Beltway Project Gets Pared Down
New Proposals Save Money, Homes
By Peter Whoriskey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 8, 2004; Page VA03
Revised plans for the expansion of the Capital Beltway between Springfield and the American Legion Bridge have been presented to the public, and the slimmer, cheaper version of the project appeared to gain favor with nearby residents.
The local chapter of the Sierra Club and other mass transit advocates said they remain opposed to the project, however, arguing that the money would be better spent on trains and buses.
The new plans for the 14-mile stretch of the Beltway arose out of the opposition to a 2002 proposal for the expansion of the roadway between the Mixing Bowl and the Potomac River. That plan was estimated to cost $2.3 billion or more and would have taken more than 200 homes.
The scaled-down revision, by contrast, would cost roughly a third of the original and would take no more than three homes, according to presentations made at the Fairview Park Marriott and the Best Western Tysons Westpark last week.
"They said go back to the drawing board," said Ken Wilkinson, environmental project manager for the Virginia Department of Transportation, referring to critics of the original proposal. "We looked at the alternatives and skinnied them down."
Although the revised plans similarly call for widening the roadway to either 10 lanes or 12 lanes, they would limit the extent of the interchange improvements.
This move and others would cut construction costs and save homes.
Ann Marie Fuerst of Falls Church turned up at one of the meetings last week just to see if the revision would leave her house still standing. The original proposal likely would have taken it, she said.
"There's my house," she said, as she approached the posters showing aerial views of the new plans. "I'm relieved."
Other neighbors said they learned that their streets would be protected from Beltway noise by high walls. Some just appreciated its economy.
"I like it," said Tom Mosher, a retired engineer who came out for the presentation. "It's much cheaper and takes less land."
Traffic engineers noted, however, that the changes will also reduce the efficiency of the results.
Currently, the highway is moderately or severely congested for about four hours on a typical weekday morning and about four hours more on a typical weekday evening, according to VDOT statistics.
Traffic projections by transportation officials show that the congestion will get much worse by 2020.
VDOT's new proposal consists of two alternatives.
One calls for 10 lanes -- four general purpose lanes and one high occupancy vehicle lane in each direction. Its estimated construction cost is $783 million.
The other is a 12-lane plan that calls for four general purpose lanes and two high occupancy toll lanes in each direction. The HOT lanes would be used by buses, vehicles with one or more passengers and vehicles with no passengers whose drivers are willing to pay a toll. Its estimated construction cost is $891 million.
The idea of restricting the use of lanes on the Beltway irritated some people at the meetings.
"When you're already paying taxes, why should you pay more for access to the roads?" asked Greg Wood, a retiree from Dunn Loring who attended one of the presentations.
VDOT officials said they expect to present the alternatives to the Commonwealth Transportation Board this fall. The board sets state transportation policy.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company