495 Express Lanes Survey
Lingering Erosion and Planting Issues

June 16, 2019 - Observations along the Americana Drive section of 495

VDOT has begun landscaping work along Americana Drive outside the soundwall. This is partly continuing follow-up after the 495 Express Lanes construction and partly a follow-up to the Presidents Day Americana Drive Cleanup. We are currently pending clarification from VDOT on the scope of work proposed.

Initial work so far largely involves about 1/3 mile at the northern end of Americana Drive. A strip about 5 feet wide has been cleared of vegetation and overlaid with a stabilizing mesh. The mesh no doubt serves the dual function of holding soil in place pending germination while also discouraging the common practice here of parking with wheels up on the curb. Sadly, the mesh is plastic, so it may be out of sight after germination, but it will still be there - plastic never dies.

At some distance away, in two spots by the intersection with Casimir Street, clearing of trees and shrubs is taking place from the street to the soundwall. It's not clear if this is connected to the landscaping in progress at the north end.

American Drive has remained fairly clean since the Presidents Day cleanup, but not really where it should be. Would it be too much to hope the VDOT crews will take the opportunity to remove the dumped items that are new or which our volunteers did not get to last time?

There is impressive growth of vine habitat along the soundwalls. Unfortunately, the exotic invasive species Porcelainberry prevails, but there are patches of native Woodbine also. The rough surface of the soundwall helps to dampen sound, but also provides a grip for vines with various climbing strategies. How great it would be if native climbers could be encouraged, like Woodbine, Virgins Bower, Trumpet Creeper, Passionflower, and native grapes. Poison Ivy is a common native vine, but it does not seem to have colonized the soundwalls.

At the south end of Americana Drive is Fitzhugh Park where another type of restoration is in progress. Funds provided to the Park Authority in compensation for the encroachment of the 495 Express Lanes are being used for meadow and tree plantings. Some of the tree locations seem to have been rather random,, being in areas that are already forested and likely too shady for the plantings to thrive.

Curbside clearing and landscaping cloth installed along northern stretch of Americana Drive
See more Americana Drive photos here

Memo, 495 Express Lanes Site Visit, April 19, 2018

Repesented: VDOT, DPWES, FCDOT, DBI, Washington Gas, Friends of Accotink Creek

Miscellaneous Problems:
Although we did not visit or address many of the lesser problems, let’s hope they can receive the attention they deserve, including areas of bare soil, emerging erosion, and abandoned silt fences. Detailed HERE

236 Staging Area Restoration:
Trail Portion:
Although the grading done last year had held up well, a recent rainstorm put the area back into a degraded condition, with an ugly gully opening up in the trail and causing large amounts of debris to accumulate on the CCT.

FCDOT advises the permanent trail portion will likely take three years to get underway. It will be combined with improved pedestrian and bicycle crossing of the interchange ramps. FCDOT, VDOT and DPWES will coordinate on path design to optimize stormwater control, which should be eligible for MS4 credits. The question of who can claim the MS4 credits must be addressed as this is VDOT property but they do not have funds for any improvements. Discussion between MS4 contacts from VDOT, FCDOT and DPWES will have to occur before design of stormwater improvements can progress.

VDOT will undertake an interim measure of directing the uphill street drainage under the trail path (where it is now flowing over the trail). An appropriate size pipe will be 15” – 24”. Plunge pools and “speed humps” were also suggested elements.

VDOT will also undertake to regrade and re-gravel gullied areas of the trail.

The UD (underground drainage) near the lower end of the trail seems to be contributing to the erosion. VDOT suggests stone reinforcement.

Meadow portion:
The gas line is on the edge of the area under consideration, so should pose no obstacle. No earthmoving or plowing is permissible within two feet of the line and Miss Utility will mark that corridor.

VDOT will waive fees and bonds and expedite permits.

VDOT will verify the area needed by Dominion and Verizon for maintenance equipment.

The parties will need to decide whether to proceed now or await FCDOT work on the trail.

Degraded Natural Spring:

Conditions have continued to deteriorate. The stream channel gully has now cut back to the base of the conveyance channel. The conveyance channel itself is deteriorating, with stones falling out of place and geotextile exposed. The spring is still filled with sediment accumulated behind the abandoned silt fence

Since there had been some miscommunication over identification of this issue, VDOT will get status information and let us know.

