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I-66 Widening Between Ballston and EFC to Begin This Summer

by Uriah Kiser May 21, 2010 at 9:42 am 3,999 13 Comments

The widening of Interstate 66 inside the Capital Beltway is moving forward.

Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell this week hailed a $10.2 million contract that was awarded to a construction firm for spot improvements on the four-lane highway inside the Beltway.

Orange cones and construction signs should be going up in the area later this summer.

The improvements will connect the westbound acceleration lane/deceleration lane pavement sections between the ramp to Fairfax Drive, near George Mason Drive, and Sycamore Street, near the East Falls Church Metro station, according to a press release from McDonnell’s office.

Construction will begin at the Fairfax Drive ramp near the George Mason Drive entrance ramp to I-66 west, and will end at the Sycamore Street ramp – a 1.9 mile distance. The entrance ramp acceleration lane and the exit ramp deceleration lane will be lengthened until they meet to form a continuous lane between both ramps, a McDonnell spokeswoman said.

In addition, a new 12-foot shoulder lane will be constructed which will carry emergency vehicles and could be used in emergency situations, she added.

Widening I-66 inside the Beltway has long been a hot issue for debate, regularly opposed by residents who live in Arlington. Those who use I-66 from points outside the Beltway, including Prince William County and Manassas, have long called for the widening of the road to relieve the bottleneck created when the number of lanes at the Beltway decreases, from six to four.

McDonnell’s office said the contract was delayed due to litigation, but a recent court decision the state’s favor will allow the highway improvements to move forward.

The improvements should not only make commuting easier and safer, but also would increase the evacuation capability of the nation’s capital in the event of an emergency, McDonnell said. However, some Arlington officials have objected to the project.

  • AJ

    this article really needs an “opinion piece” warning, given how biased it reads in favor of the widening of 66.

  • Pave! Baby! Pave!

  • Lowell

    So 66 morning/evening traffic is going to be even worse now. Impeccable.

  • the chocolate whizbang

    The article does not mention anything about increased capacity for the Potomac bridges, so how does the widening eliminate bottlenecks? It may move the bottleneck a few miles to the east, but that’s not what you say.

    As the first poster says, it is a pretty good pro-widening op-ed, though.

  • Greg

    Welcome to Arlington, the Suburbanite’s Highway.

  • Kate

    The “bottleneck” being referred to is at exit 71 westbound. The heavy amount of merging traffic from Ballston onto westbound 66 causes slow traffic before and after that exit even at non-rush times. I doubt it will fix it, but I assume that’s the attempt? (I’m not complaining about it and I’m not pro-widen…it lasts for a few minutes then eases.)
    I have to disagree with the commenter saying this article is biased. I see nothing there that says this is a good thing…the writer provides the news of what the plan is and then gives the two viewpoints of the proponents and the opponents. Anything positive about the move is attributed and he links to a full story on the opposition. Relax, people.

    • AJ

      the article only quotes pro-widening sources, mentions only supposed benefits of the project, and relegates the opposing view to an aside and link. not exactly balanced reporting.

  • bennynojets

    Sorry to go off on a tangent, but I have question related to commuting. Once the Metrorail extension is open will it be even more difficult for me to squeeze onto a morning rush hour train at Clarendon?

  • Nick

    @bennynojets:

    Actually, it should be easier for you to get a space on a rush hour train at Clarendon once the Silver Line is open. The car sequence should alternate like this: Orange-Silver-Orange-Silver etc. Currently, most of the train capacity on the Orange Line fills up before it even reaches Ballston. My guess is that the Arlington residents from Ballston to Rosslyn will have much more breathing room for a while (of course, then the “market” will even itself out again, and more Arlington residents will take the metro).

    Another reason you should get a space is that all Silver Line trains will be the 7000-series and all 8-cars. GreaterGreaterWashington had a great (pun intended) post about the railcars: http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post.cgi?id=5625.

    The next step after all of this is for WMATA to finally build a new Blue Line crossing across the Potomac River between Rosslyn and Georgetown to alleviate the (even greater) Orange crush.

    • bennynojets

      Nick, Thanks for all the “great” information. I hope they get back to automated operation by 2013 so the trains will be spaced more uniformly.

  • Arl Resident

    2 factual points

    the chocolate whizbang – The widening is only on the westbound side of I-66 so no direct impact on the Potomac bridges traffic or the inbound morning commute. 66 does back up a bit with the onramp merge from Ballston so the thought is this will help stretch out the merge a bit. We’ll see if it helps. I actually think it’s a good idea for a one off test. If it does reduce traffic backups, then the other two spot widening options for 66 westbound might reduce traffic too. If this one is a dud, then no point in wasting money, time, or debate on the other two.

    bennynojets and Nick – The Silver line will not only be 7000 series cars nor all 8-cars. The cars will be spread among one or two lines which may or may not be the Orange or Silver lines. It’s likely but not guaranteed. The story you post notes that the cars are being bought to increase the overall capacity, but not just the Silver Line’s use. If you dig through Metro’s website, there’s more info on this.

    Also, once the Silver line opens there will be no more “tipper” trains that occur now when an empty train is added from Well Falls Church leaving the railyard there during the am rush, rather than starting from Vienna. These few “tipper” trains are usually easier to board for Clarendon / Court House riders than the ones that start at Vienna. Once these “tipper” trains are gone, your commute will get a bit worse, but this may or may not be offset with the addition of more trains to the overall system.

  • Dave

    People should also consider that not everyone who lives in Arlington works in Arlington or DC. I commute out towards Chantilly/Centreville every day and the traffic is always bad going West until I pass East Falls Church. Hopefully this extra lane will help alleviate that, so I am all for it.

  • Steve

    I presume the opponents of I-66 expansion reside near the highway and inside the Beltway. In which case, I note two things: First, unless you moved to DC prior to the existence of I-66, you’ve no grounds to complain. You moved to the nuisance, and now you’re claiming it’s a nuisance. That’s irrational. Second, you reasonably should have driven I-66 before you bought. There’s enough real estate on either side of the roadway and underneath the overpasses for another 2, maybe 3 lanes on each side. Plainly I-66 was built with an eye toward expansion. Now it’s expanding. Deal.

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