(Updated at 3:45 p.m. on 1/5/2023) The search is still on for a new site to host a cell tower in McLean that has to be removed to make room for the widening Capital Beltway.
The monopole, which is owned by American Cell Towers and supports AT&T and T-Mobile service, was officially decommissioned on Dec. 9, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation.
“Cell providers are working to minimize any potential impacts to existing service, and VDOT is working with the project’s design-build contractor to facilitate a relocated cell tower as soon as possible,” the department told FFXnow.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors expressed concern at a Sept. 30 transportation committee meeting that losing the tower may cause wireless service disruptions, something that AT&T admitted was a possibility.
Fears of disruptions were particularly high after the removal of a cell facility at Lake Anne in Reston resulted in slow, spotty service for residents in that area over the summer, including for 911 calls.
Fortunately, those anticipated issues don’t seem to have come to fruition. Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust’s office, which represents McLean, says it hasn’t gotten any emails from constituents about the decommissioned cell tower, as of Dec. 20.
VDOT had hoped to see the tower relocated by Dec. 31 — an extension from the original deadline of Sept. 30 — but a new location still hasn’t been identified. VDOT didn’t respond by press time when asked if the deadline got extended again.
“[There’s] no timeline yet,” Jane Edmondson, Foust’s chief of staff, said by email. “The County has not yet received an application for a new location.”
Located by the Old Dominion Drive bridge, the 135-foot-tall monopole needs to be moved to make room for the I-495 Northern Extension (495 NEXT) project, which is adding about three miles of toll lanes on the Beltway from the Dulles Toll Road in Tysons to the George Washington Memorial Parkway in McLean.
The project will also replace the Old Dominion bridge, which has one lane each for eastbound and westbound traffic. The new bridge will have two lanes and a 14-foot-wide shared-use path on the south side. (Correction: This article initially said two lanes would be added on the bridge in each direction.)
While touted as necessary to mitigate traffic congestion, 495 NEXT has been criticized by some McLean residents as harmful to their neighborhoods and the environment.
Construction began in mid-2022 and is expected to continue into 2026, with the new express lanes opening in 2025.
Photo via Google Maps
A cell tower by the Capital Beltway in McLean must be removed before the end of this year to make way for the road’s widening, leaving Fairfax County and state transportation leaders scrambling to prevent future service disruptions.
The 135-foot-tall monopole stands right next to I-495 at the Old Dominion Drive bridge, which will be replaced by a new two-lane bridge with a shared-use path as part of the Virginia Department of Transportation’s I-495 Northern Extension (495 NEXT) project.
VDOT determined that the tower needs to be relocated “well over a year ago,” but no progress has been made to identify a temporary or permanent new site, Megaprojects Director Susan Shaw told the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on Friday (Sept. 30).
“The providers to date have said that there is no temporary location that’s acceptable to them,” she said. “…We’re all working very hard to try to resolve it, and I think we’ve tried to provide a lot of ideas for where they might find acceptable locations on VDOT right of way, but again, we’re not experts. It’s very specific technically in terms of what would work for them and maintaining the kind of service that they have.”
Construction on 495 NEXT is underway, but work hasn’t started yet on the Old Dominion bridge.
American Cell Towers, which owns the monopole, initially faced a Sept. 30 deadline for the removal, but that has been extended to Dec. 31. The tower has to be decommissioned in November so that the utilities can be taken off and the structure dismantled, according to Shaw.
In conversations with AT&T and T-Mobile, the providers that use the pole, VDOT was told that service along the Beltway won’t be affected, but service for the surrounding communities “would be degraded,” particularly during periods of peak demand, Shaw said.
AT&T confirmed that some of its customers “may experience intermittent wireless service disruptions near Old Dominion Drive and the Capital Beltway.”
“We, like other carriers, are being forced to remove our antennas so that they can widen the Beltway,” an AT&T spokesperson said. “We apologize for the inconvenience, and we are working with state and Fairfax County officials to identify an alternative site for our equipment. In the meantime, we have optimized other nearby sites to try and extend coverage until this is resolved.”
The provider added that people who experience disruptions can utilize its Wi-Fi Calling service instead.
While the availability of other cell carriers in the area suggests 911 calls won’t be affected, Shaw said the providers told VDOT they “couldn’t guarantee” that there would be no impact. American Towers didn’t immediately respond to FFXnow’s requests for comment. Read More
A sidewalk is coming to Vienna’s Alma Street SE, whether the residents there want it or not.
Construction to add about 1,500 linear feet of concrete, curb and gutter, driveway aprons, and ramps on the northwest side between Follin Lane and Delano Drive will begin by the end of this week, the Town of Vienna shared on Monday (Aug. 8).
One of many sidewalks in the works as part of Vienna’s Robinson Trust Sidewalk Initiative, the Alma Street project drew some particularly strong opposition from residents along the road, who petitioned against the proposal as it moved through the engineering and design process last year.
