VDOT Revises I-66 Environmental Assessment

VDOT has provided a revised Environmental Assessment, the document they received public comments for last June. Hundreds of comments were received on the original document about the environmental and human negative impacts of this project alone.

The January 2016 revision dismisses the majority of those public comments, including the significant impacts such as losing large amounts of forested area forever, the lost of residences near a Metro transit hub, increased stormwater and its impacts on flooding, oil/chemical pollution, and the continued deterioration of the Accotink watershed from roadway projects, acknowledging that VDOT will only consider it reasonable to build noise barriers at 30 of the 67 identified noise environment areas, paving over Conservation land and open space on the Stenwood Elementary School property,  and much more.

VDOT needs the EA to be accepted by the Federal Government in order to proceed.  A finding of a significant impact to the environment would hamper the project or require VDOT to reduce the actual environmental impacts.  .

VDOT will be receiving comments until February 9, 2016.  You can view the documents via the links below.



As reference, many of the impacts noted last Summer and Fall to VDOT still remain and are documented here if you wish to include any in your comments:

Letter to VDOT: Remaining Impacts of the Proposed Changes to the I-66/I-495 Interchange

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CTB I-66 Public Meeting: December 8

This is your opportunity to provide comments directly to the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB).  The CTB is a Governor appointed board that makes key transportation decisions in Virginia.  They are holding a public meeting for the Transform I-66 Project.

December 8, 2015 CTB Public Meeting

You are invited to share your input on the Transform 66 Inside and Outside the Beltway projects during a public meeting held by the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB).

Date: Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Time: 6:00-8:00 p.m.

Location: George Mason High School Cafetorium, 7124 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22043

The public will have the opportunity to provide formal comments to CTB members or to the court reporter.

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Transurban Ready to March North to DC

A private toll company is about to get a huge holiday present from Virginia taxpayers, who will again be forced to pay tolls to use the highway they already built and paid for.  Why is Virginia about to give away more of your public highways to a private toll company?   Where is a finding of public interest before handing over the keys to our existing roads without a competitive bidding  process?  And how will adding more cars  to the already full I-395  HOV lanes improve congestion into DC across the 14th Street bridge complex?

Before VDOT awarded the HOT/Express Lane contract for I-395/95 to Transurban/Fleur, Arlington County filed a lawsuit that sought to derail the project, or at least keep it outside of Arlington.  Faced with a well financed lawsuit by a government entity that could drag on for years, VDOT backed down to keep the Express Lane project rolling.  The state agency reduced the project’s scope to end around the Alexandria city line.  The suit was dropped in 2011, Arlington paid its outside counsel around $1M in fees, and VDOT agreed to do environmental analysis before continuing any Express Lanes on I-395, leaving the door open for a potential expansion in the future.

The result was a Maginot line for private tolling formed on I-395 around Edsall Road.  North of the line, regular HOV policies apply at rush hours.  South of the line, the express road is controlled by Transurban and their HOT/Express Lane unlimited toll rates apply. The state funded and built new improvements to the northern HOV lanes, in particular a $76 Million massive new interchange and ramps at Seminary Road, near the Mark Center that is slated to open next Spring.

But the future may be here.  VDOT believes a new Environmental Assessment will pave the way for more tolls on existing roads. Transurban would be able to push past the line at Edsall Road.  And all they need to “build” are  E-ZPass antennas and perhaps a sound wall with some minor improvements.

VDOT has released a plan to collaborate further with  Transurban, allowing their tolled Express Lanes to extend north to the shores of the Potomac River.  Construction to convert the existing HOV lanes to Express Lanes could start as early as 2017, a fairly busy year on VDOT’s calendar of privatized construction.   The construction would not take much effort beyond installing toll gantries, since the taxpayers have already funded and built the future private infrastructure.

Details have not been released yet, such as how long the Transurban contract would last for this section, although it is reasonable to assume it would be similar to the six decades that Transurban already controls their I-95 lanes.   There is no word if VDOT would seek a non-compete agreement with parallel roads (as VDOT has with I-95), forced taxpayer payments for excessive carpooling (as VDOT must do with I-95 and I-495), or forced payments for a parallel Metro route (as VDOT seeks to do in its draft terms for I-66 Express Lanes).

