Print Columns   |   Web Chats   |   Blog Archives   |  

I-66 Follies: How Many Lanes Are Enough?

The strange story of Interstate 66--the highway that became a symbol for both sides in the eternal war between proponents of urban density and suburban development--just got a whole lot stranger.

Just as the Obama administration's stimulus plan is pumping unfathomable riches into transportation projects all around the country, the planners who decide what roads get built in the Washington area have decided to say No, thanks, to any quick start on widening I-66 inside the Beltway.

For decades, one of the most maddening bottlenecks in one of the nation's most congested road systems has been the bizarre narrowing of I-66 from three lanes to two as commuters pass inside the Beltway on their journey to the region's core.

This design, of course, makes no sense; it's a bit of highway engineering that got smushed together with social engineering in a political compromise. Back in the 1970s, Arlington County, one of the nation's leading pioneers in the movement for walkable, transit-oriented communities, fought plans by the state and federal governments to cut an Interstate highway through the county's midsection. The locals wanted transit, not highways, and they were adamant about preserving their neighborhoods rather than having them severed as so many big highways had ripped apart urban areas in the 60s and 70s.

After about a decade of agitation and courtroom action (for a comprehensive history of the fight, check out the amazing, this grandfather of all highway battles ended in a decision by then-U.S. Transportation Secretary William Coleman to approve a 10-mile stretch of I-66 from the Beltway to the Potomac River with just four lanes of auto traffic rather than the eight lanes that had been proposed. In addition, Coleman gave the then-budding Metro rail system a choice pathway down the median of the road. The deal came with assorted other goodies for Arlingtonians, including sound barriers, a submerged roadway through densely developed areas, and a ban on trucks, but the key to the agreement was the limit on lanes.

Fast forward--well, crawl forward through years of mind-numbing traffic--and the clamor for adding lanes to the interstate has risen to such a level that all but the most devoted of smart growth lovers have given in. Another lane in each direction on 66 wouldn't be the end of civilization as we know it. By the early years of this century, it was hard to find any Virginia governors, senators or local officials who opposed the widening of 66. At least three straight governors have supported widening in some form, and the candidates in this year's election are eager to embrace any road improvement that could ease the pain of any northern Virginia voter.

Then, last week, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Government's Transportation Planning Board, which sets road-building priorities for the region, voted to scrap plans to widen 66. Reason: Not enough money to conduct a multi-year study (studies of I-66 have likely employed a majority of the nation's engineers over the course of the last half century.)

Back in 1977, it was already obvious that the battle to keep I-66 from becoming a superhighway would require eternal vigilance. "We cannot guarantee that I-66 will never change," Coleman wrote back then. But he added that "the conditions I am here imposing are the most stringent the law provides."

In 1999, however, Congress and President Bill Clinton reversed much of the Coleman Decision, keeping the truck ban intact, but otherwise granting Virginia the option to expand the highway as it saw fit.

Ever since then, the state has been tied up in bureaucratic and political knots over how to proceed.

This latest vote is by no means the last word on the 66 saga, as new Fairfax board chairman Sharon Bulova tells The Post's Eric Weiss that the county's representatives on Metro's board will now reverse their votes and seek to put the widening back on track. The new twists in the 66 story are fresh meat for the state's gubernatorial candidates, and Republican Bob McDonnell, who is eager to demonstrate his love for northern Virginia, was first out of the box with a letter denouncing the delay. "This decision essentially means that no aspect of the project, even a 'shovel ready' spot improvement that was slated to begin this year, will go forward," McDonnell says. "Now is the time for action, not more study."

But study is the primary weapon that opponents wield in their fight for delay, and for those who have mastered the art of battle against government, delay is victory.

I've always liked the parkway design of the modest 66 inside the Beltway, and I think Arlington ought to have a strong say in what kind of road goes through its turf. But it's also true that the squeeze into fewer lanes as a traveler nears the District never made any sense. Those many years of study have resulted in plans to add lanes without substantially widening the road's right of way. No more houses would be taken under the current widening plan.

