Widening I-66 Eastbound Inside the Beltway: Is it Really Needed?

Comments at December 5, 2016 VDOT Public Hearing on Environmental Assessment (EA) for Widening Eastbound I-66 Inside the Beltway.

The fact that Arlington residents have an opportunity to comment tonight on the environmental assessment for widening I-66 eastbound is a step in the right direction. When VDOT widened the same stretch of I-66 westbound in 2010, there was no EA public hearing, because there was no EA.

Another surprise is VDOT’s plans for new and/or improved noise barriers, improvements along adjacent bike trails, and an above grade pedestrian crossing at East Falls Church.

The difference was not a change in road conditions, which remain materially the same, but a change in administrations—to one that is significantly more sensitive to the wishes of Arlington residents.

That said, I have problems with this EA. While it makes a convincing case that I-66 is over capacity between the Dulles Toll Road and Exit 71 near Ballston, all of the metrics presented show that congestion on eastbound I-66 is significantly greater during the p.m. peak period, when tolls are not in effect than in the a.m. peak period, when they are.

Both Figure 1-6 and Figure 2-5–depicting AM and PM peak period road conditions at different time points under the build and no build options–show acceptable speeds during the AM but not during the PM–until 2040 when congestion disappears in both the AM and PM due to reverse commute tolling.

According to the report “this peak period volume reduction is expected to result from the implementation of tolling on I-66 between 5:30 AM to 9:30 AM and 3:00 PM to 7:00 PM by 2040 (p. 1-13).” It is evident that were VDOT to impose reverse commute tolling on eastbound I-66 now rather than later, congestion along eastbound I-66 inside the Beltway would drop dramatically.

So why wasn’t this low cost solution presented as an alternative in the EA? Northern VA legislators led by Delegate Jim LeMunyon put the gun to Governor McAuliffe’s head earlier this year, forcing him to justify yet another widening project that is not supported by the data.

Thus reverse commute tolling on eastbound I-66 was not a “feasible” read political option.

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