The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors wants answers now to its lingering questions about the Virginia Department of Transportation’s northern extension of the Capital Beltway (I-495) toll lanes.
County staff got the green light yesterday (Tuesday) to send a letter seeking clarity on VDOT’s coordination efforts with Maryland and plans to mitigate the environmental and traffic impacts of a construction project that has now been in progress for nearly two full years.
Dranesville District Supervisor Jimmy Bierman, who represents the McLean area most directly affected by the project, requested the letter for Virginia Transportation Secretary W. Sheppard Miller after a message that the board sent in September “inexplicably” went unanswered.
“I just think it’s absolutely ridiculous that we would send a letter to the Secretary of Transportation in September, and we’re sitting here in February and never got a response. It’s just absurd,” Bierman said at the transportation committee meeting, which he chaired.
Under construction since March 2022, the project known as 495 NEXT is adding 2.5 miles of express lanes on the Beltway from the Dulles Toll Road in Tysons past the George Washington Memorial Parkway in McLean.
VDOT has touted the widening as necessary to relieve congestion and add pedestrian, bicycle and transit connections in the corridor. Though they endorsed the project in April 2021, Fairfax County leaders — particularly Bierman’s predecessor as Dranesville District supervisor, John Foust — have warned that traffic relief will be limited without toll lanes on Maryland’s side of the Beltway.
VDOT estimates that the project would move more than twice as many additional people when coupled with Maryland toll lanes than it would as a standalone project.
After that analysis came out, however, Maryland downsized its plans to widen the Beltway and replace the aging American Legion Bridge in response to local opposition. The project stalled altogether last March when contracted toll lanes operator Transurban backed out.
Maryland officials began reviving the project last summer, proposing to widen the bridge and 6.5 miles of I-495 from the GW Parkway to I-270, Maryland Matters reported. A new design hasn’t been released, and construction isn’t expected to break ground until 2026 — a year after Virginia’s express lanes are scheduled to open.
In its September letter, the Fairfax County board urged VDOT to craft a written agreement with its Maryland counterpart to guide any work that may spill over into Virginia. Since Miller didn’t respond, there’s “prevailing uncertainty” over the local implications of Maryland’s project, according to the new draft letter. Read More
The truck took out two beams on the bridge over the Dulles Toll Road while navigating a ramp to the toll road from southbound Reston Parkway. Transportation officials closed the left lane of the road to reduce the weight on the damaged beams after the incident.
“The repairs were completed the first week of December with final inspections completed in the middle of the month on the 14th,” Virginia Department of Transportation spokesperson Alex Liggit said by email. “Everything was completed on schedule.”
The pre-existing traffic pattern has also been restored. Since the July 10 crash, the left lane of southbound Reston Parkway was closed. The ramp to the eastbound toll road was re-striped as an exit and thru lane.
Any extension of the I-495 Express Lanes along the south side of the Capital Beltway should support additional transit options, Fairfax County leaders stressed in a recent letter to the Virginia Department of Transportation.
VDOT is currently studying options for completing the I-495 toll lanes by expanding them from the I-395/I-95 interchange in Springfield to Maryland Route 210 in Prince George’s County, an approximately 11-mile span that crosses the Woodrow Wilson Bridge in Alexandria.
At a meeting on Nov. 21, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved a letter to Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sheppard Miller emphasizing the importance of accommodating transit in the project, which is intended to relieve congestion on what VDOT has said is the most heavily traveled segment of the Beltway.
“The County is appreciative that the Commonwealth is assessing solutions on the only interstate segment in Fairfax that does not have a transit benefit at this time,” the board’s letter said. “It is critical that additional travel choices are available in the Capital Beltway Corridor to move the most people as efficiently as possible in this region.”
VDOT staff presented several preliminary concepts at a public meeting on Sept. 12, including the addition of one or two general-purpose or express lanes in each direction or two reversible express lanes that would change direction with rush-hour traffic.
Staff said it has also explored adding a dedicated transit lane for buses and making adjustments that wouldn’t require new construction, such as supporting new bus routes or allowing the existing I-495 shoulders to be used as travel lanes during peak traffic periods. However, the congestion relief benefits would be limited without more space on the highway, according to the study team.
Taking a slightly more open stance than officials in Alexandria City, the Board of Supervisors didn’t comment on specific concepts, but it urged VDOT not to pursue any option that would rule out the possibility of future rail service over the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.
Opened to traffic in May 2008, the bridge was designed with a median to accommodate future transit, not with the expectation of toll lanes, Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay noted at the Nov. 21 meeting.
