NoVa transportation experts look to a future with an improved I-66

MCLEAN, Va. – At a recent panel discussion on the future of transportation in Northern Virginia, experts agreed the situation on area interstates has reached a tipping point.

In particular, lawmakers are interested in finding a solution to the congestion on Interstate 66.

“It’s probably the most congested corridor in the region,” said Bob Chase, president of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance. “It’s been neglected for a long time, but it’s not just a road issue. You do need to provide more highway capacity, but you also need to provide an express bus system or bus-rapid transit system in that corridor.”

In June, the Virginia Department of Transportation issued a Request for Information (RFI) on seven of 10 suggestions from an Environmental Impact Statement released in February. VDOT is looking for suggestions to make small improvements on I-66, fix various chokepoints on the interstate and improve coordination between buses, rail and other mass transit. VDOT also asked for more information on these options:

  • General Purpose Lanes: Constructing additional highway lanes that are open to all traffic and do not have tolls.
  • Managed Lanes: Converting already existing HOV-2 (two occupants or more) lanes into either a one or two lanes in each direction. It would operate as a high-occupancy toll facility where only high-occupant vehicles, buses and emergency vehicles wouldn’t have to pay a toll.
  • Bus Rapid Transit: High-end buses that make limited stops and travel in bus-only lanes. VDOT is looking into adding bus rapid transit located in the median of I-66 extending west from Vienna to Haymarket.

Express lanes are already in place on 495 between Tysons Corner and Springfield. VDOT and Transurban-Flor are also teaming up to build express lanes from Garrisonville Road in Stafford county to just north of Edsall Road in Alexandria. Those lanes will likely open up to drivers in early 2015. Drivers in express lanes pay a toll through E-ZPass. Tolls vary based on several factors, including traffic on the Beltway and the number of vehicles already in the express lanes. Cars with three or more passengers are exempt from the toll.

Options to expand Metro’s Orange line or Virginia Railway Express to Haymarket were also included in the environmental impact statement, but the Commonwealth Transportation Board voted against a detailed analysis on those options.

However, the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) approved $1.5 million in July toward extending development on the VRE Gainesville-Haymarket.

The request for information is due back to VDOT in late November. VDOT also plans to hold public meetings on I-66 development in November or December.

“I-66 is sometimes the forgotten corridor here in Northern Virginia because I-95 gets a lot of the attention, but we need to change that,” said NVTA Chairman and Prince William County Supervisor Martin Nohe.

But outsiders are worried that a heated battle over the Bi-County Parkway in Prince William County and Richmond could spell trouble for any solutions for I-66.

“Unfortunately, in my humble opinion, it’s easier to stop something than make something happen,” said Bob Buchanan of 2030 Group, which consists of local businesses looking at the future of Northern Virginia.

Whatever the option, a solution for I-66 could be years in the making.

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