Citizens opposed to the way the Virginia Highway Department is constructing Interstate Rte. 66 aired their grievances last night at a long-sought meeting with department officials, but the officials gave little hope that they would change the highway's sharply critized lighting design.
Before about 70 citizens and several local politicians, the officials detailed the final plans for extending I-66 from the Capital Beltway to the Potomac River and asserted that suggestions from citizens at earlier stages of the project did generate several changes in the lighting design.
The three-hour meeting at Marshall High School in Falls Church came after a citizens group monitoring I-66 construction in Fairfax County charged that department officials were deliberately ignoring their suggestions. A department official later confirmed that engineers involved with the design of the long-contested project no longer were receptive to citizen input.
Several citizen speakers last night questioned why I-66 will be lighted at all, since it is mainly intended for commuter travel during daylight. Others suggested using overhanging "cobra head" median lights, rather than the planned 45-foot-tall light standards which will be anchored 30 feet from the sides of the highway in some locations.
Richard Boehlert, a member of the Fairfax County citizens group, also suggested that the I-66 speed limit be reduced fro 55 to 45 miles an hour -- lengthening the trip on the 9.7-mile strip by two minutes -- to make the highway so safe that lights would not be needed.
But department traffic and planning director Richard Lockwood responded, "I think we have a valid plan." When asked if it could be changed, Lockwood said, "It would depend on the comment."
"What about all our comments?" several citizens called out.
When Lockwood did not answer, area resident Donald Kennedy said to applause, "You smile. But we pay your salary and you ought to start listening to us."
Department officials predict that the highway, designed to save 15 minutes in commuting time for many Northern Virginians, should be finished next year.
The highway's sound barriers and landscaping design also were quesitoned at last night's meeting.
"I feel a lot of frustration here tonight," said Keith Argow, a highway department employe who monitors environmental concerns on the I-66 project. He added that he will follow up on the citizens' criticisms by talking to department officials.
"Some things we've discussed here tonight we can do," Argow said. "Some things we can't."