VDOT Promises I-64 HOT Lane Users the Consumer Protections that Northern Virginia Will Never Have

The Virginia Department of Transportation likes High Occupancy Toll or HOT (Express Lanes) so much, that plans are underway to add them to I-64 in the Norfolk area later this year.

But there will be a key difference between I-64 HOT lanes in Tidewater, and the tolls that Northern Virginia commuters are subjected to on I-495, I-95, I-395, and soon to include I-66 west of the Capital Beltway.

Virginia Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne stated that VDOT will be operating the I-64 HOT lanes in Norfolk, not a private concessionaire:

This is VDOT operating this facility, not a for-profit entity. The emphasis is not to get them to pay fines. The emphasis is to get more effective use of roadways. So I’m very comfortable in saying that you’re not going to see excessive fees coming out of this operation,” [Secretary Layne] said.

ABC channel 13 in Richmond stated that, “Secretary Layne said drivers should not be worried about excessive fines or fees that some have experienced with using tunnels.”

In other words, Northern Virginians are less deserving and should worry about excessive fines or fees, because Northern Virginia HOT lanes are operated by for-profit entities and not VDOT.

It is interesting that Layne is quick to point out the consumer protections against toll gouging for the Hampton Roads area, yet he selected to NOT provide those same protections for Northern Virginia taxpayers.  Like the other Northern Virginia HOT schemes, I-66 will be an unregulated monopoly by a private concessionaire with a 50 year contract.  (The other Northern Virginia HOT lanes have up to 76 year contracts).

The concessionaire can charge whatever they want, with no limits.  They also pay NO real estate tax on their leased land, while raking in the income derived from it.  The experience in Northern Virginia has included the toll operator charging thousands of dollars in fees when E-ZPass tolls were not properly processed or collected promptly enough for the private concessionaire.

If  Secretary Layne is so “comfortable in saying you’re not going to see excessive fees on I-64,” why are Northern Virginia commuters not deserving of the same protection?

Why shouldn’t Northern Virginia also have an “emphasis  to get more effective use of roadway?”

Remember, this is the same Secretary Layne who informed Virginia in early 2015 that we could save about a Billion dollars by keeping I-66 public instead of using a private concessionaire, then recommending a private concessionaire later that year after the howls of Big Pavement.

Some other key differences for I-64 include the use of HOV-3 instead of Northern Virginia’s HOV-3 to get a free ride.  Hybrid cars in Tidewater will be exempt from the toll, regardless of how many people are inside.  Hybrid cars on HOT lanes in Northern Virginia “public private partnerships” will pay in full.

So I-64 will receive HOT lanes with full government control, operation, and consumer protections, while VDOT gives away the keys to the roads in Northern Virginia to private concessionaires with little to no consumer protections.

http://www.13newsnow.com/traffic/vdot-to-announce-hot-lane-tolling-on-i-64/430635507

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I-66 Express Lanes Project Planners Run Into Major Obstacle

In March 2017, the Virginia Department of (Road) Transportation informed the Transportation Planning Board that they have discovered a traction power station at the Dunn Loring Metro station, and therefore must now build a massive multi-lane bridge structure about 4000 feet long, and over 30 feet high above Gallows Road and Dunn Loring itself.  It is just too hard and expensive ($25 Million) to move the traction power, according to VDOT.

The traction power station is an electrical substation that provides 750 Volt power to the third rail, thence to orange line trains.  In short, it is essential to Metrorail operations.  This particular power station was built in 1985.   It would be well known to any capable professional engineer, land surveyor, or even anyone walking between the parking garage and station entrance.  VDOT has hired many engineers and surveyors for years for their I-66 widening initiative.  So the traction station is not a new issue, and residents even discussed it with VDOT’s engineers during the 2015 public meetings.  So why did VDOT decide to omit the power station bridge in the environmental assessment and public meetings?  Is this an organization that is being honest and forthright with the public?

