I-66 Inside the Beltway:
Top Ten Reasons Why WIDER Isn't BETTER
- In order to effectively deal with increasing congestion, we must have a comprehensive regional plan that accounts for development, growth, and changing commuting patterns.
- Current regional plans, as well as the statewide transportation program adopted in March by the Virginia Legislature, anticipate billions of dollars in public spending for transportation projects in the coming years - including projects, such as rail to Tyson's, Dulles, and Centreville, that would address I-66 congestion - but do NOT include widening I-66 inside the Beltway.
- Construction of additional lanes on I-66 inside the Beltway would do nothing to solve traffic congestion, and widening runs contrary to the regional planning process and regional environmental objectives. Therefore, at this time, ACST opposes widening I-66 inside the Beltway.
I. Traffic congestion needs a regional, comprehensive solution - not a cosmetic "quick fix."
- Widening I-66 inside the Beltway is not part of the latest regional transportation program: the Northern Virginia 2020 Plan, approved by a bi-partisan committee of elected officials representing all NOVA jurisdictions, which is focused on long-term projects to address regional traffic congestion over the next 20 years.
- Implementing independent proposals, outside of the regional planning process could undermine the success of the plan and divert scarce resources that are needed to effectively address the transportation needs of the region.1
- Widening I-66 inside the Beltway was also NOT included in the statewide transportation program adopted by the Virginia Legislature in March, 2000.
II. Those who have proposed widening of I-66 have not yet fully studied the more sensible, cost-effective alternatives that could be implemented as part of a comprehensive plan to address congestion.
A. Increase parking capacity at Metro lots, increase number of Metro trains and cars per train, publicize Metro Check and promote its use by employers in the targeted zones (Tyson's, Dulles, etc.) to increase Metro ridership.
B. Extend rail connections (Metro/light rail) to developed centers (e.g., from West Falls Church (WFC) Metro to Tyson's Corner, from WFC along the Dulles corridor, from Vienna Metro to Centreville, and along Columbia Pike, Route 7, and Route 1).
C. Implement Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) or priority/express bus service: solutions that can be implemented rapidly to address congestion (e.g., West Falls Church to Dulles and Centreville, and along Columbia Pike, Route 50, Route 7, Route 1, and I-395).
D. Enhance HOV through:
- Better enforcement of existing HOV restrictions.
- Reinstating HOV-3 on "traditional" commute (eastbound morning/westbound evening).
- Enacting HOV restrictions on "reverse" commute (westbound morning/ eastbound evening).
E. Promote alternatives to single occupancy vehicle transportation:
- Provide more commuter parking lots (e.g. Quincy parking garage) to be used for car pooling, van pooling, or charter/express bus service.
- Better promote car pooling and ride sharing information (now available through commuter services) to educate commuters on their options.
- Explore options of highway pricing, especially high occupancy tolls (HOT) for single-occupancy vehicles using HOV capacity.
- Provide tax incentives for employers and employees to promote alternatives to single occupancy vehicle transportation.
F. Other ways to address congestion long term:
- Better land use planning in the entire region (linking increased density with transit development) and other anti-sprawl initiatives.
III. Regional experience and recent research demonstrate that adding capacity to existing roads fails to resolve long-term traffic congestion.
Increasing highway capacity2 typically has only a temporary and limited impact on congestion, 3 as demonstrated by recent experience and research. Maryland's I-270 offers a classic example of a road widening project that provided only short-term relief (five years). Traffic on some segments of the highway already exceed levels not projected to be reached until 2010.4 I-270 is not an isolated case. The pattern of road expansion = more traffic has been borne out in many communities around the nation.
Many studies illustrate the limited beneficial effects of expanding capacity to deal with congestion. The Texas Transportation Institute's 15 year study of congestion in 70 metropolitan areas determined when road capacity is expanded near congested routes, drivers take advantage of the new facility to save time. The result is an overall increase in the total amount of driving and the total number of automobile trips in the region.5 At the metropolitan level, a 1% increase in new lane-miles generates a 0.9% increase in traffic in less than 5 years. Studies by UC Berkeley concluded that "with so much induced demand, adding road capacity does little to reduce congestion."6 Statistical analysis conducted by the US. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Policy has demonstrated that the hypothesis of induced demand is valid. "Increased capacity clearly increases vehicle miles traveled beyond any short run congestion relief that may be obtained."7
IV. Where will the additional volume of vehicle traffic go?
I-66 directs traffic flow to major regional traffic bottlenecks in both directions. In one direction, I-66 outside the Beltway and I-495 have already been identified as congested routes (without a wider I-66 inside the Beltway). At the other end, I-66 traffic is directed to the Roosevelt Bridge and to DC's Constitution Avenue. Expansion of I-66 inside the Beltway will further increase the congestion at each of these bottlenecks. Additional road capacity that simply moves bottlenecks a few miles down the road is not a solution - short-term or long-term.
