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What’s Next: Improving Local Relationship with VDOT

What’s Next with Nicole is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

As we continue to move forward with Plan Langston Blvd, improving the Glebe Road divide in Ballston and finding ways to mitigate the significant car collisions on Route 50 pointed out by Vision Zero, sights should be set on improving our planning process integration with the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and our relationship with this large state-operated department.

Some major thoroughfares in Arlington are owned and operated by the state of Virginia including Glebe Road, Langston Blvd and Route 50, in addition to interstates 66 and 395. According to many community members and county staff members, a somewhat amorphous relationship with VDOT makes changes to these areas more difficult than most when making improvements to these roads.

One example of this was last year when VDOT came to Arlington County with a Route 50 widening proposal that was rejected by the Transportation Commission and ultimately the County Board. The Transportation Commission Chair at the time, Chris Slatt, said:

“Safety improvements are needed in this area, but VDOT’s study was clearly set up to recommend a backdoor highway widening at great expense rather than targeted, affordable safety improvements. If this study was about safety, it would have at least looked at driver speeds. It wouldn’t have discarded the cheapest, most effective option during the scoping phase. It would have considered re-purposing the space that is currently the dedicated right turn lane at Irving to limit the widening impacts.”

It is in instances like this that we see a clear disconnect between what we would like to see here locally and what VDOT has in plan. When entire corridor planning such as Plan Langston Blvd’s success hinges on major redesigns to the road and sidewalk design, that amorphous relationship seems like a major hurdle in the long term.

A list of projects recently completed, under construction, in design and coming soon are all available online and, in my opinion, are projects that aren’t of the most significant interest to the planning that is being done in our community. Generally, projects are selected by VDOT using a process called SMART SCALE, which weighs congestion mitigation as the majority scoring factor. I would predict projects along Langston Blvd to slow traffic or widen sidewalks along Glebe Road might score low in those types of categories even though they are of high significance for our local needs.

Two possible options are to take local control of roads such as Langston Blvd and Glebe Road while encouraging a large-scale VDOT evaluation of Route 50, or to have our state representatives put pressure on local VDOT representatives to do a much better job at being present and active in our local planning processes, particularly in area and sector plans.

Nicole Merlene is an Arlington native and former candidate for Virginia State Senate. She has served as a leader in the community on the boards of the Arlington County Civic Federation and North Rosslyn Civic Association, as an Arlington Economic Development commissioner, in neighborhood transportation planning groups, and as a civic liaison to the Rosslyn Business Improvement District.

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