McLean Residents Get Results with County and VDOT

Since, the I-495 High Occupancy / Toll “express” lanes opened in 2012, McLean residents have noticed a big problem in their neighborhood: A lot more traffic.

Why is traffic worse?  The northbound I-495 “express” lanes end in McLean, near Old Dominion Drive.  Two lanes of HOT lane traffic must merge with four lanes of general beltway traffic.  Merging and a busy road mean traffic “friction,” choke points, and brake lights.  The situation has become bad that VDOT decided to add an extra merge lane beyond the Express Lanes, by re-purposing the safety shoulder / breakdown lane.  A red X appears in this lane outside of peak hours, but many drivers ignore the X.  Unfortunately, adding the lane only aggravated the merging before Georgetown Pike.

So, northbound travelers from the Tysons and McLean area, found a solution: Avoid the express lanes completely, and avoid I-495 for as long as possible.   Enter I-495 at Georgetown Pike via Balls Hill Road and nearby local roads.  This avoids much of the beltway backups in the area, until the nearby local roads became clogged too.

Naturally, McLean residents were not happy about high speed through traffic trying to zoom through their neighborhoods en route to the capital beltway.  So they began pressuring VDOT and their Fairfax County representative.

This pressure became active and vocal until the residents were sure they were heard.  How were they sure?  Because their Fairfax Supervisor John Foust and VDOT are now working together to ensure the Georgetown Pike entrance to I-495 North is closed to traffic from 1-7 p.m. on weekdays.

A radical plan that closes an Interstate entrance will have effects for many travelers, even those who never entered a McLean local street.  It will force many to backtrack to other freeway entrances.  But it will reduce cut through traffic on local streets, and this will benefit McLean.  It also requires federal approval to change interstate highway access.

Before the plan proceeds, the entire Board of Fairfax Supervisors may choose to provide support, and VDOT must conduct a trial to study data for the Federal Highway Administration.  This pilot period would last four months, and then VDOT would decide whether to formally request a permanent Beltway entrance closure.

It remains to be seen whether this proposal will be a net benefit.  It will likely help local McLean residents who don’t like traffic on their streets.  But travelers on the Beltway and trying to enter the Beltway from Great Falls, McLean, and other areas nearby will likely loose.   Does the contention between Interstate travelers and local residents sound familiar?  It does in Vienna and Dunn Loring, where government officials are choosing to prioritize long distance automobile commuters over local residents and transit oriented neighborhoods.

But one thing is more certain: When residents ban together and petition their government representatives together, things happen.  Just ask Fairfax Supervisor John Foust, who is choosing his constituents over Interstate travelers.

A public meeting for the Georgetown Pike Beltway Entrance closure proposal will take place on August 2, 7:00 PM at McLean High School.

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Flashback 10 Years: HOT Lane Promises & Impacts

Ten years ago, in the summer of 2008, construction was just ramping up for the Virginia I-495 HOT Lane project. Looking back at the issues then, what has changed in 2018 as the I-66 HOT Lane project ramps up?  The article below captured familiar themes.

Lots of concerns, lots of politicians making appeasing statements, lots of park lands lost forever, lots of official County letters written to VDOT contractors, and private companies receiving a lot of public land resources and a billion taxpayer dollars, in exchange for collecting tolls for the rest of our lives.  Plus, lots of information withheld or details obscured from the public for as long as possible.  Sound familiar?

It is also interesting when officials tell drivers to “seek alternative routes.” Later, after drivers have successfully sought these alternative routes, more officials will appear and show interest in protecting neighborhoods from drivers along the alternative routes.

Sacrifice for Wider Beltway?
By Julia  O’Donoghue
The Connection
July 2008

Like many local mountain bike enthusiasts, Kathy Levy is making frequent trips to Wakefield Park this summer. Levy and her two sons live in Vienna but regularly drive to the park, just outside the Capital Beltway, because of its trails.

Wakefield offers some of the only trails for mountain bikers near the core of the Washington metropolitan area. “It is the only place to do technical riding that is close in,” said Levy. The park, located at 8100 Braddock Road, is home to several mountain bike events during the summer.

But at least a portion of the mountain bike trails will succumb to the expansion of the Capital Beltway, set to start this month. Virginia Department of Transportation and its private partner, Fluor-Transurban, will permanently close some trail areas to add four “high occupancy toll” (HOT) lanes to Interstate 495.

