Debate Over Beltway Express Lane Expansion Divides Maryland and Virginia

The debate over expanding express lanes along the Capital Beltway has ignited a fierce clash between officials from Maryland and Virginia, centering on the southern stretch from Alexandria to Prince George’s County.

The Potomac River acts as a stark boundary, with the Wilson Bridge becoming the focal point of contention. While some argue there’s ample space atop the bridge for significant changes, not everyone agrees.

At the heart of the dispute is the proposal to extend express lanes from Virginia across the bridge into Prince George’s County. Virginia’s Department of Transportation (VDOT) sees this as a straightforward decision.

“It would connect National Harbor to Tysons,” said Bill Cuttler, VDOT’s Northern Virginia District Engineer. “More Virginians would gain access to National Harbor, with improved connectivity to Springfield and other areas.”

Express lanes allow drivers to pay a toll for a quicker journey, while carpoolers with three or more occupants can use the lanes for free.

However, during a recent meeting of the region’s transportation planning board, Prince George’s County Council member Eric Olson voiced concerns about the project’s potential impacts. He fears increased traffic could spill into Maryland, exacerbating congestion.

“We don’t want that bottleneck shifting into Prince George’s County,” Olson emphasized. The Wilson Bridge was initially designed with the expectation of accommodating dedicated bus lanes or Metrorail services in the future.

VDOT reports that the existing express lane network in Virginia has been generating annual revenues ranging from $20 million to $30 million.

A crucial vote on the proposed express lane expansion is scheduled for the upcoming week at the region’s transportation planning board.

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