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Posted at 7:37 PM ET, 02/ 2/2011

Va. cancels plans for I-395 HOT lanes inside Beltway

By Rosalind S. Helderman
Rosalind S. Helderman

Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton will announce Thursday that the state no longer plans to build High Occupancy Toll lanes on a six-mile stretch of I-395 inside the Capital Beltway, the planned construction of which has been the subject of a contentious lawsuit filed by Arlington County against the state.

Instead, the state will embark on a series of other projects designed to ease traffic in the I-95/I-395 corridor, including launching an environmental review process to build HOV/HOT lanes on I-95 from Garrisonville Road in Stafford County to Edsall Road in Fairfax, and link those lanes directly to new I-495 high occupancy toll lanes already under construction.

The state will also accelerate plans to build a ramp connecting the existing HOV lanes on I395 to Seminary Road, where the massive Mark Center for defense workers is being built.

The plans are outlined in a letter Connaughton sent Wednesday to county leaders in Northern Virginia. In the letter, he writes that he hopes construction will begin on the projects in 2012 and promises to work closely with local jurisdictions to lessen impact of construction and solicit citizen input.

"The new project will create a seamless, regional network of managed lanes connecting the I-95 and Capital Beltway corridors and serve Virginia's growing employment centers and military sites, including Tysons Corner, Ft. Belvoir and Quantico," Connaughton wrote. "The network will create a free-flowing path for transit and provide the region's travlers new options, including first-time opportunities for carpooling and transit in many locations."

The decision could resolve of the state's nastiest fights between Richmond and a locality. Arlington sued the state 18 months ago, arguing that the state had not adequately studied the environmental impacts of increased traffic inside the Beltway on residents who live the near the highway.

The county had angered some in Richmond with the suit in part because the suit named current and state transportation officials personally, requiring the public officials to hire their own lawyers to defend themselves.

In the letter, Connaughton acknowledged that the state and county have been unable to come to terms over the issue. He said the state's plans for the corridor no longer include HOT lanes in Alexandria and Arlington or planned upgrades to interchanges at Shirlington and Eads Street in Arlington.

The lawsuit had already delayed the start of the project, which was originally scheduled to be begin last summer.

Connaughton has scheduled a news conference on the issue on Thursday morning, after which we expect to hear significant local reaction.

By Rosalind S. Helderman  | February 2, 2011; 7:37 PM ET
Categories:  Robert F. McDonnell, Rosalind Helderman, Transportation  
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Comments

Here is a thought, why not just take that money and fix the roads that need to be repaired. I can't tell you how many pot holes and bumpy roads I have travelled since moving to the city. Why do you need to build move "hot" lanes. It won't make a difference. More lanes means more cars on the road and more congestion. Here is another thought, lift the restrictions on HOV lanes on Fridays. You already lift them for major holidays. One day a week would be great to just drive without the HOV restrictions. Make a lot of people happy.

Posted by: john1068 | February 2, 2011 10:43 PM | Report abuse

Here is another thought, just build toll lanes between Dumphries and Richmond, starting in Dumphries. Let the state borrow the money and reap the benefits. Why guarantee a company profits and cost the state extra money ? Why should we once again endure the perpetual construction between Dumphries and Springfield ? You've spent how many billions already in this area and want to let another company tear it apart once again ? And who is it that has voted for all this ? Has the general assembly ever voted on HOT lanes ? I want to know who to give credit to if they work or don't work.

Posted by: Falmouth1 | February 3, 2011 5:33 AM | Report abuse

This is mixed news. It's good that VDOT is taking the steps needed to get most of this much-needed project moving quickly. The addition of HOT lanes will help to reduce congestion on I-95 south of the Beltway.

But it's regrettable that the HOT lanes won't be extended onto I-395 inside the Beltway - due to the obstructionist tactics of the Arlington County Board. Motorists who use I-395 (including Arlington drivers) must now suffer through continued congestion with no end in sight. HOT lanes would improve traffic flow on I-395, but the anti-highway mindset of Arlington politicians is preventing any relief.

The County Board's lawsuit has also used outrageous legal tactics -- making baseless charges of racism, and filing personal claims against government officials which threatens their individual finances. Arlington County and its lawyers should be sanctioned by the courts for their abuse of legal process.

Posted by: jrmil | February 3, 2011 5:56 AM | Report abuse

I love reading about traffic problems in Arlington and Falls Church.

I moved to San Antonio a couple of years ago and it makes me happy to think of all of the time and money I have saved, NOT sitting in traffic.

