The Right Note: Second Chance for HOT Lanes?

Mark KellyThe Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of

Here we go again.

A few days ago, County Board Chair Mary Hynes wrote a letter to the Virginia Department of Transportation sounding an optimistic tone on the opportunity to work on HOT lanes inside the beltway on 395. Those lanes were part of the original HOT lanes project proposal in the region, dating back to Democrat administrations of Mark Warner and Tim Kaine in Virginia.

In 2006, then County Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman sent a similar letter to VDOT outlining what sounded like Arlington’s conditional support for HOT lanes on 395. In the letter, he even described the need for a HOT lanes exit at Shirlington — an exit he later vehemently opposed.

The Board seemed to sour on the idea of HOT lanes in general as time moved on. By 2010, the County Board had sued everyone they could think of to stop the HOT lanes from happening. They even sued individual civil servants, requiring them to hire lawyers to defend against the claims. The addition of individuals to the suit drew some of the harshest criticism for it.

Eventually, an exasperated VDOT announced they were abandoning plans for the project inside the beltway. But, Arlington taxpayers paid around $2 million for outside counsel to file and pursue lawsuit before the County Board dropped it.

If you work at VDOT, you may be feeling like Charlie Brown staring at the football in Lucy’s hands wondering if it will be pulled away just as you start to kick it. You may also be wondering if you may some day be a defendant in a lawsuit.

Regardless of where you stand on the issue of adding a lane in each direction, you have to wonder what path the Board is really heading down now. Is the Board actually serious about finding a way to add this lane of traffic? Are some of the demands in the letter actually impossible for VDOT to meet?

What are the chances the Board, with two new members about to join, balk again later in the process? And would the Board spend $2 million or more to sue again if they didn’t like what Governor McAuliffe’s administration decided?

Only time will tell. At the very least, let’s hope they can work it out without handing taxpayers another $2 million legal bill.

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