I was amazed and appalled at the logic The Post applied in its editorial of May 8 "I-66 -- Another Lane Out." After quoting Rep. Frank Wolf, who seeks to have the highway widened, as saying "the region can't just build itself out of congestion," The Post goes on to argue for trying to do just that by adding an outbound lane on I-66 through Arlington. Surely the evidence about more highway attracting more cars, along with extra pollution during the inevitable backups, is already ample. Encouraging people to make more unwise and uneconomic choices about commuting long distances in private vehicles by suggesting that it can all be made more bearable by the addition of more traffic lanes is irresponsible.
As an Arlingtonian who lives near I-66, I am, of course, offended by The Post's cavalier assertion that the 22-year-old agreement limiting the width of I-66 "made sense in its day, but for a host of reasons that day is gone and the traffic isn't." Why does the notion of protecting neighborhoods and quality of life for Arlingtonians no longer make sense? Just because of "huge growth at Tysons Corner"? Preservation does not necessarily go out of fashion. Pave over more of Yellowstone to accommodate burgeoning crowds of tourists? Build rush-hour lanes down the middle of the Mall, since clearly Constitution and Independence avenues are choked to capacity?
The public policy compromise made 22 years ago still makes sense, and it is clear that this metropolitan region needs a comprehensive and courageous plan to limit traffic growth, not an extra lane outbound on I-66.
-- Margaret McKelvey
The I-66 issue has been bitterly contested for nearly two decades. The agreement 22 years ago restricting the size and use of I-66 inside the Beltway was a social and political compact with Arlington residents and others in the region who compromised on the final proposal to build a four-lane road.
The Commonwealth of Virginia, in building the compromise proposal, committed to building what it called a model urban freeway. Thus there is a reason for the highway's features, some of which Rep. Wolf's proposal would destroy.
There is a reason why the corridor is so wide and the roadway is not six or eight lanes as earlier proposed. The earth berms and walls were meant to soften the impact of traffic noise on the adjoining neighborhoods as much as possible. The landscaping, banning of trucks and muted lighting are intended to improve the character of the road. In short, I-66 inside the Beltway was not intended to be your typical interstate highway.
There are many roads in the region that are terribly congested but are not candidates for further widening because of their character. Some of these are in Fairfax County. I-66 is like those roads. It is not to be widened just because it is there. That's one point The Post doesn't get.
Rep. Wolf maintains that the extra lane can be added within the current walls and without jeopardizing the adjacent bicycle path. But that does not mean there would be no damage in the corridor. Increased capacity means more traffic. The widening would put that traffic even closer to adjoining neighborhoods. It would make the noise and pollution worse.
Widening would result in clearing much of the landscaping that provides a pleasant entrance and exit for the nation's capital. The added lane would make the road more like every other ugly freeway. I also suspect that the lane widths would have to be narrowed, and in some portions, there wouldn't be enough room for a shoulder lane without major reconstruction. In other words, the widening would make for a less safe road.
Rep. Wolf reports that he is confident that the money for widening I-66 is available in the Virginia highway budget. Meanwhile, supporters of Metro expansion to Tysons and on to Dulles Airport have a major problem finding money. Washington is a world-class city, but somehow it's about the only world-class city that can't manage to get mass transit to its major international airport. Balanced transportation is a pretty meaningless phrase when there's easy money to be had for a relatively minor road project such as the additional I-66 lane, while critical mass transportation needs are without any means of finance.
Rep. Wolf and others should take some initiative on these financing needs instead of worrying about how to widen I-66. Let's get our priorities right in the next century.
I-66 is a contained interstate meant to ease as much as possible its impact on the adjoining neighborhoods. It was approved with an extraordinary recognition that the priority of the automobile did have some limits. I-66 in Arlington was meant to demonstrate that we could build highways with feeling in this country.
I take strong exception to the in-your-face tone of The Post's comment, which dismisses the commitment made to Arlingtonians who accepted the I-66 compromise 22 years ago. The Post stated that if legislative action was necessary to widen the highway (i.e., gut the original compact), then "so be it." The Post has demonstrated a lot of insensitivity with that comment. Calling for new road capacity in Arlington is not the right way to address the area's transportation problems. Arlington is a community, not a roadbed.
-- James Govan
was co-chairman of the Arlington Coalition on Transportation, the citizens' group that led much of the opposition to I-66 in the 1970s.