Construction to Start for I-495 Express Lanes Northern Extension

Construction to Start for I-495 Express Lanes Northern Extension

VDOT responds to concerns.

Traffic on the American Legion Bridge over the Potomac River

Traffic on the American Legion Bridge over the Potomac River

The Virginia Department of Transportation is scheduled to begin construction in 2022 on its I-495 Express Lanes Northern Extension project, 495 NEXT. The project aims to enhance traffic flow and reduce cut-through traffic on local roads and residential streets. It extends the existing 495 Express Lanes north by two and a half miles, with new and improved connections at the Dulles Toll Road and the George Washington Memorial Parkway, both notorious for congestion.
Traffic on the American Legion Bridge over the Potomac River- Source I-495 Express Lanes Northern Extension, Public Information Meeting, June 11, 2018


According to the Oct. 5, 2021, VDOT release by Michelle Holland, "The $600 million project is expected to cut express lane users' travel times by 24 minutes, reduce crashes by 20 percent, and create 6,300 jobs and $880 million in economic impact."

Preliminary project concepts on the VDOT website propose four miles of new bike and pedestrian connections, including a shared-use path that runs parallel to I-495 from Lewinsville Road to near Live Oak Drive in McLean and connects to existing Tysons facilities. Providing full bicycle and pedestrian access in the area north of Live Oak Drive, the path would be built partially to connect to future paths. In addition, a newly proposed Build Alternative wall will be constructed along Live Oak Drive near the George Washington Memorial Parkway interchange, and nine existing noise walls replaced. At Live Oak Drive, Georgetown Pike, Old Dominion Road, and Lewinsville Road, seven bridges with pedestrian accommodations, sidewalks, bike lanes, and crossings will be replaced or rehabilitated. Finally, stormwater management facilities are being installed, and there is funding for the restoration of the Scotts Run stream.

Proposed vegetation removal on Live Oak Drive in McLean for the I-495 Express Lanes Northern Extension


While commuters and others familiar with I-495's gridlock on both sides of the Potomac River anticipate the project's financial close in December 2021 and the new lanes opening in 2025, some residents living near or on Live Oak Drive in the McLean area of Fairfax County's Dranesville District expressed concern about local meetings on the matter and some of the preliminary project concepts proposed. 

Carol Harrison and Gregory Grady, homeowners on Live Oak Drive, sent a copy of the email to the Connection in April 2021 saying, in part, "Where is the community outreach plan for 495NEXT and CBC Planning?"

As of Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, the VDOT website reported seven public information meetings held: Sept. 29, 2021; Nov. 18, 2020; Oct. 5 and Oct. 8, 2020; March 12, 2020; May 20, 2019; and June 11, 2018, and two virtual Q & A sessions. VDOT postponed the meeting scheduled for March 12 due to COVID and rescheduled it to Oct. 8.

April Georgelas, a homeowner on Live Oak Drive, said in an interview Thursday, Nov. 18, "Twenty years ago, Live Oak Drive was moved to add five lanes to the beltway… [VDOT] are destroying what vegetation we still have left that they didn't take the first time, and we've tried to regrow … In moving the street, they will remove the trees and vegetation. The stormwater problems will only increase. We are on septic here, and the stormwater is going to create such a nightmare." 

With construction planned in the community to begin in 2022, concerns centered on four areas: sidewalks, the moving of Live Oak Drive and with it mature tree loss, impaired sightlines with bridgework, and stormwater management.

Susan N. Shaw, PE, megaprojects director, Northern Virginia District at VDOT, responded to the concerns. Shaw said the Design-Builder might make design refinements to the plans during the final design. "The latest version of the Live Oak plans are presented in the FAQ section of the website," Shaw said.

Shaw said that about one-quarter mile of Live Oak Drive's 1-mile length shifts to the west. The new section will be built in the same manner as the existing section, with one lane in each direction and no sidewalks. Shaw said, "No sidewalks are being constructed in this section to avoid impacting parking spaces at the Langley Swim Club and to minimize to the extent possible right-of-way and stormwater impacts."

Concerning Sheet 4 by VDOT, showing the removal of vegetation running parallel to Live Oak Drive, Shaw said that the project team is conducting a tree survey to identify mature trees impacted by the 495 NEXT project. She said, "As part of the project, we will develop a vegetation plan that will include native species trees and plants to be planted within the VDOT right of way where feasible."

In response to concerns about sightlines and the upcoming raised Live Oak Bridge, Shaw said, "Live Oak Drive Bridge will be raised by approximately three feet. The new bridge will be constructed parallel to the existing bridge, and access to the community will be maintained at all times during construction."  She mentioned that at the bridge's end, an all-way stop-controlled intersection is being proposed. It would provide safe turning movements.

Finally, Shaw addressed stormwater management, 

"The project team recently conducted a community walk along Live Oak Drive with residents and community members to review stormwater concerns and challenges. … The I-495 NEXT project will improve the stormwater runoff along the project corridor, and the selected stormwater management approach satisfies the requirements stipulated by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (VDEQ). This approach was confirmed after extensive coordination between VDEQ, VDOT, and Fairfax County to identify a balanced solution," Shaw said.

Many interesting details are contained in the environmental assessment,