FALLS CHURCH, Va. – The Virginia Department of Transportation has approved a $491.5 million plan to install bicycle-friendly lanes along portions of I-495 and I-95 in Northern Virginia and parts of the Washington metropolitan area, a spokesperson for VDOT announced on Tuesday.
“The fact of the matter is that we as a society are becoming increasingly eco-conscious and passionate about preserving our environment and as a result, more and more people are seeking out non-motorized transportation as a means of travel,” Ned Meeks, the project’s lead developer, told the Washington Business Journal. “Right now, we have no real means of streamlining long-distance travel for the tens of thousands of people who rely on bicycles as their primary mode of transportation.”
An avid cyclist and Share the Road advocate, Meeks’ vision for the Capital Beltway will become a reality in the coming months. At a cost to taxpayers of less than half a billion dollars, the project will involve expanding portions of the Beltway to allow for a 1.5 meter-wide path between the outside lane and shoulder where cyclists can travel at high speeds alongside the flow of motor vehicle traffic.
In an effort to remain below the already steep budget, Meeks said developers decided to scrap the “more aesthetic features” of the bike lane such as a protective barrier that would serve to separate cyclists from the highway. “Generally speaking, this is something that you’re more likely to see in an urban environment,” Meeks said, continuing, “From the beginning we approached this project from a minimalist viewpoint. You aren’t going to see a lot of unnecessary elements like illumination lights, protective barriers, or rest areas. This is purely a means of long distance rapid transportation.”
VDOT officials say construction for the Capital Beltway bike lane is set to commence on February 6th. Commuters should expect delays and exercise caution, particularly while driving along the highway’s twenty-two mile stretch in Northern Virginia where construction crews will be present day and night expanding the road and laying down paint.
While the project is only expected to take about a month to complete, Meeks said his mission is far from over. The two-time triathlon winner turned visionary developer hopes more states will adopt similar high-speed bike lanes along their highways. “In order to fully embrace this idea that bicyclists and motorists can share the road together, the biking community must have access to all roads – regardless of size and traffic flow,” Meeks argued. “Otherwise, the quest for transportation equality will never be achieved.”