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Thursday afternoon traffic at the Balls Hill Road and Old Dominion Drive intersection (via Google Maps)

Fairfax County has a plan to fix the Balls Hill Road and Old Dominion Drive intersection, but it will likely take another half-decade for the changes to fall into place.

Construction on the proposed realignment — which will split the X-shaped intersection into two T intersections — isn’t expected to start until the spring of 2027, finishing in fall 2028, Fairfax County Department of Transportation staff told the community in a pair of meetings this week.

The lengthy timeline partly stems from an extensive utility relocation process projected take up to 24 months. It could be shortened if the supply-chain issues that have slowed construction during the pandemic abate.

“Some of those [utility] poles are located right now where we’d need to put roadway stuff, sidewalks, whatever, so they have to be out of the way before we can begin construction,” FCDOT project manager Jared Kerr said during a virtual meeting on Wednesday (June 22).

An in-person meeting was held last night (Thursday) at Churchill Elementary School.

Fairfax County’s proposed preliminary design for the Balls Hill Road and Old Dominion Drive intersection (via FCDOT)

Local transportation officials say the wait will be worthwhile for McLean drivers, whose patience is regularly tested by traffic congestion in the central intersection between I-495 and Route 123.

Selected out of three options proposed when the county first brought the project forward in 2018, the T-intersection concept will move traffic more efficiently by reducing driver confusion and relocating signals so vehicles are less likely to block residential driveways, FCDOT staff say.

By 2045, the changes will shave almost two minutes off the average morning rush-hour delay and three minutes off peak afternoon travel times compared to what would happen if nothing is done, according to a staff presentation.

Those couple of minutes could mean the difference between sitting through one or two traffic signal cycles and limit vehicle queues to 125 to 150 feet long. Currently, queues on Balls Hill can extend over half a mile, backing up to The Langley School, one resident at Wednesday’s meeting observed. Read More

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The existing Georgetown Pike Bridge over I-495 (via Google Maps)

Construction on the I-495 Express Lanes expansion in McLean is about to get a little more intense.

Work to demolish the existing Georgetown Pike Bridge over I-495 — also known as the Capital Beltway — will begin this week, potentially even today (Tuesday), the Virginia Department of Transportation announced Friday (June 17).

Contracted for the 495 NEXT project to extend the Beltway’s toll lanes from Tysons to the George Washington Memorial Parkway, workers will start by demolishing the median in the center of the Georgetown Pike bridge and installing a temporary traffic barrier on the westbound shoulder, according to the news release.

“Temporary traffic signals will be installed to enable the removal of the existing signals,” VDOT said. “East- and westbound traffic on Georgetown Pike will then be shifted south on the existing bridge.”

The changes are necessary for crews to take down the northern part of the bridge, a process expected to start in mid-July and take approximately three weeks to complete, depending on the weather and other factors.

The Georgetown Pike bridge’s center median will be demolished, prompting changes to the lane configuration (via VDOT)

Here is more from VDOT on what to expect:

Specialized equipment will be used to demolish the bridge, including excavators fitted with hammers, saws and hydraulic jaws. While every effort will be made to control noise, some demolition is unavoidably noisy and must be performed during nighttime hours when Beltway traffic below the bridge is lightest and necessary lane closures can occur.

Overnight triple- and double-lane closures on the Beltway and periodic stoppages of all lanes for brief intervals will be necessary to ensure the work is performed safely. Virginia State Police will implement periodic shutdowns of all lanes for up to 30 minutes. Traffic will be cleared before subsequent shutdowns take place.

Periodic lane closures will occur throughout construction during midday and overnight hours.

“Travelers approaching the Georgetown Pike Bridge should use caution, pay attention to roadway signs approaching and in the work zone, and anticipate delays and plan their trips accordingly,” VDOT said.

The bridge will be replaced by a longer, six-lane-wide span to accommodate the Beltway, which is getting two new lanes in each direction. The revamped bridge will also have a six-foot-wide sidewalk and a trail link to Scotts Run Nature Preserve, according to updated plans shared earlier this month.

VDOT has spent months slowly ramping up work on 495 NEXT, starting preliminary activities late last year before breaking ground in March. Construction in the corridor began in earnest at the beginning of June with the permanent closure of the interstate’s northbound left-shoulder lane between Old Dominion Drive and the GW Parkway.

