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Virginia Extending Shoulder Use on I-66

Virginia's traffic is worsening, and if the state can't build its way out of congestion, it can get more use out of the road it already has: The Virginia Department of Transportation this month will extend the hours during which drivers can spread out and use the I-66 shoulder lanes between the Capital Beltway and Route 50.

The plan will add an hour of shoulder use in the morning and an hour in the afternoon, starting Aug. 25. Right now, morning use eastbound ends at 10 a.m. and afternoon use westbound starts at 3 p.m.

These will be the new times: 5:30 to 11 a.m. eastbound; 2 to 8 p.m. westbound.

VDOT also plans to open the shoulder during traffic incidents or when lanes are closed for road work. HOV-2 hours will stay the same: Eastbound, 5:30 to 9:30 a.m.; westbound, 3 to 7 p.m.

This section of I-66 outside the Beltway in Fairfax County carries more traffic than any other part of the highway. It averages as many as 196,000 vehicles on weekdays.

Many Virginia commuters could predict what the traffic studies show: Eastbound congestion routinely continues after 10 a.m. while westbound james often start by 2 p.m.

While shoulder use reduces congestion, I've never been crazy about the idea because shoulders are an important safety feature. One of the best things about the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge is the wide shoulders for emergencies.

But VDOT says there's no significant difference in crashes on I-66 when the shoulder is open and when it's closed. Larger signs have been positioned to alert drivers about the nine emergency pull-offs along the highway, the transportation department says.

Morteza Salehi, VDOT administrator for the Northern Virginia district, says the department consulted with state police and emergency responders, among others, and that support for the change has been strong.

By Robert Thomson  |  August 8, 2008; 6:39 AM ET
Categories:  Commuting , Congestion , Driving , highways  
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Comments

One of the richest counties in the country and such pathetic roads. Get your act together Virginia.

Posted by: MHO | August 8, 2008 7:08 AM | Report abuse

While this may help traffic, its an exteneded period of time where you can't pull over in an emergency. Better have your emergency during those hours at designated pull over spots!

Posted by: CALSGR8 | August 8, 2008 7:33 AM | Report abuse

I absolutely hate the use of the shoulder as a travel lane during any time of the day. Many drivers illegally use the shoulder as a lane when merging onto the highway from Routes 50, 123 and Nutley, which ends up causing delays and backups in the right hand lane. Many drivers continue to use the shoulder well past the point where they should have merged onto 66. It is especially bad merging onto 66 eastbound from Route 123 - many drivers continue to use the shoulder until just before the Nutley Road exit, causing dangerous and unexpected slowdowns in the right hand lane. A few cops here would reap thousands in tickets if they sat there every afternoon.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 8, 2008 7:58 AM | Report abuse

I think CALSGR8 makes a great point--the idea of the "emergency pull-offs" sounds nice, but cars don't necessarily break down at the right places. I recall when the I-95 shoulder was used as a a lane back when the express lanes were being extended and a truck driver pancaked a guy whose car had broken down on the shoulder (which was not even supposed to be used as a lane at that time of day).

Regular contributor "Woodley Park" can confirm this for sure, but I seem to recall that the whole I-66 shoulder lane thing was authorized as a temporary measure only in the first place.

Posted by: Rich | August 8, 2008 8:07 AM | Report abuse

If cops want to raise revenue, here's what they can do:

- go after HOV cheats on this part of 66 - some already do, and thank you for doing so

- go after shoulder cruisers after-hours - I see this all the time, esp. on weekends

- hang out @the Nutley street onramp to 66W and catch all of the illegal mergers, as in those who cut in at the last possible second and slow down everyone else. BTW, VA could save what little transportation $$ they have by building a flyover ramp that goes from Metro parking direct to 66, not unlike some of the ramps on 395. This is why Nutley is such a chokepoint.

- hang out @the emergency pulloffs (particularly the one on 66W b/w 123 and 50) and catch folks using the pulloffs to pass people on the right.

ok, rant over.

Posted by: ILiveOffI66 | August 8, 2008 8:13 AM | Report abuse

One would assume (OK, I know the danger in that) that the shoulder lane was proposed to ensure that three lanes would be available for non-HOV traffic. If this is the case, why not expand the HOV hours as well?

