Even in a region where so many commuters endure long and unpredictable trips, I-66 stands out. In fact, it’s one of the most congested highways in the nation. The bottleneck just west of the Capital Beltway is severe, but other choke points occur in Rosslyn, near the junction with Route 267, near Route 50 and near Route 28.
There has been some traffic management. Outside the Beltway, the far left lane is under HOV-2 rules in the rush-hour direction. Inside the Beltway, both lanes in the rush-hour direction are HOV-2. The Virginia Department of Transportation also opens the shoulders to through traffic west of the Beltway during rush hours. It’s still not enough to handle the demand. So VDOT is saying it wants to actively manage the lanes through technology upgrades.
Above all, VDOT wants to make the highway safer by reducing the number of crashes, but the active management program could also make trips more predictable and perhaps even ease the congestion.
The $32 million program (90 percent of the money would be federal funds) involves hardware, software and humans. The humans managing the program will be at the McConnell Public Safety and Transportation Operations Center in Fairfax. Most of the other humans needed to make this work will be driving on I-66.
Hari K. Sripathi, VDOT’s regional operations director, said that while the sensors, lane controls and information displays involved have been used elsewhere, this new program is being designed to fit the needs of I-66. Drivers in different areas between Haymarket and the Potomac River will see differences in its applications.
Farthest west, between Routes 15 and 29, the program will expand the use of traffic cameras, information displays and sensors measuring speed and congestion. East of that zone, drivers between Routes 29 and 50 will enter a zone of active traffic management, with a lane control system mounted on gantries above the highway and information displays that can warn about conditions ahead.
Between Route 50 and the Beltway, the program adds a monitoring system for the shoulder lanes and a monitoring system for the emergency pullouts. Use of the shoulder lanes, now fixed to certain peak hours, can be adjusted to meet changing demands. Assistance can be sent more quickly to disabled vehicles parked in the the pullouts.
Inside the Beltway, VDOT will use traffic cameras, message displays and sensors. The ramp meters, those red and green lights at some I-66 entrances, will be smartened up. Now they’re on automatic cycles, intended to space out the rate at which vehicles join the crowd on the highway. Smarter versions could be adjusted to fit conditions, on the interstate ahead or toward the back of the line on the ramp.