Letter to VDOT on the remaining impacts of the proposed changes to the I-66/I-495 interchange (based on Alternative 2D design – June 15, 2015)
Ms. Susan Shaw, VDOT Megaprojects Director
VDOT Northern District Office
4975 Alliance Dr
Fairfax, Virginia 22030
RE: Follow Up to Discussion on Alternative Designs for the I-66/I-495 Interchange as Part of the I-66 Outside the Beltway Megaproject
Dear Ms Shaw:
I would like to thank you and the I-66 Outside the Beltway project team for your continued work on the conceptual designs for the I-66/I-495 interchange and for taking the time to present “Alternative 2D” in our meeting on June 30th. As discussed, this project requires a solution that carefully balances the need to address traffic congestion and safety with the need to minimize adverse impacts to the environment and the quality of life of the communities that surround this area.
The citizens of the Dunn Loring-Vienna-Falls Church community have been encouraged by your, Governor McAuliffe’s and Secretary Layne’s commitment to the public to find a solution with the least impact on the community and to work toward saving every home in our region.
While progress continues to be made, there remain several key areas that will endure a significant impact if the project moves forward with the current design (Alternative 2D is considered the current design for the purpose of this letter).
We ask that further evaluation be given to the following areas:
- Impact of expansion of Gallows Bridge/Road
- Impacts to Stenwood Elementary School
- Impact of the new 495 Northbound general purpose lanes connector ramps to the 66 Eastbound and Westbound general purpose lanes
- Impact on community quality of life during and after construction
- Community’s ‘Do No Harm’ proposal
The document that follows outlines remaining concerns about the significant impacts on these key areas and possible alternatives we ask the project team to consider.
The alternatives and suggestions presented in this letter have the opportunity to save millions of taxpayer dollars spent on this project in both construction- and eminent domain-associated costs. For example, for each home saved, an additional $500,000 to $1 million can be reduced from the project cost when considering the current valuation of the properties and the anticipated expenses the state will incur on relocation and mitigation services. Reduction of the footprint and the amount of new concrete proposed at the interchange would save millions more.
As the design currently stands, the impact on the Dunn Loring-Vienna-Falls Church community remains too great to gain widespread support. However, with just a few more adjustments (as outlined in the letter), we feel that the design could get to a point that the impact on the community was mitigated enough to move forward together. We hope to achieve this goal with you.
We realize that the next month is a critical time in the planning and decision-making process for the project as your team prepares to present the preferred alternative design and budget to the Commonwealth Transportation Board and other decision makers. We request that a follow up meeting be held to discuss these remaining issues and we ask, as the community most adversely impacted by the project, that we be a considered a partner in the selection of the preferred design of the I-495/I-66 interchange.
Thank you again for continuing the dialogue on this important topic.
Impact of Expansion of Gallows Bridge/Road
The expansion of Gallows Road continues to have a significant impact on the community that has yet to be mitigated in any of the alternative designs that have been presented.
The project team has stated that Gallows Bridge must be elongated in order to accommodate additional lanes on I-66. However, it remains unclear why the bridge must also be widened with additional costs incurred as part of I-66 project.
Concerns that have been raised in regard to the widening of Gallows Bridge/Road include:
- Loss of 5 homes via eminent domain. Notably, these homes represent some of the most affordable, metro accessible single family homes in the Dunn Loring community. Several of these homeowners chose their homes so that they could take the Metro to work and not contribute to the region’s traffic congestion and yet, ironically, this transit-friendly lifestyle is being sacrificed to put more cars on the road.
- Inducing traffic unnecessarily. Data have yet to be presented to support the need for additional capacity on Gallows Road and there are great concerns in the community about inducing traffic and bringing more cars to this road as it runs right in front of our neighborhood elementary school (Stenwood Elementary).
- Questions about the long-term plan for Gallows Road between Merrifield and Tysons. It is our understanding that the widening of Gallows Road is part of the Fairfax County 2040 Transportation plan. However, the details of this plan have yet to be brought forward and it remains unknown whether the county will decide that capacity is needed for light rail or other alternative transportation modes. With this uncertainty, there is a risk that any work done in expanding Gallows Bridge/Road could be for naught and tax dollars wasted if the County’s future plans do not match what is done as part of the I-66 project. It would be prudent to not take on the additional cost and risk associated with expanding the road until further decisions are made on the longer-term transportation needs for the area.
