Virginia express lanes likely to stall Maryland traffic

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Photo - Officials in Montgomery and Fairfax counties are considering a rapid bus network that would go across the American Legion Memorial Bridge. (Examiner file photo)
Officials in Montgomery and Fairfax counties are considering a rapid bus network that would go across the American Legion Memorial Bridge. (Examiner file photo)
Local,Maryland,Virginia,Transportation,Liz Essley

The opening of the Beltway express lanes in Virginia later this year is likely to create a traffic nightmare for Maryland drivers.

That's because the new express lanes will hit a bottleneck at the American Legion Bridge, where the Beltway enters Maryland, causing traffic backups, especially for those who work in Virginia and drive home to Maryland in the evening.

The specter was raised at a first-of-its-kind meeting Wednesday between members of the Fairfax and Montgomery county boards.

"Aren't our residents going to go nuts when you open these lanes?" said Montgomery County council member Nancy Floreen. "I'm embarrassed we don't have anything on the table at this time. ... We haven't planned at all."

Floreen blamed Maryland's state government for failing to finish a study of the impact the express lanes would have on the bridge. The study is set to be released at year's end, around the time the new lanes open.

But officials were hard pressed to come up with any immediate solutions.

"Let's face it: We're not going to widen the bridge in any time frame that is reasonable to deal with the problem we have with the [express lanes]," said Fairfax County Supervisor Jeff McKay.

Officials agreed that some kind of bus service would be necessary to help commuters moving across a bridge that was carrying 232,000 vehicles a day in 2010.

Metro officials said they are considering restarting bus service across the bridge from Bethesda to Tysons Corner, but noted that a similar bus route was canceled in 2003 because it lacked riders.

One suggested enhancement for the bus service was to have a dedicated bus lane along the Beltway.

"It's not clear that there's room for them at all," said Montgomery County Council member Marc Elrich.

Officials also discussed making the crossing part of a larger regional bus rapid-transit network similar to the one Montgomery County is now considering, though they offered no specific proposals.

lessley@washingtonexaminer.com

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Liz Essley

Staff Writer - Transportation
The Washington Examiner