Road Plans Fought by Counties, Including Pr. William, That Would Benefit

By Eric M. Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 5, 2007

Northern Virginia leaders have been pleading for years for an increase in transportation investments. So it is ironic that two major projects that are ready to go could face opposition in the counties that would be most affected.

Prince William County leaders are opposed to a plan to build high-occupancy toll, or HOT, lanes along Interstate 95/395. And Arlington County leaders are against a plan that would effectively add a lane to Interstate 66 inside the Capital Beltway.

A showdown is expected soon, when local delegates to the Transportation Planning Board vote on approving the projects April 18. Ronald F. Kirby, the director of transportation planning for the board, said that with transportation funding at such a premium, it is rare for major projects to be opposed, especially by the jurisdictions that could benefit the most.

But these projects are exceptions.

Expanding I-66 has long been strenuously opposed by Arlington leaders who say it would bring more traffic and pollution to their community. The idea of widening I-66 inside the Beltway has been discussed since the 10-mile stretch of the interstate opened in 1982. Arlington dropped its opposition to the construction of I-66 in exchange for certain promises, including a four-lane limit and other concessions.

Project supporters say the roadway has become a regional chokepoint. Widening the road would improve traffic for commuters heading west in the evening, as well as reverse commuters heading for the Dulles corridor in the morning. They also said the additional lane would provide a better evacuation route in the event of a regional emergency.

The proposed $75.6 million project would rebuild westbound I-66, extending and connecting a series of acceleration and deceleration lanes, according to board documents. It would result in widening from two to three lanes a stretch from Fairfax Drive to Sycamore Street and expand the roadway from Washington Boulevard to the Dulles Airport Access Road from three lanes to four. It would be completed by 2013.

Chris Zimmerman (D), a member of the Arlington County Board and its representative on the Transportation Planning Board, said the project will only create new chokepoints at great expense.

"We've called for years for a multi-modal study to see what alternatives would be most effective in improving mobility in the I-66 corridor," he said. "All of that is being bypassed."

Prince William officials have expressed opposition to the new toll-lane proposal, which would allow a consortium of private companies to convert the two existing carpool lanes from Dumfries to the Pentagon into three HOT lanes. The project would be finished in 2010.

Carpools of three or more would be exempt from tolls, as would buses and emergency vehicles. Single- or double-occupancy vehicles would be allowed to ride in the lanes if they paid a toll that would fluctuate based on the amount of traffic.

In February, the Prince William Board of County Supervisors voted to withhold the county's approval for the project until company representatives and transportation planners answer more questions and concerns.

The project is troubling to Prince William leaders such as board Chairman Corey A. Stewart (R), who said he worries that the project will encourage more commuter traffic from areas south of the county that will slow traffic for everyone.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company