Regional Board Punts on Va. Road Projects
The region's Transportation Planning Board did not feel comfortable enough with plans for the new I-95/395 carpool/toll lanes or the widening of I-66 sections westbound inside the Beltway to advance those highway projects today. On an extremely close vote, the panel finally decided to wait another month to clarify some issues concerning the safety of the projects, their impact on the environment and the protections afforded carpoolers.
The 13-12 vote, on a show of hands, was so close that one member called for a weighted vote on the postponement. That complex process, involving the various jurisdictions that make up the regional panel and the populations of the jurisdictions yielded this result: 7.81 for postponement and 7.19 against. Bottom line was the same as the show of hands. The board members will review the answers that the Virginia Department of Transportation supplied to their questions about the projects, go over the amendments to their resolutions and vote at the board's May meeting.
The issue before the board sounds like a technicality but is actually important to whether the two Virginia highway projects get built: The board must approve their inclusion for an air quality impact analysis under the region's financially constrained long range plan. The review would take until around the end of the year, and the projects cannot proceed to construction without it.
Before the vote, many citizens and board members raised questions about the project. These were among their concerns:
-- Will I-95/395 carpoolers, especially those who form the very successful slugging system that puts at least three people per car on the HOV-3 lanes, be protected when the two HOV lanes are replaced with three lanes open to carpoolers or anyone willing to pay a toll for a faster trip?
-- Will the shoulders on the new high occupancy/toll (HOT) lanes and on the widened portions of I-66 be wide enough for safety?
-- Will the widening of I-66 extend past VDOT's right of way and damage the Custis Trail?
-- Will the widening of I-66 (actually an extension of the acceleration and deceleration lanes in three spots) increase auto pollution?
Judging from the comments made by the board members today, the chances for approval next month are pretty good. Many, including some who voted for the delay, spoke favorably about the answers provided by VDOT, but wanted more time to consider them. By contrast, Michael May of the Prince William Board of Supervisors said he would vote against the HOT lane proposal, which his county board resolved to oppose in February.
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