- Impact on Dunn Loring Metro station. In discussions with WMATA and VDOT representatives, concerns have been raised about the impact that the expansion of I-66 and the Gallows Bridge would have on the Dunn Loring Metro station but have yet to be addressed over the last 5+ months. Concerns include (1) lack of sufficient space for expanding Gallows bridge to 6 lanes without hitting existing metro station structures (the metro station escalators would be impacted on one side and the station platform skylights on the other); (2) lack of planning for a new location for the power station which the current design requires to be moved (noting that the relocation is limited by the newly build parking garage and other metro structures); and (3) anticipated impact on Dunn Loring pedestrian access to the metro station during construction of the bridge. These concerns will impact the overall cost, risk, and timeline for the project and should be addressed during this assessment phase in order to accurately estimate the financial cost and feasibility for WMATA to comply with the state’s plan.
Request for Further Evaluation and Possible Alternatives
We ask the project planners to carefully evaluate whether the bridge truly must be widened as part of the I-66 project given these concerns and whether the I-66 project should be unduly burdened with these costs.
If the planners decide this absolutely must be done at this time, we ask that the project consider widening the bridge only and not adding lanes to the road beyond the bridge for the time being. This would at the very least allow the homes on Stenhouse Place to remain a part of the community and would avoid adding more lanes of traffic to navigate across in front of the school.
Impacts to Stenwood Elementary School
While the latest design (Alternative 2D) has reduced the amount of land to be taken from Stenwood Elementary school and preserved the school’s ballfield and track, the remaining impact on the school is still quite significant, affecting property, environmental sustainability, student and staff safety, and the quality of future educational programming both during and after construction.
Earlier this summer, Fairfax County Public School (FCPS) Superintendent Karen T. Garza and school board member Patty Reed submitted the school system’s formal objection to the proposed widening of I-66 outside the beltway due to the significant impacts on Stenwood Elementary School and stating that this plan will impact the school’s ability to meet FCPS’ programmatic goals (Superintendent Garza’s letter is enclosed). Follow up discussions with the FCPS Office of Design and Construction note that the new plan (Alternative 2D) still “adversely affects the functionality and sustainability of the property”. Further evaluation of alternatives is, therefore, still needed.
The following concerns remain:
- Loss of property/treeline along the I-66 perimeter. This land taking removes much of the mature treeline and vegetation on the property that FCPS engineers have noted are necessary for the environmental sustainability of the property. The treeline also provides a natural barrier to the noise, air, and visual pollution of the adjacent interstate and promotes the safety and privacy of the school grounds. If the treeline is removed and a decision is made to replant/relocate the trees in an attempt to preserve the sustainability of the property, additional land for educational programming would be lost. It is important to note that the land proposed to be taken is protected by a conservation easement stated within the property’s deed to ensure that this type of encroachment on the property would not be allowed. This protective measure should be upheld by the county, state, and project planners.
- Loss of treeline along Gallows Road. It is unclear from the design whether the school’s treeline and vegetation along Gallows Road would also be removed. Notably, this land also supports the safety, privacy, and sustainability needs of the property and is also protected by the conservation easement mentioned previously. Measures should be taken to avoid the loss of this vegetation and to address any sloping or grading issues by other mutually agreed upon means, such as a retaining wall, fencing, or other.
- Impact of Gallows Road expansion on school entrance/egress. The addition of lanes on Gallows Road will make exiting the school’s front parking lot even more dangerous and difficult for students, teachers, staff, parents, and visitors to the school than it currently is. It will also make the crosswalk at Cottage Street & Gallows Road more dangerous for the schoolchildren walking to school. Gallows Road is an already busy street where cars frequently exceed the 35 mph speed limit in front of the school. Adding more road capacity when it is not needed will only increase the number of cars speeding by the school and the bus stops on Gallows Road (There are presently bus stops at the Stenhouse Place and Cottage Street intersections on Gallows Road).
- Additional impact of proposed I-66 parallel bicycle trail. Concerns remain regarding the proposed ‘Option 2’ route for the regional bicycle and pedestrian trail to run parallel to I-66 as it will require additional land takings beyond what has been proposed to widen the interstate and introduces new safety and security concerns for the children and staff at Stenwood Elementary school. An alternative route for the trail must be sought.
