VDOT and Toll Contractors Plan New Looping Roller Coaster Nutley Street Interchange Design

This fall, VDOT has been hard at work releasing changes to I-66 design plans, and there still is no public meeting announced to communicate the latest designs.  Who knows what other secret changes are lurking behind locked doors at VDOT headquarters?

Now there is big change at Nutley Street.  Originally, VDOT was deciding between two options here: a conventional interchange and a “diverging diamond” interchange.  At the last rounds of public meetings, VDOT officials had assured the public that the diverging diamond was the final design.  Apparently, this was not accurate.

https://bloximages.chicago2.vip.townnews.com/insidenova.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/8/e4/8e4a6fa2-d136-11e8-94dd-e7391affe310/5bc5cb5f12a56.image.jpg?resize=1200%2C874

The latest Nutley Street interchange design resembles a curved dog bone, featuring two roundabouts and a wild, looping, steep experience for pedestrians and cyclists trying to travel along Nutley Street.  While Transform 66 Wisely is a big fan of creative engineering and thinking outside the box, a lot of work is needed to make this acceptable for folks trying to walk or ride to the Vienna Metro Station, access the new I-66 trail, or just get through the area.

The sidewalk has significant grade changes and long loops.  We are guessing that VDOT’s contractor engineers will not be the folks who are forced to use this long, looping, hilly roller coaster course to use the Nutley Street overpass, on hot summer days, cold winter nights, or anytime at all.

Is this better?

The diverging diamond design formerly chosen does have several advantages.  By moving through local traffic across the median to the left side, left turns to or from the freeway become more efficient.  In engineers’ jargon, there are fewer “conflict points.”  But two traffic signals would be needed where today there are none, and pedestrians can have a difficult time crossing the various intersections to the middle of the interchange and then back again on the other side.

But somehow VDOT took the worst features of the diverging diamond and figured out how to make them worse for the most vulnerable users: pedestrians and cyclists. These folks are the “intermodal” users of the new bridge facility.  Why make things even more difficult for non-automobile drivers in a transit oriented community adjacent to a major Metro rail station?  Because that’s what VDOT does.

Can the design be improved?  Sure, but it will cost a bit more money to build a more direct, less mountainous path for pedestrians and cyclists, and VDOT was pushing hard to sign the megaproject contract before basic rough designs were complete.   Besides the steep, long curves, the existing path course is a significant security concern.  There is no way to quickly escape an attacker or call for help to passersby while trapped high above or far below the interchange’s islands on a very long loop course.   Does VDOT care about safety and security? This plan suggests that they do not.

What do you think?  Have you contacted your County and State representatives on the new design and its effects on folks just trying to walk or cycle alongside Nutley Street over I-66?  Are you demanding public meetings before such major changes occur?  VDOT held public meetings about simple repair projects on the US 50/Gallows Road bridge. Why does the Nutley Street bridge, with massive design changes not deserve a meeting?

And finally, what other surprises lie behind locked doors at VDOT waiting to be released sans public meetings?

More information:

https://www.insidenova.com/news/fairfax/vdot-reworks-plan-for-i–interchange-at-nutley-st/article_db6c7052-d12f-11e8-a3e0-cbef4dba7d65.html

 

 

 

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Transform I-66 Outside-the-Beltway UPDATE Meeting 9/12/2018 8:00pm, Providence Community Center

Everyone is encouraged to attend a meeting with VDOT and its private concessionaire company who is expanding I-66 from the Capital Beltway to Haymarket, Virginia.

Transform I-66 Outside-the-Beltway UPDATE Meeting

Presenter: Virginia Department of Transportation and Express Mobility Partners (private partner building and operating HOT lanes)

Location:   Providence Community Center, 3001 Vaden Drive Fairfax, VA, 22031

Date:         September 12, 2018

Time:        8:00 pm

We do not know the format of the presentation but we are hopeful to learn information on the following subjects:

  1. If and when disruptions to metro service at Dunn Loring metro station are planned;
  2. If and when disruptions will occur at the Gallows and Cedar bridges for cars;
  3. If and when disruptions to the pedestrian sidewalks at the Gallows and Cedar bridges;
  4. Schedule of night work and information on noise and light pollution during work;
  5. Will demolition be permitted at night and if so will neighborhoods be notified of such night demolition and how much notice will be provided;
  6. Information on when sound barriers are being removed, how long they will down, and characteristics of replacement sound barriers (height, aesthetics, etc.);
  7. When will sound wall next to Stenwood elementary be removed, how long it will be gone. Will work and workers be on school premises while school is in session;
  8. Will workers working near Stenwood elementary go through background check; and
  9. Information on location of new metro substation at Dunn Loring station.

