I just received this note from the Arlington Green Party asking that Arlington Civic Associations join in a suit against widening I66. I personally support the suit; I think that increased investment in highways begets the need for more highways. Anyway, I forward the note for discussion within NRCA.
Dear Arlington Civic Association Members:
My name is Audrey Clement. I’m a resident of Arlington and Co-Chair of the Green Party of Virginia. I recently filed suit to stop the I-66 Spot Improvement Project, and I would like the members of your civic association to sign on too. Not only will this de facto road widening project not eliminate congestion on I-66, it violates the 1977 Coleman Decision, which limited the width of I-66 to two lanes in either direction.
The Coleman Decision itself resulted from a ruling issued by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in 1972 that ended years of heated controversy over the design of the interstate. In addition to limiting the size of the roadway, it also called for HOV restrictions, a hiker/biker trail, and construction of the Orange line in the median. VDOT claims that the Coleman Decision was annulled by a rider to the FY2000 DOT Transportation Appropriation. Now I’ve read that rider, and all it says is that VDOT has exclusive control over I-66 consistent with other federal and state law. Nowhere does it give VDOT permission to widen the road.
VDOT also claims that the Spot Improvement Project is exempt from the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which would otherwise require it to evaluate alternatives to road widening. That’s because small projects like merge lanes are ordinarily excluded from the reporting requirements of the law. But the Spot Improvement Project isn’t small. It extends 4.5 miles along the 6 mile corridor of I-66 inside the Beltway. Nevertheless by constructing merge lanes instead of a full fledged third lane, VDOT argues that it doesn’t need to discuss the impacts and alternatives to road widening, even though federal regulations prohibit the breaking up of road projects to evade the reporting requirements of NEPA.
VDOT contends that a modeling study it conducted in 2006 showed that Spot Improvement #1, a 1.5 mile extended merge lane between Fairfax Drive in Ballston and Sycamore Street in East Falls Church dramatically improved the level of service on I-66 westbound by reducing mainline delay and travel time on the corridor. But these findings conflict with the “I-66 Inside the Beltway Feasibility Study” it commissioned in 2005, which showed no improvement over the no-build option. This contradiction is all the more striking because the modeling study used the same data as the feasibility study. If VDOT was aware of the contradiction, it never attempted to explain it at its public forums on the project.
Still another point of controversy is the fact that in its application to the Federal Highway Administration to proceed with construction, VDOT reported that the Spot Improvement Project had been “selected for implementation” by the I-66 feasibility study. Nothing could be further from the truth. The feasibility study actually recommended widening the entire length of I-66 westbound inside the Beltway in conjunction with a new managed lane to be used for HOV, HOT lanes or express bus service. There was nothing in its recommendations that even vaguely resemble the current Spot Improvement Project.
Also according to the I-66 feasibility study, 70 percent of westbound traffic originating in Rosslyn continues beyond the Arlington exits. Since the mostly outbound traffic must re-merge with mainline I-66 at the end of the merge lanes, the notion that additional road capacity will alleviate congestion on mainline I-66 is illusory. Instead the likely effect of extended merge lanes is to move bottlenecks further down the road and to induce more local traffic traveling between the exits.
Obviously Arlington residents want I-66 merge lanes to deflect peak hour traffic away from parallel arteries like Lee Highway, Washington Boulevard and Wilson Boulevard, but not at the expense of traffic safety. Yet inducing local traffic on to the interstate is a zero-sum game that is likely to result in more collisions on the I-66 mainline as increased local traffic competes with outbound traffic to get onto and off of the merge lanes. A much better strategy is to look at non-road building alternatives like express bus that would alleviate congestion on both I-66 and parallel arteries.
To alleviate congestion on I-66, Arlington residents need to consider not only the impact on neighborhood streets, but also the impact on I-66 itself. Take a look at I-66 outside the Beltway. Even with a minimum of six lanes everywhere you go, this stretch of road is routinely backed up. In fact I-66 outside the Beltway is a parking lot during rush hour and at often at night even on weekends. Anyone who thinks widening I-66 without more mass transit will end congestion on I-66 is fantasizing. Fairfax County and Loudoun residents know this. They sit hours on end in the traffic jams they’ve created in their craze for development.
Now they want to shove the same non-solution down our throats, without considering the impact of induced traffic and the real alternatives to road widening. By presenting the Spot Improvement Project as a fait accompli VDOT has denied Arlington a voice in the planning for I-66. The only remedy available now is to file suit for an injunction to stop the project in federal district court. Your safety as a motorist and convenience as a commuter is at stake. Please ask the members of your civic association to join me in signing on as a plaintiff in the suit I’ve filed in federal district court to stop construction of the I-66 Spot Improvement Project. A copy of my complaint is attached.
Co-Chair, Green Party of Virginia
As I recall, the Governor, the State Senate, our 2 Senators and our Congressman, and all 5 Arlington supervisors are all of the Democrat faith. How could they possibly have ignored the wishes of the people of Arlington?
We very much support the suit to stop the widening of I-66 and urge the State to invest in rail instead.
Rebecca de los Rios
I am in support of this suit. I am taken aback that VDOT says it doesn’t need to discuss the impacts and alternatives to road widening. One would think that was a standard part of the planning process.