Alexandria residents worry about toxin release at Express Lanes ramp

On Monday, VDOT begins construction on a flyover ramp for the I-95 Express Lanes. It will be just north of Edsall Road at Turkeycock Run. (WTOP/Ari Ashe)

Ari Ashe,

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – Just days before construction begins on a new flyover ramp at Turkeycock Run, as part of the Interstate 95 Express Lanes, a citizens association is making a last ditch effort to have its voice heard.

“Our study finds that the level of nitrogen dioxide, one of the worst vehicle-borne toxins, will be up to 20 times higher than the EPA considers safe for even just one hour,” says Mary Hasty with the Concerned Residents of Landmark. Hasty lives 75 feet from where the ramp will be located.

“This won’t just affect people around the flyover ramp, but for a 1-mile radius around, so it’s going to affect 75,000 or more residents in Alexandria and Fairfax County.”

The I-95 Express Lanes will run 29 miles from Stafford County to just north of Edsall Road. They will cost about $1 billion and are slated to open in December 2014.

Construction on the flyover ramps begins on Monday. The ramps will allow cars to merge back into the northbound main lanes when Express Lanes end.

Eight homeowners associations in the Overlook and Lincolnia sections of Alexandria paid $70,000 out of their own pockets to hire a firm to study the environmental impacts.

“It [the study] not only found problems with nitrogen dioxide, but a particulate called PM 2.5. This particular toxin is so fine that you have no bodily defenses to it. It goes into your lungs, and it’s like glass. It just shreds the lungs and it’s cumulative. It also permeates through your home and it doesn’t dissipate,” says Hasty.

However, the Virginia Department of Transportation disagrees with the findings.

“We’ve been talking with them since late December. From VDOT’s perspective, our environmental document was approved by the Federal Highway Administration and was consistent with EPA guidelines in 2011 for air quality,” says John Lynch, regional transportation project director for VDOT Megaprojects.

Lynch provided WTOP with documents from federal and state officials that state the toxins are well within EPA’s limits.

VDOT received EPA approval after measuring pollution levels at several points, including the Springfield Interchange.

However, VDOT did not do a localized study at Turkeycock Run and appears unwilling to do so, citing the federal approval as sufficient evidence to proceed with construction.

“I’m lucky. I’m healthy. My kids are healthy, as of now. But nobody has done enough studies on all this stuff. Will there be a cancer spike because of it? It’s the dismissiveness that VDOT has done this project that frustrates me,” says Christine Adams of Lincolnia Park, also with the Concerned Residents of Landmark.

Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille supports the effort. He called Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton and Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Sharon Bulova this week to arrange a meeting to discuss the topic.

“I am still trying to see if the secretary will meet with Alexandria officials, Fairfax officials and members of the group, provided they will make the full report available, to reflect on where we go next,” Euille tells WTOP.

Initially, Bulova told Euille that she was reluctant to such a meeting, but later told WTOP that if the group released the full report, then she would agree to attend a meeting in Richmond.

“If they have persuasive evidence that there is a health hazard, of course that would concern me. I would simply call upon them to put the full report into the hands of Secretary Connaughton,” says Bulova.

No meeting has been scheduled yet.

“Our Alexandria elected officials have supported us immeasurably on this. I just don’t understand why the Fairfax County officials like Ms. Bulova aren’t as concerned about the health of their residents,” says Herb Treger of the Concerned Residents of Landmark.

Bulova has been a strong supporter of the I-95 Express Lanes and the benefits they’ll provide for commuters between Stafford County and Washington, D.C.

“This is not a ‘not in my backyard’ issue. This is not about noise or property values. It is a public health issue. If it were not for that, we wouldn’t be fighting it. We are not against HOT Lanes,” says Steve Hasty.

For now, VDOT appears ready to start construction on Monday and the Concerned Residents of Landmark are digging in for a long fight.

Follow @AriAsheWTOP and @WTOP on Twitter.

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