After debating nearly two hours over a pair of conflicting resolutions regarding the Virginia Department of Transportation’s proposal to temporarily close an on-ramp to northbound Interstate 495 during weekday afternoon peak hours, McLean Citizens Association (MCA) board members on Nov. 7 rejected both resolutions.
VDOT’s proposed four-month-long pilot program would close the on-ramp to I-495 north from Georgetown Pike in McLean between 1 and 7 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.
VDOT held public meetings about the proposal in August and October and the majority of people who testified opposed the initiative, saying it would inconvenience drivers and force them to take more circuitous routes to reach the Beltway.
VDOT officials will accept public comments about the proposal through Nov. 13 and likely will decide by month’s end whether to implement the initiative, said Allison Richter, VDOT’s liaison for Fairfax and Arlington counties, during a Nov. 8 Greater McLean Chamber of Commerce breakfast.
David Wuehrmann, chairman of MCA’s Transportation Committee, presented a five-page resolution recommending that VDOT and the Fairfax County Department of Transportation (FCDOT) close the on-ramp using a temporary, removable barrier instead of by continuous police presence, as the latter would unduly burden local law enforcement and prevent them from attending to other tasks.
The main resolution also encouraged VDOT to consider tolling the on-ramp to northbound I-495 from Georgetown Pike in order to continue local residents’ ability to access the Beltway and nearby George Washington Memorial Parkway. Tolling also might deter some Maryland commuters from cutting through local neighborhoods in order to use the ramp.
The resolution reiterated MCA’s request that Virginia and Maryland officials should work together to expand the American Legion Bridge and increase Beltway traffic capacity north of the bridge. Doing so would relieve traffic congestion south of the bridge and lessen commuters’ use of neighborhood streets in McLean, MCA members said.
MCA’s approval would have depended on an agreement by VDOT and FCDOT to monitor traffic conditions during those hours at Route 123’s intersections with Lewinsville Road and Georgetown Pike, the resolution stated. If traffic congestion at those crossings greatly increases on a regular basis during those peak hours, VDOT should terminate the pilot project, it read.
While acknowledging a majority of local residents opposed the closure, Wuehrmann said the initiative’s impact only could be determined by implementation.
“This has become a quality-of-life issue for people living in that area,” agreed MCA 1st vice president Glenn Harris. “I think it’s kind of a crisis situation. VDOT is trying this obviously radical proposal because they’re at their wit’s end.”
But other board members adamantly opposed the ramp closure.
“Our community is extremely divided,” said Kelly Green Kahn. “I’m concerned. I think we’re putting ourselves in a position of picking winners and losers.”
MCA board member Sally Horn presented a six-page alternative resolution that urged VDOT officials to cease further consideration of the pilot program and examine further options that would address cut-through traffic without reducing the ability of McLean and Great Falls residents to access the Beltway.
The alternative resolution concurred with the main resolution’s suggestion of possibly tolling the on-ramp instead of closing it.
Transportation planners could maintain local access to the Beltway and deter incursions into local neighborhoods by Maryland commuters by lengthening the ramp’s three merge lanes and requiring northbound high-occupancy-toll (HOT) lane traffic on the Beltway to re-enter standard travel lanes at the Dulles Access Road or points farther south, the alternative resolution read.
After ending debate following Wuehrmann’s presentation, MCA president Dale Stein took a straw poll to see if Horn’s proposed resolution had sufficient backing for further consideration. It did not, but Horn brought back several of her proposal’s ideas as the board hashed out the language for the main resolution.
Membership Committee chairman Martin Smith, did not favor either resolution.
“The choice is neither,” Smith said. “The root of the problem is accommodation. VDOT is overmatched. They do not have the tools to solve this problem.”
Several board members departed during the subsequent bickering over the main resolution’s wording, and when it was time to vote, the resolution lost by a tally of 10 votes to 12.