Arlington residents have been fuming for more than a quarter-century about being used as a convenient freeway route for motorists from larger neighboring jurisdictions. So yesterday's proposal by Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R) to add two lanes to Interstate 66 inside the Capital Beltway was greeted by many Arlington leaders as another poke at an old wound.
"I think it is a very bad idea," said Charles Denney, a longtime county resident who serves on the Arlington Transportation Commission. "It would promote the use of single-occupant automobiles, which this region has too much of already."
Just four months ago, Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) drew a heated reaction in Arlington when he called on state officials to add a third westbound lane to I-66 inside the Beltway. Arlington officials said it would violate a 22-year-old federal promise to limit the highway to two lanes in each direction.
Gilmore added fuel to the fire yesterday by asking the Virginia Department of Transportation to study not only Wolf's proposal but also the addition of a third eastbound lane.
The governor said his support for widening I-66 is driven by the need to unclog the region's roads and keep idling cars from causing more environmental damage. He said Arlington's intense opposition will not sway him.
"We care very much about the people inside the Beltway," Gilmore said. "But times have changed. There's a lot of people who need to get through on I-66. It should be a priority for the Commonwealth."
Arlington County Board Chairman Paul F. Ferguson (D) said that before there is more talk of widening I-66, state and federal transportation officials should extend rail lines to Tysons Corner and Dulles International Airport to see whether that eases congestion.
Ferguson said he would "leave the door open" to widening I-66 in Arlington "if construction actually began on a rail line to Tysons."
In 1977, the U.S. secretary of transportation agreed to the limits to the highway's width in a concession to Arlington residents who did not want that portion of the road built. Supporters of widening I-66 acknowledge that federal legislation might be required to reverse that agreement.
Arlington County Board member Chris Zimmerman (D) said Gilmore yesterday overlooked better alternatives such as stronger restrictions on single-occupant cars during rush hour. Zimmerman also said adding two lanes to I-66 would be impossible without eliminating bicycle paths and relocating bridges.
Robert Swennes, an attorney who heads the county Transportation Commission, noted that traffic has become heavy in both directions on I-66 since Tysons Corner and other commercial developments west of Arlington have created job centers to rival the District. He suggested that if car-pooling rules were imposed in the eastbound and westbound lanes during both rush hours, "a lot of the backups would dissipate."
Currently, the eastbound lanes are restricted to car pools during the peak of morning rush hour, and the restrictions apply to the westbound lanes in the evening.
Mike Lane, the only Republican on the five-member Arlington County Board, took a more favorable view of Gilmore's plans. Lane said he approves of the new funding sources for transportation improvements that the governor outlined in his speech yesterday.
"This is a giant first step he has taken," Lane said. "There will be a lot of bargaining over specifics, and Arlington will have a chance to make its points known."
A prominent Fairfax resident and frequent user of I-66, Supervisor Elaine N. McConnell (R-Springfield), applauded Gilmore's proposal. "I think it's great for Northern Virginia," she said. "I think it's long overdue."
Northern Virginia Projects
Northern Virginia has unique transportation problems, including the longest daily commuting times and most severe congestion in the state. Gov. James S. Gilmore III has ordered the advance construction of 10 major Northern Virginia projects totaling $137 million, including:
Jurisdiction Project Cost
Pr. William Route 66, Gainesville interchange $86.1
Loudoun Route 28, Route 625 interchange 14.6
Fairfax Route 29, 495 to Cedar Lane 12.3
Fairfax Route 28/29 interchange 6.5
Fairfax Route 66, Stringfellow Road 2.0
Pr. William Route 1, at Neabsco Creek 9.6
Fairfax Route 66, lighting from I-495 to
Route 234 2.9
Fairfax I-495, lighting from Woodrow Wilson
Bridge to American Legion Bridge 1.0
Pr. William Route 234, miles south
of Manassas corporate limits 1.9
Manassas Pk. Digital Drive/West Carondelet Drive 0.9
Another proposal is to increase number of commuter trains and extend the Virginia Railway Express (VRE) to Fauquier County at Bealeton.
SOURCE: Office of the Governor