Arlington is right to defend its role as the conscience of the area. The county continues to lead in adopting innovative design to encourage suburbanites to get out of their cars and try other ways of getting around. But 66 is there, and it seems foolhardy to spurn money when it's raining down from Washington. A promise is a promise, but the best way to ease northern Virginia's traffic woes is to forge ahead with transit improvements while also making small, strategic fixes in the road system. The regional planners who cast last week's vote should steer the stimulus money toward both transit and roads; I-66 is a good place to invest some of that cash.

What's your view?

By Marc Fisher |  February 23, 2009; 8:34 AM ET
Previous: Va. Governor: McDonnell's Reach For The Center | Next: Did Free Trip Blind Fenty To Dubai's Bias?


Please email us to report offensive comments.

Its a matter of National Security and local govts should have no say in the widening of I66. Its an evacuation route and any socialist in Arlington County who objects should be sent to GITMO!

Posted by: sheepherder | February 23, 2009 9:01 AM

Since this project is only widening in spots, it won't actually help the congestion. It'll just move the bottlenecks around. Virginia will spend a lot of money and Fairfax will still be frustrated by traffic.

VDOT has been trying to ram this project down everyone's throats for years. The Silver Line is going to add a new way to get from Arlington to Tysons, relieving some of the pressure. And when Virginia built the road, they promised Arlington not to widen it.

Your column skips the fact that the "multi-year study" is not just another study to delay. It's a serious evaluation of other possibilities which VDOT never considered. VDOT should at least follow through on its promise to consider some alternatives before just blasting ahead.

It's also disappointing that you characterize opposition to this ill-conceived project as just the position of a handful of ardent Smart Growth advocates. Half of the elected representatives of the region voted against the project. 50% of regional leaders is a large coalition, not a small minority. The Post seems to be the one that's ardent in their constant cheerleading for more auto-dependent policies in both the news and editorial pages.

Posted by: David_Alpert | February 23, 2009 9:52 AM

Do you really think that one extra lane is going to make one iota of difference during an evacuation of the city? Look at 66 outside of the beltway on a normal Friday and yet you somehow think during a mass panic that traffic is going to be moving smoothly? It should be expanded, but not because of some lame national security excuse.

Posted by: ArlingtonVA3 | February 23, 2009 9:53 AM

Why not upgrade and widen Rt 50 instead?

Posted by: mattispinky | February 23, 2009 10:11 AM

This discussion demonstrates that any agreement with the government is good only until another administration comes into office. If Virginia wants to renege on its agreement, it should compensate Arlington county and its residents for reduced quality of life with serious dollars.

Posted by: treehugineer | February 23, 2009 11:29 AM

Widening 66 is a waste of money. The day the widened road opens it will be just as crowded as now. A better use of the funds would be a new rail line so express trains could be run from points west.

Posted by: bob29 | February 23, 2009 11:30 AM

There's a moral component here that is being ignored. Arlington agreed to the Interstate BECAUSE of the lane restrictions. It takes a lot of calzones for unelected officials to suddenly pretent that that agreement doesn't matter.

Posted by: hohandy1 | February 23, 2009 11:35 AM

>> I think Arlington ought to have a strong say in what kind of road goes through its turf. <<

Let's be clear about one thing -- fewer lanes on I-66 do NOT equal less traffic flowing through Arlington. Those people who live in Fairfax and beyond who work in the District are going to drive from one point to the other somehow. It is merely a matter of them driving on a below-grade highway, or driving through the local Arlington streets.

There are only two options -- either the traffic goes down I-66 and I-395, or it turns Lee Highway, Arlington Boulevard, and Columbia Pike into parking lots.

Personally? I'd rather that they get the hell off of my local streets, spewing fumes into my air, clogging up my traffic, and onto the highway where they belong.

Posted by: ooyah32 | February 23, 2009 11:36 AM

I live in Arlington and commute to every weekday to DC with my daughter - We almost never go across Roosevelt bridge because it is already full to overflowing with 2 lanes of I-66, 1 lane from Lee Highway in Roslyn - 1 lane from Route 50 and 1 lane from the GW Parkway. This funnels into 3 in lanes on Roosevelt Bridge - Where is 1 more lane from I-66 going to fit into this entrance way to DC. There are cars merging from each entrance way - switching lanes to get to their exit in DC - Is there somehow going to be more space in DC to take these cars on the current exits to E-Street, Constitution or Independence?