I'm also surprised that they didn't expand the hours to Saturdays as well. It's amazing how bad the backups are then.

Posted by: John | August 8, 2008 8:28 AM | Report abuse

This is a good plan. It's needed, and it'll work. They have improved the ability to close sections of the shoulder lane with the electronic signs in accident cases, that has helped some too.

Posted by: Nym | August 8, 2008 8:38 AM | Report abuse

How 'bout opening up the shoulder lanes on Saturdays? Traffic is just as bad then as it is on weekdays.

Posted by: Willis | August 8, 2008 8:53 AM | Report abuse

As someone who drove 66 for 2 1/2 years to work (and most of the time home from work), here is what is needed.

1. Virginia to stop sending my tax dollars to Lynchuburg so they can repave a road that was repaved two years ago and instead spend it on resurfacing I-66 between the Beltway and 50. That's the worst stretch of road in the entire Commonwealth.

2. More police presecence. The backups occur because of all the people trying to merge onto 66. However, there are a lot of drivers who feel the need to skirt some of the traffic but using the acceleration/deceleration lanes as travel lanes. I clocked close to 70 of these scofflaws one morning while stuck in traffic. Yes, 70 in the span of 5 minutes.

3. A new traffic plan designed for local/long distance commuters. Give the people more time to merge with traffic but also try to prevent those who are changing lanes incessantly from doing so. This causes back-ups as well.

4. Bridges from the Metro stations to the left lanes of 66 (like Monument Drive) so the Fairfax Connector and Metro busses are prevented from having to cross all four lanes of traffic IMMEDIATELY to get in the HOV lane. The problem I have here is that I still see the busses team up to let other get in front so they can all get over quickly. And the funny part, I still wind up getting to my exit before they do. They don't NEED to be in the left lane only to stop traffic twice.

5. Monument Drive and Stringfellow Roads. I think it's time to open these up full time. Put a wall down the middle if you want, but these need to be open. There are a lot of people who live off Stringfellow that clog the other exits. Same around Monument. Open these up, let people get on and off with ease instead of clogging up 29, 50 and 123.

6. Better use of electronic message signs leading up to 66. Where I got on 66 off Rte. 28, there is an electronic sign that I never saw on in the 30 months I lived in Centreville. Not once. Had it told me where the delays on 66 are, I still had a chance to bail out and take another route.

6a. Stop telling me exit numbers and start telling me roads. On 81, yeah, exit numbers are fine because it's a travelers road, but up here on 66, it's a commuter road. People know where roads are. Why put exit 52-47 when you could put Rte. 28 to Rte 234. There's space in these things, plenty of room for an extra "page" if needed. But VDOT sees one method as working for the state instead of different methods in different parts of the state. Most states however, provide both...
From Exit 52 (Rte. 28) to Exit 47 (Rte. 234). Gee, look VDOT, best of BOTH worlds. Ooooooooh.

Posted by: Jarrod | August 8, 2008 9:09 AM | Report abuse

"hang out @the Nutley street onramp to 66W and catch all of the illegal mergers, as in those who cut in at the last possible second and slow down everyone else."

I'm not sure I understand what this means. What exactly is occurring that's illegal?

Posted by: Rich | August 8, 2008 9:18 AM | Report abuse

Sorry, have no sympathy for anyone who deliberately moved and knew they would have to use 66. Change is coming, my friends. Change is coming. You are so not ready for it, it's not even funny. The signs are all around you. Read them.

Posted by: BiffGriff | August 8, 2008 9:18 AM | Report abuse

Jarrod, you said:

2. More police presecence. The backups occur because of all the people trying to merge onto 66. However, there are a lot of drivers who feel the need to skirt some of the traffic but using the acceleration/deceleration lanes as travel lanes. I clocked close to 70 of these scofflaws one morning while stuck in traffic. Yes, 70 in the span of 5 minutes.
---

The only problem with having more ppolice on the road is people will STILL slow down, this time to rubberneck. There can be a cop on the side of the road with his lights on writing a ticket and people will still slow down to take a look.

