After a quiet few months, the Virginia Department of (Road) Transportation is getting ready to unveil some big changes to the I-66 widening venture. If the plans are adopted, new access ramps (to/from the west, in addition to prior east access) will be added at Route 123. Nutley Street will also receive new access points to and from the east, along with a substantial intersection reconfiguration. This will also facilitate I-66 Express Lane access for the semi truck tankers that fill up with gasoline at the Mantua tank farm on Pickett Road in Fairfax City. You may remember that Transform 66 Wisely had asked VDOT to build such a Nutley ramp to simplify the Beltway interchange and nearby flyover ramps. VDOT had replied no, it would be impossible. But now VDOT says it can build the ramps…for the concessionaire’s business reasons, not to do Do No Harm to the region.
But the largest planned change, is so small, it doesn’t even warrant a revised environmental review, according to VDOT. The I-66 project would include a ramp system that rises up and over the Dunn Loring Metro Station, and far above the Gallows Road bridge too. This super elevated structure would allow VDOT’s private partner (a consortium led by Concesiones de Infraestructuras de Transporte, and Meridiam) to avoid working with WMATA to move Metrorail power infrastructure. WMATA has a traction power station at the Metro station, that is in the way of VDOT’s expansion plans for I-66, and VDOT’s private partners want to build over Dunn Loring so they don’t need to pay WMATA to move it. The traction power station is not a surprise that popped up after the 2015-2016 public meetings and preferred alternatives were set. It is well known to competent engineers and has been installed since 1986, when Dunn Loring station opened. VDOT waited until after its Environmental Assessment was complete to release massive changes to add significant planned environmental blight to the area instead of a more rational approach.
VDOT never included any of these new changes in their preferred alternatives, or even the environmental assessment for the project that it brought to the Federal Highway Administration for approval. And now VDOT is asserting that it only needs a new National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review for new access points, not huge structures towering over Dunn Loring. But you don’t need to take our word for it. Here is what Renée Hamilton, VDOT’s Northern Virginia Deputy District Administrator, told the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board on Wednesday:
Some of the things that we are doing, as I indicated before, is to avoid the traction power station. So we, nothing has been finalized at this particular point. They are just in the very infancy stages of developing these concepts.
Now let me walk through the process for us. One, we will be doing a NEPA reevaluation on everything…related to any access points that will be identified to move forward as we go into the public process…..
One of the things that I do want to point out, especially with the (super elevated) ramp (flying over Dunn Loring Metro and Gallows Road) that the citizens talked about that is not even included in Option A or Option B, because it’s really not an access point. It’s looking at moving traffic, current traffic that goes from 66 on to 495. But the only way to do that is two options: One to move that traction power station, or to leave it in place. We thought that looking at an alternative that leaves the traction power station in place, that frankly would cost $25 Million and take two years to get through the process, and working with our WMATA partners this was basically something that we thought was in the best interest of everyone….
We are hoping to get started, actual construction by early 2018. Some early works will be underway in 2017 as well.
Note that Ms. Hamilton stated that the NEPA (environmental law) review will be done just for the access points, not for towering spaghetti ramps and lighting suspended high over Dunn Loring. And right after she indicated that plans are “in their very infancy,” she announces construction will be begin by early 2018, less than a year from now.
But not to worry, there are three public meetings coming up to receive citizens’ input, starting the week of June 12, 2017. Except when citizens provided plenty of input during meetings in 2015-2016, much of that input was dismissed immediately, and much of the rest was later ignored. Again, don’t worry because VDOT thinks building I-66 roadways high above the Gallows Road bridge and the Dunn Loring Metro station are “in the best interest of everyone.”
Still think that VDOT (or its Spanish/French Big Pavement partners) care about the local region here in Virginia that they are supposed to serve?
If you are interested in your local environment and Northern Virginia, now is the time to contact your elected representatives.