The area slated to be covered over with VDOT’s new mega bridge is a transit oriented community that is walkable with shops, restaurants, grocery stores, housing, and outdoor plazas.   Metro customers and anyone in the area would need to walk under a concrete Interstate overpass roaring overhead.

Now when pressed with more questions about their spring surprise, VDOT is saying that no decision has been made.  NBC 4’s Adam Tuss recently interviewed VDOT’s megaprojects director and a local resident about the latest design proposal.  You may view the interview and article here:
http://www.nbcwashington.com/news/local/I-66-Express-Lanes-Project-Planners-Run-Into-Major-Obstacle-418440273.html

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Town Hall Meeting April 3, 2017 at Vienna Fire Department

Virginia State Senator Chap Petersen and Delegate Mark Keam will be hosting a Town Hall Meeting on Monday April 3, 2017 at 7:00 PM.  The location is the Vienna Volunteer Fire Department, 400 Center St S, Vienna.

The meeting agenda is to discuss both the results of the General Assembly’s work as well as to address any and all questions from the public.  With the Virginia Department of (Road) Transportation’s I-66 Widening efforts through the area a key state government issue, this is an excellent opportunity to ask about the project that will affect so many people in the area. 

VDOT’s Private Partner for the I-66 will have a director at this meeting.

If you would like to learn what is going on with the state government as they seek to impact our community, please consider attending this town hall meeting.

Posted in Community, Government Policy, Public Meetings, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Preliminary I-66 Dunn Loring Flyover Design

The graphic below show VDOT’s partner design for the new flyovers and ramps over the Dunn Loring area.  Note that his design has NOT yet been approved and the designs are preliminary in nature.  However it shows that a lot of engineering has already been done to design a system of elevated bridges and high flyovers.

The purple lanes extending from the south side of I-66 would be new flyovers.  One, near Prosperity Avenue, would connect I-66 eastbound traffic to I-66 eastbound Express Lanes.  VDOT had orginally said that this was necessary, because it would be “impossible” to build a direct Express Lanes entrance at Nutley Street.  Now, even with plans to build a direct Express Lanes entrance at Nutley street, this flyover is still in the works.

The longer purple lane structure extends into the Metro area, and is elevated at the Metro station.  The narrow “tree conservation area” behind the Dunn Loring Metro garage will be destroyed, and the bridge will be built through this area.  Two lanes of I-66 traffic will be elevated over the entire Dunn Loring Metro station, and continue over Gallows Road.  Imagine looking up at Interstate traffic, passing over Gallows Road, in addition to the current traffic passing below Gallows Road.  Is this the new Dunn Loring/Merrifield that Fairfax County spent so many years in planning, in conjunction with the new walkable mixed use village constructed at the Dunn Loring Metro station?

Earlier this week VDOT’s Renée Hamilton told the Transportation Planning Board that this flyover design feature “was basically something that we thought was in the best interest of everyone.”  Do you think that this is true?

DunnLoringComposite2-March2017

DunnLoringComposite-March2017

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VDOT Seeks Big I-66 Plan Changes and Towering Ramps over Dunn Loring

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.

Posted in Public Meetings, Transportation Planning, VDOT Jenga | 1 Comment

VDOT’s Next Move: Big Rigs and Gasoline Tankers in the Express Lanes

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:

https://www.mwcog.org/tpbcomment

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.

 

 

 

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Cintra’s Private Toll Road Backed By $430 Million in Federal Funds Goes Bust

Governor McAuliffe (D-Virginia) recently said that Cintra & Co would assume all of the risk for the I-66 widening project.  But is that really the case?   Will there be enough people willing and able to pay the high tolls required to fund I-66 while leaving a big return on investment?

Another private road recently went bankrupt this fall, and threatens to leave U.S. taxpayers holding the bag for $430 Million in taxpayer secured TIFIA loans.  Like I-66, Spain’s Cintra was also the builder/operator of Toll 130 in Texas.  It also suffers from poor  quality according to inspection reports. Streetsblog USA describes more:

Cintra (Concesiones de Infraestructuras de Transporte) and construction company Zachry Corp., decided to build a toll freeway between San Antonio and Austin.   The two companies obtained $430 million in federally-backed TIFIA loans, and promised to share toll revenues with the state of Texas and pay $25 million upfront.

