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Local Officials Celebrate HOT Lanes Decision

by ARLnow.com February 3, 2011 at 1:51 pm 2,082 45 Comments

Arlington County officials and local lawmakers are celebrating VDOT’s decision to scrap its plan to build High Occupancy Toll lanes on the Arlington and Alexandria portion of I-395.

Here’s the county’s official press release:

ARLINGTON, Va. – Arlington County Board Chairman Christopher Zimmerman today welcomed VDOT”s announcement that it is pursuing a new, more limited High Occupancy Toll (HOT) Lanes project on I-95 that will undergo an in-depth environmental analysis.

“The state is now doing, for this new project, what Arlington asked it to do for the I-95/395 project,” said Arlington County Board Chairman Christopher Zimmerman. “The County’s goals have always been to protect transit and High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) travel in the corridor and to preserve Arlington neighborhoods.”

VDOT’s new project appears to preserve I-395 as an HOV/transit corridor. Questions remain, however, about the impacts of this new project on transit and HOV south of the Beltway. The County trusts that the environmental assessment to which VDOT is now committed to performing will address those concerns.

Arlington is also pleased to see that the state is addressing transportation problems at the Mark Center in Alexandria and the Engineering Proving Grounds in Fairfax County arising from BRAC decisions. These issues were not addressed in VDOT’s original HOT Lanes project. Arlington welcomes the opportunity to examine the HOV/transit connection to the Mark Center that VDOT now says it will construct in addition to the redesigned HOT Lanes project.

Arlington is still reviewing VDOT’s new project and assessing its impact on Arlington’s litigation against the state and federal governments. A key question for Arlington is the status of the Categorical Exclusion granted by the federal government for the original project. In light of VDOT’s decision to proceed with an Environmental Assessment of the new project, it would appear to be appropriate for the Categorical Exclusion to be rescinded by the federal government, or withdrawn by VDOT. Resolution of this issue remains a key factor in Arlington’s decision-making on the litigation.

Arlington remains committed to doing what it has always done – working to protect transit, ensure the ability to efficiently move people and safeguard Arlington neighborhoods. Arlington will continue to work together with neighboring jurisdictions and the state to address the urgent transportation needs of Northern Virginia.

Del. David Englin (D), who represents parts of Arlington and Alexandria, issued the following press release:

Richmond – Delegate David Englin (D-45) issued the following statement in response to today’s announcement from Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton that the state no longer plans to build High Occupancy Toll lanes on I-395:

“Today’s announcement that the I-395 HOT Lanes project will not go forward is welcome news and an important victory for thousands of Alexandria and Arlington residents whose neighborhoods and quality of life would have been harmed. I commend Secretary Connaughton for being responsive to our community’s concerns by finding an alternate solution to our region’s traffic mess, and also for working so hard to address the traffic challenges created by the Department of Defense relocation to Alexandria’s Mark Center. Congratulations to the many citizen activists throughout our community who made their voices heard in defense of our neighborhoods, and to the leaders who stood with them.”

Englin has worked closely for nearly two years with citizens in Parkfairfax, Fairlington, Shirlington, and the surrounding neighborhoods in opposition to the original I-95/395 HOT Lanes proposal. In addition to working to address environmental and design concerns with VDOT and its corporate partners, Englin has championed several pieces of legislation intended to impose greater accountability and environmental scrutiny over these massive public-private partnerships.

Regarding Arlington County’s lawsuit against VDOT and the Federal Highway Administration, Englin added the the following:

“While I will continue to push for greater accountability over similar projects, this new plan will no longer affect neighborhoods along the I-395 corridor, so I believe Arlington County’s lawsuit against VDOT and the Federal Highway Administration is now moot, and I hope we can move beyond it in short order.”Connaughton’s letter to local officials detailing VDOT’s revised proposal can be found here.

Delegate David Englin is Vice Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus and is serving his third term in the Virginia House of Delegates, where he represents the 45th District, which includes parts of the City of Alexandria, Fairfax County, and Arlington County. An Air Force veteran, Englin is a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy and Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. He serves on the Finance Committee, the Health, Welfare, and Institutions Committee, and the Agriculture, Chesapeake, and Natural Resources Committee. For more information, visit http://www.davidenglin.org.