The town maintains that the sidewalk is needed for older residents, people with mobility challenges, and anyone else who doesn’t want to walk in the roadway or might benefit from the accompanying ramp, crosswalk and other accessibility improvements.
“The Town believes that sidewalks are an important amenity for residents of a street — and for the community at large,” Department of Public Works Engineer Robert Froh said in an email. “Sidewalks promote good health and pedestrian safety, connect individuals and destinations in the community, support Town businesses and sustainability goals, and enhance the ‘greater good’ of the community — today and in the future.”
Alert! By the end of this week, sidewalk construction is expected to begin on Alma Street SE, from Follin Lane to Delano Drive, as part of the Robinson Trust Sidewalk Initiative. Curb and gutter, driveway aprons, and handicap ramps will also be installed. Please use caution. pic.twitter.com/sVISceoJdK
— Town of Vienna, VA (@TownofViennaVA) August 8, 2022
A flier dated Aug. 4 that a resident shared with FFXnow said construction would take about three weeks, depending on weather. It will require relocations of water meters for five houses, and homeowners were told to move sprinkler systems and any personal belongings out of the right-of-way.
Street also targeted for Dominion undergrounding project
The resident says they learned earlier this week that Dominion Energy will underground its electric lines, which are on the same side of Alma Street as the incoming sidewalk, leading them to question the location and timing of construction.
Dominion Energy confirmed it has a project for Alma Street SE under its Strategic Underground Program, which focuses on moving its “most outage-prone overhead power lines” underground. Read More
Cellular service issues continue to plague residents in the Lake Anne area of Reston, but a recently added, temporary truck will at least ensure AT&T customers can call 911.
A spokesperson for AT&T said that since Friday (July 29) — when information about the outage was first released — the company has been trying to restore an antenna in the area.
AT&T says it is working on placing a temporary cellular support truck in the Lake Anne area to help give customers a boost and improve service until the issue is resolved.
“We have deployed temporary emergency coverage for first responders, and are working as quickly as possible to restore full service in the area. We sincerely apologize for this inconvenience,” an AT&T spokesperson told FFXnow.
The company did not provide information on when the issue was first identified and what efforts have been made to restore the site.
However, Fairfax County said in a statement that it worked with the telecommunications company “to expedite placement of a cellular support vehicle” that was put in place Saturday morning (July 30).
“The AT&T cellular support vehicle allows for residents to call 9-1-1 and provides cellular coverage for public safety,” county spokesperson Tony Castrilli said. “The full restoration for AT&T customers in Lake Anne is scheduled to be completed in two weeks.”
The problem comes after Verizon and other cell carriers removed a cell phone communications facility at the rooftop of Lake Anne Fellowship House, which is set to be demolished next year.
Fairfax County is encouraging residents to use a landline or make calls through the WiFi on devices where that’s an option.
A spokesperson for Verizon said the company is actively looking for a replacement site. Its original plans fell earlier this year. Since then, the company says that it has been looking for another site but with no success.
A project to underground Richmond Highway utilities may be buried due to cost, construction delays, and the risk it poses to federal funding for other projects happening along the corridor.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors weighed the pros and cons of undergrounding utilities along the highway, also known as Route 1, at an economic initiatives committee meeting on Tuesday (July 26).
Undergrounding utilities is a fairly common (and supported) practice, but the Route 1 proposal is complicated by two other major infrastructure projects in the corridor: the highway widening and the build-out of a bus rapid transit (BRT) service.
While the board didn’t take any definitive action on Tuesday, it was clear that a number of committee members, including Chairman Jeff McKay, were leaning towards scrapping the project altogether.
“It feels a little bit like ‘why wouldn’t we do it?’ if you just look at it on the surface, but as we dug into it today quite a bit…it makes it a little bit clearer how unclear it is,” Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik said.
In a presentation, staff said the county would be solely responsible for financing any undergrounding, with no assistance from the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) or the Federal Transit Authority (FTA).
Undergrounding utilities could also result in a two-year delay for the Route 1 widening and BRT projects, tacking on an extra year each for design work and construction. That would push the completion date for the widening to 2031 and for the BRT to 2032.
Utility undergrounding would also increase the cost of the two projects by at least $264 million, requiring an additional $136 million for the actual construction and potentially another $128 million to account for inflation during the two-year delay.
To raise the needed funds, county staff proposed working with the General Assembly to implement a utility “surcharge.” A $1 per month surcharge for residents and a 2.5% surcharge on commercial properties that could reach a maximum of 6.67% would bring in $40 million in revenue annually.
However, a surcharge would require an agreement with utility companies, mainly Dominion Energy, Verizon, Cox, and NOVEC. Even if an agreement is reached, it could take 12 to 18 months for the companies to sign off through their own “internal legal review” processes, delaying the undergrounding even more.
According to staff, undergrounding utilities could also result in the loss of $334 million in federal funding that the FTA is providing for the BRT project. Read More