While VDOT says the project will provide much-needed congestion relief, it has faced resistance from some residents and elected officials, most recently over plans to task Maryland with some construction work tying the new toll lanes into the new American Legion Bridge that it’s supposed to build.

Maryland transportation officials released a final environmental study for proposed express lanes on their side of the Beltway on Friday, reporting that changes to the design will reduce the project’s anticipated impact on land, streams, and trees.

Photo via Google Maps

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Morning Notes

Gum Springs celebrates Juneteenth with a Community Day on June 18 (staff photo by Matt Blitz)

Fairfax County Holds Primary Today — It’s primary day for voters in the 8th Congressional District, which now includes McLean, Bailey’s Crossroads, Annandale, and the Route 1 corridor in Fairfax County. With the Republican nominee already set, there is only a Democratic contest between incumbent Rep. Don Beyer and challenger Victoria Virasingh. [Fairfax County Office of Elections]

Man Dies in Oakton Crash — An 18-year-old driver died on Sunday (June 19) after losing control of his car while driving south on Fox Mill Road and hitting a tree near Bronzedale Drive. A juvenile passenger was taken to the hospital with injuries not considered life-threatening. Detectives believe speed was a factor in the crash, which resulted in the fifth non-pedestrian fatality of the year. [FCPD]

Drowned Man Remains Hospitalized — A 29-year-old man who drowned while swimming in Difficult Run Stream in McLean on Sunday is still in life-threatening condition. According to police, the man became submerged and was pulled out of the water by friends when he didn’t resurface. Fire and Rescue personnel found him about a quarter mile away from Georgetown Pike on a nearby trail. [FCPD]

Report Finds Discrimination by Housing Providers — “A fair housing test conducted by The Fairfax County Office of Human Rights, in partnership with The Equal Rights Center, showed ‘discernable differences’ between housing providers’ treatment of white and minority testers. The results also showed that ‘certain housing providers lack the training to provide the same level of treatment to Deaf individuals as they do to hearing individuals.'” [Inside NoVA]

Tysons West Vehicle Pursuit Leads to Arrest — A male juvenile allegedly “verbally threatened the victim” in the 1500 block of Cornerside Blvd on Jun 12. The juvenile attempted to drive away, striking two vehicles, before an officer stopped him using the controversial precision immobilization technique. The juvenile was arrested, and two people were treated for non-life-threatening injuries. [FCPD]

Springfield Trader Joe’s Looking to Move — Trader Joe’s is in talks to take over the roughly 24,000-square-foot Whole Foods Market at Old Keene Mill Shopping Center, suggesting that the new Whole Foods under construction at Springfield Plaza will be a relocation. The space would be larger than Trader Joe’s current 10,673-square-foot store next to the new Giant in Springfield Plaza. [Washington Business Journal]

Bank Plans Relocation From Herndon to Tysons — Part of a larger branding overhaul, Forbright Bank is moving its Herndon branch at 150 Elden Street to 1600 Tysons Blvd., a 13-story office building adjacent to Tysons Galleria. The Herndon location is the company’s only Virginia location among five branches in the region. [Washington Business Journal]

Fairfax County Police Helicopter Appears at Smithsonian Event — “Saturday, our helicopter was on display at the National Air & Space Museum’s Annual Innovations in Flight Event. 50+ aircraft fly in from around the region for this special day. Pilots Mountjoy & Edgerton greeted community members as they got a glimpse into Fairfax 1.” [FCPD/Twitter]

County Partners on Older Adult Activities — “Arlington County, Fairfax County, Prince William County, the Town of Vienna, and ServiceSource Inc. host live virtual programming on Zoom five days a week. The events range from fitness classes to special presentations to interactive games. This resource is free and all older adults and adults with disabilities who live in Northern Virginia are welcome to use it.” [Neighborhood and Community Services]

It’s Tuesday — Mostly cloudy throughout the day. High of 81 and low of 68. Sunrise at 5:45 am and sunset at 8:39 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Difficult Run Stream Valley Park sign (via Google Maps)

Updated at 2:30 p.m. on 6/21/2022Sterling resident German Salinas, 29, died today (Tuesday) after drowning in Difficult Run Stream, police announced. 

