Express Lanes forum

Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance President Jason Stanford moderates a July 14, 2022, discussion about ongoing Express Lanes projects through the region, featuring panelists John Lynch, Jeff Folden, Jeff McKay at the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce in Tysons. 

Northern Virginia has been transformed for the last decade by Express Lanes projects and regional leaders say more of the same is needed – including over the Potomac River and into Maryland – if the metropolitan area is to continue thriving.

Virginia has 62 miles of Express Lanes in service on Interstates 95, 495, 66 and 395 and now are building 33 miles more, including 22.5 miles on I-66 outside the Beltway and 2.5 miles for the 495 NEXT project in McLean, said John Lynch, Northern Virginia District engineer for the Virginia Department of Transportation.

Panelists discussed the situation July 14 at “Shaping the Region: Past, Present and Future of Express Lanes,” a Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance (NVTA) program held July 14 at the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce in Tysons.

After introducing dignitaries present, NVTA president Jason Stanford told how Express Lanes had helped him secure an EpiPen Jr. for his daughter, who has a severe peanut allergy.

There had been a shortage of the pens and Stanford had to call pharmacies around the region to find one. Told by a pharmacy that he had only 30 minutes to obtain the only epinephrine-injection pen left in stock, Stanford used the I-495 Express Lanes to make the trip in time between his Tysons office and Alexandria.

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay (D), who noted he never had been approached by anyone who was thrilled with the area’s transportation situation, credited regional leaders with braving criticism years ago to get the Express Lanes initiative moving.

“Political courage actually counts for something,” McKay said.

Area residents and commuters benefit when transportation options are available and sometimes they create choices on their own, as when arranging carpooling “slug lines,” he said.

“Infrastructure investments pay big economic dividends,” McKay said.

Tysons’ long-term success will depend on fixing the American Legion Bridge and extending high-occupancy-toll Express Lanes into Maryland, McKay added.

Progress is being made on those fronts, said Jeff Folden, director of the Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration I-495 and 1-270 public-private-partnerships office. Planned Express Lanes in Maryland would be compatible with ones across the Potomac River in Virginia, he said.

“We need a [transportation] system that’s better connected, balanced and safe,” Folden said, adding it was better to “think of the whole, not individual components.”

Maryland officials hope their efforts will improve travel speed and reliability, take traffic off local roadways, reduce environmental impacts and avoid residential and business relocations, he said.

“We’ve made a lot of historic progress, but we’re far from done,” he said. Terry Clower, director of George Mason University’s Center for Regional Analysis, recommended investing in all forms of mobility, saying the region is facing a mounting economic-competitiveness challenge.

“Detroit is outperforming us,” he said woefully.

The Dallas-Fort Worth area, where Clower used to live, invested heavily in its transportation network a decade ago and currently is creating about 100,000 jobs per year, Clower said.

Northern Virginia already has received major benefits from its transportation investments, but this has hinged around the public-private-partnership model, Clower said. It is crucial for the region to leverage the capacity of the private sector for infrastructure expenditures, he said.

VDOT hopes some existing Express Lanes on I-95 can be converted from reversible-direction to bidirectional, allowing traffic headed both ways to use them throughout the day, Long said.

McKay hoped that could be accomplished, saying he from the start had called the reversible lanes there an “enormous missed opportunity.” VDOT officials also are conducting environmental studies, due to be competed in early 2024, about building Express Lanes on the south side of the Beltway connecting them across the Potomac in Maryland. Both spans of the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge include space for future transit options, officials said. High housing costs also are a major challenge facing the region, whose leaders either must concentrate dwellings in the area’s core or keep spreading out as in years past, Clower said.

“No housing, no people, no jobs,” he said.

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