Moving more people, not just more vehicles
In their attacks on Arlington, Fairfax Supervisor Pat Herrity [Local Opinions, Feb. 13] and The Post [editorial, Feb. 10] distort both the reasons for the county’s litigation in the high-occupancy-toll (HOT) lanes case and its effects. They also give Arlington credit (or blame, depending on your point of view) for blocking the widening of Interstate 66. Let me set the record straight.
HOT Lanes: From the beginning, Arlington has been clear that our objective is not to prevent the project but to ensure the protection of transit and high-occupancy-vehicle (HOV) operations in the corridor, as well as to minimize the impact of the project on surrounding streets and communities. We are convinced that the key to improving transportation in Northern Virginia lies in efficiently moving more people, not just more vehicles.
Arlington’s efforts, including its lawsuit against the state’s original HOT Lanes project, have consistently been about protecting all commuters and communities in the Interstate 95 corridor. Mobility in Northern Virginia is vitally dependent on the existing, taxpayer-built HOV lanes, which move far more people per lane-hour than any other roadway in the region. If this facility is transferred to a private company, as the state plans, it will be operated in a radically different manner than it has functioned for the past four decades. If it isn’t done carefully, it could actually worsen traffic congestion for everyone in the corridor. Arlington sued to ensure that risks are properly evaluated and mitigated before this public facility is turned over to the private company — because once it is turned over, it will be too late.
If any governmental entity used an unfair tactic in this dispute, it was the federal government, by issuing a “categorical exclusion” — an exemption from conducting a standard environmental assessment — for the state’s origional HOT lanes project in the final hours of the Bush administration. This would have allowed the state to give the taxpayer-built facility to a private company without input from the public and without including protections for the public once the deal is done. Arlington’s only recourse under the law was to sue.
We simply asked the state to do what it now says it will do with the revised project: Follow procedures required by federal law in order to address the “legitimate questions” the Post acknowledges exist about the project.
The fact is that Arlington’s lawsuit did not stop the HOT lanes project. Virginia suspended the project before the suit was filed, because it was financially unviable. To restart it, the state had to make changes to reduce costs and technical complications. That is why the project has been re-scoped to exclude Interstate 395. The Arlington suit was simply about following federally required procedures. If the state follows the law — as it has now committed to doing — there is no reason it couldn’t include I-395 in its plans.
The good news is that now that the state is committed to the proper analysis, all stakeholders will have a chance to provide input into the design of the project and to seek resolution for negative impacts. We will continue to work closely with our regional partners for real solutions.
I-66. Some politicians find it convenient to blame Arlington for their inability to advance projects they say they support, because they are unwilling to raise the necessary revenue. Mr. Herrity’s claim that Arlington has somehow managed to stop the widening of I-66 is just silly. Though we might wish to, Arlington has no power to block the state from doing what it wants — and is willing to pay for — with its interstate highways. The state has never presented an actual widening program for I-66 because such a program would be enormously expensive and because the state’s gas tax, the main source of transportation funding, has been frozen since 1986.
Arlington has long been recognized as a leader in promoting effective, sustainable solutions and as a strong contributor to regional cooperation. Our goal is to work with our regional partners to improve mobility for everyone in the region.The writer is chairman of the Arlington County Board.
Chris Zimmerman, Arlington
| February 17, 2011; 4:13 PM ET
Categories: Arlington, Fairfax County, HotTopic, Virginia, traffic, transportation
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