Posted by: dlkauf | February 23, 2009 11:37 AM

>>Let's be clear about one thing -- fewer lanes on I-66 do NOT equal less traffic flowing through Arlington.<<

Except that that statement fails to take into account the very real phenomenon of induced demand. That is, fewer people drive precisely because the bottlenecks make it a less attractive option. Widening the road as proposed will encourage a greater number of people to drive and/or drive alone, leading to new bottlenecks along I-66. You can't pave yourself out of this problem which is largely caused w/ developing further and further away from job cores w/o providing a consolidated public transportation system.

Posted by: Katalase | February 23, 2009 11:44 AM

So now MF is also an expert in engineering and planning?

So there's a bottleneck at the beltway. Add lanes for the rest of the VA miles and you'll have a bottleneck at the Roosevelt bridge. Widen the bridge (or build a new one $$$) and you'll have a bottleneck at the first red light on Constitution Ave. there's going to be a back-up on 66 every morning somewhere, no matter how many lanes there are. In other words, we need to get people into the city with less cars, not get more of the cars into the city at the same time.

Posted by: sacomment | February 23, 2009 11:54 AM

>> Widening the road as proposed will encourage a greater number of people to drive and/or drive alone <<

Enough with the social engineering, huh? Enough with the mentality of "let's make life harder so that people will change."

Like it or not, there is an entire world to the west of Arlington, and they drive. And the Metro that folks push as the answer is overcrowded, overpriced, and looking at decreased service.

It is because we have this insane policy of traffic narrowing, not only on I-66, but more and more local streets, that we have traffic jams, increasing greenhouse gases, rather than decreasing them, and causing local drivers to burn more gas sitting in traffic than they do travelling.

Posted by: ooyah32 | February 23, 2009 11:55 AM

It is mind boggling that the interests of the few local residents who will be impacted by the widening of I-66 should be allowed to pre-empt the undeniable needs of the many who must traffic through this nightmare every day and night (and even on weekends). The loss of productivity, the loss of quality of life, the danger, and the negative environmental impact of the current situation check any honest application of the term "smart growth" to opposing arguments. Residents in Arlington County have long benefited from the use of I-66 and from increased home values that derive from their proximity to the roadway while the rest of us have paid an extraordinary penalty. Forget about more "studies." This has been studied to death. Virginia needs to proceed with widening the roadway in this area as quickly as possible. Years and years have been wasted talking about the inevitable while we steadily approach gridlock.

If residents in Arlington County continue to shamelessly promote their "cake and eat it too" rationale against widening the roadway, I propose that the Commonwealth CLOSE all of the entrance ramps to I-66 through the area in question. Restricting Arlington County residents from entering 66 at its most congested area might provide a modicum of relief for the vast majority of the region's users.

Posted by: bama104 | February 23, 2009 12:02 PM

When I-66 was built however many years ago it was beyond it's capacity right off the back. I was a new teen driver and realized whoever was involved in this project was clueless. I did not know the history of it only being two lanes. the HOV requirements are another insult of providing people with what they need.

I did not realize it then, but i see it now. the DC area suffers immensely from the extreme of both conservatives and liberals. in the end, both of their agendas mis-serve the people. Conservatives don't want to spend a dime on anything they do not directly profit, liberals find some other greater cause than humanity and strive to impose that way on your life.

I say this with a background in Urban Planning and Design. Everything planned or done is based on an economic or social agenda.

Posted by: oknow1 | February 23, 2009 12:03 PM

Demands for more and more "studies" has always been a favorite tactic of road opponents. They used them to delay the Woodrow Wilson Bridge (which was originally scheduled to be completed in 2006) and they used them to delay the start of the ICC by nearly half a century. Now they are using them to prevent a modest improvement to I-66.

When is enough finally enough?

Posted by: ceefer66 | February 23, 2009 12:03 PM

Of course it should. 12 lanes each way. And please build some sbarros and gas stations every mile to make the area match the taste of its citizenry. I like to travel through VA as fast as I can to get home to my beautiful Washington DC.

