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.
- Submit public comments to VDOT before June 18th demanding that this alternative be reconsidered with greater detail provided on the true costs and benefits
- Write to your elected officials letting them know about this option and asking why this is not one of the alternatives under consideration.
The Transform 66 Wisely Team