“From an equity standpoint, I do appreciate the fact that this is on the table, because this remains the only piece of interstate highway in Fairfax County that currently has no transit benefit whatsoever,” McKay said. “I acknowledge a failure of past efforts when projects were done to literally cut off this part of the county from the same types of transportation options that other parts of the county now have, including the communities that are sandwiched between the Springfield interchange project and the Woodrow Wilson project.”
According to the board’s letter, Fairfax County staff would support “an interim phase” without rail while Metro continues exploring how to increase capacity on its Blue, Orange and Silver lines, a study that has been underway since 2019 and could conclude by the end of this year. Read More
Officially, Fairfax County doesn’t have a Lee Highway or Lee-Jackson Memorial Highway anymore, but months after the names were dropped, they can still be seen on street signs throughout both corridors.
By the end of this month, that should no longer be the case — at least for smaller signs, the Fairfax County Department of Transportation says. A contractor is replacing the small blue signs at street corners with ones identifying the roadways as Route 29 and Route 50, respectively.
“This work is underway, and we anticipate this work to be complete by the end of November,” FCDOT Head of Communications Freddy Serrano told FFXnow.
The process of replacing larger, overhead directional signs, however, isn’t expected to begin until next year.
Getting those signs made and installed will be the Virginia Department of Transportation’s responsibility, though the county is covering all of the costs. A VDOT spokesperson says the department hopes to finalize an agreement with a contractor by the end of this year.
“It will involve 110 signs and it should take about two years to complete from the start of the contract that is anticipated to start in Jan. 2024,” VDOT said by email.
According to Serrano, a preliminary schedule from VDOT estimates that the overhead sign replacements will be finished by the end of 2025.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted on Sept. 13, 2022 to stop referring to routes 29 and 50 as Lee and Lee-Jackson Memorial, names adopted in the early 20th century as nods to Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.
Instead of giving the roadways entirely new names, as Arlington County did with its Route 29 segment in 2021, the board opted to use the route numbers to reduce confusion and the cost of new street signs. FCDOT staff previously said changing the signs would be more challenging for longer names.
At the time of the vote, county staff estimated that the sign updates would cost about $1.4 million. It cost about $46,000 for FCDOT’s contractor to fabricate and install the corner street signs, according to Serrano.
“Most of the costs of the sign replacement will be VDOT’s replacement of the larger overhead signs,” he said. “FCDOT will not have an updated cost estimate for that portion of the sign replacement until VDOT begins their preliminary design.”
County staff estimated it would take another $1.5 million to fund grants to help affected property owners cover expenses for updating business licenses, land records and other documents, as recommended by the Confederate Names Task Force that reviewed the proposed renamings.
On its website, FCDOT says the county “is developing” a financial assistance program, but Serrano confirmed to FFXnow that “the proposed grant program for businesses has not been approved at this time.”
The county updated addresses in its records to reflect the name changes, including for property taxes and voter registrations, on July 5.
Construction on an overhaul of the Fairfax County Parkway and Popes Head Road interchange is slated to begin by the end of this year.
The Virginia Department of Transportation awarded a $49 million construction contract for the project in Fairfax Station last week to the Roanoke-based company Branch Civil, which is expected to begin on-site activities in December.
In the works since at least 2017, the project will replace the existing, four-way intersection controlled by a traffic signal with three roundabouts and two bridges over Fairfax County Parkway “that will allow traffic to flow freely,” VDOT said.
Other elements include:
- Building a short segment of the future Shirley Gate Road extension that will provide pedestrian and vehicle access to the future Patriot Park (Fairfax County is designing the rest of the Shirley Gate Road extension)
- Constructing a shared-use path linking the Fairfax County Parkway Trail to the future Patriot Park
- Reconstructing the Fairfax County Parkway Trail
- Installing a sidewalk along the north side of Popes Head Road
- Extending Ladues End Lane to the new roundabout at Popes Head Road
- Adding an acceleration lane for drivers turning from Nomes Court onto northbound Fairfax County Parkway
According to VDOT, Fairfax County Parkway carries an average of 64,000 vehicles a day, while Popes Head Road averages about 3,200 vehicles daily. The long wait at the traffic light — which state officials have said can last five minutes during peak travel times — has been a source of frustration for commuters.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors gave its support for the proposed redesign in May 2020. Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity said at the time that the project “will provide significant congestion relief and a safer route for thousands of residents,” according to The Connection.
VDOT is ultimately planning to widen Fairfax County Parkway from four to six lanes, starting with the northern section from Nomes Court to Route 29, though some have questioned the department’s use of road widenings as an answer to traffic congestion.
Earlier this year, the Fairfax County Department of Transportation revisited a 2021 study of the parkway and determined that it should be six lanes, rather than the eight that had previously been recommended. Staff also stressed the need for bicycle and pedestrian improvements, calling the completion of a trail from Reston to Fort Belvoir a top priority.
The Popes Head Road interchange also ties into plans to extend Shirley Gate Road down to the parkway from Braddock Road. Some funds for that project, which isn’t expected to start construction until 2026, were redirected in July to a project that will eliminate hills on Lee Chapel Road, where two teens were killed in a crash in January.
VDOT estimates the Popes Head Road interchange overhaul will cost a total of $92.4 million, including $78 million for construction, per its project page.
“A ‘Pardon Our Dust’ information meeting for residents and travelers is being planned in January,” VDOT said. “Construction is expected to be complete in late 2026.”
(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:
- Mark Springman, competing for Senate District 34 against incumbent Scott Surovell
- Matt Lang, competing for Senate District 38 against Sen. Jennifer Boysko in a district reshaped by redistricting
- Kristin Lee Hoffman, competing for House District 6 against Del. Rip Sullivan
- Maxwell Fisher, competing for House District 8 against incumbent Irene Shin
- Nhan Huynh, competing for House District 9 against incumbent Karrie Delaney
- James Thomas, competing for House District 10 against incumbent Dan Helmer
- Ed McGovern, competing for House District 18 against Del. Kathy Tran
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
A ditch will no longer force pedestrians and bicyclists to ditch the shared path along Route 29 in Merrifield.
Construction has been substantially completed on a new, unbroken shared-use path spanning about one-third of a mile between Vaden Drive and Nutley Street, the Virginia Department of Transportation announced on Friday (Oct. 6).
The path replaces an asphalt sidewalk that abruptly ended at an Accotink Creek tributary that runs under the roadway. In addition to filling in some missing segments, the project added a central yellow line to the new trail and extended a box culvert over the tributary to support it.
In the works since spring 2019, construction on the improvements began in November 2022. The project cost an estimated $3.8 million, funded by local dollars and a concession fee that the I-66 Express Lanes operator agreed to provide as part of the Outside the Beltway toll lanes extension.
“Construction on the project…is now substantially complete, with minor work occurring in the coming weeks until final completion with minimal impacts,” VDOT said.
#Merrifield area bicyclists & pedestrians – enjoy your new shared-use path along NB Rt 29 from Vaden Dr to Nutley St! This project constructed missing path segments and extended a culvert to carry the new path over an Accotink Creek tributary. 🚴🚶
— VDOT Northern VA (@VaDOTNOVA) October 6, 2023
While the new path isn’t especially long, it provides a crucial connection for pedestrians and cyclists to the nearby Vienna Metro station and other area sidewalks and trails, including ones in Towers Park, VDOT says.
However, that accessibility still ends at Nutley Street, since the south side of Route 29 has no sidewalk east of the intersection.
As part of a plan to redevelop the Pan Am Shopping Center, Fairfax County staff recommend implementing “continuous bicycle and pedestrian facilities along Route 29” in the future. The existing Bicycle Master Plan doesn’t show any trail on the south side and indicates that “further analysis and outreach is needed to determine the best fit for bicycle facilities along this roadway,” according to the amendment approved by the Board of Supervisors on Sept. 12.
Developer Federal Realty, which owns the shopping center, has proposed adding a 10-foot-wide shared-use path along Nutley Street with the redevelopment. To the north, VDOT is working to complete its I-66 shared-use trail, which opened a first segment in May that included a tunnel under Nutley.
As of Aug. 9, most remaining sections were slated to open this October, according to VDOT’s project website. That excludes a segment through the Route 50 interchange that’s not projected to open until spring 2024.
Planning officials in the Shenandoah Valley and central Virginia fear proposals to change Virginia’s transportation funding system could significantly reduce state funding for smaller transportation projects for cyclists and pedestrians.
The Commonwealth Transportation Board has been reviewing the state’s transportation funding process, SMART SCALE, which has been in place for the past seven years.
Some of the proposals being considered by the board include favoring larger transportation projects over smaller ones, lowering the number of applications local governments and planning organizations can submit and reducing the weight given to land use in applications.
Significantly, many bike and pedestrian projects could go unfunded under the proposed changes. According to data collected by a working group made up of Virginia’s Office of Intermodal Planning and Investment, which advises state transportation leaders, and several consultants, 75% of the bike and pedestrian projects recently funded through SMART SCALE would have gone unfunded under the new rules.