Posted by: NoDonkey | February 3, 2011 6:13 AM | Report abuse

That's not right! People who commute on 395 need to be delayed just like everyone else. What are they thinking?

Posted by: NICKYNUNYA | February 3, 2011 7:27 AM | Report abuse

I had mixed feelings about the Shirley Highway HOT project. On the one hand, I credit VDOT for being willing to consider something new. A lot of people say HOT lanes won't work, but you can't know that until they try it. On the other hand, I think there's a valid point to be made that because on Shirley Highway you'd be taking existing taxpayer-funded road and handing it over to a private enterprise to charge tolls, it's objectionable. The Beltway HOT project is different--the private consortium members are widening the road and then rebuilding it to include HOT lanes, so the tolled road is in fact new capacity. Shirley Highway wouldn't have had that--while there would have been one new lane within the existing HOV footprint, they would have accomplished that by narrowing the two existing lanes and taking away the shoulder. I rather suspect that was a bad idea.

The Mark Center ramp is something that should have been constructed as soon as the government started building that monstrosity. Ideally that whole Seminary Road interchange would be reconstructed with a new design, but that's impractical and too expensive. (Sometimes I think the interchanges on Shirley Highway seem experimental, as though when it was built in the 1940s and 1950s they tried out as many different designs as they could to see what worked. I think the King Street interchange is the best of them since it's a modified cloverleaf with no weaving areas.)

Posted by: 1995hoo | February 3, 2011 7:39 AM | Report abuse

Traffic is made up of cars and until you reduce the number of cars on the roads, nothing will ever get better.
HOT and HOV lanes do nothing to relieve congestion. Build Metro down to Woodbridge and Stafford County, out to Loudon County and up to Frederick MD. Columbia pike and Rt 50 in VA should have Metro running under them NOW, not 50 years from now.

Posted by: Soccerboy | February 3, 2011 7:48 AM | Report abuse

Thank goodness. We desperately need relief from traffic congestion on I-95 south of the beltway. Hot lanes represent the best available short term approach to widen the Interstate given the lack of transportation funds. I believe people will support this idea, and I am willing to pay a toll to lessen the I-95 parking lot problem. The two years to construction pain is worth the gain.

Posted by: gfoster56 | February 3, 2011 7:49 AM | Report abuse

So once again the selfish wishes of a well-organized few trump the greater good. This is democracy?

Suggestion to those who struggle with I-395 traffic while commuting to your jobs in Arlington:

Spend your money elsewhere. Don't patronize any local businesses. Don't buy a cup of coffee; bring your lunch instead of buying it; don't go to the mall; don't go to the cleaners.

Arlington gets sales/meal taxes from anything you buy while you're there. Hit them where it hurts - their precious revenue.

Posted by: ceefer66 | February 3, 2011 7:59 AM | Report abuse

This problem is more of the selfish "Me/I" mentality of the single drivers who are the problem of congestion when they could be using a commuter bus or the Metro to avoid all of this mess -as it ill affects both their mental and physical health much less their minimal time spent with families. Instead of catering to this group what is better needed is the bridge crossing the Potomac South of Frederick so that traffic going either North, South or West could bypass the Washington 495 congestion altogether. No, the titled few of the horse country landowners of VA voted this bridge and roadway down in years past. It is long overdue and a much better alternative to the congestion than the toll roads which were only meant to bring monies to the states coffers.

Posted by: davidmswyahoocom | February 3, 2011 8:50 AM | Report abuse

This problem is more of the selfish "Me/I" mentality of the single drivers who are the problem of congestion when they could be using a commuter bus or the Metro to avoid all of this mess -as it ill affects both their mental and physical health much less their minimal time spent with families. Instead of catering to this group what is better needed is the bridge crossing the Potomac South of Frederick so that traffic going either North, South or West could bypass the Washington 495 congestion altogether. No, the titled few of the horse country landowners of VA voted this bridge and roadway down in years past. It is long overdue and a much better alternative to the congestion than the toll roads which were only meant to bring monies to the states coffers.

Posted by: davidmswyahoocom | February 3, 2011 8:50 AM | Report abuse

This problem is more of the selfish "Me/I" mentality of the single drivers who are the problem of congestion when they could be using a commuter bus or the Metro to avoid all of this mess -as it ill affects both their mental and physical health much less their minimal time spent with families. Instead of catering to this group what is better needed is the bridge crossing the Potomac South of Frederick so that traffic going either North, South or West could bypass the Washington 495 congestion altogether. No, the titled few of the horse country landowners of VA voted this bridge and roadway down in years past. It is long overdue and a much better alternative to the congestion than the toll roads which were only meant to bring monies to the states coffers.