“The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner will conduct an autopsy to determine cause and manner of death,” the Fairfax County Police Department said.

Earlier: A 29-year-old man remains in the hospital after a possible drowning in McLean yesterday (Sunday) evening, the Fairfax County Police Department tweeted.

Police said they responded around 6 p.m. to 8800 block of Georgetown Pike near Difficult Run River. Fairfax County Fire and Rescue personnel found the man a quarter mile off the roadway on a nearby trail, police said.

His injuries were life threatening, police said. The department said today (Monday) that the man remains hospitalized and that they don’t suspect foul play.

“Detectives determined the man was swimming in the stream that connects to the Potomac River,” police said in a news release. “While swimming, he became submerged underwater and did not resurface. Friends pulled him out of the water and attempted life-saving measures.”

Photo via Google Maps

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South Block is bringing its juice and smoothies to McLean.

The Arlington-based business will open a store in the Chesterbrook Shopping Center, aiming for a tentative opening in summer 2023, a spokesperson confirmed to FFXnow.

“It’s true…South Block will be opening in Chesterbrook!” Vice President of Marketing Lindsey Parry Carzo said in an email that included the hashtag #Kaleyeah. “We are thrilled to be going into a new community.”

Parry Carzo added that McLean “holds an extra special place in our hearts,” since South Block founder and CEO Amir Mostafavi grew up in the area and attended McLean High School.

Mostafavi’s parents owned Box Office Video, a now-defunct local chain that had video rental stores around McLean and Falls Church, including in the Langley Shopping Center.

According to the company’s website, Mostafavi made his entry into the juicery business by starting a juice bar at George Washington University. He launched the first South Block in Clarendon in 2011, deriving the name from the store’s location on the neighborhood’s south side.

Specializing in smoothie bowls and cold-pressed juice, South Block has expanded to 11 locations, most of them in Arlington and D.C. The business will open its first Maryland store on Tuesday (June 21), Parry Carzo says.

The McLean South Block will be the second in Fairfax County, joining a Vienna juice bar that has proven popular despite opening during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

South Block has leased a 1,450-square-foot suite next to Chesterbrook Barber in the northwestern corner of the shopping center, according to property owner and manager Federal Realty’s site plan.

Federal Realty acquired the 89,625 square-foot shopping center at 6244 Old Dominion Drive in May 2021, stating that it intends to build on the previous owner’s work to “grow Chesterbrook into a destination center for the community.”

The center is anchored by a Safeway grocery store but has a few vacancies, including a 9,764-square-foot space that vacated by Walgreens in February.

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McLean Community Center (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

It is now the public’s turn to weigh in on the future of the McLean Community Center.

The agency released a draft of its new five-year strategic plan last week ahead of a public hearing scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on July 6.

Residents of Dranesville Small District 1A, which funds MCC through a special tax, can also take an online survey to comment on the draft plan, which lays out the center’s goals and values for the near-future and strategies for how to achieve them.

“It is important for the community members to provide feedback so that we keep their priorities in the forefront of our path forward,” MCC Executive Director Daniel Singh said. “It is an opportunity to concentrate MCC staff efforts on program development that is relevant to and reflects the genuine public interest.”

Developed by the consulting firm AMS Planning & Research, the strategic plan has been in the works since last fall and comes at a time of change for the community center, which is adjusting to its first new executive director in over a decade and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since he took over MCC’s top staff position in May 2021, Singh and the governing board have prioritized diversity, equity, and inclusion, but a crowded election this spring brought out some tension in the community over those efforts and the overall direction of the organization, which provides civic, educational, recreational, social, and cultural programs.

MCC also wants to stay “responsive and relevant” as its 50th anniversary arrives in 2025 and McLean evolves, Singh says, pointing to a potential amphitheater in nearby McLean Central Park and anticipated downtown redevelopment as factors to consider.

Listing Reston Community Center among the similar groups AMS researched for “best practices,” the draft strategic plan proposes equity, innovation, responsiveness, sustainability, transparency, and joy as key values for MCC to uphold.

