Inside the Beltway: VDOT to Spend $2M More for New I-66 Tolls with Flashing Lights

You may have noticed the flashing strobe lights overhead on I-66 and Route 267 inside the beltway. VDOT is at work and is testing the new toll gantries, including their bright flashing features. While other facilities use overhead tolling without flashing lights in drivers’ eyes at night, VDOT has chosen the bright strobe method. White strobe lights can trigger seizures for those with photosensitive epilepsy, and can be extremely distracting for all drivers. The strobe lights appear angled from the rear of a vehicle, however the flashes from the oncoming lanes is angled directly of driver’s line of vision and there is plenty of bright light in all directions.

The strobe lights’ purpose appears to be to illuminate license plates and allow law enforcement to count vehicle occupants at night while cars whiz by. Other agencies have figured out how to do this without visual strobe lights, but driver safety does not appear to be a priority on I-66.

Meanwhile, VDOT needs an extra $2 million dollars to collect tolls than their original budget for I-66 inside the beltway.

WASHINGTON — The Interstate 66 rush-hour toll system inside the Capital Beltway that is due to begin charging solo drivers in December will cost at least $2 million more up front than previously planned.

The Virginia Department of Transportation is asking the Commonwealth Transportation Board Wednesday to approve the additional $2 million in order to keep the project on schedule to open just before Gov. Terry McAuliffe leaves office, based on VDOT and contractor estimates for upcoming costs.

Full Story from WTOP:

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Arlington Seeks I-66 Outside the Beltway Funds for East Falls Church Improvements Inside the Beltway

In a few months, VDOT will turn the switch on its new tolls of I-66 Inside the Beltway.  Commuters at rush hour in the peak direction on all lanes of I-66 can pay a toll  without 2 people in the vehicle between the Beltway and the Potomac River.

These new tolls will collect a lot of cash, and VDOT has stated it will use some of it to improve transportation and transit for the corridor Inside the Beltway.  This means Arlington County will be a large beneficiary of the Inside the Beltway tolls.

But Arlington County want more, and wants to grab toll money from OUTSIDE the beltway too.  As part of its bid winning strategy, the winning consortium—CINTRA of Spain, Meridiam of France, and Ferrovial also of Spain—promised $500 Million advance in cash to VDOT.  This money was supposed to be used for transportation improvements outside the beltway.  It is essentially a prepayment of toll revenue that the consortium will collect over the next 50 years.

The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) is charged with allocating the Outside the Beltway funding.  Seeing money dangling from the highway (and the homes, backyards, and neighborhoods that CINTRA et al’s widening will destroy), Arlington County wants some too.  Even though Arlington is wholly located inside the Beltway, they want to grab money from outside the beltway.

And what do they need Outside funding for?  $23 Million would build another local street entrance and curb street to their East Falls Church metro station.  The rest would be spent on building two bus bays.  One might wonder why two bus parking areas would cost $6 million dollars, but that is another subject.

Why send Outside the Beltway funds for some local County improvement projects Inside the Beltway?  VDOT has been very clear about having two separate and distinct projects for I-66: Inside and Outside.  Inside the Beltway, homes, neighborhoods, and transit oriented communities are largely preserved and kept sacred by VDOT.  Outside the Beltway, homes, neighborhoods, the last trees, and transit oriented communities are mere obstacles for the bulldozers to destroy and pour concrete on so CINTRA et al can ensure profitable congestion for half a century.

The toll money collected over the remains of Outside the Beltway communities should remain outside the Beltway.  The NVTA should ensure they do exactly that when they decide how to allocate the funds in October 2017.

Arlington’s request seeks improvements to the East Falls Church Metro station, with the lion’s share – $23 million – to provide design and engineering of a second entrance to the station from Washington Boulevard. The overall project cost is estimated at $96 million.

 County officials also are seeking an estimated $6 million for the addition of two bus bays in the current bus loop at the station, along with miscellaneous upgrades to shelters and pedestrian access.

Inside Nova:  Arlington board to seek region cash for East Falls Church Metro upgrade


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VDOT I-66 June 2017 Plan Comments Due 6/30

Earlier in June 2017, VDOT unveiled revised plans for I-66 at several public meetings.  These plans include significant changes to the designs at Nutley Street, Vienna and Dunn Loring/Merrifield.  The changes also include a grade elevation increase for I-66 at the Capital Beltway, with significantly higher ramps, retaining walls, and structures towering over backyards and local roads.  VDOT and its partner wants to rebuild the entire junction (constructed in 2012) to make it significantly more complicated and damaging to the local area, with little thought on impacts to the local community that Fairfax County has been encouraging to develop.
Please continue to voice your concerns about the issues with the I-66 Outside the Beltway project and the impacts to the Dunn Loring/Vienna community.  Take a moment to email your responses to the 5 comment questions below to  (reference “Transform 66 Outside the Beltway” in the subject line), and be sure to copy your elected officials in the email.
Some talking points to consider:
  • Express lanes are not solving traffic congestion
  • Reduce vertical and horizontal footprint
  • Need improved soundwalls in surrounding neighborhoods
  • Need storm water management plans
  • Loss of Stenwood school property and treeline
  • Impact of the widening of Gallows Rd to 6 lanes
  • Safety improvements on Gallows Rd
  • Minimize construction disruptions and impacts to residents
  • Reasonable terms for Right of Way acquisitions
  • Concerns with another “Springfield mixing bowl” at 495/66 interchange
  • Concerns with heavy tractor trailers being allowed on 70 MPH Express lanes and neighborhood streets
  • Concerns with high toll price (higher toll price if tractor trailers are allowed on Express lanes)
  • Safety and privacy concerns for bike lanes being in neighborhoods and school area
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VDOT I-66 Public Meetings: June 12-15

VDOT is planning a new round of I-66 Public Meetings this month to disclose the latest information about their 24 hour construction noise over the next 5 years, their new plans to put heavy tractor trailers in the 70 MPH express lanes, and property impacts.