Posted by: johng1 | February 23, 2009 12:07 PM

Don't widen I-66. Part of the value of living in Arlington is that homes maintain their value because of the traffic; making it easier to live farther away might negatively impact the value of my condo. I'm counting on high gas prices and lousy traffic to fund my retirement!

Posted by: ronjaboy | February 23, 2009 12:08 PM

"Except that that statement fails to take into account the very real phenomenon of induced demand."

The "indued demand" canard is another tired tactic of the road-haters. Conversely the "induced demand" argument is always used as the reason why we should pour more billions into transit. Especially rail transit.

Posted by: ceefer66 | February 23, 2009 12:10 PM

Just what is the plan? Are they actually proposing "widening" the road bed or taking away the shoulder? I can see I-66 from my bedroom window I honestly don't see how it can be widened in our direction without a heck of a lot of foundation work, startin with tearing down the wall. Then there is a ravine that begins about 10 feet from the wall that will have to be buttressed in some way. I hope all the expense is worth it just to push the bottleneck a couple of miles one way or the other.

Posted by: Cossackathon | February 23, 2009 12:17 PM

I'm not sure how any jurisdiction is supposed to make a deal any more if all of these deal can be uncorked at any time.

All they are doing with this is pushing the backup closer to D.C. All those cars have nowhere to go.

Posted by: FederalGraphics | February 23, 2009 12:26 PM

"Like it or not, there is an entire world to the west of Arlington, and they drive."

and why are folks living west of Arlington? We know, we all know, that a frequent trade off for living further out from a central city is increased commute time and corresponding frustration as a result. Some people really don't have a choice in where they live, but the majority of us do. People who live "west of Arlington" by and large do so voluntarily and have to deal with the consequences of that choice.

And as noted, metro IS an option (and there are other options in the region, such as MARC and VRE). Try it, you might be surprised. I quite enjoy the rather large volume of reading I can do each week.

Posted by: RedBirdie | February 23, 2009 12:45 PM

To all of the people who want to keep up with an agreement of ages past and not widen I66, why don't you ride your horse-and-buggies up the road?

That non-widening agreement is as ancient and irrelevant today as stoning people for witchcraft or using leeches for medicine. Perhaps we should also be counting on an abacus, producing business correspondence with a manual typewriter (with carbon paper for copies), and mailing the correspondence by Pony Express.

Times have changed, and people need to understand that. Nobody will ever get anywhere with the same old same old. Look at how slowly things get done in Congress. Shouldn't that be enough of a horrible example of things not advancing because "that's how it's always been"?

Posted by: mssnatchquatch | February 23, 2009 12:51 PM

JohnG is nuts.

But he's right. We need a spur that runs from I-66, underneath the National Mall, to pick up a widened SE-SW freeway. At the same time, 395 needs to be lengthened, run all the way through University Park to replace Queens Chapel Road, then join up in College Park.

May you live in interesting times.


Posted by: bs2004 | February 23, 2009 12:58 PM

I've never heard any good reason to pave over Arlington County for the benefit of people who have chosen to live in Fairfax.

That "evacuation route" rationale is pure nonsense, of course: there are already hundreds of roads going out of the District into Maryland. Anyone who wants to evacuate the District can freely choose any of those, and they'll all be less crowded.

Posted by: truamerican | February 23, 2009 12:58 PM

How many more studies do we need? I'm a transportation engineer and I'll tell you by taking one look at it at 6:31 PM on a weekday that it needs to be widened.

I am certainly sympathetic to the residents of Arlington who do not want their neighborhoods destroyed by a huge "green monster" elevated highway through their turf. But this is absolutely nothing of the sort. The highway already has more design concessions to the local residents than any other highway I've ever heard of. HOV rules to keep the road "flowing" during rush hour, an exemption for those going to the airport, a ban on diesel spewing trucks, a parkway like design, a mass transit line down the median, a bike trail off to the side, sound walls, trees, depressed through dense sections of Arlington...... And these spot improvements would all be contained within the existing right-of-way.

