The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) is beginning to formulate a $5 million landscaping plan that will restore about 500 acres that were cleared of trees as the construction of the I-495 Express Lanes Project nears completion.
The plan covers the entire 14-mile Express Lanes Project corridor from Springfield to just north of the Dulles Toll Road in McLean. For McLean residents in particular, the expansion of the Lewinsville Bridge over 495 deforested a large number of trees within the McLean Hamlet and Timberly Lane neighborhoods.
Hillsides flanking 495 were cleared of trees so that the Beltway could be widened to accommodate the new Express Lanes built down the middle of 495. According to Virginia Megaprojects officials, the total number of trees cut down was not recorded.
Jeff Wagner, communication director for Express Lanes Project, said tree-cutting in the express lanes corridor cost $2.5 to $3 million.
“Not all trees, but overbrush as well within the medians and ramps,” Wagner said. Moreover, the goal was not to cut down trees but to do the minimum to clear trees for the expansion, he said.
“The clearing was typically done by small businesses. At least three companies had contracts for the clearing,” he added.
“It’s too early in the process to commit to how many trees were taken down and we don’t know what the cost will be to replant. However, we did receive $5 million for the reforestation of the entire corridor — a pretty good budget,” said Jamie Breene, the communications deputy for Virginia Megaprojects.
This $5 million in funding was allocated by the Virginia General Assembly with support from the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in order to prepare and implement the landscaping plan. The corridor-wide reforestation will be a mix of several kinds of trees and shrubs/grasses, officials explained.
According to Dranesville supervisor John Foust’s office, communities within McLean that have been affected have been in contact with express lanes officials.
“We received [clearing] plans seven to 10 days ago, but the consultation period ended,” said Eric McGinley, current President of the McLean Hamlet Community Association. “There was nothing we could really complain about. They’re going to replace the trees, and we needed the bridge,” stated McGinley.
The landscaping and reforestation plan is scheduled to begin in the spring of 2013. This is the tentative date because the express lanes will not be finished until November or December of 2012, according to Supervisor Foust’s office.
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