Posted by: davidmswyahoocom | February 3, 2011 8:52 AM | Report abuse

HOT lanes are a complete waste of money and space that could be used for additional lanes for all. The two lane monstrosity that comes into DC uses enough space that could have added a total of four lanes to the highway - 2 in each direction. So capacity could have been increased by 66% - 3 lanes to 5, in each direction.

Instead, we get only 2 lanes in one direction, and only if you pay more money. This does NOTHING to ease congestion or speed up commute times. This is a bad idea all around. Much better to use HOV lanes during certain times of the day on existing roads, such as is done on I-66.

Posted by: silencedogoodreturns | February 3, 2011 9:09 AM | Report abuse

Hooray!!!! Best news I've heard in a long time. Kudos to Arlington for standing up to the thugs in the statehouse. I-95 HOV lanes get all of us moving really well now. I didn't want to pay a toll 24/7 to drive on a federal highway that my taxes already paid for. Finally, some common sense.

Posted by: AdventurerVA | February 3, 2011 9:25 AM | Report abuse

Considering that there was absolutely no room to put them in other than to tear down existing neighborhoods, hotels and other business... did they really think they stood a chance?

Posted by: bobbarnes | February 3, 2011 9:28 AM | Report abuse

Take the money that was to be used for HOT lanes and increase the VRE service that already runs on that corridor to much higher frequency. Its been proven multiple times over the past decades ; when you add more lanes all you do is induce more people to drive then in 6 months you are back in the same gridlock traffic. You can't pave your way out of traffic.

Posted by: cremuzzi | February 3, 2011 9:36 AM | Report abuse

I have a couple questions for those of you who live far south of the city, complain about traffic and demand that the communities in Arlington and Alexandria be disrupted so you can have a faster commute to work: what did you think your commute would be like when you chose to move so far south?

Life is full of choices and trade offs. Those of us who live close to the city made a choice that involved a trade off. We'd pay more for our homes, get a smaller home and yard but live closer to work, therefore spending less time commuting and more time with our families. Those who moved south made a different choice with similar trade offs. You got cheaper homes and more space, but a longer commute and less time at home. Why should our communities be disrupted so your choice can be subsidized? I like the Shirlington interchange just the way it is. I don't want it to look the interchanges along 495, complete denuded of vegetation for five or more years with big, ugly sound barriers in my neighborhood. No thanks. You moved down there; deal with the commute or move somewhere else.

Posted by: Eric12345 | February 3, 2011 9:36 AM | Report abuse

Here we see the tensions between the understandable desire to have a nice house with land at an affordable price and the desire to have an easy commute alone in your car. In any large metropolitan area, that simply cannot happen. Arlington County's intransigence is a bit selfish, but it isn't as if their capitulation would have made that tension disappear.

Posted by: krickey7 | February 3, 2011 9:47 AM | Report abuse

Good. They need to expand access to public transportation instead to get more cars off the road. Us inside the beltway people don't need all your pollution from your cars just passing through our neighborhoods.

Posted by: mikefromArlington | February 3, 2011 9:48 AM | Report abuse

ceefer66 - You wrote "So once again the selfish wishes of a well-organized few trump the greater good. This is democracy?"

First, decisions like this aren't made democratically. So no, it's not a democracy. That's a good thing. The majority shouldn't be able to impose it's will on the minority.

Second, I don't think you should assume your position is that of the "greater good."

Posted by: Eric12345 | February 3, 2011 9:56 AM | Report abuse

Considering that there was absolutely no room to put them in other than to tear down existing neighborhoods, hotels and other business... did they really think they stood a chance?

Posted by: bobbarnes | February 3, 2011 9:28 AM

You haven't been following the project. The Shirley Highway HOT project would not have involved new construction. They were going to take the EXISTING reversible roadway (i.e., the express lanes, also sometimes called the HOV lanes or the restricted lanes) and make it into an HOT facility; they were also going to make it three lanes by narrowing the two existing lanes and taking away the shoulders. Nothing was to be torn down and the local lanes (what Lisa Baden calls the "mainline") would have been untouched. The HOT facility would have ended at the point where the HOV divides into separate inbound and outbound carriageways just outside the Pentagon (this means you could still drive for free over the 14th Street Bridge in the express lanes and exit back out to the local lanes without paying a toll--probably a good thing in terms of allowing thru traffic to bypass the messy interchange with the GW Parkway).