Today, four years after the road opened, it is bankrupt.

Cintra and Zachry put up $197 million — about 14 percent of the cost. But that stake was packaged and sold to investors (in the case of the Zachary Corp., to three investment funds overseen by a Australian firm). Since some construction contracts went to Ferrovial, Cintra’s parent company, the firm may have managed to make money even though the road did not.

The highway appears to have exacerbated flooding problems for the community of Lockhart. One resident told the Express-News that she now has to tie her propane tank to a tree to keep it from floating away when it rains.

Construction quality was not good. Just two years after the road was complete, an inspection found 160 pavement defects, though some of those have since been repaired.

As for Texas 130, it remains to be seen how much of the $430 million in TIFIA funds will be recovered. When pressed by the Express-News, U.S. DOT refused to comment. (Streetsblog USA)


Will the new construction quality of the VDOT owned free lanes be acceptable or shoddy on I-66?  The location of the future I-66 express lanes will take over the existing and recently reconstructed I-66 lanes that taxpayers built.  The free lanes will be shifted away from the median into the expanded right of way, as the green arrow peak lane disappears.

So under the Public-Private Partnership, the private company gets the well-built public infrastructure (including a very deep concrete  foundation under I-66 between U.S. 50 and the Beltway) that will last for decades or more, while the public will end up with the private concessionaire’s construction of the free lanes.  Hopefully the quality will be better than the pothole pitted free I-495 lanes through Annandale and Tysons Corner that TransUrban gave us in 2012.

No doubt we’ll hear how Cintra’s Route 66 will be much better built/run than Cintra’s Route 130.

Read the complete article from Streetsblog USA

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Virginia Chooses Spain’s Concesiones de Infraestructuras de Transporte & Partners for I-66

Governor Terry McAuliffe (D-Virginia) and his Department of (Road) Transportation has chosen Concesiones de Infraestructuras de Transporte, (Cintra), S.A. of Spain to build the privatized toll lanes on I-66 from I-495 to Prince William County.  Cintra will be joined by Meridiam, Allan Myers, Inc., and their peer company Ferrovial Agroman US. These companies will be members of a new company called I-66 Express Mobility Partners that will assume all project risk and contract with Virginia in a lengthy “comprehensive agreement” that will last over 50 years.

Cintra, S.A. based in Madrid is a subsidiary of Ferrovial, S.A., which is a large Spanish infrastructure and financing conglomerate.

Cintra will be responsible for the design, construction, revenue collection, rapid transit funding, noise abatement, storm water protection, and eminent domain property takings.  The announcement follows a procurement process that resulted in two finalists.  The other partnership was led by TransUrban of Melbourne, Australia.  TransUrban operates the I-495, I-395, and I-95 express lanes under contracts up to 74 years long.

 

 

 

 

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I-66 Transformation is Another Transportation Mistake

Stuart Whitaker from Transiters wrote a great article that was published in the Washington Post.  He makes the case why the “Transform 66” project is a terrible deal for taxpayers and commuters.  The $2 Billion project is purportedly paid by tolls, but actually needs a $600 Million dollar public subsidy from taxpayers. Imagine what $600 Million could do for Virginia’s infrastructure, if it wasn’t sent to line the pockets of Big Pavement while they get to rake in toll revenue for five decades or more.  The next time a Virginia politician says that there is no money for modest rapid transit extensions, remind them that they handed out over a half billion dollars to subsidize private toll collectors.

And what do taxpayers receive in return for that hefty chunk of their tax dollars?  The “opportunity” to pay exorbitant unregulated tolls for the rest of our lifetimes while one of the free lanes on I-66 is removed, worsening congestion even more to ensure more people may pay for the expensive toll lanes.  A VDOT representative recently said that even VDOT doesn’t expect everyday commuters to pay for the toll lanes on a daily basis because they won’t be able to afford the high expense.