Honestly, I realize that it's a safety issue, but I wish that cops were required to turn off their lights when they are on the side of the road.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 8, 2008 9:27 AM | Report abuse

"The only problem with having more ppolice on the road is people will STILL slow down, this time to rubberneck. There can be a cop on the side of the road with his lights on writing a ticket and people will still slow down to take a look."

You don't even need a cop for that. I got stuck in a traffic backup on the Massachusetts Turnpike last week. The cause? People were slowing down to watch road construction in the median. It was plain that there was no other reason for the slowdown because they were all back up to 65-75 mph as soon as they passed the backhoe.

Basically, give people any excuse not to focus on driving and they'll take it!

Posted by: Rich | August 8, 2008 9:29 AM | Report abuse

All I can say is its about freaking time.

The shoulder thing is complete bs. Anybody complaining propably doesn't drive along the route. It makes absolutely no sense to not utilize every single lane of traffic.

There is an extremly easy way to monitor traffic flow. We need metered traffic timing which occurs and works on I-66 inside the beltway and I-395.

Otherwise you almost have a constant flow of merging traffic which is why everything is backed up.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 8, 2008 9:29 AM | Report abuse

If cops want to raise revenue, here's what they can do:

Leave Dunkin Donuts from time to time

Posted by: Anonymous | August 8, 2008 9:35 AM | Report abuse

"One of the richest counties in the country and such pathetic roads. Get your act together Virginia"

I understand the problem to be:

1) No matter how rich Fairfax is, it doesn't help us if our tax dollars are sent back to the state for state-wide road improvements.

2) 66 is being held hostage by Arlington County. Wasn't there a "promise" to Arlington that 66 would NEVER be widened inside the beltway? So now the Nation's Capital has made itself incapable of efficiently moving its growing work force in and out of the city because of the usual selfishness of suburban "NIMBY"s (Not In My Back Yard).

Posted by: JD | August 8, 2008 10:45 AM | Report abuse

i have been using I-66 for 5 years now and I have seen traffic go from WORSE to SUPER WORSE.

To stop sending tax dollars down south, I have come to one conclusion. Northern Va should be a different state. THat is the only way we can get some roads built to ease traffic congestion

Posted by: Anonymous | August 8, 2008 10:51 AM | Report abuse

I think we just need a separate state called Northen Virginia to prevent tax dollars flowing out of this area. Otherwise, folks down south will continue to hold us hostage over transportation.

Thats the only way for new road building.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 8, 2008 10:59 AM | Report abuse

Rich is correct in that the Federal Highway Administration has to approve shoulder use, and typically only does so on a "temporary" basis. Like on I-95 back in the early 1990's. This is because not having a shoulder is a "major" exception to their design standards.

Only problem is, there is not a solid definition of temporary. At this rate, temporary will likely mean half a century. I saw road design plans for widening I-66 between the Beltway and Fair Oaks. Some pretty elaborate plans with 4 general purpose lanes and 2 reversible HOV lanes in each direction actually. This was about 6 years ago. However there is just no money in the budget for it, not to mention there is significant opposition. FHWA is caught between a rock and a hard place because they know they will cause significant traffic problems by revoking the temporary permission, yet by letting the shoulder use continue, they are sort of saying "its OK to do this". So much so that other states are using NOVA's I-66 as an example for how to do the same thing (North Carolina is looking at this for I-77 north of Charlotte).

Posted by: Woodley Park | August 8, 2008 11:05 AM | Report abuse

The only way we are going to improve our roads statewide, and yes the problem is statewide, is to get rid of the do nothings in the State Legislature. You know who I'm talking about. They don't want to raise taxes for anything and they want to cut what's there to the bone. The consequences, nothing gets done. Sorry folks it takes MONEY to fix our roads and until we are willing to belly up to the bar and fork it over we will continue to get more of the same.

Posted by: Bill Stewart | August 8, 2008 11:24 AM | Report abuse

Just as JD said, the elephant in the room in this situation is Arlington County. The Beltway to 50 jam on 66 results from the inability to properly use the interstate through Arlington County. This road MUST be widened to accommodate non-HOV traffic inside the Beltway so that they don't all spill onto 66 at the Beltway. I'm all for honoring promises, but times change and when honoring promises creates a major safety hazard for everyone then something needs to be done. Widen the Arlington stretch of 66 to 3-4 lanes and if needed to accommodate the concerns of residents, ban truck traffic and make it a toll road with the revenue going back to Arlington County. NIMBYs cannot be allowed to hold everyone else hostage and make the rest of the road more dangerous.

