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Residents near I-66 wary of expansion plan

Fixing traffic on I-66, seen here near Vienna, will require many changes involving the roadway and transit. (Karen Bleier/AFP via Getty Images)
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Many people have raised concerns about the Virginia Department of Transportation’s plans for Interstate 66, but the nature of their worries often varies depending on where they live and how they use the highway.

In this posting, I’d like to focus on those who care most deeply about the plan for I-66 outside the Capital Beltway. These are the people of Vienna and Dunn Loring who live in the project corridor and fear it will have a direct effect on their property or on their living environment.

Two of these residents presented their concerns at a meeting of the region’s Transportation Planning Board on Wednesday. The board decides what projects to include in the regional transportation plan, a crucial step for many large projects.

These are excerpts from the residents’ testimony.

From Bryan Zelley of Vienna:

As residents along the I-66 corridor, we believe that regional issues need regional solutions. We also believe that necessary improvements to the corridor should provide true multimodal options that serve residents, commuters and businesses.
The current Transform 66 plans [that’s the Virginia government’s name for the I-66 programs] do not reflect this perspective. Instead, the plans presented by the Commonwealth of Virginia will severely impact or destroy the communities in the corridor outside the 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.
Rather than provide a consistent approach to I-66, VDOT is choosing to transform the roadway outside the Beltway in a plan remarkably more harmful than the right-of-way safeguards maintained inside the Beltway.
With each new detail exposed about this transformation, we learn the project’s true impacts, including significant land taking and homes lost. The displaced are your neights who live in transit-oriented housing, who chose not to have long automobile commutes, many choosing not to drive at all. If VDOT”s current plan is implemented, these are the folks who will be forced to lose their homes, their modest open space and their children’s schools. Thousands more will face the permanent aftermath left behind.
For them, the project won’t just bring increased noise, polluted storm water swamps,and the loss of beloved yards and school recess fields. The current plans mean the loss of pedestrian transit access, buffer zones of green space forever erased from the landscape, new walls constructed just feet from bedrooms, and the permanent blight of brightly lit flyover ramps towering over neighborhoods.

From Marcia Hook of Dunn Loring:

With two express lanes projects [the 495 Express Lanes and the 95 Express Lanes] now operating in Virginia, we are now learning the long-term consequences of these arrangements. Indeed, the details of the private partnership agreements for these projects demonstrate why the board [the Transportation Planning Board] should not approve VDOT’s use of such an arrangement for I-66.
First, the I-495 express lanes contract has a term of 75 years. Now go back 75 years to 1940. Imagine what a deal signed by transportation planners then would look like today. Would that contract make sense t0day, 75 years later, without the benefit of understanding the nearly eight decades of change and technological innovations that were to come?
Second, the entire business plan of these express lanes promotes and depends on low-occupant vehicle commuters. Specifically, under both the I-95 and I-95 contracts, VDOT must compensate Transurban [the company that operates the express lanes and helped finance their construction] if the number of high-occupancy vehicles exceeds a certain percentage. In other words, too many HOV cars or buses means taxpayers must actually pay Transurban.
Finally, and perhaps most important, both contracts include provisions that penalize Virginia for developing “competing” forms of transportation not already planned.
We believe that there is a better way forward. Any effort to Transform 66 should be based on multimodal solutions. Younger generations are seeking more transit-oriented housing in walkable communities. Bus rapid transit service can be implemented along the corridor, taking advantage of existing facilities and building others. VDOT could invest in improving pedestrian and bicycle access to underutilized rail transit stations. Instead of investing in multimodal solutions later, as currently proposed, the investment should be made now, before focusing on widening I-66. The time to change commuters’ mindsets in favor of public transit is today.

The I-66 program is the biggest highway remake proposed in the D.C. region, and there’s plenty to say for and against it. Watch for much more here, but I’m interested in your comments on the residents’ concerns.