Why does VDOT believe it can allow and encourage Transurban to push forward toward DC without the legal challenges it fears?   VDOT would “guarantee” transit funding, carefully designed to quiet any opponents.

The big question is, why is your state planning to give away a major piece of your infrastructure without a competitive bid?  What quiet deals have already been made with an incumbent concessionaire?  Why is the state prepared to give away a lucrative No Bid contract that hands over the public’s infrastructure for decades to come?


Posted in Government Policy, Tolls, Transportation Planning | 3 Comments

REMINDER: I-66 Outside Beltway Meeting Monday, October 19 at 6:30pm, Oakton HS

VDOT will be holding 3 public information meetings next week to present their recommendations for I-66 Outside the Beltway.

VDOT’s preferred design will be presented and public comments will be gathered for the Commonwealth Transportation Board who votes on Oct 28th. Maps of VDOT’s Preferred Alternative and bike path proposal can be viewed online now.

These will be the final public hearings to voice your concerns before the transportation boards vote on these projects. Please attend to ensure your voice is heard!

I-66 Outside the Beltway Public Information Meetings

Monday, October 19, 2015
6:30 – 8:30pm
Oakton High School
2900 Sutton Road, Vienna, VA 22181

Tuesday, October 20, 2015
6:30 – 8:30pm
VDOT Northern Virginia District Office
4975 Alliance Drive, Fairfax, VA 22030

Wednesday, October 21, 2015
6:30 – 8:30pm
Piney Branch Elementary School
8301 Linton Hall Road, Bristow, VA 20136

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Act Now! Send your I-66 Comments to the TPB by Saturday 10/10

The Transportation Planning Board (TPB) is responsible for approving all changes to the DC Region’s Long Range Plan, which is needed before federal funding can be applied.  With a billion dollars or more of public funding (in addition to tolls), TPB approval is crucial to the project getting a green light.

Many forces been lobbying the TPB to approve the I-66 Express Lanes project as proposed by VDOT, without regard to the impacts to the transit oriented communities in Vienna, Oakton, and Dunn Loring, in addition to unmitigated storm water damages, and impacts to our schools and limited green space.  Now is YOUR  chance to weigh in!

The TPB is still accepting public comments through Saturday, October 10 at midnight.  Please take a few minutes to send them your comments online.  The Board would be most interested in your comments on air quality/environmental concerns and financial costs of project. Suggested conditions on the project (if it must be approved at all) are also very welcome.

Click here to send your TPB Comments on I-66 before it is too late!

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VDOT Shows its Preferred Plan for I-66 HOT lanes

The Virginia Department of (Road) Transportation has indicated what plan it prefers for the I-66 Express Lanes project.  Although VDOT had indicated it will shorten the project, the reduction will take place at the western end of the project.

The Do No Harm approach that would preserve the Dunn Loring community is continuing to be rejected by VDOT.  Note that public meetings on VDOT’s design have been set for October 19 (Oakton High School, Vienna), October 20 (VDOT NoVa headquarters, Fairfax), and October 21 (Piney Branch Elementary School, Bristow).  All begin at 6:30 PM. Please plan to attend one or more of these meetings.

Dr. Gridlock at the Washington Post has more:

“Virginia transportation officials want to go with a slightly shorter version of the high-occupancy toll lanes on I-66 outside the Capital Beltway, at least to start.

The “preferred alternative” presented this week by the Virginia Department of Transportation would stretch 22 miles between the Beltway and University Boulevard in Gainesville. The originally envisioned 25-mile route out to Route 15 in Haymarket could be completed later, as funding allows and as travel demand requires, VDOT officials said.

Another cost-saving change from the initial plan: The existing ramps and bridges at Monument Drive and Stringfellow Road would be retained and converted to HOT lanes access points, rather than rebuilt as interchanges. That rebuilding also could be part of a follow-up phase.”

