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Cars travel westbound I-495 on the Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge (via Google Maps)

Work to expand the I-495 Express Lanes to the north is only just warming up, but the Virginia Department of Transportation is now turning its attention to the southern end of the Capital Beltway.

The I-495 Southside Express Lanes environmental study is evaluating possible express lane additions on an 11-mile stretch of the corridor east of the I-395 interchange in Springfield to Maryland Route 210 in Prince George’s County.

Crossing over the Potomac River, the corridor currently has two to five lanes typically, though a divided highway splits local and pass-thru routes. There is also a portion with six lanes, but the corridor overall has no express lanes presently.

VDOT presented its proposal at a virtual meeting yesterday (Wednesday), kicking off a series of meetings during a public comment period that’s slated to end June 6.

In-person meetings will take place tonight in Maryland, Monday (May 23) at John R. Lewis High School in Springfield, and the Nannie J. Lee Memorial Recreation Center in Alexandria on May 25.

The study is seeking to reduce congestion, address safety concerns and provide other improvements.

“In the morning, there is significant congestion going in the westbound direction, or from Maryland towards Virginia,” Abi Lerner, a VDOT engineer for megaprojects, said during the virtual meeting.

495 express lanes extension, image via VDOT

According to VDOT’s weekday data for the interstate, there’s approximately two hours of congestion in the morning from around 6:30 to 9, Lerner said. In 2019, average travel speeds could be as low as 30 mph during peak commuting times.

In Virginia, there’s significant congestion for an even longer time frame from approximately 3 to 7 p.m. for traffic going eastbound to the Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge.

Expressing several concerns, resident Poul Hertel asked for the public comment deadline to be extended to June 18. VDOT said that would be considered and updated, if possible, on its project page.

The study is also evaluating whether express lane exit and entry connections could be added, an idea that drew mixed reactions.

“It’s very distressing to see that you have exit points into Old Town Alexandria,” Hertel said. “I would strongly urge you to remove that from your list.”

Meanwhile, multiple Maryland residents weighed in, with Prince George’s County Councilmember Jolene Ivey noting the area’s opposition to toll lanes there.

Lerner responded that whatever VDOT ultimately recommends “is going to require buy-in…from the Maryland side” of the Beltway.

Oxon Hill resident Howard Herrnstadt said it seems that a small number of affluent and time-stressed motorists use existing express lanes, questioning how the infrastructure expense would be justified.

Lerner said VDOT has seen significant usage of the express lanes for carpooling, which enables drivers to use them for free, but he was unable to provide data. Herrnstadt challenged that narrative.

According to VDOT, the proposed changes wouldn’t interfere with the possibility of light rail in the future, which the Woodrow Wilson bridge was designed to accommodate.

The study will inform any recommendations, including no changes, or potential projects in the future. VDOT plans to present options this fall or winter and finish its review in the fall of 2023 or winter of 2024.

Photo via Google Maps

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It’s been a busy week in Alexandria with City Council coming back into session for the first time in 2022.

With a majority of the Council being new, there are fresh names and perspectives stories about city decision-making. Highlights from this week’s City Council meeting included a first look at plans for the city to — kind of — invest in a luxury hotel and bids to develop broadband internet access citywide.

The city was also hit with a few particularly notable crimes, like a man who attacked several people with a hammer near Mark Center and a woman shot near a West End 7-Eleven.

Top stories

  1. Woman shot during suspected shootout near South Reynolds Street 7-Eleven
  2. With hotel market in freefall, Alexandria considers financing luxury hotel in Old Town
  3. Man with hammer attacks several victims in The Shops at Mark Center
  4. JUST IN: Three arrested after bystander shot outside West End 7-Eleven
  5. JUST IN: Alexandria man charged with December murder of woman in West End
  6. Traffic Alert: Woodrow Wilson Bridge openings planned Tuesday night and Wednesday morning
  7. Amid declining enrollment, ACPS proposes employee raises in new budget proposal
  8. The Institute for Defense Analysis to open new Potomac Yard headquarters later this month
  9. Redevelopment plans announced for Community and Human Services office in Del Ray
  10. JUST IN: Juvenile arrested for alleged hit-and-run that injured Alexandria firefighters
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Late night/early morning drivers planning to cross the Woodrow Wilson Bridge tonight might want to plan an alternate route.

The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) said on Twitter that bridge openings are planned for 11 p.m.-4 a.m. tonight (Tuesday) through Wednesday morning.

While the bridge can sometimes open for interesting ship traffic, tonight’s opening is for routine testing.

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Morning Notes

Prince Street in Old Town (staff photo by Vernon Miles)

Metro to keep reduced service through Dec. 31 — “Metro will continue offering reduced rail service through the end of the year, WMATA announced Monday.” [NBC4]

Bun Papa opens third location in Bradlee Shopping Center — “The newest Bun Papa location operates out of the future BeeLiner Diner which will open in Bradlee Shopping Center early next year.” [Alexandria Living Magazine]

Nominations sought for Alexandria Living Legends — “Once selected, each new Living Legend of Alexandria will be celebrated with a museum-quality photographic portrait, an interview with a professional print journalist and will have a segment in a lasting video produced by an award-winning film company.” [Zebra]

Virginia police stop teen suspect from jumping off bridge — “Virginia State Police stopped a teenager who was linked to several burglaries from jumping off the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, a report says.” [Patch]

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Potential new Blue Line route (photo via WMATA)

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority is eyeing a new Blue Line route that could be realigned to run from the Huntington Metro station in Fairfax across the Woodrow Wilson Bridge over to National Harbor.