THE BIKE TRAIL is one item in a long list of community amenities that the HOT lanes project could affect. The construction will force clearing of almost every tree within 50 feet of the Beltway on both sides. Sound walls that protect residential neighborhoods from Beltway noise will come down, possibly for several years, and the criteria for replacement is still unclear. And traffic along the Beltway will slow as construction moves forward.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors sent a list of dozens of issues it would like VDOT to address before kicking off the construction later this month. Many residents are up in arms already about trees VDOT and Fluor-Transurban have cut down, even though the actual project has not started.

“That was the tip of the iceberg of a project that has been pretty non-controversial to date because of a lack of information. We are going to start hearing from more people,” said supervisor Jeff McKay (Lee), head of the board’s transportation committee.

THE HOT LANES project is set to expand the Beltway from eight to 12 lanes, with two new toll lanes in each direction from the Springfield interchange to just north of the Dulles Toll road near the American Legion Bridge. Buses, motorcycles, emergency vehicles and cars with three people or more would use the HOT lanes for free All other motorists can opt to pay a toll that will vary by the level of congestion to travel in the new lanes.

The lanes will cost an estimated $1.4 billion in total, with Virginia paying for approximately $400 million and the federal government covering $587 million through a grant. Fluor-Transurban, an Australian company, will provided the rest of the financial backing in exchange for being able to collect and keep all the HOT lanes tolls for the more than 50 years.

The project is appealing for some people because it could allow for mass transit — buses — to move along the Beltway , although the project does not provide any transit or buses. “I am not an enormous proponent of the concept of HOT lanes to begin with but we have to have mass transit on the Beltway,” said McKay. The highway expansion also comes with $250 million worth of upgrades to the Beltway’s aging infrastructure.

VDOT and Fluor Transurban have committed to replacing more than 50 bridges and overpasses, replacing and adding new sound walls, and up grading 12 of the interchanges along the HOT lanes stretch of the Beltway.

But even people who support the HOT lanes expect the project’s construction to cause a lot of pain over the next several years. “I do think the pay off is going to be worth it in the end but that end is a long way out,” said supervisor John Foust (Dranesville), who represents McLean, Great Falls and Herndon.

According to VDOT spokesperson Steve Titunik, in general, all the trees within 50 feet of the Beltway on either side will be taken down. “Is it going to be severe? Yeah. Are we going to take down a lot of trees? Yeah,” he said.

“You cannot take all the trees out and have the Beltway bare to the community,” said supervisor Sharon Bulova (Braddock.) Bulova said it is unacceptable that the park could be left with potentially no barrier between it and the highway.

Wakefield is one of the most popular parks in the system, according to Winnie Shapiro, Braddock representative on the county park authority board. “I think people are going to be shocked by the tree loss,” said Shapiro.

BUT THE HOT Lanes construction will have the most dramatic effect on local traffic pat terns and congestion. Officials plan to start work on every single interchange and bridge along the portion of the Beltway that includes the HOT lanes at the same time.

“While work may be going on at all the bridges, some bridges will have more work than others,” Titunik, said.

Construction will stop and no lanes will be closed on the Beltway between approximately 5 a.m. and 9 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. Motorists who are trying to cross over the Beltway between Braddock Road and Route 123 may see more severe impacts than Beltway commuters. Some bridges could have lane closures for long stretches, said Titunik. He added that motorists living in this area should consider alternative routes.

Some supervisors fear the effect on neighbor hoods of thousands of commuters seeking alternative routes. “The only realistic way to avoid the Beltway is to cut through neighborhoods,” said Foust. County officials and the public have not had much advance notice of new aspects of the HOT lanes plans and sometimes they don’t have enough to time to adequately respond to new information.

Not even Foust, the local supervisor, found out about VDOT’s plan to clear acres of trees across from Cooper Middle School before it had already happened. Several community members said the lack of communication has made them skeptical of how VDOT will handle similar situations in the future.

“When overnight, they clear an area across from a middle school, that kind of thing makes you lose trust. We would have worked with them in good faith to come up with another solution,” said McLean resident Mary Anne Hilliard. Supervisors set up an ad hoc committee to meet regularly with VDOT about the HOT lanes project and strengthen the lines of communication between the agency and local government.

