Virginia Beltway HOT Lanes may be extended to the Potomac by concessionaire

May 9, 2010
By Peter Samuel

Transurban the concessionaire constructing toll lanes on I-495 the Capital Beltway is offering to extend them to the American Legion Bridge at the Potomac River (Maryland territory.) The extension with a single HOT lane each direction from Tysons Corner north would provide a better transition, engineers say, than the presently planned more abrupt merge of dual toll lanes with general purpose lanes.

The project would involve rebuilding of two bridges over the Beltway - carrying Old Dominion Drive and Georgetown Pike. Widening of the pavement would be required for for about 2600m (1.6 miles) from the present planned end south of the Old Dominion Drive overpass to the George Washington Parkway interchange which is alongside the Virginia-Maryland state border - located along the cliffs above the western bank of the Potomac River.

McLean access diminished

Only downside of the proposal is that it will eliminate connections between McLean via Georgetown Pike and the HOT lanes.

Transurban has been presenting the proposal as an amendment to their concession covering the 23km (14 miles) from the Springfield Interchange (I-95/395) to Tysons Corner. They say they'd cover the cost in return for some lengthening of the concession term. Details are still subject to negotiation.

One possible addition to the plan would be direct connector ramps to serve McLean residents at Georgetown Pike or some other location on the extension.

Maryland needs to follow ovedr Potomac, north to I-270

The proposal would make the Beltway 10 lanes between Tysons and  the George Washington Parkway. Maryland's American Legion Bridge over the Potomac is already 10 lanes though the outside lanes are more ramps for the Parkway than travel lanes. Effectively the Bridge is only 8 lanes.

There has been talk for several years of extending HOV lanes the 6km (3.7 miles) from I-270 down the Beltway to the American Legion Bridge and of converting the I-270 HOV lanes to HOT lanes by adding tolls. The distance isn't great but there would be major bridgework - the Legion Bridge would need to be widened again and the direct connector ramps would be awkward to locate and expensive.

This stretch of the Beltway connects with major surface arterials into Washington DC including River Road, and the Clara Barton, Cabin John and Geo Washington Parkways, as well as providing for Maryland connections to Tysons Corner and points south in Virginia. Traffic volumes are around 250k/day.

BACKGROUND:  The concessionaire for the HOT Lanes is Australia-based Transurban 90%, Fluor Corp 10%. They are widening the Capital Beltway for 23km (14 miles) from 8 lanes to 12 lanes to provide four general purpose lanes and two high occupancy/toll lanes each direction. As well as extra pavement for 6 lanes each direction they are rebuilding virtually all the bridges, soundwalls, reconstructing many ramps and building direct connector ramps so motorists using the central HOT lanes don't have to weave across the outside general purpose lanes to enter or exit.

Project cost is around $2 billion.

Construction is also underway on the Dulles metrorail project West Falls Church to Wiehle Avenue. It is elevated across the Beltway into Tysons Corner, involves tunnels in Tysons and median work along the Dulles Toll/Access Road.

The area looks like one huge contraction site.

TOLLROADSnews 2010-05-09

ADDITION: Transurban spokesman Jennifer Aument tells us their extension proposal is "at a very early stage."

"We're exploring the possibilities."

She says they wanted to talk first to the people likely to be impacted the most - people in McLean and see how they feel about the idea.

An upside for them would be that if the extension helps make the Beltway work better then they get less cut-through traffic using local streets. On the other hand the present plans for the extension don't contain any ramps into McLean so McLean people's connections to the HOT lanes would be in Tysons Corner instead of in the area near Old Dominion Drive.

Aument tells says it is too early to speculate on the details of the final financial plan, but that no state contribution is anticipated. Federal TIFIA credit assistance will likely be critical, as it was to the successful financing of the overall Beltway project, she says.

"Also I want to be clear that there have been no discussions about lengthening the concession agreement."

TOLLROADSnews 2010-05-10 12:20 ADDITION


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