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I-66 Spot Improvements Blocked

A vote by the region's Transportation Planning Board this afternoon removed the spot improvements along Virginia's Interstate 66 inside the Beltway from consideration for federal funds, blocking one of the region's largest and most contentious programs to expand highway capacity.

The rejection by the planning board came on a rare weighted vote, which basically pitted the populous inner jurisdictions in the Washington region against the less-heavily populated outer suburbs. The motion to reject was made by Chris Zimmerman, a member of the Arlington County Board and the Metro Board, as well as the regional planning body. Arlington County residents have led the opposition to the expansion of the Interstate's capacity.

Zimmerman's resolution demanded that the I-66 project proceed no further until Virginia completed a thorough review of all ways to improve transportation within the highway corridor. Jo Anne Sorenson, representing the Virginia Department of Transportation on the board, said that even if there was money for a comprehensive study, it would take three or four years to complete.

What angered Zimmerman and some other supporting his resolution is that they felt that a previous resolution by the planning board had mandated that a study of alternatives proceed along with the highway expansion study. They were not satisfied with Sorenson's statement that a state study about the feasibility of bus rapid transit was underway.

After a standard poll of the board members present resulted in a tie, Zimmerman exercised his option of requesting the vote weighted by population, on which his resolution passed.

Commuters who live in Virginia's outer suburbs have long called for expansion of I-66 inside the Beltway. During rush periods, the highway is choked, even though it is governed by high-occupancy vehicle restrictions, requiring that most drivers have at least one other person in the vehicle is they are heading in the peak direction.

Arlington residents, many of whom didn't want the highway built through their neighborhoods in the first place, have been equally adamant in opposing expansion plans. State officials pursued a plan to extend travel lanes in three sections in part because they could do so without widening the highway's right of way.

Opponents say this method of expanding capacity simply moves the highway's choke points. Vehicles may be able to take advantage of a widened highway for a short stretch, but they still must move back into the old travel lanes where the spot improvement ends.

By Robert Thomson  |  February 18, 2009; 2:51 PM ET
Categories:  Transportation Politics  
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Comments

I hope Zimmerman is satisfied that he is destroying the environment and quality of life for tens of thousands of Virginians. Idling vehicles on 66 are much worse than those moving at a consistent speed, which destroys air quality for Arlington further than it is already. We won't even get into what happens in an emergency situation when all capacity is needed to get people to safety. Good job with backwards thinking!

Posted by: ssolomo | February 18, 2009 3:29 PM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: Zimmerman and some others who supported the resolution, such as David Snyder of Falls Church, are skeptical about whether the spot improvements would ease congestion. Snyder, for example, says it would simply move the congestion to a different place, the point at a bridge or overpass where the spot improvement ends and the cars would have to merge back into the old lanes.

Others said specifically that they'd like to see certain alternatives studied: Special bus corridors, longer HOV hours and congestion tolling.

Posted by: rtthomson1 | February 18, 2009 4:01 PM | Report abuse

I agree that these improvements would simply have moved congestion to another place. The big chokepoint is the Glebe Road on-ramp, where traffic has to merge into 2 lanes. Well that traffic still would have to merge into 2 lanes at Sycamore Street. Not all that much traffic gets off at Sycamore. And this plan would have totally and completely ignored any traffic congestion on eastbound I-66.

I say extend HOV hours to match the hours on I-66 outside the Beltway. There is no logical reason to have two sets of hours for the same roadway, as it is confusing to those not intimately familiar with the intracacies of our transportation system. Beyond that, lets upgrade the LED signs on all the on-ramps so people can actually read them, and provide some travel time information to drivers (they do this in Atlanta on their overhead message signs, and it is very useful). Then, armed with travel time information, people can make a decision to stay the course or bail out onto alternate routes, of which there are plenty.

Posted by: thetan | February 18, 2009 5:57 PM | Report abuse

I would love to see a GIS map tracking cases of lung cancer along the I-66 corridor. I bet there are two bright red lines on either side of the highway in Arlington County because of all emissions spewed out every day during traffic jams. Last time I checked, the population in the DC area wasn't dropping anytime soon and not every place can be perfect little TOD centers like Courthouse and Virginia Square. Arlington County is not an island - people are going to drive through it no matter how much they try and stop them. Maybe if they allowed efforts to address congestion along I-66 move forward some of those bright red lung cancer lines would decrease a little bit because traffic, you know, actually moves.

Posted by: rbowley | February 18, 2009 6:45 PM | Report abuse

"I hope Zimmerman is satisfied that he is destroying the environment and quality of life for tens of thousands of Virginians. Idling vehicles on 66 are much worse than those moving at a consistent speed, which destroys air quality for Arlington further than it is already. We won't even get into what happens in an emergency situation when all capacity is needed to get people to safety. Good job with backwards thinking!"

