Tuesday 5/16: I-66 Meeting with VDOT, Senator Saslaw at Kilmer Middle School Cafeteria, 7:00 PM

What: Dunn Loring/Vienna I-66 Meeting with VDOT and Express Mobility Partners
When: May 16, 2017, 7:00 PM
Where: Kilmer Middle School cafeteria, 8100 Wolftrap Rd, Vienna, VA 22182.

There will be a meeting with I-66 Express Mobility Partners and VDOT on Tuesday May 16, 7:00 PM at the Kilmer Middle School cafeteria.  Virginia Senator Dick Saslaw has accepted our invitation to attend on Tuesday, and there may be other elected representatives as well.

This meeting will focus on the Transform 66 project impacts in the Dunn Loring-Vienna area and south of I-66 .  It is scheduled for Tuesday May 16, 2017 at 7:00 PM at the Kilmer Middle School Cafeteria, which is at 8100 Wolftrap Rd, Vienna, VA 22182.

Anyone interested in I-66 widening and its impacts should make plans to attend.  You are encouraged to ask questions about the issues above, and any other concerns that you have regarding these plans.

This project will affect our community, and community involvement is needed for each improvement to the design and reducing the construction impact.  We hope that you can join the meeting on Tuesday.   This meeting is sponsored by Dunn Loring Village Homeowners’ Association and is open to all.


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VDOT Scraps Plan for Flyover Ramp at Dunn Loring Metro Station

The announcement last month that the state is officially cancelling the ill-conceived plan to build a bridge structure over Dunn Loring Metro station is certainly good news.  It is an example of what citizens can accomplish when they get involved.  But this concrete monster plan emerged from VDOT in the cloak of secrecy after designs had been publicly reviewed in 2015.   What else remains to be unveiled by VDOT?

VDOT and its partners will likely move the WMATA Metrorail traction power substation that is in the way of their I-66 expansion.

Because VDOT had already quietly accepted the bridge plan in the private concessionaire’s proposal, the state taxpayers are now on the hook for any increase in private costs caused by an alternative approach (and would receive part of the savings if it happens to be cheaper).

From the Washington Post:

VDOT scraps plan for flyover ramp at Dunn Loring Metro station

Virginia transportation officials have scrapped plans to build a flyover ramp near the Dunn Loring-Merrifield Metro station and instead will find another way to deal with a Metro power substation that sits in the path of its planned expansion of Interstate 66.

The announcement by Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) drew cheers from area residents, who were fearful that the concrete structure would disrupt their quiet neighborhood and hurt their property values.

But for many residents of the community in northeastern Fairfax County, the victory is just one win in a protracted fight over the project.

The ramp was part of a $2.3 billion project to add two toll lanes and three regular lanes in each direction on I-66, from Gainesville, in Prince William County, to the Capital Beltway in an effort to ease congestion on the perennially gridlocked highway.

“We’re very encouraged by it,” resident Mary Hagopian said. “But I don’t think the fight is over.”

The full story continues in the Washington Post.


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Express Lanes are a Traffic Solution?

A common refrain that we hear is that we need to build Express Lanes to “solve” congestion issues.  Sounds great!  While listening to planning presentations, traffic “studies,” contractor models, and official meetings, we hear about how much of an improvement Express Lanes can be, while their operator attempts to maximize revenue.

But Virginia now has almost a half decade of experience with Express Lanes.  The I-495 Beltway Express Lanes opened to much fanfare in 2012.  Very quickly, Express Lanes customers noticed that there is a big problem.  The Beltway commuters in the so-called “general purpose lanes,” having endured years of construction, now noticed there is a big problem.  Even VDOT noticed there is a big problem.


Express Lanes customers have the privilege of paying a toll for their traffic jam.  The drivers on the right are jammed with a new merge choke point for free.  (April 2017)

The congestion through Tysons Corner was even worse after the Express Lanes opened.  The main difference is drivers now had the opportunity to pay an expensive toll to sit in stop and go traffic.  Now drivers in the free lanes also contend with a large left hand merge onto the Interstate freeway.  Traffic experts realize that merging is a major source of backups and congestion.  Left hand merges are even worse, and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) discourages their use on freeways.   VDOT decided their new solution would be allowing active shoulder driving on the left shoulder at the end of the Express Lanes.   Naturally, this was never tried before the Express Lanes were built.  So gantries were built, green arrows were installed, and a taupe color was painted on the left shoulder.  VDOT prefers red for shoulder decorating, but FWHA had already complained about the red color installed on I-66.

