Neighbors rattled by Interstate 66 toll lane construction in Northern Virginia say bridge demolition is keeping them up at night, shaking their homes and putting their interests behind the needs of commuters.
The private companies building and operating the toll lanes for the Virginia Department of Transportation between the Capital Beltway and Gainesville, Virginia, have been demolishing the Vaden Drive bridge, next to the Vienna Metro station, for the last two months.
Steve Mindy, who lives in one of the townhouses closest to the demolition, just north of I-66, said his 9-year-old daughter said, “‘What do we do if the house falls down?'”
“That’s how badly the house was shaking,” Steve Mindy said.
The nearby County Creek homeowners association has also reported significant noise and vibrations as part of changes affecting the daily lives of people who live in the area.
“Even if you’re trying to sleep with ear plugs in, the house is still shaking, the cabinets are still rattling, and it’s just been something that I never thought I would experience in my life, and very difficult for everyone,” Mindy said.
“Everybody’s tired. I go many weeks where I only sleep a few hours a night and try to make up with naps on the Metro on the way to work, on the way back. But it’s been very tiring and exhausting,” he added.
The loudest work on the bridge is expected to be finished by the end of January, along with the work causing the most vibrations, VDOT said.
Mindy complained that construction materials and a portable bathroom are now essentially in his backyard.
A new bridge is scheduled to be completed by September 2020.
VDOT’s Michelle Holland said in an email, “Vaden Drive bridge demolition began on Oct. 18. Much of the demolition work has been directly over travel lanes and, therefore, can only be done during overnight hours, as travel lanes on I-66 need to be kept open during peak periods during construction.”
The total closure of the bridge and overnight demolition work also helps the private companies building the toll lanes stay on schedule by condensing the work into about a year, VDOT said.
No formal damage claims have been filed over the demolition, and no “excessive” vibration levels have been detected, Holland said.
For one weekend in late November, the companies responsible for construction of the bridge offered to pay for hotel rooms for some residents.
Mindy said he has spent a significant amount on hotel rooms during construction, but he declined the offer, fearing it might prevent him from recovering any money if his house is damaged.
Mindy also complained about a lack of communication: He said he only got notice of the hotel room offer at the last minute, and only learned about the plans for the total closure of the Vaden Drive bridge from a WTOP story in August, rather than through personal outreach from the construction team.
“If you’re going to put people in a situation where they can’t sleep at night, where you’re going to inflict sleep deprivation so you can build a toll road — you know, maybe you do something to help those people out,” Mindy said.
Documents obtained by WTOP through a public records request show the bridge designs were being finalized in June, and detour discussions for the road closures needed for demolition had begun earlier than that.
“The concerns of various commuters, bicyclists, Metro, all types of entities were considered … is there a reason that residents, our input, doesn’t seem to matter much?” Mindy said.
Many other similar bridge demolitions and reconstructions are already underway or are planned along the entire 22-mile toll lane corridor. Some are closer to homes than others.
For example, this weekend, the I-66 bridges over U.S. 29 North in Centreville, Virginia, will be demolished, with traffic reduced on Route 29 to one lane each way and no left-turn access to or from I-66 from 9 p.m. Friday, Dec. 13, through 5 a.m. Monday, Dec. 16, weather permitting
Similar lane closures are planned again the weekend of Jan. 3-6. The advance notice is something not provided at the start of the Vaden Drive shutdown.
The new bridges will be longer, wider and higher than the current spans.
Mindy suggested that any other people who run into similar problems should get neighbors together early to write letters and contact elected leaders — and take lots of pictures.
“I would like some reasonableness, some sanity, some consideration of the residents,” Mindy said.