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Tuesday, June 28, 2022
FairfaxTransportationCivic group seeks 'signature' bridge span over Beltway

Civic group seeks ‘signature’ bridge span over Beltway

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When the construction dust settles, the orange cones are gone and work crews have relocated to snarl traffic elsewhere after completion of the 495 NEXT Project, the Great Falls Citizens Association (GFCA) hopes an extra-nice-looking bridge will take Georgetown Pike over the Capital Beltway.

In a recent letter to Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) Secretary W. Sheppard Miller III, GFCA president William Canis laid out the case for using a “signature” design for the Georgetown Pike replacement bridge and asked for the group to have the chance to work with the design/build contractor regarding those aesthetics.

While in the past, transportation agencies designed highways and their related infrastructure with the idea of moving vehicles efficiently, the Federal Highway Administration (headquartered not far from Georgetown Pike) and state transportation departments in recent decades have focused on “context-sensitive” designs that also “reflect the values, culture, and history of the communities they pass through,” Canis wrote.

This design method “results in built projects that give as much consideration to community needs and values as they do to commuter needs,” the letter read. Maryland, Ohio, Oklahoma and Texas have active aesthetic programs for bridges, Canis wrote.

VDOT has built “signature” bridges before, including a span near Virginia Tech in Blacksburg that in 2019 received the Engineering Excellence Award from the American Council of Engineering Companies, Canis wrote.

VDOT now is using a “utilitarian but unattractive,” standard interstate-overpass design for the Georgetown Pike span, the letter read. Building a signature bridge instead would add only 1 or 2 percent to the project’s cost and possibly not even that much if addressed early enough in the process, Canis wrote.

Gov. Youngkin, along with VDOT officials and other dignitaries, broke ground March 14 for the 495 NEXT (495 Express Lanes Northern Extension) Project, which will add two high-occupancy-toll lanes in each direction on 2.5 miles of the Beltway between the Dulles Toll Road and George Washington Memorial Parkway.

The privately financed $660 million project will be built by Transurban. Officials hope the new lanes will be ready for use in 2025.

Canis also hit the highlights of Georgetown Pike’s history, including that it had:

• Begun as a trail carved out by grazing bison herds centuries ago.

• Served as a trade route for the Susquehannock and Iroquois Indians in the 1600s and farmers in Virginia’s Piedmont and Shenandoah areas by the late 1700s.

• Been built and operated as a toll road by the Georgetown and Leesburg Pike Co., which in 1813 had received a charter from the U.S. Congress.

• Been purchased in 1934 by Madeira School founder Lucy Madeira Wing, who transferred ownership to the commonwealth of Virginia, which then added the roadway to the state’s highway system.

• Been designated in 1973 as Virginia’s first Scenic and Historic Byway and the following year was added to the National Register of Historic Places by the National Park Service.

“Importantly, this overpass may be the first practical one to welcome people crossing into Virginia from Maryland with an impactful design highlighting the history and beauty of our state,” Canis wrote.

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