Cost jumps for I-66 widening for potential Orange Line extension

If the Orange Line is ever going to be extended in Virginia from Vienna toward Centreville, bridges over Interstate 66 need to be widened now as part of toll lane construction. But that widening will cost 43% more than initially planned.

A series of approvals over the last month or so, including from the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, shifts $17.5 million in county money and payments from the I-66 outside-the-Beltway toll lanes away from other projects and onto the I-66 median widening at U.S. 29.

In 2017, $40 million was approved for funding the project.

The money essentially goes back to the private group building the two toll lanes each way between Gainesville and the Beltway to pay for the work, since they are responsible for adding this median space into design and construction plans. 

“The increase in cost accounts for the complexity of the design, which includes demolishing and rebuilding all the substructure as well as the superstructure of the existing bridge over Route 29, leading to traffic closures and detours further increasing the footprint of the project,” Fairfax County briefing documents said.

There are no immediate plans to actually build the long-discussed Orange Line extension to Centreville, but Northern Virginia’s long-range plans have called for the 11-mile extension to be built at some point down the line.

Other options would include some type of light rail or bus rapid transit.

Doing the roadway widening now, with longer and higher I-66 overpasses and a widened Route 29, would reduce the disruption and cost of any future construction work that actually happens.

“Should these improvements not be done in conjunction with the I-66 OTB [outside the Beltway], the Orange Line extension would still be possible, but improvements associated with this project would come at a much higher, inflated cost,” the county documents said.

The additional $17.5 million includes $8 million from the private companies that will be collecting toll money on the lanes between the Beltway and Gainesville, and about $9.5 million in county road construction funding.

The county is also putting an additional $2.1 million in Fairfax Center Area Road Funds toward a Route 29 widening project to replace toll revenue being shifted to the I-66 median widening.

The county road funding is the first direct local money being put toward this median widening from west of Route 28 to Route 29.

The work requires 16-foot clearance on the bridges, space for the Route 29 widening, and space for future train tracks or other transit.

The toll lanes outside the Beltway are due to open in late 2022.

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