Virginia transportation officials plan to recommend a new strategy to address travel between Maryland and Virginia: Pressure Maryland into extending Virginia’s Beltway HOT lanes across the American Legion Bridge, all the way to I-270.

American Legion Bridge. Photo from Bing Maps.

Virginia Deputy Secretary of Transportation Nick Donohue is today presenting the results of a Potomac River crossings study to Virginia’s top transportation planning group, the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB). The study assessed conditions at existing bridges and makes recommendations for future changes.

The main recommendation: Extend the Beltway HOT lanes 6.5 miles from their existing terminus north of Tysons Corner, over the American Legion Bridge, and up to the foot of the I-270 spur in Montgomery County.

The CTB will have until September to digest the findings and either adopt or not adopt Donohue’s recommendation.

No matter what the CTB adopts, the ultimate decision to build or not build anything over the Legion Bridge will rest with Maryland. Maryland owns the bridge, and most of the length of the proposed HOT lanes extension. Virginia can apply pressure and offer a partnership, but can’t force the project.

Why HOT lanes?

The HOT lanes proposal is a compromise. It’s not the pure transit-only plan that smart growth advocates have pushed, but it’s also not the outer beltway that highway advocates wanted.

HOT lanes give highway advocates a big road project, and throw transit advocates a bone with the potential for express buses (Montgomery County’s BRT plan talks about transit over the Legion Bridge). Nobody gets exactly what they want, but nobody’s worst nightmares happen either.

Potential cross-Potomac bus route. Image from WMATA.

Virginia’s proposal to bring HOT lanes to I-66 is moving very rapidly. If Maryland decides to play along, this could move rapidly too.

Canaan Merchant was born and raised in Powhatan, Virginia and attended George Mason University where he studied English. He became interested in urban design and transportation issues when listening to a presentation by Jeff Speck while attending GMU. He lives in Reston.