By Eric M. Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 23, 2009
Sharon S. Bulova, chairwoman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, said that the county is strongly in favor of widening Interstate 66 inside the Capital Beltway and that the county's representatives to a regional panel have been told to change their votes on the issue.
The vote by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Government's Transportation Planning Board on Wednesday stripped the $75 million project from the region's transportation plan. The swing votes were cast by two Fairfax supervisors, Catherine M. Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill) and Linda Q. Smyth (D-Providence), who voted against the project. Because the panel's voting system is weighted by population, the project would not have been stopped if the Fairfax representatives had switched votes.
Bulova (D) said last week that one of the Fairfax representatives will offer a motion for another vote at the next opportunity. "We're not backing away from the I-66 project," Bulova said, noting that the county has consistently backed the controversial project. Many Fairfax and Loudoun County commuters are frustrated by congestion in that section of I-66, which has two lanes in each direction from the District line to the Beltway.
The I-66 project would connect a series of acceleration and deceleration lanes, effectively widening the westbound road from two to three lanes between Fairfax Drive and Sycamore Street and from three lanes to four between Washington Boulevard and the Dulles Airport Access Road. The first phase of the widening, the 1.5-mile stretch from Fairfax Drive to Sycamore, was scheduled to start next year.
Before the vote, panel members expressed frustration at perceived foot-dragging by the Virginia Department of Transportation on conducting a study of transportation alternatives. The vote was on a motion to tie the project to the completion of the study.
State transportation officials said the project would be delayed at least three years, the amount of time it would take to do a full environmental assessment of the corridor. Only $1.5 million of the estimated $15 million cost of the study is funded. VDOT officials said the project was never contingent on a full-blown study.
"We're sympathetic to the frustration that VDOT hasn't moved forward on the multi-modal study," Bulova said. "But Fairfax is not backing away. And we're prepared to make a motion to reconsider the vote."
Project supporters say I-66 has become a choke point. Widening it would improve traffic for commuters heading west in the evening and for drivers heading to the Dulles corridor in the morning, and the additional lane would provide a better evacuation route during an emergency, they said.
Expanding I-66 has long been opposed by Arlington County leaders and transit advocates, who say a wider road 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. At the time, Arlington officials agreed to its construction in exchange for certain promises, including a four-lane limit.