Unfortunately, the Transform 66 project gets much worse from there. Homes and neighborhoods near existing public transit stations will be lost forever forcing homeowners and families to pack up and leave everything behind, even their schools. Hundreds of acres of open or forested land will be either destroyed or paved over.  The publicly owned right of way will be turned over to a private operator to profit with the taxpayers’ money and land. Recently built infrastructure such as much of the I-66/I-495 bridges will be ripped out and demolished with the taxpayer subsidy, while other infrastructure deteriorates and road quality conditions worsen even more in Virginia.

Last year, the Commonwealth waived water regulations, so more storm water running off the newly paved land will cause more flooding and watershed damage in waterways such as Accotink Creek. The Commonwealth of Virginia and Fairfax County  have shown no signs of doing any meaningful storm water mitigation, preferring to let vastly increased water polluted from oils, chemicals, and excessive snow melting compounds drain into nearby swelling creeks, thence into rivers and your Chesapeake Bay.  The fragile environment that your health depends on is no match for tolling schemes and massive taxpayer handouts to private “concessionaires” who will be collecting more cash from commuters.

For more analysis, see Stuart’s article:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/lets-avoid-another-transportation-mistake/2016/07/08/29688050-43a4-11e6-88d0-6adee48be8bc_story.html

Posted in Government Policy, In the News, Transportation Planning | Leave a comment

VDoT Requests I-66 Outside Beltway Procurement Comments Thru June 16

The Transform I-66 Outside the Beltway project is currently requesting comments on the procurement process, which will affect neighborhood residents, commuters, and taxpayers.  The procurement public comment period ends on June 16.

The updated materials from the May 2016 meetings, including the Concept Plans are posted at:  http://outside.transform66.org/meetings/may_2016_public_hearings.asp

There are currently two teams with active bids to build and toll the I-66 express lanes.  One team is led by a familiar name in Virginia, Transurban of Melbourne, Australia.  Transurban is known for operating the I-95, I-495, and I-395 express lanes, as well as illegal campaign contributions to Virginia politicians during the procurement of those projects, and being forced in local courtrooms to soften predatory toll and fee collections practices.  For this project, Transurban would be joined by Skanska of Stockholm, Sweden and Archer Western.

The second bidding team is led by Cintra, of Madrid, Spain.  They would be joined by financier Meridiam of Paris, France.  (For anyone who has driven on the Autoroutes of France, or the Autopistas of Spain, you know that high tolls charged by concessionaires are a tradition). Their construction partners would be Ferrovial of Madrid (Cintra’s parent company), and Allan Myers of Malvern, Pa.

Comments are sought on the procurement.  At this time, VDoT says Virginia is heavily leaning toward a public private partnership to build, finance, operate, and toll the I-66 express lanes although it is not yet determined.  You might recall that in May 2015, Transportation Secretary Layne stated that Virginia could save about a billion dollars by doing the tolling and financing without a private concessionaire.  The construction lobby was aghast at this suggestion, and a few months later the full public private partnership was once again VDoT’s preference in a newly written finding of “public interest.”

You may comment on other aspects on the procurement, such as any rules on construction noise day and night, sound barrier construction, storm/flood water handling downstream of the project, “compensation events” designed to protect the private operator’s toll revenue from competing public infrastructure improvements, and neighborhood traffic impacts caused by construction.  If you have comments on any of these or other issues, be sure to comment while you can.

The full documents are available on the Virginia P3 Agency at: http://www.p3virginia.org/projects/interstate-66-corridor-improvements

Submit your comments via email or by postal mail to Susan Shaw, Megaprojects Director, at the VDOT District Office, 4975 Alliance Dr, Fairfax VA 22030.

You may also email comments  to Transform66@VDOT.Virginia.gov. Please reference “Transform 66 Outside the Beltway” in the subject line.

Comments must be postmarked, emailed or delivered to VDOT by June 16, 2016 to be included in the public hearing record.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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