By Quinn Casteel, Capital News Service
RICHMOND – A bill requiring the Virginia Department of Transportation to study a widening of Interstate 66 has been tabled, but its sponsor expects the research to happen even though some affected localities oppose the change.
House Bill 426, sponsored by Delegate James LeMunyon, R-Chantilly, would have required VDOT to consider the effect of additional lanes on I-66 inside the Washington Beltway. LeMunyon had the bill tabled, or put to the side, in the Transportation Committee on Feb. 5.
“I’ve got an understanding with VDOT that they’re probably going to do what’s in HB426 on their own sometime in the next year or two,” LeMunyon said. “That’s why we said, ‘OK, if that’s the case we don’t need to go forward with it.’”
VDOT’s Northern Virginia district planner Kanti Srikanth said he was unaware of such an understanding, but that he would not be surprised to see LeMunyon get his wish.
“It’s very plausible that the next update of the study, that this project will be nominated either by (Northern Virginia Transportation Authority) or the Commonwealth Transportation Board,” Srikanth said.
Such studies are known as rating studies, and high ratings are imperative for getting projects approved and funded. With other measures to reduce I-66 congestion already being implemented, such as the upcoming Metro Silver Line, HOV restrictions and improvements on the parallel bike trail, widening inside the Beltway has not been in the cards.
Arlington County Board of Supervisors Vice-Chair Mary Hynes says her county wants the cards to remain that way, citing mass and alternative transportation as the best methods for reducing the traffic issues.
“Arlington County's position opposing the widening of I-66 to serve solo drivers has not changed,” Hynes said in an email. “We believe dedicated transit lanes, HOV restrictions and preservation of the parallel bike trails that carry more than 1,000 riders a day will move the greatest number of people and is the most cost-effective package of solutions to address the daily congestion on I-66.”
Virginia’s average work commute time was 27.9 minutes in 2012, sixth-highest in the nation according to the state website. Congestion on I-66 contributes to that, with morning and afternoon rush-hour conditions in both directions reaching poor and even failing levels according to a 2013 study conducted by VDOT and national transportation authorities.
“There are people that don’t have access to mass transit, or at least convenient and reasonable access to it,” LeMunyon said. “The other thing is, the people that might take the Orange Line to Arlington or downtown Washington, those trains are packed and the parking lots are full by 8 in the morning.”
Phase I of Metro’s Silver Line is scheduled to open in March 2014, and will reach the Reston area of Fairfax County. By 2016, the Silver Line will run through Loudoun County to Dulles International Airport.
VDOT is currently implementing spot improvements on various parts of I-66, including a project to connect Arlington’s Washington Boulevard on-ramp to the Dulles Airport Access Road off-ramp in Fairfax County. The $23 million project began in January, and is expected to be completed in summer 2015.
“Whether it’s a highway improvement or a transit improvement, VDOT and (Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation) always work with the localities in developing transportation projects,” Srikanth said. “To what extent they will be able to get everybody’s endorsement? That just depends, project to project.”