495 NEXT map

495 NEXT map

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted 8-2 April 13 to endorse the Virginia Department of Transportation’s 495 Express Lanes Northern Extension (495 NEXT) project and expressed hope that Maryland officials would expand highway capacity on their side of the Potomac River.

495 NEXT will extend a pair of high-occupancy-toll (HOT) lanes in each direction about 3 miles north from their current terminus near the Dulles Toll Road to the vicinity of the American Legion Bridge.

In an April 13 letter to Virginia Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine, Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay (D) said supervisors “strongly encourage” VDOT to coordinate with Maryland officials to minimize the time gap between the opening of the 495 NEXT lanes and Maryland’s new managed lanes.

Maryland officials in recent months chose a preferred alternative that would add two HOT lanes in each direction and mirror those to be constructed in Virginia. Maryland leaders also have selected a consortium to perform predevelopment work on the project, McKay’s letter read.

“These are positive and very welcomed steps,” McKay’s letter read.

“However, there still is risk and uncertainty regarding whether, and if so when, Maryland will receive the required approvals to enter into agreements to construct their project.”

Fairfax County officials appreciate the Virginia state government’s willingness to pay for $5.2 million worth of buses that would travel between the county and Montgomery County, according to McKay’s letter.

Virginia officials also have agreed to put $2.2 million annually toward operating costs for service every 15 minutes during peak hours and hourly service in off-peak times, said Fairfax County Department of Transportation Director Tom Biesiadny.

A Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation study recommended 10 possible bus-route combinations between Northern Virginia and Montgomery County, Md., he said.

McKay’s letter expressed support for the 495 NEXT project’s proposed bicycle-and-pedestrian trail and improved trail connections in McLean and Tysons. VDOT also should mitigate traffic impacts to the Beltway’s general-purpose lanes during this interim, the letter read.

Fairfax County and VDOT will fund and implement improvements at local intersections affected by 495 NEXT and use funds received from the concessionaire to undertake stream-restoration efforts along Scotts Run.

Supervisors still worry about how future ramps built at the I-495/Dulles Toll Road interchange would affect local communities, McKay’s letter read.

Supervisors request that VDOT “re-evaluate its design and develop a context-sensitive alternative to minimize the footprint and impacts to the fullest extent possible,” the letter read.

Supervisors John Foust (D-Dranesville) and Walter Alcorn (D-Hunter Mill) voted against the resolution. Foust wanted to see more progress on Maryland’s side of the river in order to avoid adverse impacts for the environment, drivers and neighborhoods in Northern Virginia.

“I honestly believe that until Maryland replaces the bridge and widens its side of the Beltway, 495 NEXT provides those who can afford to pay the tolls a way to cut in line and arrive a few minutes sooner at the congestion at the bridge, while adversely impacting everyone else,” Foust said.

McKay said he felt fairly certain that Maryland’s project would advance. “Delaying starting this project in Virginia, of course, just stretches out the overall timeline of this project, combined with the American Legion Bridge,” McKay said. “I am concerned about making our endorsement entirely conditional on something that we can’t control.”

Supervisor Penelope Gross (D-Mason) said McKay’s letter incorporates some of Foust’s concerns.

“This truly is planning for the future,” she said of the project. 495 NEXT will benefit the region’s economic-development efforts, said Supervisor Rodney Lusk (D-Lee).

“The project will allow for some certainty for companies looking to expand and grow their businesses,” he said.

495 NEXT also would vehicle congestion and cut-through traffic, said Supervisor Dalia Palchik (D-Providence). Costs likely will escalate if VDOT postpones moving ahead with the project, she added.

“I’m fearful that if we were to delay this again, the great improvements that we’ve seen and the commitments from VDOT and the concessionaire to local transit, including Express Bus [to] Maryland, could be eliminated,” Palchik said.

The project may spur further progress in Maryland, added Supervisor Patrick Herrity (R-Springfield).

“This is an economic-development project and an infrastructure project that’s going to be funded with private dollars, not taxpayer dollars, and one that could kick off at a critical time an economic recovery,” he said.

If the Commonwealth Transportation Board in May decides to proceed with 495 NEXT, officials would execute the construction contract by year’s end and work would begin in 2022. The project is slated for completion in 2025. For more information about the project, visit www.495northernextension.org.

[Sun Gazette Newspapers provides content to, but otherwise is unaffiliated with, InsideNoVa or Rappahannock Media LLC.]

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