Not to mention thsat the traffic that should be on a highway ends up on Arlington streets, bringing the pollution and safety hazards with them.


"I agree that these improvements would simply have moved congestion to another place. "

The NON-improvements and HOV restrictions have put the congestion on your STREETS, DUH!

Posted by: ceefer66 | February 19, 2009 9:01 AM | Report abuse

Diesel exhaust has been found to be a significant contributor to lung cancer. Fortunately trucks are not allowed on I-66 inside the beltway (Thanks Arlington!).

Posted by: Clover1 | February 19, 2009 10:55 AM | Report abuse

Has VDOT studied expanding the HOV restrictions? I-66 is very effective at moving people when they are in HOV lanes.

We should also think about charging tolls for SOV drivers.

Posted by: obviousNESS | February 19, 2009 12:42 PM | Report abuse

As an Arlington resident who has used 66 for both work and leisure for the last 20 years, I've always thought this is a no brainer for adding one lane between the beltway and at least Glebe Road.

No, there will never be enough $ to take it all the way to the Roosevelt Bridge, but every little bit would make a significant difference (positively) in the quality of life for many folks, including Arlingtonians. Despite the additional pollution from congestion, the shortcutting through residential neighborhoods, and having the general infrastructure already in place, we have the "pc" politicians determining critical outcomes here. Any wonder why we are stuck in gridlock during the week and WEEKENDS in Northern Virginia??? A vocal few again keep the majority at bay due to the shortsightedness of our cowtailing politicians. This should of happened years ago!!! Just comical...

Posted by: gLo1 | February 20, 2009 12:39 PM | Report abuse

Dr. Gridlock wrote: "During rush periods, the highway is choked, even though it is governed by high-occupancy vehicle restrictions, requiring that most drivers have at least one other person in the vehicle is they are heading in the peak direction."

While I-66 is choked--in just one direction--during "rush periods", it is rarely, if ever, choked in the "peak" direction where the HOV-2 restrictions apply, despite the high reported incidence of cheating by SOV drivers. With periodic enforcement, the HOV-2 restrictions do keep I-66 free flowing during peak travel times, so simply extending the hours of HOV-2 restrictions (including for the "reverse commute" direction) could eliminate much I-66 congestion at almost no expense, perhaps forever.

VDOT's persistent refusal to advance *any* travel demand management solution for I-66 congestion during the past eight years (plus the VDOT representative's disingenuous excuses) were what the caused many TPB members to support Mr. Zimmerman's motion.

Posted by: allenmuchnick | February 24, 2009 7:10 PM | Report abuse

Dr. Gridlock wrote: "During rush periods, the highway is choked, even though it is governed by high-occupancy vehicle restrictions, requiring that most drivers have at least one other person in the vehicle is they are heading in the peak direction."

While I-66 is choked--in just one direction--during "rush periods", it is rarely, if ever, choked in the "peak" direction where the HOV-2 restrictions apply, despite the high reported incidence of cheating by SOV drivers. With periodic enforcement, the HOV-2 restrictions do keep I-66 free flowing during peak travel times, so simply extending the hours of HOV-2 restrictions (including for the "reverse commute" direction) could eliminate much I-66 congestion at almost no expense, perhaps forever.

VDOT's persistent refusal to advance *any* travel demand management solution for I-66 congestion during the past eight years (plus the VDOT representative's disingenuous excuses) were what the caused many TPB members to support Mr. Zimmerman's motion.

Posted by: allenmuchnick | February 24, 2009 7:13 PM | Report abuse

Dr. Gridlock wrote: "During rush periods, the highway is choked, even though it is governed by high-occupancy vehicle restrictions, requiring that most drivers have at least one other person in the vehicle is they are heading in the peak direction."

While I-66 is choked--in just one direction--during "rush periods", it is rarely, if ever, choked in the "peak" direction where the HOV-2 restrictions apply, despite the high reported incidence of cheating by SOV drivers. With periodic enforcement, the HOV-2 restrictions do keep I-66 free flowing during peak travel times, so simply extending the hours of HOV-2 restrictions (including for the "reverse commute" direction) could eliminate much I-66 congestion at almost no expense, perhaps forever.

VDOT's persistent refusal to advance *any* travel demand management solution for I-66 congestion during the past eight years (plus the VDOT representative's disingenuous excuses) were what the caused many TPB members to support Mr. Zimmerman's motion.

Posted by: allenmuchnick | February 24, 2009 7:14 PM | Report abuse

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