Bike and trail advocacy groups have recently been pushing VDOT to move the planned trail along the widened I-66 outside the noise barrier in the eastern 5 miles of the Outside the Beltway project. VDOT states that moving the trail would greatly increase the project’s real estate footprint, increase land taking costs, and is inconsistent with the contract or Comprehensive Agreement that VDOT executed in December 2016 with I-66 Express Mobility Partners LLC. Still, some potential bikers and pedestrians along the trail would prefer the trail be situated on the backyard side of the wall, not on the Interstate freeway side.
Even without a trail on either side of a noise barrier wall, residences along the project will get taken entirely or lose substantial portions of their land. The homes in this area generally have very modest yards, and are facing having a wall only 10 yards away from their doors in some cases. In other words, they homes don’t have much land to begin with, and already are facing a significant haircut, if not complete loss. Even nearby green space is being converted to impervious paved surfaces complete with barriers, walls, and tall new overpasses. Moving the trail would aggravate the loss of already limited land.
Virginia Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne stated last week that making changes to the planned trail along the widening I-66 “will jeopardize the entire deal if we go back to the homeowners now and tell them we are going to take more of their property.” Layne also stated that it would be costly to Virginia and delay the project.
It might be heartening to see Mr. Layne’s sudden taxpayer/homeowner advocacy. But in reality, he is advocating for his Comprehensive Agreement and to protect against anything that can derail or delay the sweetheart Public/Private Partnership deal for his chosen I-66 Express Mobility Partners, whose members consist of CINTRA and its parent company Ferrovial Agroman of Spain, France’s Meridiam, and Allan Myers.
The Washington Post has an article, “Changing trail design could jeopardize entire I-66 widening project,” that describes the recent trail interests. Several folks affiliated with Transform 66 Wisely were contacted and/or quoted in the article.
It is interesting to note that Linda Smyth, Supervisor of Fairfax’s Providence District states in the article, “This has been a wrenching experience for the neighborhoods and the people who are closest to it.” That is certainly true.
This isn’t the first time I-66 has been widened, Smyth noted. Area residents have seen pieces of their property nibbled away over the years.
“So this noise wall is getting closer to the houses,” she said. “People remember these things.”
It isn’t clear what section of I-66 Outside the Beltway that Smyth is referring to, but the I-66 freeway opened in 1964 with six lanes from the Capital Beltway to U.S. 50, seven miles west. This is roughly the same configuration that exists today, except for how the pavement is used, so it is unclear where the nibbling took place in Providence District. In 1993 the shoulder along this stretch was converted to an active lane controlled by a green arrow/red X system, and the left lane was marked for HOV use during peak hours. This history is derived from Scott Kozel’s excellent and well researched Roads to the Future history for I-66.
Interestingly, the politicians who support the privatized tolls and I-66 widening are still buying VDOT’s official line that the entire 22 miles of widening construction will finish five years after shovels break ground. Coincidentally, it took VDOT five years to widen just 2 miles of Stringfellow Road.