After this work was done, the congestion continued, except there was more of it.  The photo above shows I-495 Northbound this week on an average afternoon.  The weather was clear and sunny and there were no traffic incidents or accidents ahead.  We see a typical congestion mess with the Express Lanes.  The same photo can be taken nearly every day.  The only difference is the drivers on the left are paying a toll to sit in their traffic, while the drivers on the right endure the traffic and merging for free.  For I-66, the primary difference will be that the gasoline tanker on the right side will be allowed in the “Express Lanes.”

The new congestion isn’t limited to the freeways.  The “traffic studies” never studied the Express Lanes’ impacts on traffic flow in other roads.  Most of the Beltway Express Lanes access points resulted in new traffic signals, snarling local traffic even more.  At Route 7/Leesburg Pike, a free flowing junction was replaced with a traffic light with long waits in all directions.   Even where Express Lanes allowed faster Beltway traffic flow, it did so at the expense of folks on local roads now forced to wait for those new lights.  Naturally, the VDOT and TransUrban studies never studied this impact.

For I-66, the planned Express Lanes will terminate at the Capital Beltway.  The merge delays and congestion seen above on I-495 will now be duplicated on I-66, enhanced by the added complexity of an entangled concrete jungle.  Not to worry though, the traffic models and studies have traffic “solved” once again!


Posted in Government Policy, Transportation Planning | 5 Comments

Virginia Scraps Bridge Plans Over Dunn Loring

Today on WTOP radio’s “Ask the Governor” Program, Governor McAuliffe announced that VDOT’s planned bridge over the entire Dunn Loring Metro station and Gallows Road would be removed from their Transform 66 plans.

This is a significant victory and demonstrates that significant community input with elected officials can make a positive difference. As the Governor said, this was cancelled due to your community input.

But much more remains to be done to reduce VDOT & Co.’s plans to replace much of the Vienna and Dunn Loring community with more pavement, polluted storm water impacts, blight, and noise.

From WTOP:

WASHINGTON — Plans to build a flyover ramp near the Dunn Loring Metro Station as part of the Interstate 66 express lanes project have been scrapped, Gov. Terry McAuliffe said Wednesday.

Neighbors complained that updated design plans released in March were worse than the initial design and said that the state transportation officials weren’t listening to their concerns regarding noise, light and the aesthetics of the design.
“We’re canceling it because of the public input,” McAuliffe said.
The decision was made last week during a meeting at the governor’s office, he said.
Another solution will have to be found to accommodate, or possibly move, a Metro power substation to make room for the extra lanes.
The $2.3 billion project will add two express lanes in both directions along the interstate from the Capital Beltway to Gainesville.
The revised plans called for building a tall flyover ramp that would cross above the substation, a pedestrian bridge and Gallows Road.

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What is VDOT Doing at Dunn Loring?

Transform 66 Wisely In-Depth Report

VDOT and their private contractor currently plan to build a massive bridge over the Dunn Loring area, including the entire Metro station and Gallows Road.  We named this designed bridge as the McAuliffe Bridge in honor of the Governor who has been pushing for the I-66 widening.  Why would VDOT & Co. propose a design so awful to the community?

The answer is more than just VDOT’s preference of concrete over communities.  A critical piece of infrastructure for the Metro rail system is in the way of their road widening plans.  This is the Traction Power Substation (TPS), located at the Dunn Loring/Merrifield transit station, between the new bus bays and the shoulder of I-66.


VDOT & Co. could move the TPS out of the way, but this is complicated.  For a road construction consortium, it is far easier (even if more expensive) to build a massive bridge structure than deal with complicated infrastructure owned by someone else (in this case, WMATA, the operator of Metro).