The fact that they would have been taking an existing roadway that many people now use for free outside of the HOV hours and converting it to a facility that would always require HOV or the payment of a toll (i.e., 24/7 HOV-3 or pay, except during the hours when the lanes are shut down to reverse direction and nobody can use them) is one thing that made the project very controversial to a lot of people outside of Arlington. It wasn't just the BANANAs in Arlington who had issues with this one. (See my earlier comment where I noted that converting existing capacity to HOT is very different from building new capacity that will be HOT from the beginning.)

Posted by: 1995hoo | February 3, 2011 10:05 AM | Report abuse

So basically Arlington County forced VDOT to build an express driveway straight to the new Mark Center complex, serving northbound commuters rather than themselves. This will help the government justify moving jobs out of Arlington. Good idea.

Arlington needs to understand that 200,000 residents does not trump the needs of 2.5 million residents residing west of them. Money for more transit isn't growing on trees. The end result would be more Arlingtonians driving to jobs in Fairfax sitting on a congested I-66 and I-395.

Posted by: rnorwood01 | February 3, 2011 10:52 AM | Report abuse

"So basically Arlington County forced VDOT to build an express driveway straight to the new Mark Center complex ...."

It won't be straight into the complex. People using the ramp will still have to go three-quarters of the way around that rectangular interchange (two left turns, then straight through the third light) and then cut left across traffic on Seminary. While you can legally go left on red at those lights because you're turning from a one-way street into another one-way street, there's generally enough traffic there that actually making the left on red is a rare feat during rush hour.

The Defense Department WANTED to build a direct flyover ramp from the existing HOV facility directly into the new complex. Local residents made a huge stink because it would have cut through a nature preserve next to the complex and they ultimately defeated the proposal. While that's probably a good thing, I do not understand why the other HOV ramp (the one now being proposed) wasn't made a part of this project from the very beginning. It's such an obvious step that it makes you question the intelligence of the planners. Yes, the interchange it will feed is a terrible design and is at a failing level of service as it is, but instead of looking just at that interchange you need to look at the big picture of traffic in the Shirley Highway corridor. (Also, the Defense Department wants to run shuttle buses from the Franconia-Springfield Metro stop to the Mark Center. Without that HOV ramp to Seminary, those buses will have to sit out in the local lanes with everyone else. Can't imagine that would be a huge success.)

Posted by: 1995hoo | February 3, 2011 12:34 PM | Report abuse

"Why should our communities be disrupted so your choice can be subsidized?"

For the same reason WE subsidize YOUR "choice"!

Last anyone checked, Metro fares cover only 30% of the cost of a ride. And in virginia, ALL roads are paid for and maintained by the state. That includes the streets and roads in Arlington.

I'm always irritated by the smugness of those of you who act as if you should be "rewarded" for your lifestyle choices while anyone who makes adifferent choice should be punished. Where do you get off/ Who do you think you are?

FYI, driving - even solo - is neither illegal, immoral, selfish, or irresponsible. I for one, am sick and tired of those who think it is. For that reason, I encourage drivers to fight back with their pocketbooks at those who think "punishing" drivers is the right thing to do.

Who knows? If enough people follow that path, people like you just might end up paying the REAL cost of your cheap train/bus ride.

Posted by: ceefer66 | February 3, 2011 1:45 PM | Report abuse

"Why should our communities be disrupted so your choice can be subsidized?"

For the same reason WE subsidize YOUR "choice"!

Last anyone checked, Metro fares cover only 30% of the cost of a ride. And in virginia, ALL roads are paid for and maintained by the state. That includes the streets and roads in Arlington.

I'm sick and tired of the smugness of those of you who act as if you should be "rewarded" with cheap/free transit for your lifestyle choices while anyone who makes a different choice should be punished with a lousy, stressful, time-consuming, expensive commute. Where do you get off/ Who do you think you are?

FYI, driving - even solo - is neither illegal, immoral, selfish, or irresponsible. I for one, am sick and tired of those who think it is. For that reason, I encourage drivers to fight back with their pocketbooks at those who think "punishing" drivers is the thing to do.

Who knows? If enough people follow that path, people like you just might end up paying the FULL cost of YOUR "choice".

Posted by: ceefer66 | February 3, 2011 1:47 PM | Report abuse

This is great news! The fact is that the future of transportation in metro areas is in mass transit, not pavement. Drivers like to think that gas taxes and fees pay for the roads, but that hasn't been true in many years (for starters, the gas tax never goes up).

We all pay for roads through property and other taxes and we let drivers use most of these roads for free. If we are going to subsidize transportation, then let's subsidize transportation that will work for the future.

