Do No Harm: Community Leaders Propose Alternative to VDOT’s Plans for the I-495/I-66 Interchange

Transform 66 Wisely would like to make you aware of an alternative to the 495/66 interchange that would significantly reduce the financial cost and footprint of the ‘Outside the Beltway’ project.

Specifically, we support the proposal to end the I-66 toll lanes between Chain Bridge Road and Nutley (instead of extending them to 495) and offering 5 general purpose lanes through to 495. (A special thank you to http://novarapidtransit.org for use of their diagram).

VDOT’s Tier 2 report notes that a similar option was considered but has been set aside pending further traffic analysis related to the I-66 Inside the Beltway project. In the design comparison from their report (see last page of Alternatives Technical Report Appendix C), VDOT calls this option the “Do-Nothing at I-495” alternative (Alternative 3). We prefer to call this the “Do No Harm” alternative.

This alternative is not being presented as an option in VDOT’s public hearings and we are concerned that it has been passed over due to the rapid pace at which the project is moving.

VDOT states the benefits of this alternative as:
(1) No right of way takings
(2) No construction inconvenience; and
(3) Minimal construction costs.

To be clear, this would mean ZERO home takings, and would negate the need to take land at Stenwood Elementary school, and would eliminate the need for some of the bridge expansions (specifically, the Gallows Road and Cedar Lane bridges).

These benefits are significant on their own but it is also worth noting the following additional benefits:

  • Under our proposal, there would be 5 general purpose lanes at all times between 495 and Chain Bridge Road. This would improve traffic flow by better addressing the “chokepoint” at Nutley. Today, commuters have 4 free lanes at rush hour (including the Red ‘X’ lane). VDOT’s current recommendation has 7 lanes pinched down to 3 general purpose lanes (and 2 toll lanes) within about a mile on westbound 66, making the future plan worse for the majority of commuters who cannot afford the tolls. It is fair to say that the verdict is still out on how many people will actually use the I-66 toll lanes, so they may not relieve congestion to the extent that VDOT’s projections say they will. Can we afford to spend millions only to find out that we made congestion worse?
  • The “Do No Harm” alternative also offers significant environmental benefits by minimizing impacts to the watershed because it requires the addition of less cement and other impervious surfaces. It would also decrease the impacts of noise and pollution by eliminating up to 9 new flyover ramps that would tower 80 feet high over our communities. I think we all know that there is simply no sound wall VDOT can build that can protect our families from the increased noise and pollution from these flyovers.
  • The “Do No Harm” proposal does not prevent the extension of the HOT lanes to 495 in the future. Instead, it gives time to complete VDOT’s ‘Inside the Beltway’ traffic analysis and to evaluate the impact of the other ‘Outside the Beltway’ project improvements before incurring costly and irreversible damage. Without a long term decision on the Inside the Beltway plans, we may find ourselves redesigning this entire interchange again in 10 years with commuters sitting in more construction traffic and all of us watching our tax dollars wasted yet again.

VDOT stated 2 cons for this alternative in their report: (1) drivers weaving between lanes of traffic and (2) lack of direct connection between the 495 and 66 tolls system.

  • To the first point, the safety concerns are inevitable in all options being considered and can be mitigated by other means including clear and appropriate signage and phased entry (examples can be found in California’s major roadways).
  • The second con is debatable. Some have advocated for the toll systems to connect, but others have asked Is this truly necessary and is there sufficient demand to warrant the cost? There is a precedent in our region for toll systems not to connect: 495 and 95 express lanes have a 1.5 mile gap between them; we are proposing a 2 mile gap for 495 and 66. Further, VDOT’s own data show that during the morning rush hour, only 55 cars an hour use the I-495 HOT lanes to go north at I-66/I-495 and only 360 use the southbound exit. We must ask ourselves again does this benefit outweigh the costs?

As VDOT’s report points out, this alternative offers significant financial savings. The home and land takings, flyover ramps, and construction of new lanes are a significant portion of the costs of the Outside the Beltway Project; VDOT’s report estimates “>$150 million” (Note that this is the highest value threshold given in the report so we do not know if it is $151 million, $500 million, $750 million…).

The “Do No Harm” approach would significantly reduce project costs, making it more financially feasible overall, and would ensure that taxpayers’ dollars are being spent wisely.

