Could HOT lane construction put Va. residents at risk?

Ari Ashe,

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – At a rally held next to the ramp that will mark the end of the Interstate 95 Express Lanes, an Alexandria group called on the Virginia Department of Transportation to delay construction until a public health study is complete.

“This ramp is posing serious public health risks to our children, our elderly and our community, says Debbie Fillipi, member of the Concerned Residents of Landmark. “We want our voices heard. Public officials have failed to listen or take action to address our concerns.”

Alexandria resident Natalie Semake shares Fillipi’s concerns. She’s worried that pollution could threaten her family’s health.

“I’m not here representing the city council. I’m not representing any organization. I’m a mom and I’m here with my two children,” she says.

“With the air pollution going up, the particulates attaching to my red blood cells, that hurts me. But look at my daughter, it’s going to hurt her. I don’t understand why VDOT would put her at risk.”

Fillipi thanked Gov. Bob McDonnell, Sen. Dick Saslaw and Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton for attending, then corrected herself and pointed to empty chairs. Next to them, two members of the Concerned Residents of Landmark in surgical masks holding a sign reading: “VDOT: Why No Local Study?”

In late March, the group turned over a lengthy report from environmental engineer Maureen Barrett at AERO Engineering that found the I-95 terminus ramp just north of Edsall Road would produce toxic amounts of nitrogen dioxide and PM 2.5 that will harm nearby residents.

Barrett also produced a study about the toxic impact of the GenOn Power Plant in Alexandria, which has since been shut down.

“The study comes with credibility, regardless of whose results are most accurate,” say Alexandria City Councilmember Del Pepper. “Your efforts deserve a response. I am hopeful this rally will get VDOT’s attention and speed up their response to you.”

“You deserve an answer.”

VDOT Chief Deputy Commissioner Charlie Kilpatrick says that their environmental experts are reviewing Barrett’s report. He says he will likely meet with the Landmark residents once that review is complete.

VDOT Megaprojects Director John Lynch previously told WTOP that they met federal EPA guidelines for the I-95 Express Lanes project and also questioned the Motor Vehicle Emissions Simulator methodology of Barrett’s report.

“In a haphazard and quick way, when VDOT lost the Arlington location, where the HOT Lanes were supposed to end, it looked around and picked out Turkeycock Run and decided to ended it here,” says John B. Britton, attorney for the Concerned Residents of Landmark.

“We’re not opposed to the entire projects or HOT Lanes, we just want VDOT to evaluate changing this community by making this the terminus location. We want an open, public forum to discuss the issues.”

Britton is the same attorney that Arlington County used to sue VDOT in 2009. As a result of the suit, VDOT decided to change the final location of the I-95 Express Lanes in Feb. 2011. He wouldn’t comment on whether the Landmark group will also sue.

Sean T. Connaughton, Virginia Secretary of Transportation, says he would agree to meet with Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille and Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chair Sharon Bulova after the analysis is complete and the group meets with Commissioner Kilpatrick.

Those comments were made after a ribbon-cutting on Thursday as Euille and Bulova stood alongside him.

VDOT hopes to complete their analysis in the next several weeks.

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