Request for Further Evaluation and Possible Alternatives
We ask that the project team continue to evaluate the extent of widening of I-66 in the area adjacent to the school property. In this particular segment of the project, the design shows somewhere between 15 and 17 travel lanes/ramps (plus the necessary clearance for the Metro). It is difficult to tell from the concept design, but it appears that 5-6 of these lanes are new HOT lanes and/or HOT ramps that are being proposed as part of this project.
We ask that the designers/engineers look at this part of the design again to evaluate whether this extensive number of lanes are truly needed and particularly whether the merging of HOT to HOT ramps could happen sooner and/or more efficiently to reduce the number of HOT lanes (and new concrete added) in this area. Of note, the new lane created for the I-495 northbound HOT lane commuters to connect to the I-66 westbound HOT lanes is worth a closer look as it seems to provide an exclusive ride to these drivers for several miles. Given that the traffic data/projections shared by the project team indicated that this traffic flow represents one of the smallest commuter groups being served by the interchange, one must question whether the need exceeds the cost involved in land loss for the school and several property owners.
If a solution can be found here, it would potentially negate the need to take any land from Stenwood Elementary and the 15+ homes that run along I-66 behind the school.
Impact of the New 495 Northbound General Purpose lanes connector ramps to the 66 East and West general purpose lanes
The project team has made great progress in addressing the vertical impact of the 66 westbound connector ramp on the surrounding community; reducing its height from 93’ to 58’ at its highest point and reducing its height to the extent possible over the residential neighborhoods.
We ask that the project team improve its communication about the vertical and visual impact of the ramps on the surrounding community by the following means:
- We ask that the vertical heights of all the ramps in the interchange be published publically on the concept map on the project website (as they were at the private meeting on June 30th) so that each neighborhood can understand the full visual impact that the proposed design will have.
- It would also be beneficial to publish the ramp heights respective to the neighborhood elevation as this is more relevant to the communities in assessing the true vertical/visual impact of the ramps.
- The project team shared a few ideas on supplemental materials that could aid in this visualization. Public release of those visuals would be informative and appreciated.
In addition to the vertical impact of these ramps, there remain 7+ properties along Pioneer Lane that are impacted by the new ramps (including 3-4 home takings).
Request for Further Evaluation and Possible Alternatives
We ask that the project team continue to evaluate the curvature of the 66 westbound ramp to find a solution that eliminates the need to expand the boundaries of the interchange into the surrounding neighborhoods. In particular, alternatives that curve west sooner and remain within the present-day interchange area would presume to have a smaller footprint and require less asphalt for the project. Any further adjustments to this ramp would need to retain the progress already made on reducing the vertical impact of the design.
Community quality of life during and after project construction
The Dunn Loring-Vienna-Falls Church neighborhoods represent active and well-established communities that support the local, state, and federal economy and governments through our work, taxes and expenditures in our daily lives.
Our community, more so than any other, has been asked to sacrifice many aspects of our quality of life for the state’s continued interstate megaprojects and yet we stand to receive the least benefit from these projects. As responsible and environmentally conscious citizens, we chose to live in this community to minimize our footprint on the region and to spend more time in our community and at home with our families instead of on the roads. We have already endured years of major construction on the interchange as part of the I-495 megaproject, we now anticipate the same for the I-66 Outside the Beltway project, and we harbor fears of future interchange construction for I-66 Inside the Beltway. These projects have caused significant stress and sleepless nights for our families, with many fearing property loss and the future impact on our neighborhoods (including anticipation of increased noise and the ground shaking associated with construction and the longer term noise and air quality deterioration impact on our health).
Given the hardships being placed on the residents living in the surrounding neighborhoods, we ask that the following aspects of the project be considered with this community’s best interests in mind:
Noise abatement. While data are still being collected for the project’s noise abatement study, it is clear from our present-day living conditions that the noise level at the I-495/I-66 interchange has increased year over year. The major construction required and additional car volume that will result from the I-66 project will only further exacerbate the noise levels in our area. We ask for continued discussion on measures that can be taken to address this issue, including plans for sound barriers, ordinances for construction noise and their enforcement, timing of construction, and other noise abatement options.