As I said before, it would be one thing if VDOT was saying we are doing this, like it or not, we are taking your houses, and you are not getting any design concessions in return. But that is not the case. They will essentially do what they can within the right-of-way, keeping all the design attributes.

I cut through Arlington just about every single night on my way home. I would love to know if the people who live along my shortcut route (it goes through some residential neighborhoods) are also opposed to the widening of I-66.

Posted by: thetan | February 23, 2009 1:10 PM

...come on we all know that adding another lane to I66 will just mean more drivers parking on the highway during rush-hour.

It's not just I66 that can't handle the traffic, it's the feeder-roads. Not to mention the drivers are classic Virginia drivers who will slow down at the drop of a hat and who can't move to the right to let faster traffic pass. These people are interested in nothing but the brake lights of the car ahead of them.

The best solution to the congestion problems on I66, by far, is to run the Metro out to Dulles and probably run it south/southwest of Springfield as well (I'd fork it at that point and run it south down 95 to Woodbridge (in the HOV lane) and west out 7100 to Fairfax Center, but that would certainly have to be subway). They should just put all the stimulus money into that because right now I don't see another use for it that makes any sense other than maintaining the roads that we already have. They simply cannot keep pace with the cars on the road or the drivers in the cars. They shouldn't even try.

Posted by: dubya19391 | February 23, 2009 1:11 PM

Adding one lane would do absolutley nothing. It just moves the bottleneck down a few miles to the 14 street bridge. Leave your car at home and ride Metro.

Posted by: ChairmanX | February 23, 2009 1:12 PM

If 66 is not widened insight the Beltway it might as well be turned into a golf course. It's useless except on weekends.

Posted by: koolkat_1960 | February 23, 2009 1:18 PM

sheepherder - Have you ever driven I-66 west of the beltway on a Saturday afternoon? Parking lot! Adding a lane or two inside the beltway isn't going to help it as an evacuation route. This is simply about getting to the District on weekdays.

Me - I'm for additional telecommuting. My next door neighbor and a friend's wife both telecommute to the USPTO (patent office). I work in a government research lab. On days when I'm not running experiments, I could easily do the work from home. Regulations require this to be done only on an ad hoc basis and be approved in writing in advance. I'd happily work the extra hour instead of sitting in traffic. Less expense. Less pollution. More sense. Of course, Washington isn't known for much of the latter.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | February 23, 2009 1:19 PM

...the biggest problem with I66 is that once you get on it you either get off locally (in which case it's just shortcut) or you drive all the way through, as in from DC to Manassas. Both ways the problem is hardly the # of lanes. It's the fact that all that traffic is dumping into DC in the morning and in the afternoon it's all having to contend with the evening sunset and the backups *before* Vienna and *after* Manassas where the highway turns back into 2 lanes, where it hits the backup on the just have too many people driving at the same time. No reasonable amount of lanes is going to solve this problem.

These people are lucky to have 66 as it is. Wait until it starts to fall apart from overuse.

Posted by: dubya19391 | February 23, 2009 1:19 PM

"People who live "west of Arlington" by and large do so voluntarily and have to deal with the consequences of that choice"

I love this one almost as much as the "studies" and "induced usage" canards.

Imagine if no one lived "west of Arlington". How would everyone get crowded into the limited space inside the Beltway? Would you want the necessary 30-40 high-rise apartment buildings in YOUR backyard. I think not.

Neo-urbanist suburb-haters always have an answer and a suggestion for how others should live until it affects THEM.

Posted by: ceefer66 | February 23, 2009 1:19 PM

"Imagine if no one lived "west of Arlington". How would everyone get crowded into the limited space inside the Beltway? Would you want the necessary 30-40 high-rise apartment buildings in YOUR backyard. I think not.

Honestly this is a stupid argument. It's saying that we should imagine an unrealistic world and base our decisions in the real-world on that.

Not to mention that there are plenty of high-rises inside the Beltway anyway, plenty of people who already live inside the Beltway, a WHOLE LOT OF PEOPLE who already drive inside the beltway. And, every day, people who live with the reality of this and who make their housing-decisions as a result.

