Unlike many Arlington County officials and residents, Henry S. Hulme, now the county's director of public works, was an early supporter of I-66. Hulme, county transportation director when the project was first proposed more than two decades ago, said his original support stemmed largely from studying the growth patterns of the metropolitan area.

"You have much less density here than you normally would expect in a large downtown city because of height restrictions . . . . So we have 'spread growth' development here, with many of the people living farther out," he said. As a result, "you needed 66 because people will always use cars."

Hulme credited his department's efforts with, among other things, helping the county get a highway that will improve its own transportation system and one that will be far more attractive than originally planned.

"It will be a long time before [I-66] will be duplicated in the United States aesthetically -- the sound walls, the berms, the decorative designs. You're not going to see anything like it anywhere else . . . because what's caught up with state and federal highway agencies now is the economy.

"Back then, money was no object. But today, they don't have that kind of money to do these things."

One thing few opponents of the highway considered, Hulme said, is what would have happened had the highway not been built.

Hulme said that by the time local opposition developed in the early 1970s, the state already had acquired much of the right-of-way, large parts of which were "significant parcels in Rosslyn and Cherrydale." If the road had not been built, the properties would have reverted to the original owners.

The prospect of that property suddenly being dumped back on the market had lawyers poring over county records in hopes of buying and assembling large parcels for developments that Hulme said would have further clogged neighborhood streets.

In addition to a bike trail along I-66, which Hulme called a "tremendous achievement," he said the county got the state to fund a 400-space parking deck (worth more than $2 million) near Washington-Lee High School. The county accomplished that by intentionally relocating North Quincy Street so that I-66 would have to run through an old warehouse that served as the school administration's headquarters.

As a result, the state had to "buy" the warehouse property before I-66 could be completed, and the proceeds went toward construction of a new school administration building. The new building is between Washington-Lee High School and the parking deck, for which the state also paid.

The "real coup," however, Hulme said, was getting the state to pay for the deck plaza over the portion of the road in Rosslyn. The state had planned to leave "just an open trench" there, Hulme said, but finally agreed to build the $14-million plaza.