— Full Article from Dr. Gridlock: https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/dr-gridlock/wp/2015/09/16/vdot-shows-its-preferred-plan-for-i-66-hot-lanes/

Posted in Community, Transportation Planning | 3 Comments

ICYMI: VDOT Proposes New Alternative Design for I-495/I-66 interchange

VDOT has published a new design for the I-495/I-66 interchange called “Alternative 2D“.

495-66 interchange alternative 2D

While progress has been made since the first iteration of the design, significant impacts still remain to be mitigated in several key areas including Stenwood Elementary School and the homes along Gallows Road, Pioneer Lane, and I-66 behind the school.

Furthermore, VDOT has yet to provide the public and decision makers with a proper evaluation of the ‘Do No Harm’ proposal despite its overwhelming support in the public hearings.

VDOT met with a few members of the community in late June to discuss the new design. A letter has been sent in response. The letter outlines the remaining significant impacts and presents suggestions and alternatives that would decrease the cost of the project and minimize the adverse impact on the surrounding communities.

This month is a critical time to reach out to decision makers to voice your concerns. VDOT is preparing to present the preferred design and financing model to the Commonwealth Transportation Board this Fall (likely at their Sept meeting) and the Transportation Planning Board (likely at their next meeting in October) for their vote of approval. Please take the time to contact your elected and appointed officials to let them know your thoughts on the project plan. (click here for contact list)

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

I-66 Transformation May Affect Other Highway Improvements in Northern Virginia

WTOP has an article describing the I-66 funding options and impacts an I-66 transformation can have on other roads in Northern Virginia.

There are currently two funding options under consideration by the Virginia Department of (Road) Transportation (VDOT) and the Virginia Office of Public-Private Partnerships (VOPPP), a public option and a public-private partnership (P3).   While many feel that a private company (in the P3 option) would hypothetically fund most of the project, the experiences with other P3 projects in Virginia tell another story. From the article:

The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, a regional body that uses tax money to pay for congestion relief projects, will likely be asked to pitch in to help cover the cost of the proposed changes along the I-66 corridor.

“The question of how funding for I-66 impacts other projects is really something that the NVTA will have to follow very closely,” says NVTA Chairman Martin Nohe, of Prince William County.

The Commonwealth Transportation Board is debating two options to fund the I-66 project: public or private financing.

Under the public option, the state and the NVTA would finance the mega-project but would also get to keep the revenues from the tolls collected on the lanes.

Under the private option, a third-party company would assume most of the financial risk upfront, but it would get to keep the toll revenue, not the state.

Both the 495 and 95 express lanes were built under the private option via a partnership with Transurban.

“The expectation is that the NVTA would be a partner under either scenario. Even with the private funding model, there is going to be a need for some tax dollars to go toward this project. But it seems likely under the private option, the expectations and request from VDOT to the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority would be lower,” says Nohe.

Full Story:

I-66 widening could delay aid to other congested commuter routes

Posted in Learning from Experience, Transportation Planning | 2 Comments

I-66 Congestion? Do “Something!”

Like many urban and suburban freeways around the country, I-66 gets congested.  The local politicians want to do something about it.  Sounds great!  Unfortunately there is a disconnect between the desire to fix a problem and the actual solution.

Some local politicians are saying, “something has to be done.”  Governor McAuliffe directed his Virginia Department of (Road) Transportation to devise “a plan that will reduce congestion on I-66 by increasing capacity and giving travelers more choices.”

So will their only chosen scheme: remove the green arrow free peak lane and build lanes with expensive tolls, actually work?

A traveler on I-95 decided to use the “More Choices” and chose to pay the expensive ($11.20) toll to go a few miles in the so-called Express Lanes.   Here is their account, told to Dr. Gridlock at the Washington Post:

[This traveler’s comment came in last Monday, July 20.]
The I-95 Express Lanes are a complete failure in my opinion… I had a wedding to attend in Fredericksburg on Saturday, and was traveling south on I-95 around 11:00 AM. I got on at 123, and the regular lanes were the typical bumper to bumper.
I figured the Express Lanes would save me at least 15 minutes, so I shrugged off the $11.20 toll displayed in the hopes of making it on time. Little did I know that I would be sitting in even worse bumper to bumper traffic from Dumfries all the way to Garrisonville.
It was a complete disaster, and for a trip that used to take 2 hours on a really bad day, took 3 hours and cost me an extra $11.20. I can’t believe I got suckered into taking these lanes…NEVER AGAIN!!! I’m considering filing a complain requesting a refund, but I doubt they would do anything.” -http://live.washingtonpost.com/gridlock0727.html