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VDOT’s I-66 Project Seeks to Sneak More Design Changes Without Public Process

Not content with merely adding tractor-trailers and hazardous material tanker trucks to the I-66 “Express Lanes” after the public review and environmental hearings concluded, VDOT and its chosen contractors are seeking more unfavorable changes.

VDOT’s chosen contractor I66 Express Mobility Partners LLC (EMP)*, now plans a major industrial maintenance complex near the junction of I-66 and Virginia Route 123.  This would be in the same location as a planned (distant) future Metro rail station was previously planned.  Placing an industrial maintenance facility at this location would also disrupt Fairfax City’s plan to revitalize the area with its “Northfax” redevelopment project.  Access to a planned I-66 bike path will also be at at risk.

EMP stated that this is the only location they can find in Northern Virginia that would allow them to access all lanes of the freeway facility.

In a letter of opposition, Fairfax City stated their concerns: “Having an industrial use at the City’s northern Gateway would be counter to the economic development goals and aesthetic vision for our City.” The local residential area would also suffer from additional noise and maintenance traffic effects from installing a large roadway maintenance facility.

Fairfax County has also sent a sternly worded letter to EMP.  However, since Fairfax County previously voted yay to allow the I-66 widening project to continue at the Transportation Planning Board, its options to restrain VDOT and EMP’s  detrimental plans beyond letter writing appear limited.

WTOP has more information regarding this unfortunate EMP  development.

It is curious that EMP waited until public planning meetings, contracting, local government coordination, and open hearings were complete to unveil these plans just this year. Did EMP actually just discover that they will need to maintain the facility for the 50 years written in the contract? This seems unlikely.

What additional adverse EMP plans are lurking behind closed doors to be unveiled in the future? Time will tell.

*EMP is comprised of CINTRA (Spain),  Meridiam (France), Ferrovial (Spain) and Allan Myers (US).

 

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Custis Memorial Parkway: Few I-66 Toll Cheaters Caught in First 4 Months of Restrictions

Just 0.007 percent of Custis Memorial Parkway (I-66 Inside the Beltway) vehicles during the toll periods have been caught cheating.  That’s a very low ratio.  Solo drivers with no passengers are supposed to pay a toll, but if there are additional people in the vehicle, the occupants can turn a switch on their special toll transponder entitling them to a free trip.  Does this tiny cheat number mean that solo drivers braving this road are paying the toll or does it mean enforcement is lax?

VDOT has justified HOT (High Occupancy/Toll) schemes in part because they claim  police can’t adequately ticket many HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) violators in HOV lanes; therefore HOV  restrictions are not effective.  But is enforcement any stronger when HOV changes to VDOT’s preferred (and profitable) HOT usage instead?

From WTOP:

“Since the tolls and expanded High Occupancy Vehicle restrictions on Interstate 66 inside the Capital Beltway began in December, 171 drivers have been caught cheating the tolls, data provided to WTOP show.

That means that on about 0.007 percent of all trips in the lanes between Dec. 4 and March 30, the Virginia State Police said, drivers were using an E-ZPass Flex switched to HOV mode to get a free ride, even though the drivers did not actually have a second person in the car as required. The number does not include the number of drivers that troopers let off with a warning.

Before the start of tolls, Virginia transportation officials estimated that half or more of drivers using I-66 inside the Beltway during the 2.5 hours each way when it was HOV only were cheating.

Full Article:

https://wtop.com/dc-transit/2018/04/few-i-66-toll-cheaters-caught-in-first-four-months-of-restrictions/

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Are FAM Construction, CINTRA, or VDOT Contractors Requesting to Access Your Property?

Transform 66 Wisely has learned that a VDOT Contractor, FAM Construction, has been asking for access to private property near I-66.  Their claimed reason has been to “verify” utilities or drill for soil boring samples.  If this happens to you, beware of any attempts to enter your private property and find an attorney experienced with Virginia eminent domain issues to know your legal rights.

Boring equipment includes large vehicles that carry deep drilling equipment.  This equipment can be quite heavy and may damage your property during use or even transporting to the drill area.  In addition, the drill lubricating oils used in drilling often leak and contaminate soil permanently.