V. Construction will increase the amount of time spent in traffic with little ultimate payoff.
The typical project to improve traffic flow removes only seconds or, at best, minutes from a daily commuting trip.8 A recently released study indicates that once improvements to the Springfield I-395/I-95/I-495 interchange ("mixing bowl") are completed, commuters can expect to save only 30 seconds per commute.9 Drivers will spend more time in construction delays associated with the interchange project that they will likely ever make up from the increased road capacity.10 These projects give little confidence that a significant relief in commuting time will result from a widened I-66.
VI. Widening I-66 will negatively affect the environment and the community's quality of life.
Regional air quality will suffer, since more traffic equals more air pollution. [Note: the region is already in violation of federal EPA air quality standards.] Increased runoff from additional paved surfaces will eventually end up in the local streams and then the Bay - as well as in Bluemont Beaver Pond. Additional traffic will increase noise pollution in the area. Bike trail and community parks and recreation areas may be adversely affected (e.g., VDOT's "concept plan" for widening I-66 would eliminate the bike trail between Patrick Henry Dr. and Jacksonville St., etc.).
VII. Widening I-66 could create a safety hazard
Many regional road capacity expansion efforts, including those on I-66 outside the Beltway, have included conversion of shoulders/breakdown lanes into traffic lanes. This conversion of a breakdown lane into a traffic-bearing lane has killed drivers forced to stop their vehicles in an active traffic lane (as recently as January 2000). Further, emergency response by police and fire vehicles would be hampered if there were no shoulder for their use.
VIII. The high cost of widening I-66 is a waste of scarce taxpayer dollars that would be better spent on a comprehensive regional response, as described above.
Widening I-66 in both eastbound and westbound directions between Spout Run and the Dulles Access Rd. is currently projected to cost between $80million-$120million.11 According to the Maryland DOT Capital Beltway Studies, one light rail line (e.g., trolley) can move the equivalent of eight freeway lanes of traffic.12 One heavy rail line (e.g., Metro) can move the equivalent of 17 freeway lanes.13
IX. Metro - the expansion of which would be an effective alternative to I-66 widening -is better for the region's economy.
- Metro has been proven to provide economic growth when coupled with changes in zoning density (e.g., Rossyln=Ballston corridor).
- Widening is likely to reduce Metro ridership and thereby require increased local government subsidies to offset the drop in fare revenue. According to State Senator Mary Margaret Whipple, when eastbound I-66 changed from HOV-3 to HOV-2 in the mid- 1990's Metro lost about a million dollars in revenue in the first year alone.
X. Widening I-66 violates the Coleman Decision and associated agreements between the USDoT, Virginia, and local residents.
The Coleman Decision, rendered by then-USDoT Secretary William Coleman on January 5, 1977, was an historic compromise that allowed I-66 to be created inside the Beltway by "guaranteeing" a four-lane limit. Further breaching this compromise would show nationally that highway agency promises to communities are worthless.
1 "Widening 66 Won't Solve Congestion," Washington Post, January 2, 2000.
2 Highway "capacity" is defined as, "the maximum hourly rate at which persons or vehicles can reasonably be expected to traverse a point or uniform section of a lane or roadway during a given time period under prevailing roadway, traffic, and control conditions." Transportation Research Board, Highway Capacity Manual, (1985) p. 1-3.
3 Conservation Law Foundation, Take Back Your Streets, How to Protect Communities from Asphalt and Traffic, May 1995, p. 46.
4 "Widen the Roads, Drivers will Come,|" Washington Post, January 4, 1999.
5 An Analysis of the Relationship Between Highway Expansion and Congestion in Metropolitan Areas, Surface Transportation Policy Project, p. 5, November 1998.
6 Ibid., p. 5.
7 Relationships Between Highway Capacity and Induced Vehicle Travel, Robert B. Noland, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Office of Policy, revised June 28, 1999.
8 Conservation Law Foundation, Take Back Your Streets, How to Protect Communities from Asphalt and Traffic, May 1995, p. 47.
9 "No Net Gain," Fairfax Journal, September 24, 1999.
10 "Mixing Bowl Work Questioned," Fairfax Journal, September 23, 1999.
11 "Widening 66 Won't Solve Congestion," Washington Post, January 2, 2000.
12 Maryland DOT statistic.
13 Maryland DOT statistic.