I-66 widening could delay aid to other congested commuter routes

FAIRFAX, Va. — While transportation officials in Richmond decide how to pay for widening and adding toll lanes along Interstate 66, local transportation leaders are discussing how the project could eat up funding for other Northern Virginia road and transit improvements.

The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, a regional body that uses tax money to pay for congestion relief projects, will likely be asked to pitch in to help cover the cost of the proposed changes along the I-66 corridor.

“The question of how funding for I-66 impacts other projects is really something that the NVTA will have to follow very closely,” says NVTA Chairman Martin Nohe, of Prince William County.

The Commonwealth Transportation Board is debating two options to fund the I-66 project: public or private financing.

Under the public option, the state and the NVTA would finance the mega-project but would also get to keep the revenues from the tolls collected on the lanes.

Under the private option, a third-party company would assume most of the financial risk upfront, but it would get to keep the toll revenue, not the state.

Both the 495 and 95 express lanes were built under the private option via a partnership with Transurban.

“The expectation is that the NVTA would be a partner under either scenario. Even with the private funding model, there is going to be a need for some tax dollars to go toward this project. But it seems likely under the private option, the expectations and request from VDOT to the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority would be lower,” says Nohe.

VDOT could ask the NVTA to fund about $300 million, if not more, under the public option. The NVTA would likely have to use bonds to raise that money.

“There is some upward cap about how much we can legally and morally commit to this project before we adversely impact our ability to relieve congestion in other corridors like Interstate 95 and Route 1,” says Nohe.

Some transit advocates are concerned about this scenario. They do not want both the state and the NVTA to spend so much money on I-66 that they’re unable to pay for rapid-bus transit on Route 1, transit improvements along Route 7, more eight-car trains on Metro’s Blue, Orange and Silver lines or building a new tunnel to relieve Metro congestion near the Rosslyn Station.

Nohe adds that the NVTA won’t write a large check to VDOT to widen and build toll lanes. It would focus instead on smaller, specific projects to relieve congestion along the I-66 corridor.

Sample projects could include new interchanges to fix bottlenecks at U.S. Route 29, state Route 28, U.S. Route 50, state Route 123, Springfellow Road and Nutley Street.

“There are about nine projects, most of them major interchanges, that we’ve identified as regional priorities. So to the extent that we are a partner on the I-66 project, we’re really focusing our money is on those interchanges that probably need to be improved whether or not the I-66 widening happens,” says Nohe.

The NVTA also has invested in transit projects such as a study to extend VRE service to Gainesville and Haymarket, along with expanding platforms at stations like Broad Run, Manassas, Manassas Park, Burke Center, Rolling Road and Backlick Road to accommodate longer trains.

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