Comments to Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC) on Widening I-66 Inside the Beltway on May 5, 2016.
First I want to express my regret that a deal worked out between NVTC and Governor McAuliffe last year to toll I-66 inside the Beltway first and widen it later only if necessary was scuttled in favor a plan to widen I-66 as soon as the tolls are in place.
McAuliffe spins the new plan as a compromise and thinks everyone wins. Yet in a rational world, low cost solutions are evaluated before choosing more expensive options. The original plan would have cost taxpayers nothing. The compromise plan will cost a minimum of $120 million.
I don’t blame McAuliffe for capitulating to his opposition in the General Assembly. He had no choice given that his own party refused to back him up. Consider that on a recent radio talk show, Senator Barbara Favola stated that widening I-66 inside the Beltway was transportation “progress” that will help many of your [Kojo Nnamdi’s] listeners. She said: “We think we made headway because again they [motorists] are getting a lane, that extra lane.”
[The relevant portion is from 40:19 to 41:16 in the 52-minute program.]
The extra lane of which Favola speaks will induce more traffic and dump much of it at the I-66 Ballston exit, which cannot handle current traffic levels. In addition, no less than 1,500 new high rise apartments will have been added to Ballston’s housing stock between now and completion of the project, further compounding congestion. No multimodal improvements that I know of can mitigate the hazardous walking and drive conditions that will result.
But this doesn’t bother area legislators—either Democrats like Barbara Favola or Republicans like Delegate Jim LeMunyon of Centreville, who led the opposition to tolling I-66.
Even as he whipped up anti-tolling hysteria along the I-66 corridor, LeMunyon didn’t oppose tolling himself. He just opposed tolling without widening. Yet a cost benefit analysis mandated by HB 599, legislation that LeMunyon himself sponsored in 2012, shows tolling alone as the most cost effective solution to congestion on I-66 on every object metric reported.
But widening I-66 to Ballston is just the beginning of what Delegate LeMunyon wants to do. He is the principal patron of HJR 110, which requires the Virginia Secretary Transportation to study adding three lanes of traffic in each direction all the way to Washington, D.C.
With a northern Virginia delegation to Richmond as backwards as this, I’m surprised that Governor McAuliffe and Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne had the moral courage to advance their original plan to toll first and widen later.
I urge NVTC to exercise similar leadership by insisting that VDOT in its forthcoming environmental assessment honestly evaluate the impact that widening I-66 inside the Beltway will have on an already congested Ballston exit.