Del. Adam Ebbin (D), who also represents parts of Arlington and Alexandria, issued the following statement:

Friends,

I’m happy to report that the Virginia Department of Transportation has just announced that it no longer plans to construct six miles of high occupancy toll (HOT) lanes inside the Beltway in Arlington and Alexandria.

Instead, the state will move forward with new HOT lanes on I-95 from Garrisonville Road in Stafford County to Edsall Road in Fairfax, linking them to the new HOT lanes on 495 already being built.

It makes much more sense to terminate the HOT lanes at the Beltway-where traffic can be disbursed in a number of directions-rather than backing up traffic on 395 at the previously planned terminus at Eads Street.

This also means there will be no construction disrupting neighborhoods like those adjoining Shirlington Circle, such as the historic communities of Fairlington and Park Fairfax.

I’m pleased that VDOT also announced that it is accelerating plans to build a ramp to connect the existing HOV lanes on I-395 to Seminary Road, which currently has no HOV access way, in order to help accommodate the influx of traffic to the new Mark Center building.

While this announcement is a step in the right direction, we need to address our transportation needs with an increased emphasis on transit rather than encouraging sprawl by only focusing on expanding existing roadways.

I want to thank Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton for acknowledging the concerns of Arlington and Alexandria residents.

Thank you for your continued support,

Adam Signature

Adam Ebbin

Member, Virginia House of Delegates

Alexandria’s mayor tells WTOP that VDOT’s decision is “a win” for the city. Alexandria Councilman Rob Krupicka, who expects to compete against Ebbin in a possible state Senate primary battle, has also issued a statement.

This is the right step…but there is more to do.

This is a big win for Fairfax, Alexandria and Arlington residents concerned about overextended roads and cut through traffic. We need to study the details, but it looks like significant help to two big regional traffic problems is on its way. My hat is off to all of the regional elected officials who worked together on this. People often fight for credit in politics, but sometimes it really is a team effort.

I was happy to draft the Alexandria City Council’s policy against hot lanes as well as our position to protect the Winkler Preserve near BRAC. This action appears to be consistent with both (we have to look closely at the Seminary interchange plans). I think the best thing about this news is that it shows that civic debate, activism, discussion and effort can lead to a positive resolution.

The focus needs to remain on transit. I co-chair the Alexandria planning group that is working to build a streetcar system in Alexandria that can connect to Fairfax and Arlington’s Columbia Pike/Skyline streetcar project. We are also working on the dedicated transit connection between Crystal City and Old Town. Ultimately, these systems all have to connect throughout the region which will give us a new transit backbone to serve us well into the future. Our region won’t have a future if we don’t get this mass transit infrastructure right. It takes a lot of work to work through the engineering and design details, but its some of the most important work we can do.

Arlington County has posted more information about its lawsuit against the HOT lanes project here.

  • Rick

    “quality of life would be harmed”?

    How exactly would this affect anyone living near 395? I still haven’t heard a good reason…

    • local

      Really?

      • Rick

        Really. I live in arlington, work all over. If I want to pay to take the HOV lanes to my job in PM rushhour why shouldn’t I be able to? whats gonna happen at springfield once all these paying people get kicked out of the HOT lanes and have to rejoin regular traffic. The commonwealth should be going all-or-nothing on this, ideally all.

        And don’t say “It’s springfields problem”… how do you know the people affected don’t work at the pentagon, or crystal city? Yes the highway runs through arlington but there are exits….

        • local

          I think you’re under the impression that this is about converting the existing HOV lanes to HOT. This project would involve building NEW lanes.

          You asked how people near 395 would be affected. Answer: some would be forced out of their homes or businesses to make room, while the rest would suffer from more noise, traffic, and pollution.

          • Lou

            One additional lane, added to two existing HOV lanes, all three lanes becoming HOV lanes, with the option for HOT paying cars to use them as well. No additional lanes for non HOV/HOT traffic.

          • local

            So one new lane. Thanks Lou.

          • Lou

            And if you read Zimmerman’s latest letter, he thinks the Beltway HOT lanes are better because they added lanes. That’s right, adding lanes for the Beltway HOT lanes is why there was no objection to that project. His objection was that they were turning over the existing 395 HOV lanes to a private (foreign) company, which is kind of BS since HOV riders would still get to use them for free.

          • local

            Lou – which letter said that? Can you provide a link? Thanks.

