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Posted at 4:13 PM ET, 02/17/2011

Moving more people, not just more vehicles

By Chris Zimmerman, Arlington

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.

By Chris Zimmerman, Arlington  | February 17, 2011; 4:13 PM ET
Categories:  Arlington, Fairfax County, HotTopic, Virginia, traffic, transportation  
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Comments

Can we use that bullcrap to make biodeisel?

Posted by: Nemo24601 | February 18, 2011 9:17 AM | Report abuse

How many studies do you need to file to figure out that when people can't take I-66 in the morning, when metro parking lots are full by 8am, they will have to drive through the streets of Arlington? What about dealing with all of the new traffic created by the Mark Center Drive project?

Posted by: abcd4 | February 18, 2011 9:43 AM | Report abuse

Traffic history proves you can't build your way out of the problem. Better stop the linear thinking.

Posted by: jckdoors | February 18, 2011 10:35 AM | Report abuse

Exactly how does putting more traffic in the existing HOV lanes improve traffic congestion ? If toll lines are so great, why doesn't VA borrow the money to build new lanes from Dumphries to F-burg and the state get the income ? Somebody is making out on all the Hot lanes nonsense and it's not the state.

Posted by: Falmouth1 | February 18, 2011 10:56 AM | Report abuse

Thank you from one of your constituents for a rational discussion of the problems confounding us today.

It's ironic that Pat Herrity's father was such a force in building out Fairfax without infrastructure. Audrey Moore used to spar with him regularly, but common sense was frequently drowned out by the dollars of the developers.

In the absence of quick transportation, perhaps we need to encourage people to live where their jobs are, or change the jobs so that everyone isn't 9-5. Even with Governor McDonnell's proposal to borrow three billion dollars, this amount will not make a dent in the 95/395 traffic, even though that is supposed to be for the whole state. Frankly, Virginia should have raised its gas tax 20 years ago and committed the revenue to roads. Now, it is virtually impossible to pay as we go, and our policians in Virginia repeat George H W Bush's "no new taxes" mantra like it is the 11th Commandment.

I voted for John Anderson in 1980 because he wanted to triple the federal gas tax to generate revenue, discourge low mileage automobiles, and encourage funding for mass transit like Metro. How antiquated those discussions seem.

Please keep up the good work.

Posted by: RogerRamjet2 | February 18, 2011 12:14 PM | Report abuse

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