped overnight at Georgetown Pike in the latter half of next week.

Lasting up to 30 minutes at a time, the stoppages are required to enable crews to relocate utilities at the interchange as part of the 495 NEXT project, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation.

The stoppages will occur between midnight and 5 a.m. next Wednesday through Saturday (Aug. 9-12). In between each stoppage, one lane in each direction will temporarily reopen so traffic can be cleared.

(Correction: Due to a typo, this story initially said the stoppages would last until 5 p.m. instead of 5 a.m.)

“In the event of inclement weather, the stoppages and associated work will be postponed to the following night,” VDOT said. “Travelers should anticipate delays and consider taking an alternate route.”

Under construction since March 2022, the I-495 Express Lanes Northern Extension project is extending the Beltway’s toll lanes 2.5 miles north from the Dulles Toll Road in Tysons past the George Washington Memorial Parkway in McLean.

Earlier this year, McLean residents with the Northern Virginia Citizens Association sought to halt construction with a lawsuit challenging the project over its reported impacts on their health, neighborhoods and the environment.

A federal judge ruled on April 7 that work could continue during the litigation.

VDOT anticipates opening the extended express lanes in late 2025 and completing the full project in 2026.

“Drivers are urged to slow down and use caution when traveling through the 495 NEXT work zone,” VDOT said.

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The scene of a multi-vehicle crash south of Georgetown Pike on I-495 from a traffic camera (via VDOT)

A Falls Church man has been charged with a hit and run after crashing into multiple vehicles on the Capital Beltway (I-495) in McLean yesterday (Thursday), bringing traffic during the afternoon rush-hour to a halt.

In footage from a Virginia Department of Transportation traffic camera shared by public safety blogger Dave Statter, the driver of a white van was captured plowing into several northbound vehicles and then jumping over the median to the interstate’s southbound lanes around 4 p.m.

The incident began near the 44-mile marker at Georgetown Pike when the northbound 2012 Chevrolet Express van rear-ended a vehicle at the end of the I-495 Express Lanes, according to the Virginia State Police, which responded at 4:03 p.m.

“When it came to the end of the Express Lanes and encountered stopped traffic, the van failed to brake in time and rear-ended a vehicle,” VSP spokesperson Corinne Geller told FFXnow. “That sparked a multi-vehicle chain reaction crash. No injuries were reported in this incident.”

According to police, the driver pulled away from the crash and attempted to flee the scene, hitting more vehicles in the process:

As the van pulled away from that crash and tried to flee the scene, it struck several additional vehicles before it finally came to a stop, wedging itself, a passenger vehicle and a tractor-trailer against one another. The van’s driver then fled the scene on foot. With the assistance of Fairfax County Police, state police established a search perimeter in the immediate area. Fairfax County Police apprehended the driver and took him into custody.

Three people sustained “minor injuries” in the second set of crashes, the VSP said. The exact location of those crashes hasn’t been confirmed yet, but a traffic camera that caught the scene yesterday was listed as being near Old Dominion Drive.

Identified as Hernan de Jesus Ayala, 33, the driver has been charged with hit and run and failing to wear a seat belt by state police.

The Fairfax County Police Department didn’t immediately respond to an inquiry about whether it has filed any charges of its own. Police scanner traffic suggested that Ayala had a pocket knife, but VSP didn’t confirm that in its statement to FFXnow.

A crash has created traffic backups on I-495 at Lewinsville Road (via VDOT)

Updated at 7:45 p.m. — All lanes on I-495 have now reopened after a pair of crashes during the afternoon rush hour, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation.

Earlier: Two separate vehicle crashes have brought the Capital Beltway to a near-standstill in the McLean area just north of Tysons.

A Virginia State Police trooper told a dispatcher at 4:06 p.m. that there were “two major incidents,” both involving multiple vehicles, according to scanner traffic on Open MHz.

One crash involving a tractor-trailer occurred in the express lanes near the Lewinsville Road exit, initially blocking all northbound lanes on the Beltway (I-495), according to the Virginia Department of Transportation.

As of 4:50 p.m., one lane of traffic on the far right side of the highway was getting by.

Virginia State Police also responded to a crash in the northbound I-495 lanes near Georgetown Pike at 4:12 p.m., a spokesperson said.

“There are no reported injuries. The crash remains under investigation,” VSP said.

VDOT traffic cameras showed multiple police cars and Fairfax County Fire and Rescue vehicles near Old Dominion Drive.

On the emergency scanner, a dispatcher told responders with the Virginia State Police that a witness saw a man leaving the scene of that crash with a pocket knife.

“On I-495N Express Lanes at mile marker 44.1 in the County of Fairfax, motorists can expect major delays due to other security/police activity,” VDOT’s 511 traffic information system said at 4:31 p.m. “The north left shoulder and left lane are closed. Traffic backups are approximately 2.0 miles.”

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The American Legion Bridge into Maryland (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

If you find trips on the Capital Beltway into Maryland nightmarish now, imagine what they would be like without any transit options.

That’s the scenario posed by the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC) in a new study on the value of the region’s transit network, including Metro, local bus services like Fairfax Connector and the Virginia Railway Express (VRE).

Released today (Thursday), the study found that the American Legion Bridge — the only direct link between Fairfax County and Maryland — would need to carry 24,653 or 8.2% more vehicles per day in 2025 if there was no transit (325,619 vehicles) compared to the projected traffic volume with transit (300,965 vehicles).

The other bridges across the Potomac River would see even bigger differences, led by a 39.2% increase on the Arlington Memorial Bridge.

“These bridges are congested today, and congestion will increase in the future. Without transit, however, the capacity constraint on the bridges would be substantially greater,” the study report says.

The report notes that rush-hour traffic on all of the Potomac crossings is projected to exceed capacity in 2025 regardless of transit availability. The American Legion Bridge would exceed capacity by 3,651 vehicles under the “base” conditions and by 7,379 vehicles under the “no transit” scenario — a 102% difference.

Projected Potomac River bridge peak traffic volumes in excess of capacity (via NVTC)

Construction is underway to widen the Capital Beltway (I-495) by adding two toll lanes in each direction from the Dulles Toll Road to just south of the American Legion Bridge. The Virginia Department of Transportation has forecast that the 495 NEXT project will move approximately 2,500 more people per hour in both directions, starting in 2025.

However, Maryland’s plans to replace and expand the bridge remain in limbo following the exit of its private partner. Replacing the American Legion Bridge would allow the Beltway to move 5,400 more people an hour, VDOT has said, but the endeavor will cost an estimated $1 billion.

According to an NVTC spokesperson, the study’s calculations incorporated the 495 NEXT project, but it didn’t include the possibility of future bus service between Tysons and Bethesda, as proposed by both Fairfax Connector and Metro.

“Our study evaluated the difference between what’s currently planned for 2025 and a scenario in which all transit in Northern Virginia is removed,” NVTC said. “That means the proposed future route from Tysons to Bethesda, using the American Legion Bridge, was not included since it won’t be in service by then.” Read More

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