So what is a TPS?  It contains equipment that provides proper electrical power to make Metro trains run.  Each train car has traction motors that together make the train move.  Each TPS powers the third rail with 750 volt DC electricity, which is then received by the train cars.

While 750 volts is quite high compared to household use, it is not high enough to avoid significant power loss over distance.  For this reason, many substations are needed to power each Metro line.  While we won’t get into a complicated electricity discussion here, the short version is that electrical conductors lose power over distance (resistance), and higher voltages lose less power.  750 volts is a compromise between several factors, such as arcing and safety, and how far apart substations are needed to power a rush hour train schedule.  The TPS is supplied by many thousands of volts (higher voltage is transmitted more efficiently) from the electric utility.

To operate the Metro, WMATA guidelines call for a TPS about every mile.  This ensures that each train will have plenty of power at the proper voltage throughout the line.  The third rail is separated into sections, so power can be turned off in a section for maintenance or in case of an emergency without disrupting the entire line.  To control power in these situations, WMATA places breaker stations halfway between each TPS.


So, can VDOT & Co move the power substation?  With WMATA’s permission, sure.  But where would they move it to?  The answer lies with how far away the nearest TPS are in each direction.

To the west from Dunn Loring, the next power substation is at Cedar Lane, which is a mile down the tracks.  To the east, it is off of Barbour Road.  That’s almost 1.75 miles away from Dunn Loring, which is already stretching the WMATA specification.  So, if they move any further to the west, there is a problem.

VDOT & Co. recently suggested they could move the Dunn Loring power substation west to 2700 Prosperity Avenue, where there is space in the plans as this road curves away from I-66.

But moving the Dunn Loring TPS west to here would increase the distance between substations (Prosperity Avenue to Barbour Road) to nearly 2.25 miles.  This is a very long distance for Metro rail power. WMATA would like more power, not less, so they can run more eight car trains in the future.  They likely won’t allow a gap that long.

In addition, there is already a breaker station at 2700 Prosperity Avenue, making things more complicated.  A new breaker station would likely be required somewhere else, so another location would still be needed.
VDOT & Co. likely can’t move the substation to the west, and to the east is the Beltway interchange.  The Dunn Loring station has just been redeveloped as part of the public-private partnership there that includes shopping, apartments, and restaurants.  There isn’t much station land left that is out of reach of the widening shovels.  That gives VDOT & Co. two options: put the substation underground, or move it across Interstate 66.  Placing it underground near the station entrance would mean a major excavation that would be disruptive to everyone, and be even more expensive.

They can’t move it directly across I-66 without taking still more land away from the embattled schoolyard at Stenwood Elementary, already in the sights of VDOT & Co.’s bulldozers and cement trucks.  The likely choice would be to move the Dunn Loring power substation to Stenhouse Place instead of Prosperity Ave. VDOT already plans to demolish this established transit friendly neighborhood, so they could find enough land here.  But now they have another problem–getting the high voltage power feeds across the highway to serve the TPS, which is non-trivial and right in the middle of a complex area for them.

Substation relocation will require a lot of time consuming construction, coordination, and testing with WMATA.   Either way, this is a big project risk.   It isn’t insurmountable, but is a big mess for their contingency plans.  WMATA doesn’t sound very happy either.

Now VDOT & Co. has proposed a massive bridge over Dunn Loring so they don’t have to worry about the TPS relocation and its project impacts.  But VDOT “forgot” about this bridge and the TPS during all of the project public information meetings, the Commonwealth Transportation Board public meetings, the environmental impact/NEPA public hearings, and the each of the community briefings.  VDOT has boasted of “over 100 meetings” on the project, yet none of those meetings contained any reference to building an Interstate highway over Dunn Loring station, and Gallows Road.  One might question what is the point of having 100 meetings, or even one meeting, when crucial design components are changed later or left out completely.

Is the TPS impact a new surprise to VDOT?  The TPS at Dunn Loring has existed since this section of the Orange line opened in 1986.  It was hardly hidden or difficult to find before the previous meetings. Anyone walking from the bus bay or parking garage to the Dunn Loring metro entrance walks by it, although it is certainly possible that nobody at VDOT and Co. is familiar with a daily commute on a transit system.