And face it they're not going to add 2 lanes to I66 tomorrow. So even if it goes through you are facing the hypocrisy of saying that the area "needs" something that it clearly won't get anytime soon and has to make-do without it for quite a while. Then what happens? They open the new lane and any benefit that they find from it is lost within a month as traffic adjusts and you're right back to Square 1.

I66 is not the problem. The problem is too many drivers, too many cars, and not enough places for them to go. Get rid of some of the stop-lights & make it illegal to make left-hand turns in the places where it makes sense to do so, expand the Metro rail system (the buses make things worse as they impede traffic-flow) you'll see more of a benefit that way. If traffic was only backed up on I66 I might agree that it needs more lanes. Anyone can look out their window in VA during "rush-hour" and see that that is clearly not the case.

Posted by: dubya19391 | February 23, 2009 1:29 PM

The problem with widening I-66 is that I-66 ENDS AT A STOPLIGHT!

Arlington is not just a speed bump for the rest of Northern Virginia. Already running through Arlington is the GW Parkway, I-66, Route 50, I-395, and Route 1.

There are no interstate highways that run through the district. They all end at stop lights: I-66, I-395, and I-295 all terminate.

Until there is a regional plan that includes improving, and connecting, interstates in the District, widening I-66 will accomplish nothing.

Posted by: quercus7 | February 23, 2009 1:29 PM

Open the stinking road up to 3 lanes.

Keep the HOV rule at all times.

This will promote more Hybrids on the road as more people will get one to use the road.

This way, it promotes carpooling, higher mileage, and provides the escape route.

Posted by: cstrike | February 23, 2009 3:30 PM

I think HOV hours should be expanded to match the hours of HOV outside the Beltway, and the HOV restrictions inside the Beltway should be applied in both directions. The road works okay when it is HOV restricted, but because the hours are so short, the minute the HOV ends, the road is flooded with traffic.

With the implementation of expanded HOV hours, VDOT should implement slugging on I-66 like they do on I-95. Then people without a second person could easily get a second person.

I-66 should be expanded as much as possible within the existing right-of-way. After that, then Arlington can go tell Fairfax to go to you know where, because people in Arlington should not have to have their homes taken to accomodate commuters from far away. But you cannot use that argumnent until I-66 has been expanded to its absolute maximum capacity within its current right-of-way. That quite clearly has not happened yet.

Posted by: thetan | February 23, 2009 5:30 PM

quercus7: As Meatloaf sang, two outta three ain't bad. I-295 does not terminate at a stop light. It becomes DC-295 and eventually the Baltimore Washington parkway. No stoplights. If you're thinking of going downtown, it merges onto I-395. Again, no stoplights.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | February 23, 2009 5:38 PM

> I agree. No more new lanes for private cars. That era is dead and gone.

Posted by: jchapline1 | February 23, 2009 7:06 PM

>>Times have changed, and people need to understand that. Nobody will ever get anywhere with the same old same old.<< I agree, no more new lanes for private cars. That era is dead and gone.

Posted by: jchapline1 | February 23, 2009 7:08 PM

Anyone who opposes the widening of I 66 in both directions in Arlington County should be put on a plane and sent to GITMO.
After a wonderful week of real torture ie listening Miley Cyrus, getting fashion advice from Beyonce's mom and no Starbucks
I am sure Arlington County residents will change their socialist mind set.

If not get out the peroxide and after blonding up the women sell them to Arabs and put the men in forced labor camps!

Widening I 66 morons will got down on the cut through traffic in your neighborhoods and sorry you have no say in the matter.

Posted by: sheepherder | February 24, 2009 6:32 AM

If common experience holds good, within 12-18 months of I66 being widened through Arlington, the lanes will be jammed. The more lanes the more traffic will be drawn to them. Then what? All of this, inbound into DC at leas, is academic anyway. What happens to all this extra traffic when I66 hits the approach to and the tunnel itself into the District? Widening I66 can only be justified if it goes hand in hand with an integrated transport system that places public transportation before widening I66 and the increase in noise and other pollution affecting not those that drive through, but those that live each side of it.

