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The scene of a crash that injured six people in Oakton (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Neighbors are frustrated by a lack of safety improvements in recent years in Oakton’s Blake Lane corridor, where a driver struck three pedestrians, killing two, earlier this month.

At a virtual community meeting last night (June 23), many people who live on and close to Blake Lane expressed anger at state and county officials for what they describe as inaction despite extensive advocacy efforts. One resident said they’ve been asking for improvements since one particularly bad crash 20 years ago.

“There’s a lot of anger and frustration in our community right now,” said one neighbor. “…There’s anger that we’ve been warning VDOT for years how dangerous this road is, and we’ve gotten a lot of signs but don’t feel like we’ve made much progress other than that. If we don’t address this, more people are going to die. I’m sure of it.”

Hosted by Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik, the meeting saw police, transportation, and schools representatives discuss potential solutions to help make Blake Lane safer near several schools, including Oakton High and Mosaic Elementary.

Vehicle speed, lack of safe pedestrian crossing areas, and educating young drivers are the big concerns that local agencies and residents hope to address.

The 18-year-old driver involved in the fatal June 7 crash was charged with involuntary manslaughter Tuesday (June 21). Police revealed that he was driving 81 miles per hour in a 35-mile-an-hour zone.

There have been 114 crashes on Blake Lane since 2017, according to data presented by the Fairfax County Police Department. Six of them involved pedestrians, and two crashes involved bicyclists. While 31 resulted in injuries, the June 7 crash is the only one that has been fatal.

Just over a quarter — 31 crashes — involved a “young driver,” between the ages of 15 and 20 years old.

Where Blake Lane intersects with Five Oaks Road, where the June 7 crash occurred, there have been 12 total crashes since 2017, including two involving pedestrians and four involving a young driver.

Crash statistics for the Blake Lane at Five Oaks intersection (via Supervisor Dalia Palchik/Facebook)

The county and state officials proposed potential measures but cautioned that many permanent changes are subject to reviews, audits and studies. Read More

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Morning Notes

Relaxing in Penny Lane Park at the Mosaic District (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

County Police and Fire Training Exercise Today — “#FCFRD is conducting a joint training exercise with Fairfax County Police Department at Fairfax County Government Government Center on Wednesday, June 22, between 9 a.m. -3 p.m. There will be a large fire and police presence in the area during this time. #FCPD Helicopter Fairfax 1 will land/take off during the exercise.” [FCFRD/Facebook]

Rep. Beyer Wins Democratic Primary — Rep. Don Beyer’s bid for reelection remains alive after he won the Democratic nomination for the 8th Congressional District yesterday (Tuesday). Per the Office of Elections, Fairfax County’s turnout reached an estimated 2.5%, as of 3:30 p.m., not including early and absentee voters. [WTOP, Twitter]

Health Aide Under Investigation for Stealing Student Meds — Fairfax County police are investigating a health aide who allegedly took student medications and replaced them with allergy medicine while employed at Greenbriar East Elementary School. The Fairfax County Health Department worker has been placed on administrative leave and could be terminated. [FOX5]

New FCPS Cell Phone Policy Approved — “The policy taking effect in the 2022-2023 school year says students in kindergarten through eighth grade must silence cell phones and put them away for the entire school day. Students in grades nine to 12 must only silence and put away cell phones during classes.” [Patch]

Reduced Charges Possible for Former Freedom Hill ES Workers — “A former teacher and teacher’s aide in Fairfax County, Virginia, accused of abusing non-verbal disabled children entered plea agreements on [June 13] that would result in reduced charges and no jail time.” [NBC4]

Alexandria Man Charged in Springfield Shooting — A 24-year-old Alexandria man got into an argument with the acquaintance in the 2600 block of Redcoat Drive on Sunday (June 19) night around 11 p.m. inside an apartment before police say he shot the person in the upper body and fled. Fairfax County police told FFXnow the victim was taken to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. Officers located the suspect, who they identified of Antwan Pratt, and arrested him nearby, charging him with aggravated malicious wounding and the use of a firearm in the commission of a felony.

Kingstowne House Fire Started by Rags — Two people were displaced on Friday (June 17) by a house fire in the 7800 block of Kincardine Court that caused approximately $90,000 in damages. Investigators determined the blaze started in a first-floor laundry/utility room due to “the improper disposal of rags used for staining wood.” [FCFRD]

Retired Police Dog Dies — “We’re saddened to announce the passing of retired K9 Comak on Saturday. Comak served the Fairfax County community as a patrol dog from 2010 until he retired in 2019. Upon completion of his service, Comak was a beloved member of his handler’s family.” [FCPD/Facebook]

Shared-Use Path Proposed in Centreville — “The Virginia Department of Transportation will hold a virtual design public hearing Monday, June 27 on plans to build a shared-use path along Compton Road (Route 658) to improve bicyclist and pedestrian safety, accessibility and connectivity to the Cub Run Trail system…The project also includes widening the Compton Road bridge over Cub Run to accommodate the new shared-use path.” [VDOT]