So are the Express Lanes a solution or a flim-flam?  Imagine paying a lot of money for a “consistent and reliable trip at highway speeds,” only to find out that the “Express Lanes”  lead you to even more congestion and an exorbitant toll too.  Is this highway robbery scheme a model to expand elsewhere?

Surely, for some folks willing to pay the tolls this may help in some places.  Some folks carpooling with HOV-3 may also benefit.  But these toll lanes must incentivize congestion to be successful, which is why the existing Express Lanes contracts need to penalize the taxpayers if too many carpoolers and buses use the lane.  These same Comprehensive Agreement contracts also force taxpayers to pay the private toll companies for decades if improvements are made to the free lanes or parallel routes (e.g. improvements to Occoquan Bridge and US 1 specifically require taxpayers to compensate the private toll company).  The big winners of the Express Lanes are the folks profiting from the tolls.

In short, in order to make commutes better for a select group, everybody else must suffer.  Even the folks paying the terrible tolls suffer in congestion,  as the above example shows.  But will Virginia’s politicians begin to recognize bad public policy before it is too late?

Posted in Tolls, Transportation Planning | 5 Comments

I-66, A Highway Symphony

A few years ago, VDOT produced a creative solution to congestion on I-66.  The road agency proposed and contracted for an “active traffic management system” (ATMS).   The $32+ Million ATMS would use electronic sensors, communications, new cameras, and most importantly electronic signs overhead.  The “intelligent transportation system” is supposed to provide motorists with the information they need to avoid accident locations, change lanes ahead of problems, adjust travel speeds to match conditions, and more.  Most importantly it is designed to keep traffic fluid.  (See below for a visualization of this system).

VDOT awarded the ATMS contract to TransCore, a company with much expertise in highways systems and electronic tolling operations worldwide  Once complete, I-66 would be a “highway in harmony.”

You can see the ATMS now under construction now on I-66.  Unfortunately, we will likely never see that “highway in harmony,” if VDOT’s schedule prevails.   Just after the ATMS project is set to finish, VDOT’s schedule calls for the I-66 Express Lanes to be built.  It would take some time to calibrate the new system, determine the optimum settings to maximize traffic flow, and allow drivers to learn how it works and gain experience with a major new feature for Virginia freeways.  But before that period can finish, the Express Lanes project would already be dismantling the new ATMS equipment.

That’s because the ATMS installation contract calls for putting the large sign supports exactly where the new Express Lanes will go.  No provisions were made for building the new system to accommodate VDOT’s Express Lanes.    VDOT is paying contractors to install a new high tech system, so it can be taken right down.  (Who said that highway funds were a scarce resource?)

Although VDOT says that they will reuse the system with the Express Lanes and it will be “operating during Express Lanes construction,” new supports will need to be built for every sign along the road.  The overhead gantries will need to be replaced and/or strengthened and lengthened replaced to support the wider I-66.  The signs and sensors will need to be reworked and rewired.  New footings will need to be prepared and constructed for each support, and workers will need to rebuild the system just a year or two after it is built.   Is building something complicated and expensive before ripping it out a few years later a good use of your tax dollars?

And if the ATMS is a good idea, why not give it an honest chance on today’s I-66 before charging ahead with an Express Lanes project?  Why not allow ATMS to have a full positive impact?  If the ATMS is not actually expected to produce a “highway in harmony,” why is VDOT bothering with it?

You can view VDOT’s Video, “I-66, A Highway Symphony below.”  It may not be as famous as Chopin’s Opus 66, but it’s an interesting video that reveals VDOT’s vision….before it will be knocked down and moved to make room for the Express Lanes.

Posted in VDOT Jenga | Leave a comment