Posted by: jameswork52 | February 24, 2009 7:33 AM

Millions available to fund I-66 widening? Wasting stimulus funds? Why not use the money to stimulate some rational planning and development? Clean cars, innovative car pooling and sharing ideas, bus lanes, mass transit development, smart urban/suburban planning... Arlington has spoken (again and again) and the Wolfe is still at our door (along with the Post... what's the problem, circulation falling in Fairfax?).

Posted by: chrisscheer | February 24, 2009 8:16 AM

I'm glad that others have already commented on the bridge bottleneck inbound. I agree with increased transit and eagerly await the day I can take Metro to Tysons Corner. And wouldn't it be great to have Metro stops at places like George Mason University (Fairfax), Northern Virginia Community College campuses and any other place with huge parking lots and limited public transit, such as a bus that comes so infrequently driving a car is a reluctantly better option.

Posted by: MKW22201 | February 24, 2009 8:48 AM

Two words: Rosslyn Tunnel.

Posted by: garryyoung | February 24, 2009 9:23 AM

Marc Fisher says the engineering of I-66 makes so sense as it narrows from three lanes to two inside the Beltway. The "spot improvements" contemplated by VDOT make even less sense. Under that scenario I-66 inside the Beltway will narrow from three lanes to two at the three exits where extended merge lanes will end. Not only will this not end the congestion on I-66, it will create a new set of safety hazards as motorists heading west try to pull out of the merge lanes and back into traffic. Additional hazards are introduced by the narrowing of the inside shoulder in some places to three feet.

It's time for VDOT and its supporters to realize that building roads isn't the only solution to congestion. Enhanced HOV, express bus service and improved Metro service are just a few of the alternatives they routinely reject.

Posted by: audreyclement | February 24, 2009 11:55 AM

I haven't seen anyone mention that the 2 lanes feed directly onto bridges that are already overcrowded. The only jams on I66 are on the sides where there is no HOV rule. Traffic moves on the HOV sides (Eastbound in the AM/Westbound in the PM). Building another westbound lane doesn't coordinate with the bridge limitatation and ignores the HOV possibilities.

Posted by: cnova | February 24, 2009 1:57 PM

Leave it to Fisher to wander around without actually addressing the issue. He says the TPB said "no" to federal money, but they said no (for now) to widening. The money could be reprogramed, how about fixing potholes, or adding more buses?

He says there was a clamor for more lanes, but that's his spin. I think there was a clamor to reduce congestion, and there are several ways to do that. Yes it has been studied, and shown there are better ways, why not consider cheaper ways first?

Was it "social engineering" when HOV requirements were lowered from 4, to 3, to 2? So let's raise them back to HOV3, which will improve the flow, then add high-quality buses to take up the slack. if that doesn't help enough, make it a variable toll for everyone. How about that Fisher, why don't you comment on that instead of denigrating thinking peopel who question the auto culture?

Posted by: RRider3 | February 24, 2009 2:05 PM

The only section that needs to be widened is I-66 from Fairfax Drive/Ballston to the Dulles Access Road in each direction. Fixing that bottleneck would do wonders and still limit traffic in each direction to the two lanes into the city and two lanes to the beltway. All that is needed is 3.9 lane miles added in each direction, and it should be achievable within the current highway footprint.

2 lanes of the Dulles Toll Road + 2 lanes of I-66 right back into 2 lanes does not even come close to computing. Likewise it is the point where Fairfax Drive dumps into I-66 that can cause miles of backups from D.C. If Fairfax drive didn't have to merge immediately into two full lanes there would not be any super slow merging going on backing everyone up. That people refuse to see any gray in this black/white issue (pro highway/pro transit) is sad. Anything beyond my suggestion would fail and be a waste of money.

Posted by: NikolasM | February 24, 2009 2:18 PM

It makes no sense to continue to waste money and feed the carbon-heads out in the boonies. Haven't you suburbanites figured it out yet. You are not sustainable. Get out of your car! Walk, ride a bike, even take that coal-powered metro if you have to. But don't build any more highways and throw more polutants in my neighborhood. National Security... get real... you don't need more wider roads, you need fewer cars! Duh use your brain and get off your butt!

