Dispute rises over HOT lanes' squeezed toll road ramps

By Derek Kravitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Proposed ramps at the Dulles Toll Road and Capital Beltway interchange are pitting Fairfax County against Virginia transportation officials, who say the $110 million project is needed for commuters who must cross several lanes of traffic to enter or exit the airport access road.

The Virginia Department of Transportation is planning to construct elevated ramps as part of its 14-mile Capital Beltway high-occupancy toll, or HOT, lanes project. The ramps are part of the state's project to build a stretch of HOT lanes on the Beltway between the Springfield interchange and Old Dominion Drive in McLean and would separate airport traffic from vehicles continuing on the Dulles Toll Road.

To get onto or off the access road, drivers must cross several lanes of traffic, including five lanes in the eastbound direction. As a result of the HOT lanes project, drivers will be given even less room to cross, said Ronaldo T. Nicholson, a regional transportation program director for Virginia Megaprojects, the state's program for large-scale road projects.

Between 2005 and 2007, there were 303 accidents at the interchange in both directions, officials say.

VDOT and Fairfax say a fix is needed, but Fairfax officials say the ramps would be unsightly and are concerned that they would make the Tysons Corner area look similar to the concrete-heavy Springfield interchange.

"It feels like you're going to be in caves of interchanges and sound walls," said Supervisor Catherine M. Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill). "It's going to be very uninviting."

Engineers say that the ramps aren't traditional "flyovers" that arch high above roadways, like those in Springfield. Instead, they will be at the same elevation as the existing Beltway, rising and falling by about five feet depending on the ramp's location.

VDOT does not need approval from Fairfax to make the change but is asking county officials to offer comments on the project by the end of month so it can be formally approved by Dec. 1. Construction is slated for the spring.

Funding for the project is also up in the air. The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority has pledged up to $50 million from a combination of bonds and toll money, and TransUrban, the public-private partnership building the toll lanes, would pay $1.8 million in unused funds for the project. It's unclear where the rest of the roughly $68 million would come from.

Fairfax Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon S. Bulova (D) said county officials will continue to discuss the project through December.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company