As a property owner, you do NOT have to allow any company to access your property to modify it, drill on it, or provide access for any equipment without a legal order.  While FAM and VDOT can secure eminent domain authority that includes a legal order, it is up to them to do this first.  Do not voluntarily give them any permission until they have secured actual legal authority to enter your property.

The property owner is entitled to compensation and may secure and negotiate a (temporary) easement or a limited license for land access.  This negotiation may include financial compensation, but also assurance that the land will be returned to its original condition, and clarify what responsibilities exist for spills and environmental concern.  Even a spilled fuel can may be an environmental headache for a landowner long after the construction company leaves the area.

Later, if land is taken permanently, a separate eminent domain process and negotiation will take place.

Please consult an attorney for information about your rights and to receive legal advice. You can request reimbursement of legal fees as part of your compensation.

Has FAM attempted to access your property?  Send us a note at https://transform66wisely.org/contact

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Why VDOT is Tolling I-66 Inside the Beltway

The Inside the Beltway tolls are designed to generate revenue for the Outside the Beltway private partner, according to Virginia government officials.

Since 2015, VDOT has been telling the public that I-66 inside the beltway would be tolled as a completely separate idea and project from outside the beltway.  And politicians from the Governor of Virginia to general assembly members have been telling taxpayers they have “No Risk” for outside the beltway because the private partner is on the hook for all expenses.  Not surprisingly, it turns out none of this is true.  According to the office of the Secretary of Transportation, VDOT is tolling the INSIDE the beltway to ensure projected revenue for OUTSIDE the beltway’s partner, and taxpayers have been made liable to pay if Inside the beltway is not tolled.

The big difference between the two I-66 projects that inside the beltway would have tolls across the entire Interstate at peak hours and no new “express lanes” would be added.  In 2016, the Virginia legislature would prevent VDOT from tolling reverse commutes and required VDOT to add an eastbound lane from Route 267 to Route 29.  The other difference was VDOT would have a private partner to manage only the new lanes outside the beltway.

So why did VDOT want to toll inside the beltway too?  They announced that they would give some money to transit and other project they (or NVTC or Commonwealth Transportation Board) found worthy.  But the real reason was this:

VDOT’s contractors found that the expected I-66 OUTSIDE the beltway toll revenue will increase significantly if I-66 inside the beltway was converted to tolls.  The private partner outside the beltway would need to count on new tolls INSIDE the beltway too so they can make more money from Virginians.  After the legislature made the changes above, VDOT gave a huge concession from the taxpayers to the private partner:

The Private Partner I-66 Comprehensive Agreement was amended  just prior to signing: A new compensation event was created that requires Virginia taxpayers to pay CINTRA / I-66 Express Mobility Partners LLC if INSIDE the beltway tolling is not implemented as planned.  The public private partnership is carefully designed so whenever a compensation event occurs, the public taxpayers must pay the private partner, and pay it handsomely.

See the Comprehensive Agreement, Appendix A, compensation event definition (t) on pages A10-A11 [PDF page 184].

 (t) Any change in Law during the Term that, with respect to Interstate 66 between Interstate 495 in Fairfax County and U.S. Route 29 in the Rosslyn area of Arlington County, (i) prior to the imposition of tolling thereon, prohibits tolling of any vehicles with less than two occupants (other than motorcycles) between 5:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. and between 3:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.  on weekdays or (ii)at any time after the imposition of tolling thereon, permits non-HOV-3 vehicles to travel at reduced tolls or without tolls between 5:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. and between 3:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. on weekdays.

.

Suddenly worried that public outcry over INSIDE tolls could pressure the in-session legislature to limit toll with a new law, the Secretary of Transportation’s office just published a warning presentation aimed at ensuring INSIDE tolls never end.

 

  • Traffic and revenue for I-66 outside the Beltway showed significant increase if I-66 inside the Beltway was converted to express lanes
  • Benefits could only be realized in P3 procurement if private sector could count on conversion being implemented
  • After 2016 compromise with General Assembly 66 contract, prior to execution of contract, was amended to include compensation event if tolls were not implemented as planned. [Secretary of Transportation Presentation]

So if the state or even the legislature decides to end tolling INSIDE the beltway, the state taxpayers are immediately required to pay the OUTSIDE the beltway partner.  Wonder who negotiated this poor financial deal on behalf of taxpayer’s wallets?  Governor Northam just named Transportation Secretary Layne has been named as the new Virginia Secretary of Finance.