Posted by: ed_hazelwood | February 24, 2009 3:06 PM

A promise is a promise, as you said, Marc.

People are very reluctant to compromise on quality-of-life issues, like allowing I-66 to be built through Arlington in the first place, because they are afraid that once you start, there's no stopping. Marc, your attitude demonstrates why folks take a "just say 'no'" position and resist compromises. So often, the compromise just becomes the starting point for the next take-away.

If a promise WERE really a promise, it would be easier to make progress on many issues. Whenever you disregard an historic promise, you make it harder to negotiate the next compromise. Whatever is the right choice for I-66, the example that a promise to Arlington was NOT a promise will make future policy compromises harder across the country. Think it over.

Posted by: MassanuttenPhil | February 24, 2009 3:43 PM

"The regional planners who cast last week's vote"
They weren't "Planners", they were Fairfax Supervisors.

Ironic how Arlingtonians didn't want the wider capacity in 1982, and now all the overflow from clogged 66 (and the truck traffic) ends up on their local roads like Lee Hwy, Wilson, Glebe etc. Which is worse?? If I lived in Arlington, I'd rather have Lee Hwy clear so I can get my kid to soccer practice, rather than jammed with overflow and oversize commuters from 66.

Posted by: LCPA | February 24, 2009 4:15 PM


So their choice is to bike from Fairfax to get to the city? They can't even take the metro. FYI the Vienna parking lot fills up earlier and earlier each year.

A real solution is to put a parking lot of an ungodly size in Vienna. They could also have a place to park overnight so the people commuting out of DC in the morning can take the (mostly empty) metro westbound to get to their cars.

Posted by: matt_nassr | February 24, 2009 5:27 PM

Honestly I was surprised to see that there is opposition to the widening of 66. To me it's a no-brainer: the fastest fix for the traffic problem. If you want to conduct a study, put a guy out there holding a sign saying "Honk if you want 66 widened" - give him earplugs, because he's going to hear a lot of honking.

Regarding the issue that people living west of Arlington are to blame - not so. Every day when you cross the beltway on 66 East, the road suddenly opens up and it's smooth sailing for a couple of miles. It only gets jammed again when people in Arlington start merging on!

Posted by: mmp003 | February 24, 2009 7:24 PM

Others have already said it, but just in case someone's keeping score . . . Adding more lanes inside the Beltway will just move the backup to Arlington and the Roosevelt Bridge.

I agree with you more often than not, Mr. Fisher, but this time you really missed the bus. (Which, by the way, can use HOV inside the Beltway - so maybe more people should use it.)

Posted by: patrsnw | February 24, 2009 8:20 PM

Where is I-66 dumping all of its commuters? At the entrance of DC. This idea of widening I-66 is non-sense unless you want more cars in DC. DC has a finite space of parking.

Yes, things change and change means more efficient transportation. The age of dinosaurs is hopefully extinct. That does not mean a return to horse transportation, it means transportation for the XXI st century.

Posted by: post16 | February 24, 2009 10:07 PM

mattispinky has it right - spend the money to get rid of the stoplights on US 50. Instead of 1, partial, outbound lane; we could have 6 lanes of freeway

Posted by: jhuenn | February 24, 2009 11:38 PM

I-66 was built after the Secretary of Transportation reversed his earlier decision to abandon the project. Its construction as a four-lane parkway limited to carpools was a compromise designed to sweeten the bitter pill of a commuter highway that destroyed miles of walking paths and many homes. We were told at the time that the highway would never be widened.
Widening the parkway to eight lanes will violate the terms of this compromise. It will also funnel scores more cars onto the streets of Arlington and Washington, which are not prepared to receive them. Why should we encourage more traffic at a time when we need to wean ourselves from dependence on foreign oil? There are sensible and green ways to alleviate the traffic problems on I-66 inside the beltway. Here are two: restore the old requirement that entry during rush hours is restricted to cars containing at least three passengers (or better yet, four), or make this portion of I-66 into a toll road. Use the proceeds from tolls to fund expanded Metro service. And apply the stimulus money to extending Metro to Dulles airport.

Posted by: Hillite | February 25, 2009 8:52 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.


© 2010 The Washington Post Company