- Construction Noise Timing. We realize that no timing is perfect, but we ask that you please consider having the heaviest construction period in this area during the summer months (and especially outside of school testing periods). There are many children and schools in the neighborhoods surrounding the interchange and consideration must be taken to avoid distractions during school hours as well as the importance of sleep for these children in the evening hours. Their educational growth during these years of construction cannot be compromised.
- Sound Walls. Presently, there is a wide range in the quality of sound barrier walls across the neighborhoods surrounding the interchange. We ask that this be fully evaluated and that barriers of appropriate height, quality and aesthetics be consistently applied throughout the area that address both the projected noise increase and any visual impact of the elevated ramps. Opportunities for noise abatement/mitigation on the flyover ramps themselves (not just on the neighborhood grounds) should also be considered. Furthermore, natural barriers/treelines that are already in place in many of the neighborhoods, whether within or outside the State’s right of way, should be retained.
Respectfulness of Construction Timing, Logistics and Communication. When the project reaches the stages of developing the timelines for construction, we ask that our elected officials and members of the community be involved and informed of the timing and impact on our daily lives. The public should be made aware in advance of the construction plans and timing for their area. Of particular importance, please note that our neighborhoods rely heavily on access to the Metro and bicycle and pedestrian paths for our daily livelihoods (getting to work, school and other necessary errands). Construction on the Gallows Bridge must be carefully planned to continually allow access to the Dunn Loring Metro station and its bus stops for residents on the other side of I-66 throughout the duration of construction. We ask that specific communication channels be put in place (ie, online and mailers) so that all are aware as to when to expect construction noise to start, end, and peak and that a clear and transparent process be put in place for reporting any infringements (which should come with penalties to the project builder).
Exertion of the right of eminent domain. While we understand it is the state’s legal right, we ask that the use of eminent domain be considered an absolute last option in the decision for the preferred alternative for the project and that our community’s property and quality of life remain intact. However, should eminent domain action be necessary, we ask that this be handled respectfully, with adequate notification and timing for the current property owners, and in the best interest of the families affected, including adequate budgeting for fair replacement value for the homes taken and exceptional relocation services for these families. Furthermore, adequate state, county and local budget provisions must be assured for properly maintaining the new land acquired by the state, which has been a challenge with other public properties in our neighborhoods. The community should also be involved and kept informed about land use plans for any newly acquired land that will not be used for transportation purposes. Opportunities should be sought for developing green spaces and outdoor recreational areas that mitigate losses in other parts of the community.
Improvements to Gallows Bridge walkway. As noted earlier, the Dunn Loring community is a very transit-oriented group of citizens with many having chosen their homes in this area to have walkable access to transportation, work, entertainment, and other amenities and who try to have a minimal environmental footprint in their everyday lives. The Dunn Loring Metro station is a crucial hub for our community and the Gallows Bridge is our lifeline. Within the project’s plan to rebuild the Gallows Bridge, we ask that the bridge walkway be developed to support this type of community with a safe and modern design.
Opportunities for safer and improved traffic flow on Gallows Road. Many residents in the area also travel by car on Gallows Road and have experienced increasing frustration with the state of disrepair of the roads caused by construction, particularly at the Metro station which has been under construction for over a year. Furthermore, new traffic lights throughout Merrifield have been added to support our new economic centers, but little to no attention has been given to integrate them and to properly time the lights overall, causing unnecessary congestion. Improvements to the road conditions and smarter traffic light management would be very simple measures that could greatly improve the traffic flow and our quality of life in the area.
- Furthermore, increasing traffic in our area has created a dangerous intersection at the entry/exit of Stenwood Elementary School (as mentioned earlier). It is concerning that we do not have a proper school zone speed limit or even a crossguard in front of the school where children walk to school and wait at bus stops, and where our students, parents, and staff enter and exit the school every day. We ask for an evaluation of the safety of this intersection with consideration as to whether a sensor-driven traffic light can be put in place to allow safe entry and exit for the school, particularly during school hours. Improvements can also be made to the Cottage Street traffic light to give more time and make it safer for walkers to cross the intersection and for drivers on Cottage in both directions to make left turns onto Gallows road.