Members of the Transform 66 Wisely group had the pleasure of presenting this alternative during public comment to the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) and the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board (TPB).

We have requested a meeting with VDOT representatives to discuss the alternative and are pending a meeting date.

We ask for your support in raising awareness of this alternative before it is too late.

Sincerely,
The Transform 66 Wisely Team

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Transportation Planning. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Do No Harm: Community Leaders Propose Alternative to VDOT’s Plans for the I-495/I-66 Interchange

  1. Joanne Jones says:

    Do you think it is time to begin an online petition such as Change.org for Do Not Harm?

    Like

  2. dmheier says:

    Thank you for this suggestion, Joanne! We will definitely look into this. For the immediate term, please be sure to submit comments to VDOT by June 18th by email (Transform66@VDOT.Virginia.gov) or online at http://outside.transform66.org/contact_us.

    Like

  3. nova11 says:

    I went to the public hearing last night and the amount of information is overwhelming. One area where I see the Do No Harm option is not as good as the Express Lanes is with respect to the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). BRT would allow commuters from as far away as Haymarket to take direct bus trips to Tysons, Arlington, DC (or so VDOT claims) on buses travelling on the dedicated Express lanes. The Do No Harm option eliminates BRT because buses would remain stuck in the slow, general purpose lanes.

    It seems to me there are two big issues with this project: 1) verifying the accuracy of VDOT’s assumptions that they feed into their models 2) the public good nature of the project. Not sure what we can do about #1. But for #2, what I think we must avoid is reducing societal/public benefit because of the costs imposed on a small minority. If I was in Dunn Loring/Tysons and they told me they were gonna knock down my house or put in a ramp I’d be upset, of course. However, my understanding is that VDOT will compensate those whose houses they will take for the right of way, (i.e., if your house is worth $600k, they’ll pay you $600k). I hope VDOT reimburses people for their home’s full value plus the hassle of finding new home, possibly having to change kids’ school.

    I admit I have not studied the options carefully enough yet and like all transportation projects, I think this will overshoot the $2-3B estimate I heard yesterday. However, a stronger argument against the project would use the projects metrics (congestion, throughput, cost, safety, pedestrian/bike impact, noise/environmental concerns) and not rely on the fact that some people will be inconvenienced. With any major transportation project there will be winners and losers. Imagine if the Orange line was never brought through Dunn Loring and Vienna because a small but vocal group in Falls Church or Arlington prevented it.

    Like

    • Bryan says:

      Christopher,

      There are potential ways to mitigate impacts to BRT (if BRT is implemented–recall it was promised for I-495 HOT Lanes too). A dedicated HOV lane, similar to the existing one today is one way. Even with the I-495 HOT lanes running today, there is significant eastbound congestion approaching the ramps to I-495, as bad or worse as it was before November 17, 2012.

      We have also proposed other alternatives to VDOT, including removing most of the flyovers by substituting at grade slip ramps into and out of the Express Lanes. This would accommodate the same movements. Their only stated opposition was concern about weaving from the Nutley Street entrance to a left slip ramp. We then reminded VDOT that they could offer a direct ramp to the Express Lanes at Nutley Street with no need for any weaving and stay within the right of way. They have not shown any interest in the slip ramps alternative.

      Finally regarding your last comment, the Orange Line to Dunn Loring and Vienna was included as part of the negotiations to complete I-66 inside the Beltway. It was not opposed, in fact it was widely welcomed by the communities. Unlike VDOT’s current plans, no homes were taken to extend the Orange Line and it took substantial numbers of commuters (such as myself) off the Interstate and on to trains. However, unlike the 1970s multimodal improvements, the current VDOT plans exclude doing any extension of rail. Even a modest extension to Fair Oaks, where Fairfax County already owns a future Metro station property is deemed undesirable. The state transportation planners will not even consider any rail to Fair Oaks until at least 2040 or at some unspecified era beyond 2040. Yet, the I-66 corridor is more congested than the Silver Line corridor and will remain so, even with a full implementation of VDOT’s Express Lanes.

      Like

  4. Pingback: Learn More About I-66 Expansion Impact on Stenwood Elementary | Transform 66 Wisely

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s