As VDOT unveiled its I-66 “fix” called Transform 66, one key point was repeated over and over by VDOT and its contract engineers and public relations spin:
“Transform 66 is about moving people not vehicles.“
In other words, the Express Lanes would be optimized for the maximum people per vehicle that occupy those lanes. In cars, this would mean HOV-3, or three people in a car, incentivized by no toll for the high occupancy. The project would also operate some sort of bus system, although details of how, when, where, and what frequency were never stated.
Now VDOT has radically shifted its stance away from people and commuters. The Express Lanes are no longer about moving people, but rather about moving money.
The true goals is exposed: VDOT now wants to put big rigs, and anything with a trailer and an E-ZPass into those new lanes. Previously VDOT told us (with straight faces at their meetings, even) that big trucks would be prohibited in the Express Lanes. That was simply not true. VDOT and its partners figure they can charge a lot of toll money for trucks with trailers, so why not? Of course if Transform 66’s goal was really about moving people this would never happen. But like many aspects of this project, what VDOT says, means, and does are three separate topics.
During the entire public outreach process, the public hearing process, and all of VDOT’s environmental assessments, documentation, and claims, the agency said no trucks would be allowed. But do they need credibility with the public?
Instead of being consistent, VDOT is choosing to apologize, and move on….with big rigs.
From WTOP: “Virginia’s Department of Transportation apologized to local leaders Wednesday for not letting the public comment on a hot topic — whether to let big rigs use toll lanes to be built outside the Capital Beltway on Interstate 66.
“There was a decision made to consider multi-axle vehicles using the express lanes that did not go through a public process and we, basically, apologize to our Fairfax partners as well as our Prince William partners for that,” said VDOT Deputy District Administrator Renée N. Hamilton.”
That’s great that VDOT has apologized. But an empty apology without the integrity to actually do what VDOT told the public in writing and in hearings is a serious breach of public trust.
Big gasoline tankers are among the carriers that covet using those lanes. Hundreds of gasoline trucks fill up at the tank farm on Pickett Road in Fairfax each day. If they can access the Express Lanes, entering at I-66 by the Vienna metro station is a big short cut for their routes. Presumably nobody at VDOT thinks that big rigs, gasoline, and commuters trying to walk around a transit station might be a bad mix.
Fairfax County has written a letter opposing the big truck move, but a letter is no match for VDOT and its “partners.”
As the Express Lanes require many overhead structures, flyover ramps, and bridges, those now need to be designed for heavy trucks. That means longer ramps, longer merge areas, and a larger footprint. It also means more noise, more engine braking, and more negative impacts to everyone else in the corridor.
Here’s what you can do. The Transportation Planning Board is soliciting comments for its Constrained Long Range Plan, and those comments are due Saturday November 12. If you would like to tell the TPB to exclude big trucks from I-66 Express Lanes, you may do so online:
Since the Federal Highway Administration gave the green light to Transform 66 based on the (now phony) claims that no big trucks were allowed, the decision for a Finding of No Significant Impact should be reevaluated and reconsidered.
In the meantime, this is one more example of why the Virginia Department of (Road) Transportation is not interested in transparency and open plans.