At Transform 66 Wisely, we would like to believe that our Commonwealth is acting honestly and competently. The public response out of Richmond today is deeply troubling, because it directly contradicts what VDOT has been publicly telling Virginia residents about this project.
VDOT has scheduled Tier 2 Environmental Hearings in May, the week of the Memorial Day weekend, a time when folks traditionally leave town. Those hearings are what will set the final design that will lead to homes knocked down, lives disrupted, folks losing their ability to use a local train station, and children yanked out of their neighborhood school by the State.
Today, in response to the pointed Congressional letter sent by four local U.S. Representatives yesterday, the Governor of Virginia’s spokesman issued a remarkable official response: “As Secretary Layne has repeatedly stated, this project is at its earliest stages of planning and there have been and will continue to be ample opportunities for all stakeholders to be heard.”
Is the Governor’s office truly unaware that his own VDOT has already scheduled the Final Environmental Review Hearings a few weeks from now? Is he unaware that his VDOT has told us that home takings will begin in 2016 (next year!) and the project commences in 2017? A few weeks out from the final hearings is the “earliest stages” of planning?
Next, the Governor claims: “We take strong exception, however, to the assertion that there has been no public outreach to date on I-66 or that it has been, “‘too little too late.” This is not supported by the facts. From the beginning of last year until the end of March, VDOT has conducted some 30 meetings with community groups during which I-66 was a principal subject.”
Actually, all of those community group meetings (since the actual project maps have been unveiled) just took place in the month of March 2015. Communities had to proactively schedule them, find a venue to rent, obtain audio visual equipment, and coordinate with their own residents so VDOT and its consultants could explain the I-66 Transformation benefits to them (none) and its impacts (loss of land, environment, residents forced out of homes, towering flyover ramps, lucrative public subsidized contract deals beyond the rest of anyone’s lifetime, polluted stormwater swamps installed next to homes, nighttime construction noise for at least half a decade, destruction of taxpayers’ brand new public highway and wall infrastructure for private benefit, and more).
The schedule is on the Transform 66 website. The only public meetings hosted by VDOT took place the week of January 28-February 5. That was the first time that anyone not affiliated with the government learned about the magnitude of this project and the multitude of residents to be affected forever.l
So why is VDOT telling us one thing yet the Governor insists the project is just in some early stage of planning? Why isn’t our Commonwealth being open, transparent, and honest? What is the motivation for such conflicting information?
More importantly, what distressing facts will we learn next from the Commonwealth of Virginia?