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Virginia neighbors fight tree slaughter along Beltway

The Virginia Dept. of Transportation has removed hundreds of trees to make way to expand High Occupancy Toll lanes to the Maryland state line.

MCLEAN, Va. — Some Virginia neighbors are mobilizing to stop what they're calling a massive and unnecessary "tree slaughter."

VDOT contractors have cut down hundreds of trees just outside the Beltway near the George Washington Memorial Parkway and Georgetown Pike. They're extending Virginia's High Occupancy Toll lanes to the Potomac and perhaps into Maryland.

At the outer loop exit onto the G.W., neighbors compare the damage to a strip mine.

"The whole thing was all forested," said Debra Butler, president of the Northern Virginia Citizens' Association. "The old-growth trees, huge old-growth trees... Our kids, our grandkids, our great-grandkids are going to have to live with this destruction."

Hundreds of trees have been stripped from the earth to make way for four or five massive new ramps that neighbors complain will loom over them a little like the Springfield Mixing Bowl. 

"They escalate up to 280 feet right here... Seventy feet higher than the house," Butler said, pointing to a home that stands next to the work. 

The neighbors are appealing to state politicians for help. But they have also hired an engineer and are considering suing VDOT. The agency says it's been talking to neighbors for years about the $600 million project to finish the last three miles of Virginia's HOT lanes. 

"We're working really hard to expand the express lanes on 495 to meet the travel demands and provide options to drivers. And also to minimize any impacts," said Michelle Holland, a spokeswoman for VDOT. 

But neighbors complain the agency keeps expanding its plans. 

"These trees will probably be gone next week," said Jan Brown, walking toward one of the dozens of other trees that are marked for removal along Live Oak Drive.

VDOT is shifting an already narrow Live Oak Drive even closer to Langley Swim Club, where Brown serves on the board. 

"We are the local swim club to the neighborhood. The children have to walk here. Where are our sidewalks?" he asked.

Some of the ramps are designed to tie Virginia's HOT lanes with new lanes planned in Maryland. But Maryland Governor-elect Wes Moore has been skeptical of those plans.

"We want a pause because Maryland is reconsidering this project," said Butler. "So we want VDOT to stop it."

VDOT says it's trying to set up a meeting with neighbors. But there are no plans to stop or pause this project.

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