It also lays out five goals for the future:

  • Be visible — expand MCC’s presence online and in the broader community
  • Welcome all of McLean — promote inclusiveness, including by engaging different parts of the community, making the website more accessible, and adding amenities
  • Invite discovery — respond to “topical concerns” and fill gaps in the area’s existing program offerings
  • Showcase excellence — find new ways to deliver programs that reflect community needs
  • Model sustainability — review and improve governance, financial, and environmental practices

“We strongly believe that for MCC to be sustainable and successful, this new holistic approach is key,” Singh told FFXnow by email. Read More

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A bear crosses GW Parkway in Belle Haven (courtesy of Jaclyn B/Nextdoor)

(Updated at 7:40 p.m.) Why’d the bear cross GW Parkway?

Possibly to find an easy meal or explore its landscape after a winter hibernation, according to the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources.

A bear was sighted in the Belle Haven area on Thursday (June 9), and one Nextdoor user snapped some photos of it crossing George Washington Memorial Parkway near Belle View Boulevard, not too far from the Mount Vernon Trail.

The sightings piqued some social media users’ interest, with residents suggesting names for the bear and sharing photos of it around the neighborhood.

The Fairfax County Police Department says its Animal Protection Police and wildlife management specialist were alerted to bear sightings in the area over the weekend. The department has also received recent reports of a young bear moving through McLean.

Last week, a bear was also seen wandering around Arlington, though it’s unclear whether any of the bears that have been spotted are the same one.

While bear encounters aren’t common in Fairfax County, they’re not unusual during the spring and summer, when young bears old enough to be independent from their mothers spread out and seek food in green spaces that wildlife uses to travel, according to the FCPD.

Bear sightings have increased in recent years, as the animal’s population grows.

“This trend will continue in the future,” the county police told FFXnow. “Bears have adapted to living near people and we must also learn to adapt to bear activity and take responsible action to prevent conflicts from occurring in our communities by removing food sources that attract bears.”

The bear could be out looking for an easy meal as bears are emerging from their winter dens hungry, or it could be a cub exploring the landscape, according to the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, which says it’s important for homeowners to secure all potential food sources to reduce bear encounters.

Homeowners should secure garbage, compost, barbeque grills, birdseed and pet food.

“The goal is to make human sources of food harder for a bear to get than what nature provides — especially food that is high in fat and calories,” says Nelson Lafon, Forest Wildlife Program Manager for the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources.

Photo courtesy of Jaclyn B/Nextdoor

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Soccer players practice at Lewinsville Park in McLean (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Now that Holladay Field’s conversion to synthetic turf is complete, McLean Youth Soccer (MYS) has set its sights on a new project to bolster the area’s recreational amenities.

The nonprofit soccer club is collaborating with the Fairfax County Park Authority on plans to build a new, permanent restroom facility for Lewinsville Park, which currently only has port-a-potties.

“Lewinsville Park…offers a lot of parks, tennis courts, baseball fields, community garden, but it didn’t have those restrooms,” MYS Board Chair Susan Mrachek told FFXnow. “…For sanitary reasons, whether it’s changing a baby’s diaper or being able to wash your hands or even seeking shelter, we felt it was really important not just for McLean Youth Soccer players, but for the community at large.”

Encompassing 37.7 acres at 1659 Chain Bridge Road, Lewinsville Park is heavily used by everyone from tennis players and nearby McLean High School students to local sports teams like McLean Youth Soccer, which has approximately 2,800 players aged 4 to 22. It also hosts the annual McLean Day festival, which drew roughly 8,400 people this year.

However, the park has no running water and just three to four portable toilets by the parking lot to serve all those people, Mrachek says.

The permanent restroom project came out of discussions among MYS board and staff members after they celebrated the opening of the renovated Holladay Field last fall.

“We thought, ‘Okay, what’s the next thing that we could improve upon?'” Mrachek said. “And [Executive Director Louise Waxler] talked about the restrooms. We all felt that pain as we watched our kids playing soccer and having to go to a port-a-potty.”

The organization pitched the idea to the county park authority, which will introduce the project to the community with a virtual meeting at 7 p.m. next Thursday (June 16).

The proposed facility will be approximately 1,000 square feet in size, though the exact number of stalls or individuals it could accommodate won’t be clear until it reaches the design phase, according to FCPA spokesperson Judy Pederson.

The current estimated project cost is $670,000, but MYS has proposed funding all but $20,000, Pederson says.

