The Virginia Department of Transportation announced that it plans to begin work early next year on the second of three planned “spot improvements” meant to ease traffic congestion on westbound Interstate 66 inside the Capital Beltway.
How old is this program? Timothy M. Kaine endorsed its start when he was governor-elect of Virginia in 2005. The Arlington County communities along the Interstate have opposed widenings for as long as there has been a highway, but the reason the program that became known as the “spot improvements” proceeded so slowly has more to do with transportation financing than transportation politics.
There wasn’t enough money to widen the three zones at the same time so the program has been strung across many fiscal years. In fact, the third widening still doesn’t have full funding for construction. Other big projects also have been split into multi-year phases, including the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, the Springfield Interchange and the widening of I-66 through Gainesville.
The concept behind the widenings was to pick spots where merge areas could be lengthened significantly to create the effect of an extra lane without actually expanding the footprint of the highway. The first one, a 1.9-mile zone between Fairfax Drive and Sycamore Street, was finished in 2011. The project to begin early next year is along the mile between the Washington Boulevard on-ramp and the ramp to the Dulles Airport Access Highway. It should be done by summer 2015.
Most of the road work’s effects on motorists will involve lane closings and traffic shifts at night.
The third project, between Lee Highway and Glebe Road, is not yet scheduled, because of the funding issue.