The existing woodlands along the creek were noted to contain extensive colonies of mountain laurel. This area is already heavily impacted by the BMX bikers who may actually be expanding their territory. Recommend that FCPA be invited into the conversation to discuss controls. It would be a great shame to damage more of this plant community by heavily regrading this stream. All efforts should be made to correct this degraded facility from the VDOT right-of-way and within the already impacted wetland. Although challenging it should not be impossible to do this from the cleared right-of-way that extends from the current work area around the gas line.

Braddock Road Interchange
Planting is underway around the interchange, correcting the previous poor planting results.

Stone repairs to the gullies in the northeast and south east cloverleafs held up well in the recent rainstorm.

DBI is clearing piles of debris in the southwest staging area. VDOT says that this staging area will continue to be used in the future. This could justify minimizing access to the NW quadrant of the RT 236 interchange as the steep grades there are not appropriate for large vehicles. VDOT says that this ‘permanent’ staging area at Braddock is used by random trucks to dump miscellaneous stuff. Recommend that if this is to be permanent, it should be fenced and screened with native planting. As a permanent staging area it will be effectively impervious so additional planting would help to offset the imperviousness. NOTE this is an important entry into Braddock District and should look as good as possible.

Drain Cover on Americana Drive
A custom drain cover has been ordered and will be installed soon.

Blocked Drain DBI will be clearing this drain on the northwest edge of the Braddock Road interchange and patching the concrete channel.

May 22, 2017, Survey of erosion control and replanting issues still lingering four years after "completion" of construction:

The Friends of Accotink Creek joined State Senator Dave Marsden along with representatives of VDOT, Stormwater Planning Division, the Sierra Club, and others for a one-year-later follow-up tour of problem sites along 495 that had been reported by FACC. This was subsequent to our May 2016 survey of significant issues associated with the implementation of the native landscaping plan and problem erosion and sediment control areas.

Of all the problems documented last May, results are a mixed bag. Changes we observed:

  • Left over construction debris has been cleaned up pretty thoroughly. Of course, that should have been accomplished promptly after construction without reminders being needed years later.
  • Many new trees of higher quality are appearing to replace the casualties of the initial inadequate revegetation efforts. We are glad to observe there also appears to be greater care given to the installation and care of the newer trees. We sadly note VDOT still insists on planting some non-native trees, especially Kousa dogwood, responsible for spreading the plague that is killing off our native dogwoods, Virginia's state flower.
  • Less action was visible on erosion and sediment issues. Some actions had clearly been taken just days before, leading to the unfortunate suspicion that the issues were only addressed due to the imminent inspection by Senator Marsden.
    • Braddock Road cloverleaf - In SE quadrant, large gully is now armored, but hasty repairs to conveyance channel left much to be desired. In NE quadrant erosion rills and gully were redeveloping after recent grading.
    • Little River Turnpike cloverleaf - In SW quadrant, the gully is still forming at end of pipe, causing sediment build up in gas line easement. In NW quadrant, trail was regraded, but it is only a temporary solution. FCDOT may address this in an envisioned program of improvements to pedestrian and bike facilities along Little River Turnpike.
    • We did not observe any other action that has been taken to address the erosion and sediment issues identified one year ago in May 2016.
    • The single most glaring erosion and sediment issue, the trashing of a spring-fed wetland, has so far only been refered for study by the Northern Virginia Soil & Water Conservation District.

In general, we observed disappointingly common areas of bare ground although this may improve as the belated VDOT remedial replanting efforts proceed. It was also too common to observe thriving stands of invasive alien species such as Chinese lespedesa and Weeping love grass deliberately planted as part of the original replanting program and which will plague the right of way and beyond in perpetuity. Again, we urge that any future seed mix should be native grasses and wildflowers and zero non-native invasives.

VDOT will report back to the other parties with updated status.

Subsequent anaysis of aerial photos by DPWES brought to light another issue that had previously not registered - The equipment staging area was never restored to its existing condition. A gravel parking lot exists where there had been full vegetative cover before. This will require new discussions.

See the full DPWES survey report and analysis

The Friends Accotink Creek appreciate the continuing efforts of Senator Marsden and the Fairfax County Restoration Project to bring attention to our concerns.

Read the sad history of the 495 Express lanes project:
Our May 2016 495 Express Lanes Survey
Report on 2014 495 landscaping massacre
Report on 495 Express Lanes replanting phase
Reports on 495 Express Lanes construction problems

Here we go all over again? Construction is expected to begin on the I-66 Express Lanes in late 2017. Although we were unable to hold the asphalt at bay or even to have current stormwater controls applied to this project, let's all keep our eyes on it and hold VDOT and contractors to standards the citizens and environment of Virginia are entitled to expect.

Good gully Miss Molly!