Virginia’s influential Commonwealth Transportation Board wants to open discussions with officials in D.C. and Maryland about improving congested Potomac River crossings, with priority given to expanding the capacity of the American Legion Memorial Bridge and Metro’s Rosslyn tunnel, which is the bottleneck for the Silver, Blue, and Orange lines.
The long-running idea of building a new bridge west of the American Legion — which carries I-495 over the river — also was included in the board’s resolution, although Maryland repeatedly has refused to go along with it. Opponents of adding a bridge west of the American Legion derisively say it would be part of an “outer Beltway.”
“We have had indications from Maryland that they are not opposed to discussion,” said Gary Garczynski, the Northern Virginia representative on the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB), which voted Wednesday in favor of opening discussions again.
“There should be dialogue about any one of those crossings or all of them, because in total they would certainly effectuate a much more connected region,” he said.
Studies by the Virginia Department of Transportation have identified the American Legion Bridge as the most important choke point for car commuters. A study of 11 Potomac crossings released in July recommended extending Virginia’s HOT lanes on I-495 across the bridge north to the I-270 spur.
More than 300,000 commuters per day use the bridge, the study said. More than 44,000 people travel through the Rosslyn tunnel on Metrorail into Virginia.
Opponents of an “outer Beltway” say there is relatively light demand for a new bridge upriver.
“There are certain lobbyists who continue to push this. There are certain parts of the business community that keep putting pressure on Gov. McAuliffe and Gov. Hogan. They are totally off base,” said Stewart Schwartz, the executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, a long-time foe of building a new bridge between the American Legion and Point of Rocks bridges over the Potomac.
“There is no funding available for upriver bridges and no demand based on VDOT’s own study. So to us it is a waste of time,” he added.
A spokesman for the Maryland Department of Transportation said the agency would continue to talk to Virginia officials about its concerns with a new crossing.
Also on Wednesday, the CTB formally approved VDOT’s plans to toll I-66 inside the Beltway staring in 2017, accepting a deal with the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission to allow local representatives to decide where to spend toll revenues to improve mobility in the I-66 corridor.