Either Interstate 95 commuters were hugely into the Monday night Redskins game, or they’ve mellowed on the HOT lanes plan. I’ve been to meetings where highway officials had to talk down angry crowds discussing similar proposals for converting the High Occupancy Vehicle lanes on the Interstate to high-occupancy toll lanes.
At the first of three public meetings this week on the new plan, there wasn’t enough public to view the many information displays set up inside Woodbridge’s Botts Fire Hall.
The meetings are from 5 to 8 p.m. I got there at 6:30 p.m., thinking I’d be in time to see the commuter crowd. Officials there told me some people had arrived earlier, perhaps because they wanted to get home in time to watch the Redskins and the Cowboys on Monday Night Football.
A Virginia Department of Transportation advertisement for this week’s sessions describes them as public hearings, but they’re not hearings in the traditional sense. (See the advertisement as a pdf.) People don’t take turns speaking to a panel of officials who listen to their testimony.
You can submit testimony either orally or in writing, but that’s not a public event within a compressed time frame. Instead, sometime between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m., you sit down at tables and write or talk.
It’s possible that the remaining two sessions, in Springfield on Wednesday and in Stafford on Thursday, will draw larger crowds. Even if you don’t plan on offering testimony for the official record, the sessions are a great chance to learn more about the project. There will be plenty of officials from VDOT and from the private partnership that would build and operate the lanes who can address your questions.
I have one for I-95 commuters: Did Virginia’s decision in February to shorten the route of the HOT lanes lessen your initial concern that it would destroy the I-95 carpooling system? Now that you know the pay lanes won’t go as far north as the Mark Center, Pentagon and D.C., do you feel more confident that there still will be enough people interested in carpooling?
I don’t mean to suggest that public concerns about this project have vanished, not by a long shot. Travelers continue to write in with questions about the tolls, congestion, cost and enforcement, among other issues. In a Monday posting, I included a letter from John Provost of Burke that said in part: “I fail to see how allowing more single-occupancy vehicles to travel on our highways is going to make less congestion.”
During my online chat Monday, one traveler asked if the HOT lanes would be reversible, as the HOV lanes are now. The answer is yes, the HOT lanes traffic pattern will be very similar to the current pattern for HOV traffic, both on weekdays and weekends.
At the meetings, you can see how the system is supposed to work and talk to some of the people who would manage the traffic.
Here’s the schedule for the 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. sessions:
— Wednesday, at Waterford at Springfield, 6715 Commerce St., Springfield.
— Thursday, at North Stafford High School, 839 Garrisonville Rd., Stafford.
There’s no formal presentation. You can wander around at your own pace and view the information displays and talk with project officials.
Comments can be submitted at the session, or they can be sent to: John Lynch, regional transportation program director, Virginia Megaprojects, 6363 Walker Lane, Suite 500, Alexandria, Va. 22310, or to info@I-95hotlanes.com by Oct. 14. (Put “I-95 Joint Meetings” in the subject line.)