Posted in Government Policy, Tolls | Leave a comment

Where Should I-66 Outside the Beltway Toll Money Go? CTB Wants Your Input.

Where would you like to see the I-66 Outside-the-Beltway toll money go that is leftover after the private toll company pays construction bond interest and takes their cut?  The Commonwealth Transportation Board already has some ideas.  Incredibly, one of them is to spend nearly $5 Million in Arlington County to expand a bus stop.  Since Arlington County is well Inside the Beltway (and eligible for the separate Inside the Beltway toll cash, it is incredible that the CTB would consider it, if you weren’t following the project’s course to date.

The CTB says that they want your input to help them decide and will be holding a public hearing.  The hearing is on Thursday, January 4, 2018, 6:30 pm at the Northern Virginia VDOT headquarters: 4975 Alliance Drive, Fairfax, VA.  Emailed input will be taken through Monday January 8.  Email comments may sent to meetingcomments@vdot.virginia.gov

From WTOP:

“With construction on new toll lanes ramping up this year on Interstate 66 between Gainesville and the Beltway, Virginia’s Commonwealth Transportation Board is due to approve a number of projects next week that will be paid for by the toll lane operators.

After a public hearing Thursday, the board is due to vote Jan. 10 on how to spend $496 million of a $579 million payment that Express Mobility Partners gave the state as part of the construction agreement.

An additional $79 million is due to go toward oversight of the project, including public outreach, and there is some separate ongoing funding planned to support some transit options….

…The recommended projects (with the planned amount of funding from this payment) are:

  • Route 234/Balls Ford Road interchange and relocation in Prince William County ($145 million)
  • Virginia Railway Express Manassas Line upgrade — Phase I including railcars, station expansions at Broad Run, Manassas and Manassas Park, and an additional track near Manassas ($128.5 million)
  • Balls Ford Road widening from Groveton Road to Route 234 Business (Sudley Road) in Prince William ($67.4 million)
  • I-66 median widening from Lee Highway (Route 29) to Route 28 for future Orange Line extension to Centreville or other transit in Fairfax County ($40 million)
  • Commuter parking garage structure at Government Center/Fairfax Corner ($38.5 million)
  • George Snyder Trail in Fairfax City from Chain Bridge Road/Route 123 to Fairfax Boulevard/Route 50 ($13.6 million)
  • Widen planned Jermantown Road bridge to four lanes over I-66 in Fairfax County ($11 million)
  • Western bus maintenance facility in Prince William County ($11.1 million)
  • East Falls Church Metrobus bay expansion in Arlington ($4.8 million)
  • Monument Drive bridge pedestrian improvements in Fairfax County ($3.8 million)
  • Route 50/Waples Mill Road intersection improvements in Fairfax County ($2 million)
  • Construct Poplar Tree Road bridge to four lanes over Route 28 in Fairfax ($6 million)
  • Lee Highway pedestrian improvements in Fairfax County (complete missing sidewalk from Nutley Street to Vaden Drive) ($1.3 million)
  • Nutley Street SW multiuse trail to Metro in Vienna from Marshall Road SW to Tapawingo Road SW ($300,000)
  • Route 29 improvements from Shirley Gate Road to Pickwick Road ($23.3 million)

The Route 29 improvements were not initially recommended by the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority for funding under this payment, but a new design for the Route 234/Balls Ford Road interchange in Prince William County freed up additional money.

Virginia transportation leaders suggested to replace Fairfax County funding on the Route 29 widening, given the county’s initial investment in a new ramp to the Vienna Metro from Interstate 66 that ended up being pulled into the toll lane construction contract.

The public hearing Thursday begins at 6:30 p.m. at VDOT’s Northern Virginia District Office at 4975 Alliance Drive in Fairfax.

Comments on the projects can also be submitted through Monday Jan. 8 by email to meetingcomments@vdot.virginia.gov with the subject line “I-66 Concession Projects,” or by sending regular mail to Ms. Maria Sinner, P.E., Virginia Department of Transportation, 4975 Alliance Drive, Fairfax, VA 22030.

You can read the full article from WTOP.

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