Posted by: BushMustGo | August 8, 2008 12:36 PM | Report abuse

What makes no sense at all is for the inside-the-beltway HOV restrictions on 66 Westbound to *end* at 6:30pm. This is Washington - except for the federal workers with the early-afternoon flex schedules, who the heck finishes work that early? Rush hour lasts til at least 7:30, but there's no benefit to an evening carpool when the whole of 66W clogs up at 6:31pm...

Posted by: 66W | August 8, 2008 1:38 PM | Report abuse

BushMustGo: Truck traffic is *already* banned on I-66 inside the Beltway.

Posted by: dirrtysw | August 8, 2008 1:54 PM | Report abuse

4. Bridges from the Metro stations to the left lanes of 66 (like Monument Drive) so the Fairfax Connector and Metro busses are prevented from having to cross all four lanes of traffic IMMEDIATELY to get in the HOV lane. The problem I have here is that I still see the busses team up to let other get in front so they can all get over quickly. And the funny part, I still wind up getting to my exit before they do. They don't NEED to be in the left lane only to stop traffic twice.

Posted by: Jarrod | August 8, 2008 9:09 AM

There were ramps proposed to go from Vaden Drive directly to the HOV lanes. Unfortunately they were proposed with the funding we were supposed to get with the new regional transit authority. I see a reference to FY2009 funding for design, but nothing about implementation.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 8, 2008 2:00 PM | Report abuse

VDOT should also fastrack the opening of the exits at Monument and Stringfellow during non-HOV hours. I know they're in the process of doing so, they just need to finish the process and do it!

This, along with opening the shoulders will go a long way to easing traffic on surface roads without requiring much financial outlay.

Posted by: Sam F. | August 8, 2008 2:06 PM | Report abuse

Making N. VA into its own state would never happen. Even if it did, it wouldn't guarantee that traffic problems would be over. Legislators need to quit permitting the rest of the state to leach off of Northern Virginia. They will only do that if they start getting voted out of office as a result of this issue.

Posted by: Denise | August 8, 2008 2:06 PM | Report abuse

1. I do not like the current Dr. Gridlock. Not half as good as the previous guy. To me he seems to be a tool of the establishment, especially the way he fawns over the morons running Metro.
2. BiffGriff sounds like a moron, too. What's up Biff? Got a bag of anthrax, high powered rifle or something?
3. Jarrod makes many good points about life on 66. One of the few intelligent posts on this site. Yes, including mine.
4. Have a nice weekend. See you on 66!

Posted by: WhydoIevenreadthesethings? | August 8, 2008 2:19 PM | Report abuse

"What makes no sense at all is for the inside-the-beltway HOV restrictions on 66 Westbound to *end* at 6:30pm."

I've never understood why the HOV hours are different on all the local roads in northern Virginia:

Shirley Highway HOV hours are 6 to 9 AM, 3:30 to 6 PM

I-66 inside the Beltway, as well as the Dulles Toll Road, HOV hours are 6:30 to 9 AM, 4 to 6:30 PM

I-66 outside the Beltway HOV hours are 5:30 to 9:30 AM, 3 to 7 PM

Then you have the HOV-2 lanes through the City of Alexandria, where I can never remember what the rules are unless I'm on one of those streets.

Why the mishmash? Why not just recognize a set period as "rush hour" and apply the restriction uniformly? While I sometimes take advantage of the 6:00 PM HOV expiry on I-395, I think the HOV hours on there definitely ought to run until at least 6:30 based on the traffic flow.

But anyway, the argument that the private-sector work force in DC doesn't follow the same schedule as the federal workers won't necessarily get you anywhere. Notice how the HOV schedule so closely tracks the federal work schedule. I think there's a sound argument that (1) HOV should be enforced on Columbus Day and on Veterans Day since so few private-sector businesses give people off on those days and (2) HOV should not be enforced on the day after Thanksgiving since the feds are about the only people who actually seem to work that day (and even the majority of them take leave that day).

