Starting in summer 2015, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has been holding a series of public meetings on VDOT’s proposal to impose tolls during rush hour on I-66. VDOT’s proposal has generated substantial support from smart growth advocates. They argue that this proposal is far preferable to the status quo.
However, on Oct. 1, Virginia Republican legislative leaders held a press conference to condemn VDOT’s proposal:
Calling the proposal “outrageously expensive” for commuters, [Virginia House Speaker William J.] Howell … called on the governor to trash the idea and launch a plan that includes promptly adding new lanes to the heavily congested highway.
Of course, “adding new lanes” presumably includes adding them to the portion of I-66 inside Arlington’s borders far sooner than such lanes would be added under VDOT’s proposal.
Regardless of the conceptual merits of VDOT’s proposal, the Virginia Republican legislative proposal, or any other proposal, critical details regarding the costs and benefits are missing from all of these alternative proposals. The Arlington County Board should NOT vote to approve any proposal (including VDOT’s proposal) until all critical details are supplied. Arlington residents also need a reasonable amount of time to examine and comment upon those details before any Board vote.
Among the critical details needed to evaluate the Arlington impacts of any proposal (including VDOT’s) are:
- numerical estimates of the traffic flowing on I-66 that will be diverted to major alternative routes (e.g., Lee Hwy., Washington Blvd., Route 50),
- specific infrastructure improvements necessary to accommodate the diverted traffic,
- how much each infrastructure improvement will cost,
- who will pay those costs, and
- what other Arlington neighborhood impacts will be incurred.
At this writing, none of this information has been supplied to nor vetted by Arlington residents.
Any estimates of diverted traffic (and all the improvements and costs attributable to that diverted traffic) will contain a high degree of risk. Such estimates depend on very subjective judgments regarding how many commuters will stop driving alone and choose to carpool instead, or choose some other transit option. Who bears the risk and pays the cost if these subjective estimates are substantially wrong?
If the VDOT toll proposal survives the Republican vow to kill it, Arlington should insist upon a toll exemption for all intra-Arlington trips on I-66. Arlington residents with vehicles registered to an Arlington County home address should be permitted to travel during rush hour on I-66 between any two exits from exit 68 to exit 75 without paying any toll.
The County Board should lead transparently on all these issues. The issues are complicated. There’s no need to rush to judgment.