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Some residents tree'd off about VDOT's 495 NEXT revegetation plan

Approval of a final proposal is slated for later in the year
This not-to-scale diagram shows conceptual revegetation features along the I-495 Express Lanes Northern Extension (495 NEXT) project.

Approximately 50 acres’ worth of trees have been felled to make way for the I-495 Express Lanes Northern Extension (495 NEXT) project and area residents are keen on making sure the area is properly revegetated after the bulldozers and cement trucks leave.

The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) is overseeing the public-private project in conjunction with its partner, Transurban, and contractor, Lane Construction.

VDOT officials recently held several virtual and in-person sessions to update the community on its revegetation plans. One such confab took place May 30 in the McLean Governmental Center’s community room, where VDOT arranged large printouts of renderings showing project officials’ conceptual revegetation plans for various portions of the project.

The replanting schedule will hinge around completion of 495 NEXT construction and final grading, time of year, weather conditions and availability of desired species for planting.

Species being considered for replanting include:

• Canopy trees: white oak, red maple and American beech.

• Evergreen trees: Eastern red cedar, loblolly pine and American holly.

• Understory plants: flowering dogwood, American hornbeam and persimmon.

• Deciduous shrubs: maple-leaf viburnium, false indigo bush and Virginia sweetspire.

• Evergreen shrubs: wax myrtle, inkberry holly and mountain laurel.

• Meadow mix: redtop panicgrass, black-eyed Susan and New York ironweed.

• Pioneer mix: New York aster, witchhazel and broomsedge.

The replacement trees will be 1- to 2-inch caliper, said Bryan Campbell, a VDOT Megaprojects planning specialist. It likely will take at five to 10 years for trees of that diameter to form a significant canopy, he said.

Project officials are arranging for native trees, bushes and other plants to be installed along the project’s route.

“If we establish native species from the get-go, it gives them a fighting chance,” Campbell said.

When formulating a revegetation plan, officials took into account safety, potential impacts on roadways and utilities, and which plant species could survive in a highway environment,  said Michelle Holland, communications manager for VDOT’s Northern Virginia Megaprojects.

“We cannot necessarily revegetate in all areas,” Holland said.

Officials fielded queries from those present and some who checked in online. The session only drew a handful of people, but those present peppered VDOT staff with pointed questions.

A man attending the meeting said his neighborhood had been solidly buffered by trees before the project began.

“We’re not going to be happy with shrubs,” he said of the replanting efforts.

The revegetation plan will aim to naturalize areas so they are self-sustaining, requiring little to no maintenance, VDOT officials said.

“The project is committed to monitoring the naturalized areas through the critical first two years to ensure planted areas remain consistent with the intent of the design,” they said. “If VDOT determines that these areas need intervention, appropriate action will be taken.”

VDOT officials will finalize and approve the revegetation plan this summer or fall and post it on the project’s Website at

The $660 million 495 NEXT project, construction on which began in March 2022, will extend Express Lanes 2.5 miles between the Dulles Corridor interchange and the George Washington Memorial Parkway. The new lanes will open in late 2025 and the project will wrap up in mid-2026.

The project will move more people, reduce cut-through traffic in nearby neighborhoods, offer quicker trip times to Express Lanes users during peak traffic hours, and provide safety improvements and upgraded infrastructure, including several new bridges across the Beltway, VDOT officials contend.

The project also will replace all existing noise barriers and add additional ones, Holland said.

Whether 495 NEXT realizes its full potential will depend on if Maryland follows through on proposals to replace the aging American Legion Bridge and offer I-495 Express Lanes up to I-270 in that state.