          • Lou

            It was linked in the earlier article about this on this site.

          • Rick

            I get the HOT lane concept. I get why it’s going in on the beltway and being a victim of having to use the beltway at all hours of the day, I know what a PITA it is to build. I watched them hack all the trees down and rebuild bridges.

            Seems like there wouldnt be that big of a disruption to people’s property if the road was widened for only a lane (if it even needs it, 395 has pretty nice shoulder real estate in some spots). The only spot I can think of where houses back up to the highway is between shirlington and pentagon city, and a few apartment buildings set back from the road anyway. If ANCC loses some distance on a couple holes of it’s golf course, who amongst you will be upset? If it’s going to be variably priced lanes to keep traffic moving at a minimum speed close to the speed limit, I really don’t see the problem with this. It’s not racist (unless poor people as a whole are a race) like the board has called it in the past. I think if the 95/395 proposal was made 10 years after it originally was, and we could see how the 495 lanes operated, you all may be for it.

          • local

            You should read the letter Lou mentions. It explains it. It’s alot more complicated than just adding a lane.

          • 395 is wide enough

            how about that the space needed for new lanes be used for a high speed metro line instead?

          • local

            Better yet, expand VRE service. More trains, more parking lots at stations.

          • Lou

            I can think of at least one grade on 395 inside the Beltway that is too steep for traction locomotion. And that’s without spending more than 10 seconds thinking about it. Professional transit planners think about this stuff all day long.

          • Westover

            VRE shares track with Norfolk Southern and CSX. They are close to capacity too.

        • BoredHouseWife

          The air they breath as all those cars idle to get onto 295.

          • Ralph Silberman

            Yes! … ever been stuck in the Bronx on 95 trying to get to GW bridge? More lanes, more cars, more exhaust.

          • 395 is wide enough

            well put Ralph… theres always going to be delays. Difference between here and the Cross Bronx Exp is that NYC highways are prone to major delays in any direction at any time. 395 delays are like clockwork, northbound from 6am-10am, southbound from 3pm-7pm weekdays. Like I said before, any other time, there are more lanes then someone can shake a stick at. And those lanes are expensive to maintain when they’re under-utilized the majority of the hours of the week. They still need to be paved, lighted, patrolled, plowed, salted and inspected. We need better transit and carpool incentives. Larger capacity Park and Ride lots with direct access to HOV is a start, as is hefty parking garage taxes downtown. I’d even love to see a hefty commuter tax to cross Potomac Bridges in peak directions, like the $8 to cross the Verrazano Narrows Br (which may be more since I lived in NY). Look how many Staten Islanders take commuter buses and the ferry because of the hefty tolls, parking rates, and constant gridlock on the BQE. Speaking of Ferries, when the hell can this area get high speed commuter ferries from Occoquon and Fort Washington to the Pentagon and points downtown? San Francisco and Seattle are model cities for ferry commuting. It would’ve been nice to see a metro loop on the Beltway instead of more lanes, but we lost that fight. Commuters need to get off their soap box and self entitlement and start sharing their empty back seats and using the already existing and UNDER-UTILIZED HOV lanes on 395. You choose your lifestyle, and if that is the white picket fence and the McMansion in suburbia, then deal with the traffic. Don’t try to BS me by saying you can’t afford to live close to work. If you put a price-tag on the time in the car, the stress on your life, time away from family, and the cost of car commuting and car ownership then it almost balances out in the end.

          • Westover

            San Francisco and Seattle, being on large bays, do not have the large no wake zones by Old Town that a ferry would have to deal with here. Might not provide the time savings that you are proposing. We also do not have much development right on the river, so there would be a significant walk at this time. n
            I do not believe that a ferry is small enough to get under the humpback bridge into the Marina Basin at the Pentagon.

  • G

    It’s possible that the regular lanes may become more crowded than they already are, since not all HOV riders will want to pay for the toll. Rather than put up with even more traffic in the regular lanes, they may cut through Arlington neighborhood streets.

    • Lou

      HOV will still be free in the revised HOT/HOV lanes.

      • Westover

        This is one thing that I do not understand about how the system will work. How do the lanes know which vehicles are solo and owe a toll versus those that are Hgh Occupancy and don’t owe the toll? Anyone?

        • local

          Now that’s a good question.