But the TPS is easily viewed from aerial photography and VDOT has commissioned numerous detailed land surveys of the I-66 corridor in the past few years alone.  A quick conversation between VDOT and WMATA would also communicate the issue, which was also brought up by numerous members of the public at VDOT I-66 meetings in 2015.  In short, capable engineers working on the I-66 widening project for years should certainly be aware of it and coordinating with WMATA, whose tracks run right through the I-66 project.

When reporter Adam Tuss, of NBC Washington (channel 4), investigated, he discovered the opposite.  Here is what WMATA told Mr. Tuss on April 5, 2017:

Yesterday, VDOT notified Metro that, due to a proposed design change, the traction power substation at Dunn Loring would need to be relocated.  (This was the first notice to Metro of the proposed change.)  Under the agreement, there would be no impact to Metro’s operations and VDOT would incur the cost of any relocation.  The final approved design (including any infrastructure changes) will be determined by VDOT and any additional questions should be referred to them.

The detailed plans that contain the McAuliffe Bridge are dated October 2016, six months ago.  Once the McAuliffe Bridge plans were quietly made available this spring, members of the public were outraged that this scenario was even proposed.  When this outcry eventually reached VDOT & Co., they suddenly decided to look at alternatives to transforming Dunn Loring under a massive shadow.  A hastily written paragraph on VDOT’s website suggested that they had now begun a search for alternatives.  But why was this not done sooner?  VDOT has hired at least four “Communications” firms with millions of your taxpayer dollars in recent years for I-66 widening.

Yet, WMATA indicates that nobody initiated any communications with them regarding the TPS before releasing the McAuliffe Bridge plans.  This is not a good sign for things to come.  Imagine VDOT’s default communications style in a few years when VDOT & Co’s jackhammers, beeping trucks, pile drivers, and heavy equipment is operating 24 hours a day…

As mentioned earlier, VDOT & Co. would rather build a bridge than move Metro’s power system because they can control it.  Building a bridge is expensive, but their project managers can plan, budget, and schedule it, with most of the constraints well known and under their control.

Conversely, dealing with WMATA is a complete wildcard for VDOT & Co.  The scheduling and risks are not known, a project manager’s nightmare.  Metro’s power infrastructure requires special handling and many risks lurk behind any project affecting it.  The project must be carefully choreographed with railroad operations, the right parts and resources must be available on schedule, and WMATA would ultimately be in charge.

Any issues or surprises that arise will threaten the schedule of the larger I-66 project, and WMATA engineering is already preoccupied with its own infrastructure issues.  But a key reason for VDOT & Co. choosing the McAuliffe Bridge as their first alternative is spelled out in the executed I-66 Comprehensive Agreement between VDOT and its Developer, I-66 Express Mobility Partners:

The Developer  will  exercise  best  efforts  to  coordinate  with  WMATA  to  minimize  impacts  on  WMATA’s  operations  and  facilities.    All contractors working on WMATA Work must be prequalified and licensed as required by WMATA. 

The Developer will be responsible  for,  and  will  bear  the  costs  and  schedule  risk  related  to,  coordination  with  WMATA  regarding  the  WMATA Work,  the  WMATA  Easement  Impacts  and  the  WMATA  Incidental  Impacts.    Such coordination shall include  (a)  notifying  WMATA  before  performing  any  construction,  maintenance  or  repair  activities  which  could  affect  WMATA  transit  operations,  and  (b)  abiding   by   WMATA’s   reasonable   regulations   to   assure   the   safety   of   WMATA’s passengers  and  equipment  and  maintenance  of  WMATA’s  operating  schedules.    To the extent  WMATA,  pursuant  to  the  1991  Easement,  makes  a  successful  claim  against  [VDOT] for  Losses  arising  from  Developer’s  impacts,  the  Developer  will  reimburse [VDOT] for the amounts paid to WMATA….