You may recall at previous public meetings, the I-66 project was described as “moving people, not vehicles.”  That former goal has quietly shifted to moving heavy trucks on the Express Lanes, including on the flyovers and new high ramps to be constructed in many locations.

There has been no information released so far about mitigating storm water volume and pollution, preventing more downstream creek damage, or mitigating local flooding from run off effects.

At the June public meetings, you will have the opportunity to ask questions and make comments on the record.   VDOT’s staff, contract engineers, and public relations firms will be on hand.

The VDOT / Cintra / I-66 Express Mobility Partners meetings are at the following locations and times, per VDOT:
  • Monday, June 12, 2017
    Oakton High School Cafeteria
    2900 Sutton Road, Vienna, VA 22181
  • Wednesday, June 14, 2017
    Stone Middle School Cafeteria
    5500 Sully Park Drive, Centreville, VA 20120
  • Thursday, June 15, 2017
    Piney Branch Elementary School Cafeteria/Gym
    8301 Linton Hall Road, Bristow, VA 20136
All meeting times are 6:00-8:30 p.m. A brief presentation will be held at 7:00 p.m., followed by a question-and-answer session. Information will be provided on the current project status and schedule, 66 EMP concept plans, and upcoming activities in the I-66 corridor. Technical staff will be on hand to answer one-on-one questions before and after the presentation.


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Ready for Cintra in Virginia?

The Virginia Department of Transportation is handing over the keys for Interstate 66 to I-66 Express Mobility Partners, a consortium of Cintra and Ferrovial of Spain, among other firms.  So how is Cintra doing in their other United States ventures?

A few years ago, Cintra’s Indiana Toll Road joint venture with Australian Macquarie Atlas Roads (of Dulles Greenway fame) filed for bankruptcy.

Last year, Cintra’s Texas subsidiary filed for bankruptcy.  This operation runs a toll road between San Antonio and the Austin area.

This month, the Wall Street Journal examines Cintra’s latest business venture in North Carolina: building toll Express Lanes along I-77 into Charlotte.   What could go wrong? 

The problems have gotten so bad that North Carolina officials are considering buying out the public private partnership (P3) contract just to escape and drive away from the agreement.  Try not to let this experience affect your confidence in Virginia’s prowess with P3 contracts.

From the Wall Street Journal:

“When North Carolina brought in a private operator to add toll lanes to a 26-mile stretch of highway north of Charlotte, its goal was to reduce congestion and build a road the state couldn’t otherwise afford.

The hope was that the state’s first public-private partnership for roads would be a model of efficiency and the first of many such projects. But the expansion of Interstate 77 has hit speed bumps, with travel times lengthening and accidents increasing. Now the state is considering paying up to $300 million to get out of the deal and retake control of the roadway.

Commuters and political observers are now saying the state ceded too much control to Cintra, the unit of Spanish infrastructure firm Ferrovial SA that signed the $650 million contract in 2014. They would have liked work to be done a mile or two at a time rather than nearly all at once, creating a 26-mile work zone. They also say the state highway department would have responded better to complaints, like those on Easter weekend when drivers said they were dodging roadway debris.

Lawmakers and business groups are pushing for the project to be scrapped. The 1,000-member Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce argues the toll lanes are unlikely to reduce congestion because of the cost—as much as $20 round trip during rush hour—and the design, as the asphalt isn’t thick enough to accommodate tractor-trailer trucks. Cintra says the tolls haven’t been determined yet.

Many Nascar stars live on Lake Norman north of Charlotte and haul trailers through the congested work zone. “I couldn’t hate highway 77 between exit 30-23 any more,” Danica Patrick said in a message posted to Twitter in December.

“The portajohn was a nice gesture tho,” responded Dale Earnhardt Jr. , attaching a photo of the construction zone.
An official noted that much of the 26-mile project near Charlotte is lined with concrete barriers, which may contribute to driver apprehension.

An official noted that much of the 26-mile project near Charlotte is lined with concrete barriers, which may contribute to driver apprehension. Photo: Valerie Bauerlein/The Wall Street Journal

“I’m a capitalist, free-market guy,” said Jim Puckett, a Republican Mecklenburg County commissioner. “But sometimes there are solutions that only the public sector can handle.”

A state review of the project last year estimated the breakup cost could run from $82 million to $300 million. A bipartisan group of legislators came close to breaking the deal last summer, but balked because it risked taking money away from other transportation projects.

Newly elected Democratic Governor Roy Cooper has ordered an outside review of options to change or break the Cintra contract, under which the company has the right to toll revenues through 2058.

Virginia recently selected Cintra and Meridiam, an independent infrastructure investment firm, to run a $3 billion project to overhaul Interstate 66 in the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.

But some of the public-private toll-road projects have had mixed results. Cintra-led projects in Texas and Indiana have landed in bankruptcy. A Congressional Budget Office report in 2015 found that the privately run toll projects that failed had commonly overestimated toll revenue, and newer projects are seeking more public money through tax dollars and bonds.

Lake Norman resident Noah Lazes said he expects the state will honor the contract. “Public-private partnerships, to a certain degree, are a necessity,” said Mr. Lazes, whose Charlotte-based ARK Group develops public-private projects including a new concert venue in Irving, Texas. “The main thing is you need to make sure it gets built according to your state’s standards.”

Meanwhile, he said, he is nervous every time he drives I-77, where he said he had already incurred $3,000 damage to the tire and rim of his Mercedes S550 when he hit a rut.”