“Why the Arlington County Board supports the I-66 plan” – WP

by Jay Fisette (Arlington County Board Member)

The Arlington County Board recently took a stance that some may find surprising: We voted to support the commonwealth’s plan to ease congestion on Interstate 66 — a plan that could eventually lead to widening I-66 inside the Beltway.

Since our community was traumatized by the building of I-66 right through some of our neighborhoods, Arlington has stood firm against any plans to widen I-66. So why did the board vote to support the Virginia Department of Transportation’s I-66 project inside the Beltway? Because this plan reflects a regional compromise that meets Arlington’s most important transportation needs. The project applies the same principles of smart growth that have served Arlington well for decades: to move more people — not just cars — faster and more efficiently through improved transit (slugging, carpools, commuter bus, eight-car Metro trains, etc).

By providing robust transit options, Arlington’s population has grown by more than 10 percent since 2006, yet vehicle miles traveled declined by nearly 6 percent in the same period.

Under the plan, only those driving alone during rush hour in the rush-hour direction would pay a toll. By 2020, drivers would need two passengers to drive for free, although the shift back to HOV-3 has been planned for many years and would be implemented with or without the tolls.

Unlike existing Virginia HOT lanes projects, this proposal would dedicate toll revenue to fund multimodal improvements in this corridor. All the money would stay in Northern Virginia. The corridor includes the parallel roadways from Lee Highway to Route 50. Any widening of eastbound lanes would not occur until the multimodal investments and any HOV changes were assessed after several years of operation. This is the most cost-effective approach and a big change from the typical knee-jerk reaction to just widening roads — leading to more cars with solo drivers and renewed congestion years later.

I voted to support the project because I feel strongly that it is important for the future of Arlington and the region. The staff and the citizen-led Transportation Commission spent a year in discussion with VDOT, and both recommended supporting the plan, as did the Coalition for Smarter Growth, the Virginia Sierra Club and the Arlington Chamber of Commerce.

This is a serious, smart and systemic solution to a congested corridor.  Arlington wants to be a constructive partner with the commonwealth in this effort.

The writer, a Democrat and member of the Arlington County Board, is vice chairman of the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission.