The following comments were submitted to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on October 2, 2015 regarding several concerns from the Dunn Loring Community about the impact of VDOT’s Preferred Alternative for the I-66 Outside the Beltway project.
There are 4 key concerns:
- The impact to community health
- The impact of the Gallows Bridge widening and shared-use path
- The impact to community quality of life during construction
- The need to make alternative (non-car) transit a priority for the future of our region
First, and foremost, we would like the record to state that the Preferred Alternative must define the maximum footprint (both horizontally and vertically) that this project would be allowed without additional approvals and public hearing/comment periods. Furthermore, if the state moves forward with the proposed I-66 parallel bicycle and pedestrian path, this path should also be kept within the right of way of the preferred alternative and on the interstate side of the soundwall as has been most recently proposed. Every effort should be made in the subsequent design refinement stages to reduce the right of way takings and the height of new interchange ramps, with the goal of reducing the number of full takings to zero and further minimizing the number and extent of the partial takings and environmental impact, as previously stated by the Secretary of Transportation.
The following concerns remain to be addressed:
Impact to Community Health (Noise, Air, Water/Soil, Visual Pollution Considerations)
- Plan includes extensive loss of tree lines throughout the corridor. The project must include sufficient costs and implementation plan for in-kind replacement of any tree loss, including those at Stenwood Elementary school and surrounding neighborhoods. Furthermore, the replacement quality level should be for mature, evergreen trees that provide year-round protection from the interstate noise, air and visual pollution. The Fairfax County Public School (FCPS) administration noted that this project threatens the sustainability of the property and conservation area on which Stenwood Elementary School stands. The project should include appropriate budget and mitigation plans to address this issue in coordination with FCPS.
- Soundwall quality and height has yet to be fully documented. While the preferred alternative notes the planned placement of soundwalls, information has not been provided regarding the heights and quality of these soundwalls. It is our understanding that soundwall aesthetics are discussed with the affected homeowners and that new soundwalls will be built before old one are taken down (which was not done in previous construction projects in our community); this should be documented as a requirement in the plan. Assurances should also be made that if an interstate ramp is above the planned soundwall height, that the ramp itself must include noise mitigation as part of its construction.
- Active noise and air quality monitoring must be implemented in this part of the region. It is our understanding that air quality is not presently monitored in our community which is of great concern given the impact this and other state mega-projects are anticipated to have on our community’s health. Given the close proximity of Fairfax County’s residential neighborhoods and neighborhood schools to the 495/I66 interstates, active monitoring of noise decibels and air quality (including particulates, nitrogen oxides, and ozone levels) must be implemented in the immediate area with transparency on the current levels and future changes published publicly on a quarterly basis. While we understand this to be a state-managed issue, the county must protect the rights and health of its residents and hold this project accountable.
- Uncertainty remains surrounding stormwater management plan. The Plan will add acres of impervious surface that will greatly tax the already overburdened County watersheds with new stormwater runoff. While we understand that the DEQ granted a grandfathering clause to the stormwater requirements for this project, it remains unclear how excess stormwater and run-off pollution from the new construction will be managed in our neighborhoods and what protection the watersheds will receive to mitigate flooding, pollution, chloride impacts, and erosion caused by the plan. The plan should include costs and implementation of stormwater management alternatives that work within the project footprint and are consistent with current County efforts to manage stormwater. VDOT should employ innovative stormwater volume reduction approaches to obviate increasing flow onto County or private property. VDOT should also demonstrate how the project will not cause Fairfax County to inherit stormwater costs/impacts requiring future mitigation.
Impact of Gallows Bridge/Road expansion and shared-use pedestrian & bike path
- Project scope should be limited to bridge expansion. The project footprint should be limited to the expansion of the bridge alone and added lanes should taper as quickly and safely as possible to minimize the impact to the elementary school and neighborhoods on the northeast side of the bridge. The project design team is also asked to carefully evaluate the necessary width of the lanes on Gallows Road to mitigate the extent of right-of-way needed to expand to 6 lanes, opting ideally for 10-foot-wide vehicular lanes to promote greater safety for pedestrians and cyclists per guidance from TRB and TTI. (Direct links to references: http://trid.trb.org/view.aspx?id=312924; http://trrjournalonline.trb.org/doi/abs/10.3141/2023-08; http://d2dtl5nnlpfr0r.cloudfront.net/tti.tamu.edu/documents/1769-S.pdf)
- Stenwood Elementary school entry/egress and walkway safety concerns. The project design must include improvements to the safety of the main entrance/exit to Stenwood Elementary School, including consideration for a school hours/sensor-based traffic light and crosswalk on Gallows Road. Furthermore, additional physical barriers (such as guardrails) and natural barriers (including in-kind replacement of any tree loss) should be put in place from Cottage Street to the Gallows Bridge to protect the school from the anticipated noise and visual pollution and safety concerns associated with the additional car, pedestrian and bicycle traffic that the road expansion and shared-use path will bring to the school.
- Eminent domain of 5 homes on Stenhouse Place and long-term impact to remaining homes of the Stenwood HOA neighborhood must be handled considerately
– A minimum of 6-months’ notice should be given for any relocation.
– Homeowners subject to a full taking should be given opportunity to relocate within their community and within equal walking distance to the Dunn Loring/Merrifield Metro station.