Community’s ‘Do No Harm’ Alternative Proposal
As the project team is aware, there has been an outcry of support for and interest in the ‘Do No Harm’ proposal both from the state’s citizens and from elected officials including State Delegate Mark Keam (see attached letter) and others at the county, state and federal levels. This alternative to the I-495/I-66 interchange would significantly reduce the financial cost and footprint of the ‘Outside the Beltway’ project, making it more financially feasible overall, and ensuring that taxpayers’ dollars are being spent wisely on the most crucial transportation needs of our region. VDOT’s Tier 2 report published that the cost savings of this type of ‘Open Section/No Build’ alternative for this segment of the project would be on the order of > $150 million (the exact figure has not been shared but has been repeatedly requested). Furthermore, the ‘Do No Harm’ proposal would require no home takings in this area, it would negate the need to take land at Stenwood Elementary school, and it would possibly eliminate the need for the Gallows bridge expansion.
To date, the project team has not provided an adequate evaluation of the ‘Do No Harm’ proposal and has not properly weighed the pros and cons of this proposal from the community against the project team’s proposed alternatives. At our meeting on June 30th, the project team presented data for an ‘open section’ alternative which modeled open lanes through Cedar Lane and cited weaving concerns with this approach. The ‘Do No Harm’ proposal recommends open lanes through to Nutley or even 123 which would give additional room to address any safety concerns associated with possible weaving scenarios.
Given the significant benefits that the ‘Do No Harm’ proposal could provide the project, we request that a full evaluation of this alternative be performed and a cost:benefit comparative analysis be made publically available that includes specific figures on the financial cost, right-of-way impacts, traffic flow impact, and any safety considerations/metrics. Furthermore, it would be beneficial for decision makers (and the public) to have more details of VDOT’s traffic study, including the data and references that informed this study and the project team’s conclusion to dismiss the ‘Do No Harm’ proposal as well as the assumptions being made in the modelling projections and any other study limitations/constraints.
It is also important to highlight that the ‘Do No Harm’ proposal does not preclude the project from addressing specific chokepoints in this segment of the corridor, including improvements that are desperately needed at the Nutley interchange. In fact, the very concept of “doing no harm” promotes an approach of addressing currently known traffic congestion and safety issues without overengineering solutions that may actually create new problems (particularly considering the potential for incorrect assumptions used in modelling projections, changes in transportation technology, changes in the region’s traffic flow needs, and other unknowns).
This approach is consistent with the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance’s funding strategy. Members of the NVTA have commented to the media that their funding contribution to the I-66 project will focus on smaller, specific projects to relieve congestion along the I-66 corridor (highlighting 9 specific projects, most of them interchange improvements) and not one large check to widen I-66 and build toll lanes. (see article)
As a final point, the “Do No Harm” proposal does not prevent the building of HOT lanes on I-66 in the future, if the state finds that it is warranted. Instead, it gives time for decision makers to fully assess the region’s overall transportation needs and to make better, informed decisions before embarking on costly irreversible construction.
- In particular, decisions that must be made Inside the Beltway will directly impact the I-495/I-66 interchange design and traffic flow needs. The state has thus far employed a piecemeal approach to addressing traffic flow through this interchange (first I-495, now I-66 West, and still to come I-66 East) and in turn this means that we remain under major construction in this area for decades. It is unclear what parameters for the future ‘Inside the Beltway’ plans have been included in the ‘Outside the Beltway’ traffic model projections, and yet this will have a significant impact on the interchange. Without a long term decision on the Inside the Beltway plans, we may find ourselves redesigning this entire interchange again in 10 years with commuters sitting in more construction traffic and all of us watching our tax dollars wasted yet again.
- Furthermore, this proposal would allow adequate time to fully evaluate the impact of other ‘Outside the Beltway’ project improvements. This would not only include the specific site improvements that the ‘Outside the Beltway’ project has proposed, but also projects that are already approved and underway. For instance, tax dollars have already been spent and implementation is ongoing for the I-66 Active Traffic Management System (ATMS) which VDOT has stated will improve safety and incident management (major causes of traffic congestion). This project is scheduled for completion in the next couple months (Fall 2015). However, if the current plans for HOT lanes are allowed to proceed, it will require the dismantling and redesign of the locations of the ATMS equipment at an additional cost and before we are even able to see the impact of the technology. This will become yet another example to the public of misuse of taxpayer dollars and lack of leadership and vision in our transportation plans.
