Press Club

McDonnell Pushes For HOT Lanes Despite Arlington Suit

Virginia’s governor wants to revive the effort to put toll lanes on Interstate 395.

Gov. Robert F. McDonnell said his administration has been working to breathe life into the plan to add High Occupancy Toll lanes to the highway after it was delayed last year, following a lawsuit from Arlington County officials, according to the Washington Examiner.

The suit, which last week won a federal judge’s approval to move forward, claims that during the waning days of the Bush administration state transportation officials were improperly granted a “categorical exclusion” allowing the toll lanes to be built without conducting required environmental impact studies.

County officials say the lanes will benefit mostly white residents from Stafford and Spotsylvania counties to the detriment of Arlington residents — including a high concentration of minorities — who live along the I-395 corridor.

In addition to resulting in more pollution from auto emissions, the county argues the lanes could bring more traffic to Arlington’s neighborhood streets.

Last year, then County Board Chair Barbara Favola warned traffic would inevitably back-up where the HOT lanes would end, at Eads Street, forcing drivers to exit early.

State transportation officials have long countered that argument, saying the project would bring with it the reconstruction of local intersections and would ease traffic.

Attempts last fall to garner support from Prince William County officials — who also oppose HOT lanes — failed due to suit’s racial claims.

If built, the lanes would offer single drivers the option of paying per mile to use the express lanes by way of an electronic transponder that can be placed on car windshields, much like an EZPass.

Buses and cars with three or more occupants would still be able to use the lanes for free.

State officials haven’t said how much the 56-mile project will cost taxpayers.

Under the plan, HOV lanes on I-95 and 395 would be converted to toll lanes, and the lanes will then extended from Dumfries to Spotsylvania County.

If approved, Texas-based Fluor, Inc. and Australia-based Transurban, Inc. would operate and maintain the lanes. Those two companies will own and operate HOT lanes now being built on the Beltway, between Springfield and Tysons Corner, for the next 80 years.

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