2015 | News

County Council Likely to Push State on Beltway Express Lanes in Bethesda

In report, Virginia transportation officials recommend extending state's express lanes over American Legion Bridge

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The Capital Beltway as it passes over the American Legion Bridge

Via Flickr user bankbryan

If Virginia transportation officials recommend extending Capital Beltway express lanes into Maryland, they’ll “very likely” have the support of some Montgomery County leaders.

The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) Wednesday released a study of various Potomac River crossings, including the Beltway over the American Legion Bridge and into Maryland.

The stretch, where about 300,000 vehicles pass through on an average weekday, is known for its traffic congestion. The VDOT report suggested talking to Maryland transportation leaders about extending Virginia’s Beltway express lanes over the bridge, which connects the two states, and all the way to the I-270 spur in Bethesda as a way to calm traffic.

The Virginia express lanes now end north of the Dulles Toll Road, a few miles from the bridge and the Maryland line.

Virginia opened its express lanes, also known as high-occupancy/toll lanes and E-ZPass Express Lanes, on its side of the Beltway in 2012.

It was around that time that Montgomery County Council member Roger Berliner led a joint meeting between leaders of Montgomery and Fairfax counties in an effort to figure out traffic solutions for the American Legion Bridge.

“This was one of the issues that we discussed at the time,” said Berliner, who chairs the council’s Transportation Committee. “So I think it is very likely that our council will be formally requesting the governor to take a good, long look at this.”

A spokesperson for the Maryland State Highway Administration said the agency can’t comment on the proposal because it hasn’t been presented, but that officials look forward to hearing what VDOT staff has to say.

Berliner said building another Potomac River crossing remains a “non-starter in our community,” but that with Gov. Larry Hogan’s recent investments in highway infrastructure, he hopes examining Beltway express lanes become a priority.

The VDOT report found that an average of 29,000 vehicles are crossing the bridge from Maryland into Virginia during the four-hour evening rush hour period from 3 to 7 p.m. During the same time, 25,000 vehicles are crossing the bridge from Virginia into Maryland.

“Obviously, the governor is one who thinks that moving people in their cars more efficiently is an important priority,” Berliner said. “This is a piece that we also need to get right because right now, we’ve got this terrible bottleneck.”