The state of Virginia has different plans for adding high-occupancy toll lanes to Interstate 66 inside and outside the Capital Beltway. But this much is consistent: It must make a very convincing case that its congestion solutions aren’t just about charging tolls.
Many people have shared their skepticism about the plans, but those most deeply concerned are those who live close to I-66 just outside the Beltway and fear that their property and lifestyle will be damaged. This letter is from one of those residents.
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
The I-66 corridor deserves a consistent regional approach. Necessary improvements to the corridor should provide true multimodal options that serve residents, commuters and businesses.
Instead, the plans presented by Virginia will severely impact or destroy the communities in the corridor outside the Capital Beltway. The supposed beneficiaries of the plan — car drivers — will be forced to endure the permanent loss of a free lane or pay a hefty toll twice a day with unlimited increases. The VDOT is choosing an inconsistent approach: Transform the roadway outside the Beltway in a plan remarkably more harmful than the right-of-way safeguards maintained inside the Beltway.
While VDOT is extolling another “public-private partnership,” VDOT’s own plans show that only $1 billion of an estimated $3.3 billion cost actually comes from private funding. The majority $2 billion-plus of construction costs will be paid for with federal, state and local tax dollars.
The private portion would even include loans subsidized by the federal government or guaranteed loans. Much of the construction costs include destroying recently built bridges, building flyovers towering over neighborhoods, and replacing the recently rebuilt I-66 east of Route 50.
Experience with express lanes shows that taxpayers must pay the private operator if too many buses and carpoolers use the lanes or VDOT attempts improvements of competing roads that were not previously planned.
A good deal for the public? Hardly. A great deal for the private operator who gets a 3-1 public subsidy and an express-lane monopoly with unlimited toll increases for 50-plus years? You bet.
This “car first” approach will have a devastating effect on the people who did the very thing that planners told them is good: Live near jobs and take public transportation. And for what purpose?
To pave the way for more highway commutes and even more sprawl into the diminishing open spaces of Northern Virginia. The project depends on solo drivers paying tolls, while working-class commuters will face the permanent loss of a free peak-hour lane.
Recent comments out of Richmond suggest that Transform I-66 is “in earliest stages of planning” and there have been many meetings. But direct questions to VDOT have been left unanswered or dismissed with spin that mentions only supposed benefits.
VDOT scheduled the final environmental-impact hearings for the holiday week of Memorial Day. And after the project maps were unveiled this winter, all of the community meetings have been organized by neighborhood groups.
We thank Rep. Gerald Connolly and his Northern Virginia colleagues for their recent bipartisan letter to the transportation secretary. With each new detail exposed about this transformation, we learn the project’s true impacts, including significant land taking, homes lost, and wasted taxpayer dollars.
— Bryan Zelley, Vienna
“Multimodal” approaches mean giving people better options for transit, biking and walking, as well as driving. For the most part, the HOT lanes on the Beltway and I-95 are living up to their billing for drivers: They provide congestion-free trips in exchange for tolls.
We have only anecdotal information about their impact on the regular lanes. And the commuter bus programs are not as robust as many were hoping.
Because of the length of the public-private partnerships that created the new lanes, it will be decades before we can fully evaluate their impact.
In the shorter range, I do think many people will participate in the well-publicized environmental hearings on I-66 outside the Beltway. There will be four, each from 5:30 to 9 p.m.: May 27 at the VDOT Northern Virginia District Office, 4975 Alliance Dr., Fairfax; May 28 at Oakton High School, 2900 Sutton Rd., Vienna; June 2 at Battlefield High School, 15000 Graduation Dr., Haymarket; and June 3 at Bull Run Elementary School, 15301 Lee Hwy., Centreville.
The Virginia government expects to hold hearings on the project’s design in early 2016.
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, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.