– Homeowners subject to a full taking should receive compensation at no less than the full replacement value of a comparable home which is no farther from an Orange line metro station than the shortest walking distance from their current home. The replacement value should only be based on homes that are in such proximity to an Orange line Metro station no further west than the Dunn Loring/Merrifield Metro station.
– Homeowners remaining on Stenhouse Place should be consulted (in conjunction with the Stenwood HOA) as to the planned use of land and afforded appropriate physical and natural barriers between the Stenwood HOA neighborhood and Gallows road.
Impacts to Community Quality of Life During Construction Period
- Communication of the timing and duration of construction is a crucial part of implementation. A timeline should be provided before construction begins and presented at public hearings so that the community is aware and can ask questions.
o Representatives from each affected neighborhood association (and individuals in situations without an association) should receive a mailed, emailed, and phone invitation to pre-construction meetings.
- Public notification of construction plans should include emails, mailings, phone calls, public meetings, contact with affected neighborhoods/HOAs, and posted updates on an online “bulletin board”. The community should be provided a 24 hour call-in service for immediate issues to be addressed as well as phone and email contacts for questions and to report any ongoing issues/concerns. The community should be given an option to opt-in to an email and/or text notification system that alerts them at least 24 hours in advance of the planned construction and detours in their area. The Dunn Loring Woods community, for example, also welcomes VDOT to communicate through the DLW Talk Google Group.
- Residents residing within 1 mile of any construction area shall be notified no less than three (3) weeks before such construction is set to begin. In the same notice, such residents must be notified of the duration of the construction and the hours of such construction.
Construction timing and noise considerations
- The project build team must employ construction techniques and equipment that minimizes the noise pollution such as the use of pile drill instead of drivers and trucks without back up notification beepers when conducting construction activities between 10pm and 7am, local time.
- To the extent possible, major construction at the 495/66 interchange and Gallows Road should be conducted during the summer months to minimize disruption to school-aged children and distractions during school hours.
- At no time between the hours of 10pm and 7am, local time, shall the decibel level from any construction related activities exceed 55 decibels measured anywhere outside the existing VDOT right of way.
- No construction within 0.50 miles of a residential property shall be permitted from 12am through 12pm, local time, on Sunday. The Federal Highway Administration Roadway Construction Noise Model should be used and results provided at public meetings to describe the project’s modeled noise impact before construction.
- The County should have immediate authority to enforce noise limitations and ordinances to protect County residents.
- Residents residing within 800 hundred feet of a high-noise construction zone (eg, use of blasting or ram hoe) should be offered, at the project’s expense, to receive a nighttime relocation. If nighttime relocation is not feasible, residents residing within 0.50 miles of nighttime construction should be provided, at the project’s expenses, with sound cancelling apparatuses such as noise cancelling headphones.
Access to Metro, school entrance, and major roads
- Project must ensure continued pedestrian access to the Dunn Loring/Merrifield and Vienna metro stations across the Gallows Road and Nutley Street bridges, respectively.
- Project must ensure continued car and pedestrian access to Stenwood Elementary school entrance during school sessions (including afterschool and evening activities held on the property). Construction and detours in this area should be avoided during school hours.
- Advanced notice and adequate detours should be put in place during Gallows bridge construction to ensure that the community can still gain unobstructed access their homes, school and the Tysons and Merrifield centers, with plans for ensuring safety on community roads used as detours (in particular Cottage Street which is heavily used by students who walk to Stenwood Elementary).
Communication and exertion of eminent domain
- The Preferred Alternative envisions the full and partial takings of several properties. We understand that the extent and number of takings is not finalized. However, it is imperative that the owners of these properties (and their Homeowners Associations and the Dunn Loring Civic Association) be notified at this time as to the possibility that the state will be exerting eminent domain of their property and that they be invited to a meeting with VDOT officials just for these affected property owners in order to ensure clear communication regarding the process and timing of the possible acquisition.
- If eminent domain is deemed necessary for the project, a minimum of 6-months’ notice should be given for any property acquisition. Property owners should be assured that they will be able to negotiate fair compensation for their property loss taking into account the effect of loss in their property value.
Transit must be made a priority in the plans for I-66
- The project has failed to provide a reasonable plan to match the rhetoric of supplying “rapid transit” on I-66. The Secretary of Transportation stated that Virginia does not wish to allow the same to happen on I-66 that has happened with the lack of robust transit on I-495. Two things must happen, the project must reduce the currently planned headways from 20-25 minutes to 8-10 minutes (for a reasonable span during peak hours) and commit funding to advertising the future bus service, which should be ready on the first day of revenue service for the HOT lanes. Only by providing genuine rapid transit service will the project live up to the notion of being a truly multimodal project.
- The project must plan for long-term investment in transit options that reduce the number of cars on the road or we will be paving over Fairfax County neighborhoods for decades to come. The demand and commuter support for extension of the Metro Orange line is clear. VDOT has also recommended a design that reserves the land for future Metro expansion. We have been told by regional project planners that this is not an option given the ongoing challenges faced by WMATA in supporting the current metro system. However, we must be ready financially for when the opportunity arises and ensure that this extension and an increase in train capacity remain at the top of the priority list. As Western Fairfax continues to grow, the demand will only increase. To ensure Virginia is financially able to support this project, a portion of the toll revenue should be reserved specifically for the Orange line metro expansion and that any obstacle to this future transit option be removed.