“We certainly think there’s a lot of focus on highway road expansion statewide and no focus on climate change impacts with this approach,” said Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth.
Trip Pollard, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center and leader of its Land and Community Program, said he’s concerned the proposed changes to SMART SCALE will harm the state’s ability to meet its goals of reducing air pollution and protecting the environment.
“Staff is doing some great work on this and there are some good reasons for some of these changes, but cumulatively, I definitely don’t agree with them,” Pollard said. “I think it really fundamentally shifts where the money is going to go.”
Other changes attempt to evaluate projects over a longer time scale. For example, the working group is recommending that the Commonwealth Transportation Board consider adding to the application process a project’s congestion benefits 10 years into the future and forecast the economic value of a project.
“What we’re doing here is trying to get at the metrics that better show us the value so that we can apply that in our scoring system,” said Transportation Secretary Shep Miller at the board’s Sept. 20 work session.
Making room for larger projects
One of the most controversial recommendations made by the working group, which has been reviewing the SMART SCALE proposals since March, is for Virginia to expand its definition of “high-priority projects,” or projects that have a regional or statewide significance.
Currently, state law defines high-priority projects as those that “reduce congestion or increase safety, accessibility, environmental quality or economic development.”
The working group is recommending adding to that list projects that include “new capacity highway, managed lanes, new or improved interchanges, new or improved passenger rail stations or service, freight rail improvements, high-capacity fixed guideway transit, transit transfer stations, and new bridge.”
Planning leaders from the Shenandoah Valley and central Virginia, however, worry that expanding the high-priority designation could edge out other, smaller kinds of transportation proposals by weighting decisions against them. That could force local governments to find other sources of funding. Read More
A total of six new Capital Bikeshare stations may soon arrive around the Innovation Center Metro station.
The Fairfax County Department of Transportation will host a meeting this coming Wednesday (Oct. 4) to discuss the proposal. The virtual meeting begins at 7 p.m.
So far, proposed locations include:
- Innovation Metro South
- Corta Way and Sayward Boulevard
- Coppermine Road and River Birch Road
- Dulles Technology Drive and Sunrise Valley Drive
- Woodland Park Road and Cooperative Way
- McNair Farms Drive and Thomas Jefferson Drive
Comments on the proposal will be accepted through Friday, Oct. 20.
County staff will then work with supervisors John Foust (Dranesville) and Walter Alcorn (Hunter Mill) as well as the Virginia Department of Transportation to install the equipment sometime next year, according to Freddy Serrano, a spokesperson for FCDOT.
“The recently opened Innovation Center Metro provides an ideal first and last mile destination for Capital Bikeshare riders. County staff also wanted to propose expansion into Supervisor Districts with few, if any existing stations such as [the] Dranesville District,” Serrano wrote in a statement.
The new stations are funded by a grant from the Federal Highway Administration. The grant covers a total of 10 stations and roughly 69 electric bicycles. Capital Bikeshare has 738 stations in the D.C. area, 79 of which are located in Fairfax County.
Next week’s meeting will also include an update on Bikeshare’s new electric bicycles, which started rolling out this spring.
Updated at 4 p.m. on 9/26/2023 — The traffic pattern change at Lewinsville Road and Route 7 has been rescheduled for 5 a.m. on Thursday (Sept. 28), the Virginia Department of Transportation says.
Earlier: One portion of the ongoing project to widen northern Route 7 (Leesburg Pike) is complete.
Final work on the intersection will continue tonight into the morning, in preparation of the new traffic pattern taking effect by 5 a.m.
“Temporary traffic patterns may be in place during the overnight hours between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. while crews complete the transition,” VDOT said. “Please use caution and be alert to directional signage that will be in place to guide drivers through the intersection.”
Under the new configuration, Lewinsville Road has been realigned with the McLean Bible Church’s east entrance on the south side of Route 7. A displaced left-turn lane separates Route 7 traffic headed east onto Lewinsville from westbound Route 7 traffic.
Traffic signals have been placed at both McLean Bible Church entrances, but a new acceleration lane lets drivers from Lewinsville Road turn right onto westbound Route 7 without having to stop at the light, as shown in a simulation video from VDOT.
Under construction since spring 2019, the Route 7 Corridor Improvements Project is widening the roadway from four to six lanes along a nearly 7-mile stretch from Reston Avenue to Jarrett Valley Drive just north of the Dulles Toll Road.
The $313.9 million project is also adding 10-foot-wide, shared-use paths on both sides of the corridor and reconfiguring several intersections, including Lewinsville and Baron Cameron Avenue in Reston.
Work is scheduled to be completed by July 31, 2024.