Politics are Frustrating Good Planning and Long-term Solutions for I-66
Charlottesville, VA- The swirling and politicized debate over what to do with I-66 is frustrating good planning and long-term solutions,” said Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. “On the one hand, many are seeking to derail a good demand management solution for inside the Beltway; on the other hand, planning for expansion of I-66 outside the Beltway is sailing along even though it takes us further away from the long term solution necessary to address the underlying cause of high traffic volumes.”
Inside the Beltway
Legislators from outside the Beltway and highway lobbyists are pressing to blow-up the proposal for tolling, demand management and transit inside the Beltway in favor of widening all the way to DC. Delegate LeMunyon has posted the first bill of the season, HB1, to ban tolls inside the Beltway. Even Fairfax Supervisors are pressing for immediate widening eastbound as far as Ballston, rather than wait to see how the pricing, carpool and transit approach performs.
“Those seeking to widen I-66 all the way to DC apparently are unaware of induced traffic, the tendency of expanded roads in metropolitan areas to fill up in as few as five years after widening,” said Schwartz. Moreover, no thought has been given by proponents of widening as to where the additional cars would go when they hit Constitution Avenue in DC or exit onto local roads in Arlington. The cost of expansion could also be significant and certainly hundreds of millions more than the $40 million for the currently proposed tolling infrastructure.
“To us, nothing could be more fiscally conservative than the demand management approach proposed by the Governor, an approach that will move twice as many people through the corridor as today, with far greater reliability and a minimum guaranteed speed of 45 mph,” said Schwartz. Also, unlike today, single-occupant vehicles will be able to use the highway in the peak direction for the first time, albeit by paying a variable toll, and the public will retain ownership of the revenues, allowing funding for transit to carry even more people.
Outside the Beltway
Meanwhile, the proposed extension of HOT lanes all the way to Haymarket will likely fuel more sprawl and driving, while undercutting the value of the transit components included in both I-66 proposals. Unlike the comprehensive multi-modal studies that preceded the I-66 inside the Beltway proposal, planning for the outside the Beltway proposal never considered an approach that combines comprehensive transit (bus, Metro, VRE), transportation demand management and more efficient land use with targeted road fixes like the upgrades to the Route 28/I-66 interchange. “While planners are to be commended for proposing and funding additional commuter bus service as part of the project, the proposal does not include funding for additional VRE service, and the new interstate capacity extending all the way to Haymarket and the resulting sprawl will undermine the effectiveness of the transit improvements that are included,” said Trip Pollard, Director of the Land and Community Program at the Southern Environmental Law Center. The community and stormwater impacts will also be significant.
The extension as far west as Haymarket could not only fuel more auto-dependent development in western Prince William, it could generate similar development pressures as far west as Front Royal and southwest to Culpeper. The net effect will be to generate more driving and traffic, not less, along with more air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, as well as huge additional demands for public infrastructure for sprawling development.
“Our groups made repeated requests for analysis of a transit and land use alternative, without success. We also requested that if the HOT lanes go forward, they stop at Route 28 to capture the areas of greatest volume and to reduce the potential to fuel more sprawling development,” said Dan Holmes, State Policy Director for the Piedmont Environmental Council.
“In the final analysis, the HOT lanes outside the Beltway are at best a band aid on the traffic problems we face, and will fuel more sprawl and traffic. If Northern Virginia leaders do not do more to implement more efficient land use – focusing development in more compact, walkable, mixed-use and transit-oriented centers and corridors – then any capacity expansion like I-66 will only offer temporary benefits and our traffic problems will continue to get worse,” concluded Schwartz.
About Southern Environmental Law Center:
The Southern Environmental Law Center is a regional nonprofit using the power of the law to protect the health and environment of the Southeast (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama). Founded in 1986, SELC's team of about 60 legal and policy experts represent more than 100 partner groups on issues of climate change and energy, air and water quality, forests, the coast and wetlands, transportation, and land use. www.SouthernEnvironment.org