MCLEAN, Va. (ABC7) — Currently, there is a roughly 2.5-mile gap between the end of the Beltway Express Lanes and the American Legion Bridge.
Now, VDOT is considering closing that gap by extending Virginia’s variable-toll Express Lanes north from the Dulles Toll Road interchange to the Maryland state line.
“We know that segment of the Beltway between Tysons and the American Legion Bridge is the most congested interstate segment in the entire Washington metropolitan area, so we’re looking for what we can do it improve it,” said Susan Shaw, Megaprojects Director for VDOT. “We also want to be ready for when Maryland makes capacity improvements to the Beltway and across the American Legion Bridge.”
On Monday evening, VDOT held a public information meeting in Mclean to provide an update on its plans and give Virginia drivers and homeowners a chance to ask questions.
“Are they going to take our house? Our backyard? What kind of disturbance are we going to have during the construction?" said Leslie Murphy, whose backyard backs up to I-495. “How are we supposed to plan our lives?”
VDOT tried to reassure homeowners that wouldn’t happen on the Virginia side of the Beltway.
“We anticipate right now no relocations of any commercial or residential properties. We do believe we’ll need right-of-way, so we will need to acquire some additional right-of-way, largely from properties that abutt the I-495 corridor today. It will be portions of properties, not entire properties,” Shaw said. “It’s a little bit early to say exactly how much from each yard and how many properties we’re talking about.”
Shaw said VDOT will have a better idea of the number of impacted properties by this fall.
But with a similar debate now playing out in Maryland, homeowners in Virginia are skeptical.
“They schedule these meetings only because they’re required to, but not for any kind of public service,” Murphy said. “It’s very frustrating.”
Maryland Governor Larry Hogan wants to increase capacity on I-495 by adding toll lanes to the entire Maryland side of the Beltway, including the American Legion Bridge.
Some Virginia residents at Monday’s meeting said they think VDOT needs to wait and see whether Maryland’s toll lane proposal moves forward.
“Right now we have an issue with Maryland and Virginia and the expansion of I-495 hot lanes,” said Debra Butler, who is part of a group called ‘Citizens Against Beltway Expansion’.
“What they want to do is pull more hot lanes into the I-495 American Legion Bridge. And basically what it’s doing is moving the problem, not solving the problem.”
Butler says she also worries about how VDOT’s Express Lane extension would impact parks and public spaces.
“It’s not a well thought out process. We’re getting smoke and mirrors,” she said. “We need the federal government and Virginia and Maryland to work together to solve this problem.”
By fall of 2019, VDOT expects to complete an environmental study of the approximately three-mile extension of the I-495 Express Lanes.
Construction could begin by late 2020, and Shaw said VDOT wants to make it clear they don’t need Maryland to move forward.
“Our project is independent from Maryland’s and we could actually implement without Maryland being in place, and that’s a possibility that could happen,” said Shaw. “We believe our traffic study will show that’s still a benefit to the region, even though not as much of a benefit as we’ll see when Maryland comes online.”
VDOT says if all goes as planned, its extended Express Lanes could open to traffic in 2023.
To learn more about VDOT’s proposed express lane extension, click here.
To learn more about Maryland’s proposal, click here.
If both projects become reality, that means toll lanes would run essentially the entire length of the Beltway.
“There will be points of entry and exit for drivers,” said Shaw. “So they can choose which segments of the Beltway they want to travel on. So just because you chose one segment to be on the Express Lanes, doesn’t mean you need to go the whole way.”
Butler said that’s something she just can’t support.
“The expansion, it’s not the right time,” she said. “We need good planning.”