Meeting Sponsored by Providence District Council.  Any meeting location/time changes will be posted first on PDC’s website.

 

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I-66 Project Requests Army Corps of Engineers Permits – Comments Close Sept 4

Would you like to help your local wetlands and basements from I-66 expansion impacts, flooding, and pollution?

Transform 66 Wisely has been made aware that FAM Construction, I-66 Express Mobility Partners, and VDOT have applied for (Clean Water Act) waterway impact permits  from the United States Army Corps of Engineers (ACE).

ACE requires permits when waterways, streams, wetlands, and watersheds may be impacted with environmental damage from projects.   Without public input, the I-66 request is set to be rubber stamped.  Read on to learn how you can comment electronically before the September 4 deadline.

The I-66 widening project will have a significant impact on the area’s streams and wetlands.  Nearly all of the proposed storm water management facilities were removed from the project design since 2015.  Paving over an enormous amount of land with impervious blacktop causes rain and snow melt to quickly enter waterways, making flash floods downstream a regular occurrence.   To see the effects of unmitigated storm water impacts from I-495 widening/Express Lanes, take a walk on the Accotink Trail between Fairfax and Lake Accotink.  In the past eight years since the beltway widening, the creek shores have undergone severe erosion, while tributaries downstream from the beltway storm water outfalls undergo regular flash floods in frequent rain storms.  This storm water is contaminated with oils and chemicals, and winter storm treatments bring chlorides and other poisons into your waterways.

For I-66 widening, the application includes no mitigation at all for “temporary stream impacts,” with no indication of how long “temporary” impacts may exist.  (The project is expected to take at least 5 years to build).  The project seeks to purchase “wetland credits” so wetlands elsewhere may be preserved while wetlands downstream from I-66 may be destroyed forever.  Other strategies include “responsible mitigation” in lieu of buying more credits for wetlands, without specifying what the “responsible mitigation” actually entails.

Currently, ACE believes that “(l) no environmental impact statement will be required; (2) all required coordination under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (16 U.S.C. 1531-1544, 87 Stat. 884, as amended) has already been completed by the lead Federal Agency (Federal Highways Administration) and no further coordination is required; and (3) all required consultation under the National Historic Preservation Act has already been completed by the lead Federal Agency (Federal Highway Administration) and no further coordination is required. Additional information might change any of these findings. ”

This is where you come in.  Please consider commenting and telling the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that wetlands and waterways in our area deserve attention and protection.  The VDOT approved method is insufficient and falls far short of any meaningful protection for your environment.  We have witnessed how flash floods downstream of impervious paved areas have caused catastrophic flooding, including in Ellicot City Maryland, and throughout Northern Virginia this year.  The I-66 construction project can do far more, including pavements designed to allow storm water to trickle through and underground storm water management facilities that protect waterways while minimizing neighborhood impacts.

In addition, the public may request a public hearing for the project.  “Anyone may request a public hearing to consider this permit application by writing to the (ACE) District Commander within 30 days of the date of this notice, stating specific reasons for holding the public hearing. The District Commander will then decide if a hearing should be held. ”

Tell ACE that this corridor has few wetlands left, and “responsible mitigation” that includes permeable surfaces, underground storm water retention, and storm water faciltiies that protect downstream waterways, wetlands, and basements from I-66 project storm discharges.

Comments must be received by September 4, 2018. 

Comments on this project should be in writing and can be sent by either email to Lee.Fuerst@usace.army.mil, or by regular mail, addressed to the Norfolk District, Corps of Engineers (ATTN:  CENAO-WRR-C), 803 Front Street, Norfolk, Virginia  23510-1011, and should be received by the close of business on September 4, 2018.

For more information, including the proposed non-mitigation and project impact maps see:

http://www.nao.usace.army.mil/Media/Public-Notices/Article/1591256/nao-2011-1300/

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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/

Posted in Government Policy, Tolls | Leave a comment