The Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) came to Fairfax on April 28, and Transform 66 Wisely was there. This CTB public hearing was an overview of the Commonwealth’s “Six-Year Improvement Program (SYIP),” which is an outline of transportation project spending. The Commonwealth Transportation Board is the key decision maker for VDOT and is charged with spending transportation funding allocated by the Virginia General Assembly. Before public funds may be obligated for specific projects, a public hearing must be heard.
The SYIP contains many projects for the Northern Virginia region, with many more projects throughout Virginia. Although I-66 Transformation is not quite ready for formal funding requests, that time is fast approaching and there were public comments provided on VDOT’s proposed I-66 plan.
There were several excellent comments made by residents and groups showing great concern for the I-66 Transformation project, which moves into the Environmental Hearing phase in May 2015. A summary of some of these comments follows.
A resident of Dunn Loring told the CTB, “the people in our neighborhood moved there specifically so they could be close to metro, so that we could be very close to where we work. I can’t believe this is happening in Virginia that we knock down people’s houses, we live in very modest townhouses. I am just stunned that this is even on the table to knock down so many houses.”
Kris Unger of Friends of Accotink Creek provided several comments as well.
“We are asking for a real assessment of cost and value associated with the alternatives. There is a lot of data that has not been integrated into the current plans. We need to be looking at existing and upcoming laws and policies so we can see the value of the alternatives available to us including multimodal transit. The alternatives that have been offered to us so far are Roads or Houses, Roads and stormwater, or Roads and Metro, but you are getting roads. Transit isn’t going to be the only solution, but we need to be minimizing our footprint on the watershed and existing communities and maximizing the value… The Friends of Accotink Creek will be monitoring and recording on construction impacts throughout this project and we will work with partners during and after the project to do what is right for the watershed.” Kris Unger, Friends of Accotink Creek
Of course, some interests are in favor of the VDOT plan too. Several professional commenters representing business groups, chambers of commerce, realtor associations, builders, and Big Construction contractors, spoke in support of I-66 Transformation.
Brendon Shaw, Director of Government Relations for Prince William Chamber of Commerce read a letter from a “broad business coalition” on the I-66 Outside the Beltway.
The letter states in part, “the Interstate 66 project presents a unique opportunity to attract private investment to Virginia. Properly structured, a public-private partnership will enable the commonwealth to leverage its scarce state and federal transportation resources in the I-66 corridor on other important projects, to improve the entire transportation network. By utilizing a public private partnership, the commonwealth can also transfer a substantial amount of the risk associated with the project to the private partner..
“Perhaps one of the greatest benefits of developing I-66 as a Public-Private partnership is the ability to harness private-sector innovation to develop a project that minimizes the impact to communities along the I-66 corridor.” – Brendon Shaw, Director of Government Relations for Prince William Chamber of Commerce
While Transform 66 Wisely would like to believe that this project would “minimize the impact to communities,” a review of the actual plans put forth by VDOT reveals another story entirely. And if the purpose of Public-Private Partnerships operating Express Lanes is to “transfer a substantial amount of risk associated with the project,” why do the actual agreements for I-495 and I-395 include taxpayer compensation if too many carpools or buses use the lanes? Why are there “compensation events” to the private industry by your tax dollars if the Commonwealth would make new improvements to alternative routes in the next seventy years? Actual Express Lanes details are in stark contrast to advertised claims and business interest hype.
At the conclusion of the meeting, Secretary Layne addressed I-66 Transformation directly.
We do have a deliberate approach to [I-66]. There are many more public outreaches that are going to happen. This is a process, we haven’t picked a procurement, we have a lot more to go through. I meant what I said about reducing the impacts, they will be reduced because that is part of the process.” – Virginia Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne, April 28 2015 CTB Meeting, Fairfax
After the CTB meeting, WTOP produced an optimistic story, Deal close to save homes from I-66 widening that focused Secretary Layne’s comments and residents’ reactions.
Transform 66 Wisely has learned that the “reduced impacts” will be moving the Eastbound Flyover in Alternative 2B approximately 990 feet to the East and removing several of the storm water management ponds, by obtaining tentative approval from Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality to relax storm water requirements. The official changes will be announced by VDOT in May.
After leaving around 40 comments on the VDOT public input page, I am coming to realization they will probably incorporate zero of my ideas. The real input stage was before the January 2015 meetings. Everything after January 2015 will only be refinements, until the PPP ROI process and generating the public funding portion. The proposed I-495/I-66 interchange improvements looks crazier to me every time I see it.
As far as the Nutley to Beltway portion they did say “The analysis includes an assessment of a non-tolled section of I-66. Results will be shared with the public upon completion of the current ongoing traffic study.”
My opinion (only) is that the plans released in January were slightly worse than they intend to finalize. That gives VDOT some room to make slight improvements and proclaim how they adopted community input. But the only improvements we’ve heard are a few less homes replaced with storm water ponds, a minor adjustment in one of the flyover ramps and likely the removal of the most ridiculous flyover of all, over the Fallwood neighborhood. We will find out for sure by May 11.