McLean HS Runner Wins State Title — “By finishing first in the girls 1,600-meter race in 4:54.92, McLean High School distance runner Thais Rolly was the lone local winner from schools in the Sun Gazette’s coverage area at the recent Virginia High School League’s Class 6 girls and boys outdoor state championship meets.” [Sun Gazette/Inside NoVA]

It’s Wednesday — Rain in the evening and overnight. High of 85 and low of 70. Sunrise at 5:45 am and sunset at 8:39 pm. [Weather.gov]

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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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Franconia-Springfield Metro station (via Google Maps)

Metro is asking the public to weigh in on changes coming to the Franconia-Springfield Metro station.

Officials are proposing to add three new bus bays and a layover facility, eliminate the pick-up/drop-off area, and reconfigure sections of road near the station as well as access to entrances to the parking garage.

Additionally, Metro is looking to add intersections with signals at Metro Access Road and Frontier Drive, along with one reconfigured intersection to help with traffic flow.

These changes are as part of the planned Frontier Drive Extension, a $180 million project from the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and Fairfax County. It will turn Frontier Drive into a large, four-lane divided roadway with a shared-use path and sidewalk.

The public can take a survey and provide written comments about the proposed designs until July 29 at 5 p.m. Residents can also weigh in at a virtual public hearing that Metro and VDOT will host on July 12.

The project’s intent is to better connect Frontier Drive and the Metro station to the new Transportation Security Administration (TSA) headquarters as well as other parts of Springfield.

“The project aims to relieve congestion and improve access to the Franconia-Springfield Metro station, the Springfield Mall and Town Center area, the General Services Administration (GSA) complex, the Northern Virginia Community College Medical Education Campus and the new Transportation Security Administration (TSA) building on Springfield Center Drive,” reads VDOT’s project page.

It was first proposed back in 2017, but this is the first opportunity for the public to hear about proposed designs. Designs are expected to be approved by the fall, according to the project page, which doesn’t list a construction timeline yet.

The proposed changes and additions of three new bus bays comes amid decreased ridership for the Franconia-Springfield Metro station over the last decade.

Even prior to the pandemic, this particular Metro station saw quite a dip in riders. In 2011, there was an average of 7,600 daily entries into the station, according to Metro’s own data, but that was more than halved by 2019, when there was only an average of 3,400 daily entries.

When asked whether Metro hopes ridership might bounce back with the Frontier Drive changes and TSA headquarters’ move, a spokesperson was unable to provide comment by publication besides noting that any projections would be “highly uncertain due to unpredictable effects of the pandemic.”

Photo via Google Maps

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Pedestrians cross Route 7 at Glen Carlyn Drive in Culmore (photo by Sonya Breehey)

For residents of Bailey’s Crossroads, particularly the Culmore area, crossing the street is no small feat.

In some spots along Route 7, it means surviving six lanes of traffic traveling at 40 miles an hour without the refuge of a median or sidewalk, or walking two blocks to reach the nearest crosswalk. Limited street lighting creates an added danger at night.

It’s a corridor built for cars, moving an estimated 24,000 vehicles per day, even though residents of the surrounding, predominantly Spanish-speaking, neighborhood frequently travel by walking, bicycling, or bus, a new report says.

“We have folks who are relying on those means of transportation, but we’re not doing anything to make it safer for them, and we know it’s a problem area for vulnerable road users,” Coalition for Smarter Growth Northern Virginia advocacy manager Sonya Breehey told FFXnow.

Released on Friday (June 10), the report was developed by the nonprofit coalition and the immigrant advocacy organization CASA as part of an ongoing campaign to improve the safety of Route 7 in Culmore for pedestrians, bicyclists, and other non-motorized travelers.

A survey of 202 residents found that 91% of female respondents and 80% of male respondents walk more than once a week. 63% of women and 38% of men said they walk every day — much higher than the 9% daily walk rate reported in the D.C. region prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Walking, bicycling, and transit use among Culmore residents (via Coalition for Smarter Growth)

According to the report, 67% of survey respondents said they don’t feel safe walking, bicycling, or getting to transit, compared to about 10% who said they felt safe or very safe.

While crime was highlighted as a top concern, traffic-related issues included inadequate lighting, drivers not following the 40 mph speed limit and other rules, a lack of continuous sidewalks, insufficient bicycle lanes or paths, and pedestrian signals not allowing enough time to cross the street.

Pushed by the advocacy campaign, which started in response to a fatal pedestrian crash in December, the Virginia and Fairfax County transportation departments are looking at possible safety improvements on Route 7 between Glen Carlyn Drive and Glen Forest Drive. Read More

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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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Officials are proposing adding bicycle lanes and crosswalks to Farmington Drive and Fordson Road, which are in two highly trafficked areas south of the Beltway.