We need more transit, supported by a comprehensive pedestrian and bicycling network so everyone can access it. Our health, safety and quality of life depend on it. For one thing, we've got an increasing population of "aging in place" seniors that need viable alternatives to driving.

Posted by: JonathanKrall | February 3, 2011 2:15 PM | Report abuse

Nodonkey, what traffic problems in Falls Church or Arlington? If you actually live in either of those places, as I do, getting in and out of the city is a breeze. On the other hand, taking the interstate through Arlington into the city when you live in Dumfries is a traffic problem. Arlington is just sticking out for themselves. Arlington is a community that doesn't like being run over by interstates. They had to defend themselves from I-66 being run right down Wilson Blvd in the 70's, which would have destroyed an aging urban community. Instead Arlington had I-66 moved to the edge of the urban area, and planned a long term growth strategy utilizing the historic infrastructure and new Metro stations along the Wilson Blvd corridor. The Metro stations themselves were another stand the county had to make. Originally they were to be along 1-66 on the edge of the urban area. But the county knew better and forced the state to change the Metro plans. Arlington paid extra for the Orange Line tunnel under Wilson, but that was another example the county knowing what's best for it's own community. Arlington wouldn't be the place it is today without this "obstructionist" mentality you despise.

Posted by: destewar | February 3, 2011 4:04 PM | Report abuse

People should pay for the right to ride in the middle lanes of 395 and I95. Driving a Prius (For me getting 44 MPG from my Prius is its own reward) or carpooling causes a lot of police enforcement. The cops have better things to do. Put tolls on those lanes now and raise some money.

Posted by: GeneWells | February 3, 2011 7:04 PM | Report abuse

Thank goodness this boondoggle was avoided. The HOV lanes as they are operate successfully, and there's really no need to squeeze another lane through to encourage more people to drive into DC. That additional traffic has to go somewhere once the HOT lanes end, and there's not exactly oodles of space on DC and Arlington streets to accommodate it- so the new lane would just create more gridlock elsewhere, causing more pollution, noise, and danger to pedestrians in DC and Arlington.

More buses on the existing lanes or VRE trains would be a more space-efficient, environmentally-friendly solution to ease commutes along the 395 corridor.

Posted by: RichardatCourthouse | February 4, 2011 4:23 AM | Report abuse

ceefer66 – Just to set the facts straight, metro fares cover between 55-57% of the cost of operating the system. It’s not 30%. Also, you only subsidize the metro system with your taxes if you live in Fairfax, Falls Church, Arlington or Alexandria. Other Virginia residents who live further south on I-95 or in the rest of the state don’t subsidize the system. If you live in one of the communities that support the system, it’s only right that you support the public transportation system that serves your community. Just like you pay taxes to support a public school regardless of whether your children go there. Public transportation is a public good. If you object to that principle then you need to take that up with your elected officials. Good luck with that. This has nothing to do with my choices other than I made a choice to live close to where I work and spend less time commuting and more with my family.

What I object to is turning my neighborhood into a construction zone for five or more years so that people who chose to live outside the northern Virginia area can get to work quicker. I’m not anti-car or anti-driver. I drive all the time and pay gas taxes like you do. You must have me confused with someone else. But people who live south of here made a cost-benefit analysis based on the situation at the time to move down there. They knew what they were getting into. They shouldn’t complain when people north of them who also made a cost-benefit analysis object to their plans to run a larger highway through their neighborhoods.

Posted by: Eric12345 | February 4, 2011 9:40 AM | Report abuse

@Eric12345,

"ceefer66 – Just to set the facts straight, metro fares cover between 55-57% of the cost of operating the system. It’s not 30%."

Acoording to the WMATA website, Metrto's 2009 budget was $1.3 billion. Of that amount, $500 million, or 38.46% was funded by fares.

So I was off by a few points. Either way, by no means do fares "cover between 55-57% of the cost of operating the system".

Where did you get YOUR numbers?

As for the remainder of your comment, I have no prob lem supporting transit. My problem is with selfish people like yourself who benefit from transit then have the nerve to oppose roads that benefit the rest of us and try to support your selfish position with smug crap like "I don't want to sacrifice or be inconvenience so that people who chose to further out can get to work quicker..they knew what they were getting into...and shouldn’t complain when people north of them ... object to their plans".

That is the height of not only arrogance, but rank ingratitude considering that WE by our sheer numbers pay the lion's share of the cost of YOUR convenient transit.

Anything else?

Posted by: ceefer66 | February 4, 2011 2:20 PM | Report abuse

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