We ask that the project planners and decision makers carefully consider the ‘Do No Harm’ proposal and the significant benefits it offers before incurring the costly and irreversible damage to the community being proposed at the I-495/I-66 interchange. For this particular part of the project, the degree of uncertainty and risk remains too high to make quick decisions to try to solve such an important problem. It would be prudent and more cost-effective to implement the rest of the ‘Outside the Beltway’ project’s proposed plans (west of the interchange), assess its impact on traffic congestion relief, and then revisit the needs for the interchange once an overall plan and vision for I-66 inside and outside the beltway are finalized.
Letter from FCPS Superintendent to VDOT Regarding I-66 Outside the Beltway Project
Ms. Susan Shaw, VDOT Megaprojects Director
VDOT Northern District Office
4975 Alliance Dr.
Fairfax, Virginia 22030
RE: Transform I-66 Outside the Beltway Public Hearing
Dear Ms. Shaw:
On behalf of Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS), I am writing to express our objection to the Virginia Department of Highways and Transportation’s proposed widening of I-66 outside the beltway, specifically its impact on Stenwood Elementary School.
Stenwood has successfully served elementary-aged students in the Dunn Loring neighborhood for more than 50 years, beginning in 1963. While FCPS appreciates the fact that traffic is a concern for residents and businesses in Fairfax County, we are adamantly opposed to any proposed expansion that would affect Stenwood Elementary School.
FCPS’ fundamental responsibility is to provide a safe environment which is conducive to learning for all students. I believe the widening of I-66 is detrimental to that central mission. Constructing a major highway adjacent to Stenwood will result in increased traffic surrounding the school, making entrance and egress less safe for our elementary school students and their parents. The noise generated from the highway’s move will increase the noise level in classrooms which is detrimental and distracting to the learning environment. The reduced buffer between the interstate and the school increases the potential that accidents on I-66 will negatively impact daily activities.
In addition, the proposed widening of I-66 will eliminate the majority of mature trees on the Stenwood site lessening the aesthetic value of our property. Taking land from the school will significantly reduce the size of the already limited outdoor playing fields at the school. This reduction in the school grounds will impact our ability to meet FCPS’ programmatic goals. The creation of a pedestrian and bicycle path close to school grounds introduces a safety risk to our students.
The FCPS community encourages VDOT leaders to continue to work with the community and our Office of Design & Construction to consider alternative designs for the expansion of I-66 that would significantly reduce any impact on Stenwood Elementary School. Thank you for your consideration.
Karen K. Garza
Superintendent of Schools
Letter from State Delegate Mark Keam to VDOT Regarding I-66 Outside the Beltway Project
June 18, 2015
The Honorable Aubrey L. Layne, Jr.
Secretary of Transportation
Commonwealth of Virginia
Patrick Henry Building, 3rd Floor
Richmond, VA 23219
Re: Tier 2 Environmental Assessment for Transform 66 Outside the Beltway
Dear Secretary Layne:
As you know, the Virginia Department of Transportation’s proposal to expand Interstate 66 outside the Interstate 495 Beltway will cause more impact on the lives and properties of my constituents and on my legislative district as a whole than on any other group of Virginians.
Over the past four months, I have spent countless hours meeting with and listening to hundreds of constituents at over two dozen public forums and town halls hosted by VDOT and other organizations. I have also received nearly 1,000 emails, letters, social media contacts and phone calls from residents and from homeowners associations throughout my district, raising their serious concerns about various aspects of your proposal.
In an effort to become more educated on the objective set of facts in order to respond to my constituents, I have devoted significant amount of time recently poring over various VDOT presentation materials and different versions of maps of the proposal, and I have also asked a lot of questions to your very patient group of staff and consultants.
Based on all of these extensive activities and my own team’s research, I have arrived at the conclusion that I believe your current proposal needs significant changes and improvements before it can proceed to the next stage.
As a preliminary matter, I do not believe that a convincing case has even been made for why this project is necessary at this time. I am a commuter who uses I-66 several times a day, on weekdays and weekends, driving both ways to and from Nutley Street where I live. I regularly drive to Washington, DC, as well as to Chantilly and beyond. I know that the condition of I-66 corridor is not ideal, but I am not convinced that the time is ripe for Virginia to expend enormous amounts of time, costs and resources to tackle this issue right now.
To begin with, I am not sure if your proposal to turn I-66 – which currently is a free public highway – into paid toll lanes, while reducing the number of general purpose lanes available to those of us not willing to pay exorbitant fees, is the right solution.