But this all suggests that VDOT would think rationally about HOV operations. On the Sunday after Thanksgiving, I-95 heading south in Virginia is usually at a standstill, yet the express lanes are running northbound (where there's seldom much traffic) because VDOT always runs them northbound on Sunday. It wouldn't be that hard for someone at VDOT to try using something called a "brain" and observing how the extra lane capacity is needed southbound that weekend, but they refuse to consider it.

Posted by: Rich | August 8, 2008 2:21 PM | Report abuse

I see trucks on 66 inside the beltway all the time

Posted by: notruckson66 | August 8, 2008 2:21 PM | Report abuse

Why not double-deck I66 instead of widening?? Oh, that's right. Richmond won't give us our money...

Posted by: Anonymous | August 8, 2008 2:48 PM | Report abuse

Thank you to everyone saying Monument needs to be opened more and without HOV restrictions. I have watched as packs of seven to ten cars have stuck with me all the way from 123 or 50 to Monument/Random Hills. This area would be much more Metro accessible if this was opened up, and it would definitely relieve traffic!

(As for those who will jump on me for not always having 2 people or more in my car: I try. My friends who do carpool with me don't have to be into work at exactly 9 AM like I do. Sorry, but I choose to keep my job and be on time.)

Posted by: Mason Patriot | August 8, 2008 2:48 PM | Report abuse

Transportation problems in NOVA have nothing to do with money or Richmond and everything to do with NIMBYs and urbofascists.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 8, 2008 4:40 PM | Report abuse

I fail to understand why people are so worked up over this. Not a single person posting bitter messages here about the congestion moved to this area not realizing what a mess I-66 is.

If you decided to live 45 miles from work out in Suburbialand with your mansion and 2.5 kids, thats great....you signed up for traffic and guess what, youre contributing to it. Its your fault just as much as every other person who sprawled out west of the beltway. If you are complaining because you have sat in traffic for the last "x" years and seen it get worse and worse, well guess what....its never going to improve no matter how many lanes you build. Either move closer in so you can take public transit / walk to work.....or stop complaining.

As for Arlington County, they did it right. Keep the main car arteries small to force mass transit use, and then place the mass transit slightly away from main interstate arteries in order to foster urban centers (Rosslyn, Ballston, Clarendon). I-66 inside the beltway should never be widened and at least one lane should be HOV-2 all the time.

As for Northern Virginia becoming a state because of taxes not going to Northern VA.....welcome to what it feels like to be a District Resident. We pay double the taxes you do to maintain roads that VA and MD commuters beat up when half the residents of the District dont even own cars. Maybe DC should become a state so we can......oh wait......thats another argument.

Posted by: NoSprawl | August 8, 2008 4:59 PM | Report abuse


I've often driven I-66 Westbound around 2:30 PM and hit backups before the Nutley Street exit and have only one question: What took you so long?

Posted by: Hello | August 8, 2008 8:05 PM | Report abuse

I don't know if anyone has mentioned this but how about opening up the shoulder on the inbound side on the evening Rush Hour as well? Accidents happen on that side that make just as gridlocked as the people streaming out of Washington and Arlington.

Posted by: RF | August 8, 2008 10:15 PM | Report abuse

To NoSprawl:

It's obvious that you don't have kids. DC living is just not an option -- sending our kids to poverty infested, low performing schools will not happen. Thus the suburbs will always be the suburbs, and you'll always be annoyed by it.

Posted by: whatever dude | August 8, 2008 10:43 PM | Report abuse

NOSPRAWL and one of the anonymous, quit being so judgemental. I live in PW county not by choice but by affordability. Anywhere "inside the beltway" costs 2-3X what I paid for my townhouse outside the beltway at the time.

People who say extend the hours of shoulder use, cars aren't perfect, they break down. Where are you going to pull over.

The Nutley issue is a tough one. I use Nutley to and from the metro. Putting a cop there would not help things in my opinion. Coming on to 66 from Metro, you'd be amazed how many cars WONT LET YOU MERGE until the LAST MINUTE and even then you have to wait for someone to let you in! Extend the exit lane (dotted area) a little further up, so cars wanting to get to metro can get in there sooner.

Posted by: CALSGR8 | August 9, 2008 11:32 AM | Report abuse

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