The project was cited as one of the higher performing projects in a list of options aimed at boosting ridership. A cost-benefits analysis put the new Blue Line route, which would also go up to Georgetown, above alternatives like a Silver Line Express tunnel.

The revised Blue Line would cost $20-25 billion to build and $175-200 million to operate, the most expensive of the options presented, but it is also estimated bring in significantly higher revenue — $154.2 million — than any of the other options. The new National Harbor Blue Line route would bring in an estimated 180,000 new weekday trips.

It’s  unclear how the proposed Blue Line crossing at the Woodrow Wilson bridge would work — as a reallocation of space on the existing bridge, as part of an expansion, or as a separate crossing.

While Metro Board members expressed cautious enthusiasm for the project at a meeting last week, Metro leadership has been quick to point out that no plans for a new Blue Line have been finalized or approved.

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Late night motorists are going to have to take the long way around if they want to get from Alexandria to Maryland tonight.

No fun story behind the opening this time — VDOT announced that a series of ongoing tests and maintenance work will leave the Woodrow Wilson Bridge inaccessible starting at 11:30 p.m.

Bridge openings aren’t unusual but can be an unexpected hassle for drivers. VDOT said drivers should expect delays and consider alternate routes.

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Morning Notes

Fairfax Police Injured in Chase on Woodrow Wilson Bridge — “Three Fairfax County police officers were injured during a car chase involving a homicide suspect that ended with the person’s capture on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge on Wednesday afternoon, authorities said.” [Washington Post]

Power Outage in Carlyle — “We have about 2K @DominionEnergy customers experiencing outages in the vicinity of Carlyle. If you are out please report the outage online or by phone at 866-366-4357.” [Twitter]

Alexandria Man Sentenced in Kidnapping and Witness Tampering Case — “U.S. District Judge George J. Hazel today sentenced Henry Lee Kenner II, age 43, of Alexandria, Virginia, to 150 months in federal prison, followed by five years of supervised release, for kidnapping and witness tampering.” [Shore News Network]

Winter Village at Cameron Run Makes Coronavirus Adjustments — “The Winter Village will be open on weekends, holidays, and prime visitation nights from Nov. 20 to Jan. 3, and ice skating only will be offered on select days from Jan. 9 to Feb. 28.” [Patch]

Alexandria Law Enforcement Honored for Heroism — “Deputy Jason Bebow and Deputy Julio Ocasio were honored for their rescue of an inmate who had attempted suicide at the Alexandria City Jail. Deputy Devon Neckles and Officer Shakita Warren were honored for their successful intervention with a suicidal resident.” [Zebra]

Staff photo by James Cullum

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A planned Woodrow Wilson Bridge opening tonight could disrupt travel plans for late-night drivers on I-495.

According to an alert, the bridge could be impassable from 11 p.m. tonight (Tuesday) until sometime Wednesday morning (Nov. 18). VDOT warned that travellers should expect delays and consider other routes.

The closure is planned for testing systems on the bridge, sadly — no interesting ship activity on the docket.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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Hundreds of boaters supporting President Trump sailed up the Potomac River on Sunday (September 6), as they took to the waves as part of the “Trumptilla” boating parades around the country.

The event saw both protestors and supporters along the waterfront as the boats sailed under the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and up to the Memorial Bridge.

“For me at the end of the day it’s about freedom versus socialism,” said Matthew Truong, a former Republican Congressional candidate for Virginia’s 10th Congressional District, who organized a small rally for the boaters at Jones Point Park. “What I see right now, it’s eerily similar to what happened in Vietnam before the fall of Saigon when the communists took over. All the violence, chaos, protests, a lot of crazy things — what that does is effect the minds of people.”

Virginia Delegate Mark Levine (D-45) was among the protestors who chanted, “Trump lies! People die!”

“Folks who think that Joe Biden is a socialist need to stop watching Fox News,” Levine said. “We need to take our country back. We have a president in the thrall of a Russian dictator, and doing everything he can to serve himself, and 200,000 unnecessarily dead Americans from coronavirus is not a price I’m willing to pay for anything. Every other country on the planet has handled this better than we have.”

A Nice view of the Boat Rally for Trump and Asian Pacific Americans rally support Trump on Sunday 6th September at Jones Point Park Alexrandria Virginia.

Posted by Phillips Nguyen on Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Photos via courtesy Eli Wilson Photography

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Alexandria firefighters and the city’s fire boat, along with vessels from the D.C. fire department and the U.S. Coast Guard, conducted searches below the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Tuesday afternoon after reports of a person in the water.

Initial reports suggested that a woman had jumped off the bridge, on the southern end of the Beltway, into the water below. Rescuers, however, did not find anyone in the river.

Later, a woman matching description given to rescuers was found alive and well on Maryland side of bridge, but it was determined that no further assistance was necessary, according to Petty Officer Andy Kendrick, a Coast Guard spokesman.

Police in Prince George’s County also conducted a welfare check on the woman, we’re told.

An Alexandria Fire Department spokeswoman said it was the department’s understanding that the woman had been in the water. It’s unclear whether she jumped.

Though incredibly dangerous, it wouldn’t be the first time someone has jumped from the Wilson bridge and survived. Famously, in 1998, an Alexandria man stood on the bridge for five hours, blocking traffic on the Beltway, before leaping off; he survived with “no obvious injuries.” In 2017, a man and a woman jumped off the bridge in separate incidents, and both survived.

If you or someone you know is in immediate danger of self-harm, call 911. If you’re having thoughts of suicide, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or text CONNECT to 85511.

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