On Farmington Drive, the lanes and additional shared street markings would go between Telegraph Road and Edgehill Drive bordering Jefferson Manor Park and near the Huntington Metro.

On Fordson Road, new bike lanes are being proposed for the short segment of the road in Hybla Valley that connects Mount Vernon Plaza to Richmond Highway. The shopping center recently gained a 3,200-square-foot parklet.

New crosswalks across Fordson Road at Cyrene Blvd and near the entrance of the McDonald’s at the shopping plaza are also being suggested.

This would restrict “most” on-street parking south of Cyrene Blvd, the county notes on the project page, though on-street parking will remain intact north of the road.

All of this is set to be discussed with the community at a virtual meeting next week (June 15). A recording of the meeting will be posted afterward, and community feedback will be accepted until June 29.

Fairfax County Department of Transportation spokesperson Robin Geiger says these types of measures are recommended by the Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan and adding bike lanes can help slow down car traffic.

“The [roads are] wide enough to accommodate additional transportation infrastructure,” she wrote to FFXnow in an email. “Wide travel lanes can also lead to higher travel speeds, which is a safety concern for drivers, as well as cyclists and crossing pedestrians.”

The project only needs to be approved by District Supervisor Rodney Lusk, who is expected to make his decision in the coming weeks after the public comment period.

The proposed projects are part of the county’s annual maintenance, repaving, and striping of roads. Every year, FCDOT identifies roads that could be improved by additional safety measures like crosswalks, bicycle lanes, and shared street markings. The county collaborates with VDOT, which does the actual work and funding of the projects. The work begins in April and concludes in November.

However, these two projects were not part of the original collection of roads that were set for new safety measures this year.

The Farmington Drive and Fordson Road projects had originally been slated for consideration next year, but a lower bid on the paving contract allowed them to be possibly moved earlier.

If approved, the roads will be repaved between September 2022 and June 2023, so it still could be a full year before the new bicycle lanes and crosswalks are completed.

VDOT was not able to provide more information by publication on how much street parking would be lost with the addition of bike lanes to Fordson Road as well as the cost of both projects. Geiger did say the addition of bike lanes and crosswalks are just “making minor adjustments to the striping.”

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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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Morning Notes

Route 123 and International Drive in Tysons (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Kingstowne Man Indicted for Real Estate Loan Scheme — Calling it one of the largest embezzlement cases in Fairfax County history, the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office announced yesterday (Monday) that Carlos Camacho has been charged with 15 counts of embezzlement and four counts of forgery. Camacho allegedly used loans to divert more than $2 million from his employer for personal expenses. [DCist]

County Sees Rise in Domestic Violence During Pandemic — “During the first quarter of 2022, our Department of Family Services’ Domestic and Sexual Violence Services (DSVS) division has seen this trend in real time through its Domestic and Sexual Violence 24-Hour Hotline, which has recorded an uptick in the number of domestic violence calls it receives.” [Fairfax County Government]

VDOT to Suspend Highway Work During Memorial Day Weekend — “Based on 2018 and 2019 traffic data, periods of moderate to heavy congestion on those pre-pandemic Memorial Day weekends were most likely to occur between noon and 6 p.m. on Friday and Monday, and midday on Saturday and Sunday, VDOT said in a news release.” [Inside NoVA]

IT Consulting Firm Octo Opens Lab in Reston — “Honored to attend the ribbon cutting for oLab today. With the relocation of groundbreaking companies and the expansion of cutting edge innovation labs in Virginia, we’re going to keep solving problems and making critical breakthroughs right here in the Commonwealth.” [Mark Warner]

Virginia Lawmakers Near a Budget Deal — “State legislators got word Monday that they should return to the Capitol on June 1 to vote on a proposed two-year state budget, even though final details on the spending plan were still being hammered out…Legislators launched the special session in April on his orders but promptly went home because there was no compromise to vote on.” [The Washington Post]

Chantilly Student Collects Medical Supplies and Food for Ukraine — “Nicholas, a student at Fairfax County’s Rachel Carson Middle School, chose to help Ukraine as part of his Eagle Scout project. All donations will be boxed by Nicholas and his fellow Scouts, and then sent to United Help Ukraine, a Maryland-based nonprofit organization founded in 2014.” [Patch]

Deputy Fire Chief Promoted — “Fire Chief John Butler is pleased to announce that Deputy Chief Dan Shaw has been promoted to Assistant Chief with the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department. Assistant Chief Shaw will head the Office of the Fire Chief, which includes Data Analytics Management, Fiscal Services, Health and Wellness, Information Technology, Planning, and Public Information and Life Safety Education.” [FCFRD]

It’s Tuesday — Rain in the morning and afternoon. High of 66 and low of 53. Sunrise at 5:51 am and sunset at 8:24 pm. [Weather.gov]

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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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