Virginia’s plan to rebuild 25 miles of Interstate 66 outside the Capital Beltway is drawing concern among the commuters and communities that would be affected, during the construction and after.

We’ve had some discussions lately about the unique features of the more recently announced plan to convert I-66 inside the Beltway to high-occupancy toll lanes at peak periods. But the HOT lanes plan for outside the Beltway is a far bigger job and involves reshaping this heavily used commuter corridor.

A round of public meetings sponsored by the Virginia Department of Transportation began last week and continues Tuesday and Thursday nights this week. Each session is set for 6 to 8:30 p.m., with a staff presentation at 7 p.m. The Tuesday meeting is in the cafeteria at Oakton High School, 2900 Sutton Rd., Vienna. Thursday night’s is at the VDOT Northern Virginia regional headquarters, 4975 Alliance Dr., Fairfax.

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During my online chat Monday, I provided this link to the I-66 project’s Web site, where people can submit comments about the plan. I didn’t get a chance to publish this response from a reader, and I’d like to now, because it reflects concerns that will be prominent as the project advances.

Q. I-66
I just submitted my strong objection to any widening of I-66. I saw what it did during the 495 HOT lane construction. That took away houses, neighborhoods, and trees. There are many communities right up against I-66. The pollution and noise of more lanes encroaching into those communities would be terrible.

DG: One of the key concerns among project managers — and something that Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne also has spoken about — is the impact of the project on the neighbors. Project officials are presenting some design alternatives during the public meeting. See the design alternatives online.

The basic idea is that after a rebuilding that could begin in 2017 and continue to 2021, I-66 between Haymarket and the Beltway would consist of two HOT lanes and three regular lanes in each direction. The plan includes some new flyover ramps providing access to and from the HOT lanes. This would support access to the lanes for a rapid bus system and an enhanced carpooling program.

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One of the many design issues involves preservation of a median on I-66 for the potential extension of Metrorail. (There’s no active plan to extend the Orange Line.) But the planners — as well as the neighbors — would like to see as much of the work as possible done within the existing footprint of the interstate. In some areas where communities press up against the highway, that’s going to be tricky, especially in the more densely populated areas just west of the Beltway. See the options in this pdf of highway cross-sections.

This is not the same as adding four lanes in the middle of the Beltway, as was done for the 495 Express Lanes project, but it would certainly be disruptive and lengthy.

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Active Traffic Management
The new signs that commuters see on I-66 are not part of the HOT lanes project. Rather, it’s the set-up work for VDOT’s Active Traffic Management program, which will allow VDOT to collect data about current road conditions and translate that into travel advice for motorists, via those electronic signs.

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The system, which has been in the works for several years, is scheduled to be operational by mid-summer between the Beltway and Route 29 in Centreville.

This week, the installation of the system’s gantries will disrupt overnight traffic.

All eastbound lanes are scheduled to close intermittently between midnight and 5 a.m. Wednesday and Thursday, VDOT said. Each closing will last up to half an hour.

The Wednesday into Thursday closings will occur between Route 29 (Exit 52) and Route 28 (Exit 53). The Thursday into Friday closings will occur between Route 123 (Exit 60) and Nutley Street (Exit 62).

All together, 36 new gantries will be installed for the Active Traffic Management system.

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