Rather than focusing your proposal entirely on adding new high-cost paid toll lanes with some transit options around the peripheries, I believe that VDOT should first try a creative set of mass transit and high-occupancy alternatives within the existing footprint of the highway.
Every single constituent that I have spoken with over the past four months agrees that, before tearing down any walls and creating irreversible destruction to their neighborhoods, the government should first try a much less costly course of action, in order to determine whether such harmless alternatives would work better to alleviate the traffic congestions that exist today and is expected to become worse in the near future.
The experts who drafted the Tier 1 Environmental Impact Statement for this I-66 project would agree that such mass transit options would certainly address traffic congestions, while minimizing the level of negative impacts on the environment and surrounding communities.
I believe that bus rapid transit, light rail, Metrorail and Virginia Rail Express extensions, and even HOV-3 are all options that should be considered with all seriousness and due diligence from VDOT and other public sector partners at this time. I have heard some of the reasons why these options are not feasible, such as the costs, logistics, differing jurisdictions, etc., but I am not convinced that we have exhausted all of the avenues for pursuing these alternative options.
I hope you will agree to review these mass transit options, and provide our constituents with specific and detailed reasons why they will or will not be part of the Transform 66 proposal.
In addition to the transit alternative, another option that I believe warrants your serious review and meaning consideration is the “Do Nothing at I-495” option which is contained in your Alternatives Technical Report.
Many of my constituents who have organized themselves under a working group called “Transform 66 Wisely,” have developed a similar alternative which they call, “Do No Harm,” which would address all of the traffic congestion problems VDOT has identified, and which would address them with very little, if any, negative impacts on the neighboring communities.
The Transform 66 Wisely alternative would eliminate the proposed toll lanes in either direction on I-66 between Chain Bridge and Nutley exits, thereby allowing drivers more options to choose from as they approach or leave the I-495 Beltway. I believe there are tremendous benefits to this alternative option, such as:
• Saving the Commonwealth of Virginia hundreds of millions of dollars in upfront costs by not building several enormous on- and off-ramps at the intersection of I-66 and I-495;
• Reducing environmental, noise, public safety and other impacts from having to build a set of complex sky-high interchanges in an unprecedented complicated way;
• Requiring less construction by not expanding lanes and not taking private rights of way or controversial eminent domain; and
• Saving dozens of residential homes and properties in the Dunn Loring neighborhood, which is the primary concern of my constituents.
This Do No Harm alternative is very similar, both in spirit and intent, to how VDOT handled the last major megaproject in Fairfax County when it allowed the newly built HOT Lanes from I-95 to end as general purpose lanes before they reconnect with the HOT Lanes on the I-495 Beltway.
In my six years in elected office, I have never been more proud of nor impressed by a group of constituents I have the honor of representing, than when I attended a meeting that I set up recently between your VDOT staff and the constituents to discuss the pros and cons of the Do No Harm alternative. My constituents presented a well-researched and politics-free set of facts that should convince any policymaker or engineer that their alternative holds ample merits.
It is remarkable to witness democracy in action when a group of ordinary American citizens come together for a cause that impacts their lives, and they bring their grievances to their government as the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees them. It is even more impressive when the group of citizens have done their homework and equipped themselves with well-researched facts and legal precedence to support every aspect of their proposal.
I really hope that you will consider the alternative plan that my constituents proposed to VDOT so that we can work toward a win-win solution to the traffic problems we will face.
Secretary Layne, I realize this is a tough project for you and for our Governor to deal with. We are very sympathetic to your position, and we all do want to solve the increasing traffic congestion problems in Northern Virginia. But we also want to address it in meaningful and significant ways that will actually solve the problems, rather than exacerbate it.
Worse still, we do not want to destroy the quality of life that our communities in Dunn Loring and Vienna have come to expect, in exchange for years of troubling construction, taking of property, environmental and noise problems, and other negative impacts, after which we would not even end up benefitting from any reduction in traffic congestion nor improvements in our local transportation infrastructure conditions.
I hope you will consider seriously all of the concerns raised by my constituents and address them in meaningful ways. Thank you for your attention to this matter.
Mark L. Keam
Member, House of Delegates
cc: Susan Shaw, Megaprojects Director, VDOT