Toll Road Project Will Bulldoze Hundreds of Trees

By Eric M. Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Hundreds of trees along the Capital Beltway will be cut down in preparation for construction of four more toll lanes, officials said yesterday.

The Virginia Department of Transportation said crews have begun clearing brush and trees to make room for construction trailers along the Beltway at Georgetown Pike, Chain Bridge Road, Interstate 66 and Braddock Road. The staging areas will be used until the project is completed.

Hundreds of trees along the 14-mile project will be cut down, officials said -- probably the first impact commuters will see from the project. The public-private partnership is trying to add the lanes within the Beltway's existing footprint to prevent the need to purchase adjoining land and houses. That means trees and shrubbery have to go.

Steve Titunik, a VDOT project spokesman, said the Georgetown Pike staging area, which was a wooded area used by a local school, will be turned into a nature area when the project is completed. He said VDOT is working with local gardening groups to harvest and replant native species from the staging areas.

Lane closures and other delays will come when major construction gets underway in mid-July.

"Drivers should know that there will be a drastic change in the landscape in order to widen the Beltway," said Ronaldo T. "Nick" Nicholson of VDOT.

Two high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes will be built in each direction between Springfield and just north of the Dulles Toll Road. The $1.4 billion project, funded by the state and private companies, is expected to be completed by 2012.

The lanes will be free to carpoolers and transit vehicles, but lone drivers will have to pay to use the lanes. Tolls will fluctuate based on traffic volume to keep congestion in check.

The lanes will link up with planned HOT lanes on Interstate 95/395. That project, which is sponsored by Fluor-Transurban, the same private partnership building the Beltway HOT lanes, has been incorporated into regional transportation plans although a final contract has not been signed.

The northern half of that project will convert the two existing carpool lanes into three HOT lanes. As with the Beltway project, carpoolers and transit vehicles will ride for free, while single-occupancy vehicles could use the lanes for a fluctuating toll.

Nicholson said the next major impact from the Beltway project will be a temporary concrete wall that will eliminate a shoulder near Braddock Road.

During construction, there will be no lane closures during peak traffic hours to protect access to businesses and residential communities and to comply with noise restrictions, officials said.

Two public hearings on the project are scheduled for next month. The first will be from 5 to 9 p.m. May 20 at Northern Virginia Community College in Annandale; the second, from 5 to 9 p.m. May 21 at Marshall High School in Falls Church.

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