    • BoredHouseWife

      The State would have to make up for that loss to the corporation.

    • Rick

      Anyone trying to use Glebe Road as a shortcut will do it once, and want to kill themselves for entertaining the thought. If they do it more than once they deserve to sit with all their other idiot counterparts. There’s no “cut through” route to get from the Alexandria-Arlington border to the river that makes any sense

  • Texas Wahoo

    “It makes much more sense to terminate the HOT lanes at the Beltway-where traffic can be disbursed in a number of directions-rather than backing up traffic on 395 at the previously planned terminus at Eads Street.”

    This.

  • Pingback: 395 Hot Lanes Project Dead and Traffic Improvements for BRAC Comming « Alexandria, VA Councilman Rob Krupicka's Blog()

  • Jason S.

    The idea of Arlington being exceptional is going to harm it over the long run for state funding.

    • local

      What are they going to do – refuse to give us money to build roads? 😉

  • Patrick

    “I co-chair the Alexandria planning group that is working to build a streetcar system in Alexandria that can connect to Fairfax and Arlington’s Columbia Pike/Skyline streetcar project.”

    Im sure Richmond can’t wait to make some financial contributions to these projects after the way our local officials responded to the 395 HOT lanes project.

    • dcbrewer

      Somehow, I doubt Richmond was going to be helpful on the streetcar project in any event. As far as I am concerned, there is absolutely no reason to play nice with them only in the hopes they will throw us a scrap somewhere down the line.

      • Sean

        Isn’t that how politics works?

  • Jim

    Forty-one years since I moved to Arlington, I continue to be impressed at the foresight and courage of our County Board in resisting the pressure to pave over our neighborhoods so that automobiles could come through at greater speed. We’ve won some and lost some, but as a result we have a pretty decent public transportation system and far fewer asphalt scars on the landscape than otherwise would have been the case. Congratulations to Chris Zimmerman and his colleagues for refusing to buckle to the pressure.

    • Yes, Congrats

      Fairfax should be congratulated because Tysons corner will now be getting more of the jobs otherwise slated for Arlington or DC, since traffic going to town will just continue to stagnate. Within a lifetime, half of Arlington will be complaining that I66 going out to Tysons Corner needs to be widened. (Have you driven it lately opposite DC commuters?) The Fairfax/Dulles corridor is going to be the new downtown.

    • Bender

      Yes, all of that concrete and glass in all of those high-rise buildings is much more preferable to asphalt. Not to mention all the extra tens of thousands of people. Better to have them all living here, where we can have a permanent traffic jam, than to have them living out in Fairfax and Springfield and beyond, and only passing through Arlington occasionally.

    • Hear hear!

  • Bender

    Where is the environmental impact study for the streetcar?

    Where is the study on the impact that the streetcar might have on the various ethnic and racial groups who live along Columbia Pike and will be affected by it?

    Zimmerman is clearly a racist for going ahead without considering those factors.

    • local

      The environmental assessment is due to be done later this year.

      http://www.piketransit.com/downloads/ColumbiaPike_GenSched.pdf

      Jeez, stop going around saying “where is this?” and thinking it means it doesn’t exist.

      If you or anyone else is worried about ethnic and racial groups, there’s a public meeting system to express them too. Feel free.

      • Been There

        I’ve been to a number of them. The politicians have their mind made up. It seemed to me nobody wanted to hear anything but positives from the peanut gallery citizens.

      • Bender

        I’m only worried about the impact on ethnic and racial groups because the County filed a frivolous lawsuit on those grounds. And if I’m going to have to pay for such disingenuous claims, I might as well demand the same from the County.

        • BoredHouseWife

          No anger towards the lopsided HOT lane deal?

  • MC

    How long before a proposal to resurrect HOT lanes through Arlington? I see nothing about this “decision” that suggests it is binding anyone in the future to following it.

  • Mark

    I am all for widening 395 and improving the traffic pattern down the whole stretch. I just want it to be government controlled, government owned.

  • Jay

    Maybe we can bring in the Germans to help sort this out. Not entirely joking, either.

    • HerrSpeer

      Germany has done a better job than most at keeping her cities as cities (dense, walkable, cultured) and her rural lands as rural. That allows them to keep the highways out of the city and the city away from the highways. Also enables better rail service. They may not know what to do with our mishmash of mostly sub-urban sprawl.

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