Dear Dr. Gridlock:
You published a letter from Eric Briggs of Arlington arguing that it was past time to widen Interstate 66 from the Capital Beltway to Rosslyn. I understand the concern of drivers who want to use I-66 to get to work and then back to their homes at the end of the work day.
However, they forget something, which is that restricted-access highways breed more traffic over time so that a short-term solution turns out not to be a solution over the long run.
People resist what might be thought of as a variation of Murphy’s Law: More highways lead to more suburban development, and more suburban development leads to more cars, and more cars fill up highways, leading to calls for wider highways or more highways. What Briggs wants is an I-66 that duplicates I-395. That’s a four-lane or six-lane highway from the Beltway to Rosslyn. That is, I-66 inside the Beltway should look like I-66 outside the Beltway.
However, enlarging I-66 inside the Beltway to four or six lanes would be just a temporary fix for traffic jams, if only because of the bottleneck formed by the bridges over the Potomac.
Unfortunately, this temporary fix would also cripple Arlington forever, and do so in two ways. The first way is the obvious one. A significantly wider I-66 would be an even worse physical barrier to Arlington residents than I-66 is now. Ever try walking over I-395? Or over I-66 outside the Beltway?
The second way is less obvious but even more important. Turning I-66 into a repeat I-395 would send a devastating message to Arlington homeowners. That message would be, “Your properties are secure only until an even wider I-66 or another I-66 is demanded by residents in the suburbs outside the Beltway.” That sort of message is arrogant and threatening.
Is it any wonder that the Arlington County Board has resisted efforts to widen I-66?
— Tom Hone, Arlington
The residents of Arlington County also are commuters, and some of them consider I-66 to be their Main Street. The letters from Briggs and Hone reflect Arlington’s varied interests.
The board that represents them is not happy about the speedup in the I-66 widening that resulted from a compromise between Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) and the Virginia General Assembly. But the widening is limited to four miles eastbound and to the existing right of way.
Board Chair Libby Garvey pledged that the panel “will be vigilant, working to ensure that appropriate environmental analyses are completed efficiently and comprehensively.”
And the board is looking forward to the selection of programs that will help I-66 drivers leave their cars behind. Those selections will come from the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission.
If you’re getting the idea that there are many constituencies among commuters when it comes to the high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes, this next letter will reinforce the point.
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
As one who lives in Prince William County and has worked in Arlington for the past 15 years, using I-95/395, I can tell you the toll lanes are working out very nicely, where they exist. I didn’t believe they were going to help, but they do!
They work because this is a high-income area, and people think nothing of spending the money to get around. Going north in the morning, I don’t normally hit the wall until after the Edsall Road exit.
Going south in the evening, it is a mind-numbing stop/go until the Duke Street entrance to the HOT lanes, and then traffic on the main lanes is able to speed up, sometimes moving better then the HOT lanes.
Wasn’t it Arlington that sued the state to stop them from converting to the toll lanes at that point? I have heard that they are now going to be extended to the D.C. line. If Arlington had allowed them in the first place, they would be finished by now and we would have traffic relief!
— Billie Vanore, Lake Ridge
By the end of 2015, the average number of daily trips in the 95 Express Lanes totaled 44,000, according to Transurban, the company that operates the HOT lanes.
The Virginia Department of Transportation plans to extend the HOT lanes north, replacing the I-395 HOV lanes, by 2019.
As with the I-66 project, the Arlington County Board is watching this one closely. The most attractive part is the commitment by VDOT to using some of the toll revenue to help I-95/395 commuters to leave their cars behind.
But the Arlington officials want VDOT to get more specific: Exactly how much of the revenue will go to such programs? Many of us felt let down when the I-95 HOT lanes project did not turn out to have a more robust program for commuter buses.
Join me at noon Monday for an online discussion with Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne. You can ask your own questions about the various HOT lanes projects and other transportation issues. Here’s the link: live.washingtonpost.com/gridlock0328.html.
Dr. Gridlock also appears Thursday in Local Living. Comments and questions are welcome and may be used in a column, along with the writer’s name and home community. Write Dr. Gridlock at The Washington Post, 1301 K St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or email email@example.com.