So VDOT & Co. are on the hook for “minimizing impacts on WMATA’s operations and facilities.”  That’s a tall order for doing power infrastructure work.  And the costs of doing the work, plus the scheduling risks are put on VDOT’s contractor.  These unknown schedule and risk constraints are a challenge for any project manager.  Orange Line commuters will not and should not tolerate a rapid transit line shutdown for VDOT’s convenience.

We should also note that WMATA has a long term desire to upgrade its traction power infrastructure.  This is needed to operate more eight car trains.  If the TPS is moved, it could be upgraded with additional capacity at the same time.  With a little coordination and communication, VDOT’s and WMATA’s needs could align.  This would be an ideal solution to this problem.

VDOT’s contractor will have a 50+ year concession on I-66 tolls, and they should not be allowed to cover up Metro’s new transit village with a towering Interstate bridge for their convenience.

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I-66 Express Lanes Hit Speed Bump Over Design Changes (WTOP)

From WTOP radio:

WASHINGTON — A portion of the Interstate 66 express lanes project has been temporarily delayed because of strong opposition from neighbors worried about noise, pollution and the design.

The region’s Transportation Planning Board took the unusual step on Wednesday to put off an air quality analysis for a stretch of the project between U.S. 50 and the Capital Beltway. Meanwhile, the board agreed to advance the analysis for the remainder of the project, which will run to Gainesville.

 The delay gives the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors a chance to consider design revisions included in plans released last month and to make changes to proposed interchanges plus on- and off-ramps. The features would be included in an air quality analysis — a technical review required before any ramps or lanes could be built.

“If we come back and say any of those (access) points need to be stricken, they will be,” Supervisor Linda Smyth said.

The board is expected to receive more information about the latest design plans next month.

Neighborhood opposition

A small, active group of Dunn Loring residents who live in the shadow of the proposed on-ramps and off-ramps urged the Transportation Planning Board to agree to the delay.

 Neighbors said the Virginia Department of Transportation has not factored in enough of their input and has gone back on previous promises that the ramps would not be larger than they appeared in plans made available to the public last year.

“It is painfully obvious that these changes are to ensure profitability to Express Mobility (Partners) at the expense of the residents and a community that has been in existence for over 130 years,” Mary Hagopian of Dunn Loring said.

The private company’s designs for the road were quietly released last month.

 Delegate Mark Keam, who represents the area, said he only learned of the proposed changes put into the revised plans through concerned neighbors. He said VDOT should have provided more information to neighbors and elected leaders.

Full Story:



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VDOT’s Planned New Bridge Over Gallows Road


Artist rendering of VDOT’s future bridge over Gallows Road. This view is looking to the South. The two lane bridge will soar high above Dunn Loring Metro station as well as Gallows Road.

What will the new bridge look like that VDOT & its Concessionaire (I-66 Express Mobility Partners) have been planning for us since last year?  The tall bridge will pass over the Dunn Loring Metro station entrance and Gallows Road.  Imagine walking under this as you enter Dunn Loring Station, and the new shops & restaurants at the station.

An artist rendering made at the request of the community, based on the public information disclosed by VDOT on the proposed ramp, shows us what the new bridge will look like.

Fortunately there is still time to prevent the I-66 change from being included in new amendments to the region’s Constrained Long Range Plan.  The vote will take place at the Transportation Planning Board meeting on Wednesday April 19th at noon.

Only residents asking their representatives can put a halt to VDOT’s newly released plans to build this bridge.  You may contact Fairfax Supervisor Linda Smyth and Fairfax Supervisor Cathy Hudgins using the contact information below.  Both of these supervisors are Fairfax County’s representatives on the Transportation Planning Board.

We also recommend letting Fairfax County Chairman Sharon Bulova know your views on VDOT’s plans.

Supervisor Linda Q. Smyth, TPB Member
Phone: 703-560-6946
Supervisor Cathy Hudgins, TPB Member
Phone: 703-478-0283

Email: catherine.hudgins@fairfaxcounty.gov

Fairfax County Chairman Sharon Bulova

Phone: 703-324-2321
Twitter: @SharonBulova
Email: chairman@fairfaxcounty.gov



Posted in Government Policy, Transportation Planning | 1 Comment