According to the project page, the facility could be completed in late 2023, but Mrachek says a thorough review is still needed to see what will be required from an engineering standpoint.

Lewinsville Park is far from the only outdoor recreational facility in Fairfax County without bathrooms of its own.

According to Pederson, 24 of the park authority’s 46 “larger” parks lack a permanent restroom structure, though some like McLean Central Park have access to nearby public buildings. Just 10 out of 34 district parks have a restroom facility listed in the FCPA Park Register.

The deficit also extends to outdoor athletic facilities at more than half of Fairfax County’s high schools, an issue that the county and public school system are moving to address.

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The Virginia Department of Transportation has launched an interactive map showing the design and impacts of the 495 NEXT project (via VDOT)

(Updated at 3:15 p.m.) Construction to extend the I-495 Express Lanes from Tysons to the George Washington Memorial Parkway is moving full steam ahead, despite continued skepticism from many McLean residents.

The Virginia Department of Transportation shared revised designs for portions of the I-495 Northern Extension (495 NEXT) project at two public meetings earlier this week, one that convened in-person at Langley High School on Monday (June 6) and another held virtually yesterday (Tuesday).

Tweaks to the Live Oak Drive bridge as well as the Georgetown Pike and GW Parkway interchanges had some community members suggesting construction should be put on hold, citing safety concerns and arguing that coordination and public engagement on Maryland’s Capital Beltway toll lanes plan has been insufficient.

VDOT officials said they plan to continue working with Maryland and local residents, especially in McLean, to address specific design concerns, but they shut down the possibility of delaying the entire project.

“We are moving forward with construction,” VDOT Northern Virginia Megaprojects Director Susan Shaw said during last night’s virtual meeting. “We have a schedule, we have a budget, and we’re working to the plans as they have been approved.”

The project will extend the I-495 Express Lanes 2.5 miles from the Dulles Toll Road in Tysons to the GW Parkway. After breaking ground in March, construction on the actual interstate began about two weeks ago, VDOT project manager Rimpal Shah confirmed yesterday.

For the rest of this year, workers with contractor Lane Construction will focus on building piers for new Live Oak Drive and Georgetown Pike bridges over I-495, according to the presentation.

The 495 NEXT construction timeline, as of June 2022 (via VDOT)

Live Oak Drive

The planned bridge on Live Oak will have two lanes and a new 6-and-a-half-foot-wide sidewalk on the south side. Work scheduled in the next six months will include vegetation clearing and noise barrier demolition and construction.

Located south of the existing bridge, the new bridge has been slightly redesigned since the last public meeting in September to reduce disruptions to the adjacent residential neighborhood and keep an existing I-495 retaining wall in place during construction, VDOT staff reported. Read More

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Headphones with mic by a laptop (via Petr Macháček/Unsplash)

A 33-year-old man from McLean will go to prison for three years after participating in a scam involving technical support call centers, Department of Justice prosecutors announced on Friday (June 3).

Bruhaspaty Prasad “conspired with several other individuals” to defraud more than 1,300 people, most of them elderly, out of $1.6 million between April 2016 and September 2021, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia.

According to the news release, Prasad collaborated with people in India on a scheme where he created several businesses that claimed to offer technical support:

The defendant’s co-conspirators contacted the victims through unsolicited telephone calls and pop-up notifications on their computers claiming, in part, that the victims needed assistance to remove malware from their computers. In other instances, the call center employees pretended to be associated with companies like Amazon and Microsoft and falsely led the victims to believe that there were issues with their online accounts. The victims were duped into signing contracts for technical support services that were never rendered. Once the victims agreed to pay for services, they were frequently contacted again for additional services and charged additional fees.

In addition to creating the fraudulent tech support companies, Prasad opened three businesses in Virginia that served as recipients for the scheme’s proceeds, “a significant portion” of which was sent to his co-conspirators in India.

“Prasad continued operating these businesses and obtaining victims’ funds even after personally receiving several complaints and negative online reviews,” the DOJ said. “Rather than closing the business entirely, Prasad continued to open businesses to allow the fraud scheme to proceed.”

According to the prosecutors’ office, Amazon provided “substantial assistance” to investigators. Court records show that the case was filed on March 7, and Prasad was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Claude M. Hilton.

Photo via Petr Macháček/Unsplash

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