It’s the nature of transportation politics to artificially simplify issues that in reality are quite complex. This letter about the D.C. region’s biggest highway project is an antidote to oversimplification.
The writer defies a political perception that the battle of I-66 is strictly between drivers from the outer suburbs and NIMBY Arlingtonians.
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I have no problem with the points of view discussed in your column on the recent deal to widen I-66 inside the Capital Beltway. But there are aspects never mentioned: the impact on Arlington County drivers and on jobs in Arlington.
The omission from any discussion continues the half-century-old myth that the only drivers on I-66 are those from suburbs outside the Beltway commuting to and from jobs in the District. And it does nothing to offset all the whining from Arlington County antis, both self-appointed and elected.
Job locations and driving patterns have radically changed in the past 50 years, with the greatest increase in job locations outside the Beltway. And the result has been that rush-hour traffic on I-66 now goes both ways. As a county resident who uses I-66 to travel back and forth to Tysons Corner, Reston, Herndon and Dulles International Airport, I can attest to three things.
First, the traffic backup on I-66 and the Dulles Connector Road extends halfway to McLean both mornings and evenings. Second, driving westbound on I-66, there is a solid stream of cars entering from the ramps at Ballston and Falls Church at any time during daylight. (Widening I-66 westbound has really helped with that.)
Third, when driving eastbound, the volume of traffic drops off to unimpeded flow after the majority of drivers exits at Falls Church and Ballston. Just as the widening of I-66 inside the Beltway westbound has helped tremendously, widening it eastbound in the same stretch will also.
The root cause of the traffic problem on I-66 is the Arlington County government’s continued effort to place the blame elsewhere. If only those pesky folks in the burbs would just stay there. The long-range strategic plan for Arlington County growth has for decades been to build upwards — both high-rise offices and apartments — along the Metro lines.
The idealistic assumption was that all commuting by an increasing number of Arlington County residents would be done by using Metrorail or buses. Alas, such socialistic rigor was defeated by freedom to choose.
A considerable number of Arlington County residents actually want to work outside the Beltway or elsewhere where a car is the only way to commute.
— Eric Briggs, Arlington
I’ve been to enough meetings with Arlingtonians to know that county residents are no more monolithic in their views about the Virginia Department of Transportation’s HOT lanes plans than the residents of Montgomery County are about light rail and bus rapid-transit programs.
Over the past year, transportation officials in the administration of Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) have made several major changes to the high-occupancy toll lanes plan that address some of the concerns raised by Briggs and other Arlingtonians — although I’ve yet to encounter anyone who is completely satisfied.
The state dropped the idea of rush-hour tolling in both directions in favor of tolling only in the peak direction — eastbound in the morning and westbound in the afternoon. Arlington residents whose reverse commutes include job sites such as Tysons Corner that are outside the Beltway were among those who had complained about this part of the plan.
In fact, it was likely that more of those reverse commuters would pursue routes other than I-66 if they had to pay a morning toll.
They also were among the travelers who complained that eastbound I-66 needed to be widened, since that’s the way many of them come home in the evening.
All this has been troubling to Arlingtonians who live near the alternative routes and feared the spillover traffic from I-66.
“I can tell you at least three different routes between McLean and Rosslyn,” Briggs said. “Just making it more difficult on I-66 doesn’t make drivers give up and go home; they just take to the back streets. Those who think expanding I-66 will ruin the neighborhood don’t even consider it might reduce the traffic on their very own street.”
I’m hopeful the state’s current plan will work, because it brings such a variety of resources to bear on I-66: the HOT lanes system of traffic management, the extra revenue from tolling to use on programs that help people leave cars behind and the extra lane eastbound.
You can have your say during a new round of I-66 design hearings this coming week. They’re all from 6 to 8 p.m. These are the days and locations:
Monday: Washington-Lee High School cafeteria, 1301 N. Stafford St., Arlington.
Tuesday: Eagle Ridge Middle School cafeteria, 42901 Waxpool Rd., Ashburn.
Wednesday: VDOT Northern Virginia District Office, 4975 Alliance Dr., Fairfax.
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.