Capital Beltway (I-495)

Maryland and Virginia debate expanding Beltway express lanes

NBC Universal, Inc.

Heated debate about putting more express lanes on the Capital Beltway is dividing Maryland and Virginia leaders.

The Potomac River is very much so the dividing line, and right in the middle of the tension is the Wilson Bridge. Some officials say there’s enough space on top of the bridge to make major changes, but not everyone is sold.

The question is whether express lanes in Virginia should be expanded across the bridge into Prince George’s County. The Virginia Department of Transportation says that’s an easy yes.

“It would connect National Harbor to Tysons,” VDOT Northern Virginia District Engineer Bill Cuttler said. “More Virginians being able to go over and enjoy National Harbor, the connectivity to Springfield, everything else.”

The express lanes allow drivers to pay a toll for the promise of a speedy trip. Others can use the lanes for free if they have three or more people in their car.

But during a recent meeting at the region’s transportation planning board, Prince George’s County Council member Eric Olson said he’s not sold that more traffic won’t just be dumped into Maryland.

“I will add that Prince George’s has significant concerns about this project, about moving the bottleneck,” he said. “I know senator spoke about the bottleneck in Virginia. We don’t want that bottleneck to move into Prince George’s County.”

The Wilson Bridge was built with the thought that either dedicated bus lanes or Metrorail would run across it at some point.

VDOT estimates it’s been collecting $20 million to $30 million per year from the express lane network already in place in Virginia.

A major vote on the express lanes is scheduled for next week at the region’s transportation planning board.

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