[TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE] under way, however, and a final decision has yet to be reached.
Coleman said that if the Vienna line is not completed, then I-66 will be "all the more necessary." In event, he said, he felt the conditions he imposed on Virginia assured him that his decision to approve the highway would not mean the Vienna line's curtailment.
Calling the decision ne of the most difficult he has had to make as Transportation Secretary. Coleman said that the "transportation benefits of (I-66) outweigh any adverse impacts on the affected community." Included among the those benefits, he said, are the incentives the highway provided for greater use of carpools, "the improved mobility and shorter trip times" it would offer, "support for Metro and improved access to Dulles Airport."
In addition, Coleman said he would ask Congress to authorize and provide money to build a highway connection between the Dulles Access Rod and I-66. But, Coleman said in his decision. "I must nevertheless recogsignificant in terms of actually influencing a shift of aircraft flights from nize the I-66 would be relatively in-National (airport) to Dulles.
Coleman's decision, however, reflects the strong reservations he has had bout approving the highway. The decision notes that I-55 will probably not reduce rush-hour traffic as much as the Virginia Highway Department has said it would. The decision also says that the highway will mean greater automobile use and that travel time and traffic congestion will hardly change in the long run. Some community disruption and higher noise levels near the right of way in Arlington County, the decision says, are evitable.
"I tried hard not the hedge the problems involved" in the highway's construction, Coleman said.
Reaction to Coleman's decision divided predictably along the lines established in the decades of controversy over the the highway. "We're deeply disappointed," said James Govan, founder of the Arlington Coalition on Transportation (ACT), which had stopped a previous incarnation of I-66 with a court suit four years ago. "Six years of effort have finally been proven a waste of time."
Coleman, Govan said, "has approved a project that simply doesn't stand on its merits. The argument for it hasn't been made." The decision, he said, "forces a highway down the throats of Arlingtonians in the name of Metro for a Pittance of $30 million."
ACT members would meet in the next day or two, Govan said, to decide whether to file suit to stop the highway. "It's certainly subject to legal challenge," Govan said, "but it would mean raising funds. Hopefully we don't have to do that. I hope that when (Secretary of Transportation designate) Brock Adams gets into office, he will be willing to review the decision and deal with the project."
D.C. City Council Chairman Sterling Tucker said that "the District remains firm in its conviction that even in its modified version, I-66 is unnecessary. My guess is that with opposition so strong here and in parts of Northern Virginia, the I-66 issue will be subject to review by the new administration."
A spokesman for Rep. Brock Adams said that he would have no comment on the Coleman decision. A spokesman for the congressman said that a lawyer would be studying Coleman's recent decisions "to see which ones are reviewable or not," but that it was too early to say whether Adams would be taking another look at I-66.
Rep. Joseph L. Fisher (D-Va.) was also "disappointed" in the decision, and said that "building more highways is dead end, not a solution to our transportation problems." The conditions Coleman placed on the highway's approval. Fisher said, we're not "stringent enough," and were "nothing more than what proponents of the highway had already agreed to."
Longtime advocates of the highway praised the Secretary's sound judgment. While Gov. Godwin limited himself to the observation that he was "of course pleased." Fairfax County Board Chairman John F. Herrity called the decision "a great victory for a lot of people in Fairfax County." Herrity, whose election as chariman of the County Board helped to reverse the Board's previous opposition to I-66, said that without the change in the Board's stand, "this would have never happened."
Coleman, in fact, gave some credence to that comment in his decision, together with razor-thin votes in support of I-66 by the Metropolitan Council of Governments and its transportation planning board, were factors in his decision.
John H. Harwood, commissioner of the Virginia Highway Department, said yesterday that construction on I-66 could begin as early as "the latter part of March." A segment of the road between Rte. 7 in Fairfax and the beltway could be in use in three years. Harwood said, and the entire project completed in five or six years.
I-66 was first proposed more than 20 years ago, a time when the the creation of mile after mile of high-speed interstate superhighways was deemed the best way to meet major cities' defense, industrial and commercial needs, as well as those of an increasingly mobile population.
I-66 met with little initial opposition and by 1964 design plans for the highway were virtually completed. The construction of the highway seemed so imminent that the Pope-Leighey House, one of four Washington-area homes designed by the late architect Frank Lloyd Wright, was moved from the prospective highway site to Woodlawn Plantation in Fairfax County.
But as plans for the highway seemed likely to become more than highway planners' sketches, a burgeoning environmental movement, combined wiht increasing awareness of the highway's potential impact on Arlington and Fairfax counties, generated voical opposition.
When the Virginia highway department unanimously approved the construction of I-66 in 1971. ACT's lawyers were in court the next morning filing suit to block construction.
The bid to block construction, on grounds that the National Environmental Policy Act had been violated because there was no environmental impact statement on the highway, was rejected in U.S. District Court. ACT appealed the decision to the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of APpeals, which overturned the lower court's decision in April, 1972, enjoined construction of the highway, and ordered preparation of an environmental impact statement, further hearings and a decision by the Secretary of Transportation.
By 1975, a Virginia highway department environmental impact statement recommended construction of the highway, while the federal Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Interior, the President's Council on Environmental Quality, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the District of Columbia and some Northern Virginia jurisdictions voiced opposition to it.
Coleman ruled against I-66 on Aug. 1, 1975, and most people thought the highway was dead. The coming subway and improvements on existing roads, he said, would be better for the environment than a six-lane super highway. The Govans threw a party, but Virginia highway officials went back to the drawing boards.
While rejecting the highway, Coleman gave Godwin, one of the highway's most ardent supporters, the necessary prescription with which to keep hopes for I-66 alive. Under orders from President Ford to draft a viable Metro financing plan. Coleman notified the District and the suburban counties that further federal financing of the Metrorail system would be contingent on the contribution by the District. Maryland and Virginia of federal money originally intended for now-scuttled interstate highway projects.
Early last year, Godwin, the Virginia highway department and John F. Herrity, chairman of a newly elected Fairfax Board of Supervisors that reversed its previous opposition to I-66, proposed a revised. It was essentially this proposal that Coleman approved yesterday.
Coleman held his last public hearing on the issue in October. Listening to about 80 elected officials and civic representatives who were evenly divided for an against the highway. Coleman closely questioned them on the proposed highway's effect on the completion of the Metrorail system. "It would be easier for me," he said then, "if I knew that I-66 wer built, Virginia would commit itself to doing everything it can to build Metro to Vienna."
DOT officials originally announced that Coleman would release his decision on I-66 in December, but at the last minute, a press conference was conceled. Coleman said later that he had two decisions ready to go on Dec. 19, one in favor of the highway, one opposed. A half hours before the printers were to arrive with the decision. Coleman said he decided to postpone announcing it. "I just wasn't happy with the one I had," he said.