American Legion Bridge
The American Legion Bridge is our region’s greatest chokepoint, making many Maryland and Virginia employment centers inaccessible to thousands of skilled workers. The Alliance recommends upgrading the American Legion Bridge with 4 conventional and 2 managed/HOT lanes in each direction, extending the I-495 HOT lanes in Virginia to I-270 western spur in Maryland. Ultimately the 53 year old American Legion Bridge should be rebuilt/replaced to a more safe and secure structure. Upgrading the American Legion Bridge is not a substitute for new Potomac River Crossing to the northwest. Constructing a new crossing first would reduce the impacts caused by reconstructing the American Legion Bridge.
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American Legion Bridge Overview
The American Legion Bridge opened in 1962 as part of the Capital Beltway (I-495). It was originally called the Cabin John Bridge and constructed as a six-lane facility. It was renamed the American Legion Bridge in 1969 and widened to 10-lanes in 1992 (8 through lanes and two merge or exit lanes.)
In 1965 the American Legion Bridge carried 48,000 vehicles daily. Today, daily traffic averages 235,000 vehicles and by 2040 it is projected to increase to 280,000.
The Legion Bridge is now over 50 years old and will need to undergo significant rehabilitation or reconstruction in the next 30 years. It makes no sense to rehabilitate or re-construct the bridge in its current configuration.
The American Legion Bridge provides the only direct connection between the region’s two most populous counties — Fairfax (1,164,000) and Montgomery (1,020,000) — which between them are home to nearly 40% of the region’s population and jobs and 44% of its personal income. Residents of the region’s fastest growing counties — Loudoun (368,000) and Frederick/City of Frederick (117,000) also depend upon the American Legion Bridge.
A 2013 George Mason University Center for Regional Analysis Study — Beyond the Legion Bridge: An Evaluation of Transportation Connections between Montgomery and Fairfax Counties — provides considerable insight into the workings (and non-workings) of the American Legion Bridge. Its findings include that the American Legion Bridge:
- Restricts Job Access: Traffic congestion around the Legion Bridge discourages commuting between Maryland and Virginia.
- Benefits Arlington/Alexandria Economies: Many Montgomery County residents use the Legion Bridge to travel to jobs in the District, Arlington and Alexandria.
- Is Used by Many Outer Jurisdiction Residents: The growing number of Loudoun, Prince William and Frederick County commuters using the Legion Bridge “has clearly had a significant impact on traffic increases on the Legion Bridge since 1990.”
- Is part of nation’s most congested corridor: “The entire 41-mile segment of I-495 that forms the western portion of the Capital Beltway from I-95 in Prince George’s County, Maryland to I-95/I-395 in Fairfax County is consistently rated as one of the most congested highway corridors in the U.S.
- Has nation’s highest congestion cost: According to the Texas Transportation Institute ”the annual morning peak congestion cost alone is $95 million, the highest in the nation.” (That’s a conservative estimate.)
- Adds to GW Parkway Congestion: “The section of I-495 on either side of the American Legion Memorial Bridge is its most problematic portion, as several highways and arterials converge on I-495 on either side of the bridge. The traffic count approaching the bridge increases far more on the approach from the Virginia side, with the traffic count jumping by 50,000 vehicles from the segment south of the George Washington Memorial Parkway to the segment north of the Parkway.”
- Is MD Beltway’s most congested section: “The Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) reports8 that the segment of the I-495 Inner Loop between the bridge and the I-270 spur has a bottleneck impact factor of 6.5, more than three times higher than any other Maryland segment of the Beltway.”
- Moves $800 billion in goods by trucks: The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG) estimates that trucks represent 6.5% of Legion Bridge traffic, that 700 trucks use the bridge during peak travel periods and 900 trucks per hour use the bridge in off-peak hours and trucks use the Bridge to move $800 billion in goods between Maryland and Virginia.
- Has high through traffic volumes: MWCOG estimates about 30% of Bridge traffic is through traffic passing through to region to destinations beyond the region.
The study also found that:
- Fixing Legion Bridge only partial solution: It also cited a 2009 cooperative effort by MDOT and VDOT that looked at a range of solutions including extending managed/express lanes across the Legion Bridge and concluded it is evident that such solutions “would only partially solve the problem.”
- Fixing Legion Bridge only partial solution: It further stated, “It is clear that the two states and two counties will not be able to meet their future connectivity needs simply by continuing to squeeze capacity out of the American Legion Memorial Bridge and the highways and roads that feed it.”
Yet….No consideration to additional crossing: Yet the study gave no consideration to the congestion reducing impact and other benefits of a new Potomac River Crossing to the north most likely because of the “politics’’ surrounding that issue.
Need for New Northern Potomac Crossing Is Obvious and Well-Documented
Regional planners have long recognized the need for additional Potomac River crossings. Regional plans developed in the 1960s called for two additional crossings north of the American Legion Bridge.
A 1997 Greater Washington Board of Trade Regional Transportation Study concluded that construction of a new crossing linking Route 7 in Virginia with I-270 in Maryland was the single most important transportation infrastructure investment the region could make.
A 2014 National Capital Region Transportation Priority Study conducted by The 2030 Group ( a private sector group dedicated to promoting a regional approach to transportation, work force training and workforce housing) evaluated a new Potomac River crossing from VA 28 to I-270 in conjunction with an American Legion Bridge with two new express lanes in each direction linking Virginia’s 495 Express Lanes with new Express Lanes on the Maryland Beltway between the Legion Bridge and the I-270 western spur. The Study’s findings included that by 2030 a new bridge would —
- Carry more than 100,000 vehicles daily.
- Reduce future traffic volume on the Legion Bridge
- Improve Legion Bridge travel speeds and reduce delays
- Relieve congestion in other corridors including I-270, the Maryland Beltway and the Dulles Corridor
As the George Mason University Study concludes and common sense tells us, simply fixing the American Legion Bridge is not enough.
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Transportation planning is dispersed at multiple levels (state, regional, sub-regional, and local) and further by mode of travel. No one entity or level has ultimate responsibility for planning. More about transportation planning in the DC Metro Area.