Arlington, VA

Virginia needs to do more to catch people evading tolls, county officials said at an Arlington Transportation Commission meeting last Thursday.

Virginia Department of Transportation officials attended the meeting, with plans to boast about boosted speeds on I-66, but local officials were more concerned about what some saw as underenforcement of High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) rules.

David Caudill, the division administrator for tolling for VDOT, explained that the current enforcement relies on Virginia State Police counting heads in passing cars in conjunction with checking a beacon that lights up on a gantry if the passing car registered as HOV.

But Commission member Audrey Clement said that fewer people are receiving citations for I-66 toll violations than would be even if there were a 99 percent toll-compliance rate.

“There were 702 HOV citations for a year, that averages to 2.7 citations for every eight hours of tolling. That’s three per day,” said Clement. “So we’re concerned that this phenomenon is being undercounted and underenforced, and that may be driving up tolls.”

According to VDOT staff, there are at least four state troopers assigned to enforcement on I-66 every day. Rather than just being able to focus on HOV rules, however, troopers also respond to emergency calls and traffic violations like speeding.

Caudill recognized that there is a lapse in toll enforcement and said that during enforcement “blitzes” the HOV usage rates drop by 3 percent, giving VDOT a rough estimate for how many drivers are ducking out of the toll.

“It’s a challenge, I’ll admit that,” Caudill said. “[It is] challenging to look at the light, count number of heads, and then chase them down… We’re not catching everyone, not by any means.”

VDOT staff said the group is partnering with Transurban to put together a pilot program for an electronic sensor system.

“We think there’s an opportunity there for better enforcement,” Caudill said, “[and] it does impact the tolls, probably.”

Clement was not alone in expressing her disappointment at the lack of enforcement. Chris Slatt, chair of the Transportation Commission, said the lapse in enforcement goes against what VDOT told Arlington when the toll lanes were first proposed

“When VDOT was here before tolling went into place, one of the main reasons presented [to us] was HOV violations were rampant then,” Slatt said. “We were told that this was going to be the solution to HOV violation problem, that we were going to do enforcement. And yet here we are, having this conversation again.”

Caudill said the new HOV lanes have also led to complications — for instance, electronic passes mean officers can’t get an estimate on toll-violators by just counting heads.

“I’m glad to hear pilot programs at least are in the works to try to get a handle on this, because HOV violators are slowing down legitimate HOV drivers,” said Slatt. “[They’re] driving up costs of people legally paying tolls, and taking money that could be used for multimodal transportation projects to keep us all moving.”

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Update at 3:35 p.m. — One lane of westbound I-66 has reopened, just in time for the evening rush hour. Crews remain on scene assisting with the cleanup.

Earlier: A tree has fallen across I-66 near Spout Run, blocking the westbound lanes of the highway.

The tree fell around 1 p.m. At least two cars crashed into the fallen tree, though so far no injuries have been reported, according to scanner traffic. All westbound lanes are blocked and traffic is stopped.

Eastbound lanes are not currently blocked, though traffic becoming increasingly backed up prior to the scene due to rubbernecking delays.

On traffic cameras, cars can be seen driven the wrong way in the westbound lanes, as drivers try to escape the jam. Due to the size of the tree the lanes may remain closed for at least part of the afternoon. Those driving in the area should expect delays in Rosslyn due to detoured traffic.

A number of trees are reported to have fallen around Arlington amid today’s gusty winds.

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(Updated at 11:40 p.m.) The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) says it intends to replace deteriorating sound walls along I-66 in Arlington.

The sound wall replacement is part of the larger project to expand the highway, a spokeswoman told ARLnow Thursday.

“If your community has a noise wall today, it will have one in the future,” VDOT’s website says. “Existing dilapidated noise walls within the project limits will be replaced with new noise walls.”

A January study on estimated noise impact noted that at least three of segments of “the existing metal noise barriers are in a state of ‘disrepair.'”

Communities affected by widening of I-66 eastbound between Exist 67 and 71 were mailed ballots in February to vote on the sound walls, according to VDOT’s website on the project.

Spokeswoman Michelle Holland told ARLnow that the ballots were sent to neighbors who would receive a new wall, not a replacement. Holland said that voting process  is still “underway.”

More than 50 percent of the respondents were needed to approve the sound walls.

Construction of the noise walls is expected to start this summer and continue until next fall, according to a presentation for neighborhoods.

The County Board approved the sound walls in February, including a plan to build a connection from Custis Trail onto the N. Harrison Street bridge in Bluemont after officials acknowledged sound walls would block off the trail.

Photo via VDOT

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Construction is ramping up on the widening of one of the most congested sections of I-66, and that will prompt some changes on county trails and streets lining the highway.

The County Board gave the go-ahead yesterday (Tuesday) for VDOT workers to relocate some local trails and build a noise wall and storm drain associated with the project. Once it’s completed, I-66 eastbound will boast an extra travel lane between Exit 71 in Ballston and the highway’s intersection with the Dulles Connector Road, long one of the worst traffic choke points in the region (and even the country).

The construction will impact areas along the highway throughout Arlington, however, prompting the Board’s latest action.

Perhaps the largest change is the relocation of part of the W&OD Trail near East Falls Church to a new pedestrian bridge running over Lee Highway, and county officials formally gave VDOT workers permission to start work on that project last night.

VDOT just finalized plans for the bridge this past fall, following a bit of controversy over its design, and hopes to start work on it sometime this spring.

Workers also now have the county’s permission to build a new noise wall near the N. Harrison Street bridge over I-66 in the Bluemont neighborhood. But that wall will block off a portion of the Custis Trail as it runs alongside the highway, and workers plan to create a new connection from the trail onto the bridge itself, according to a county staff report.

Additional construction on the highway widening will also force workers to connect a portion of the Custis Trail near Bon Air Park to an underground tunnel beneath I-66.

The county will also construct “park benches, trail signage, lighting, bike shelter and racks, railing and fencing” along the new sections of the trail, the staff report said.

State officials awarded a contract for the $85.7 million project in 2017, and they’re currently hoping to have the new lane open by fall 2020.

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Some long-awaited improvements could finally be on the way for the Ballston Pond, which could help keep trash out of the waterway and help better manage stormwater in the area.

County officials are planning a community meeting to discuss the project tomorrow (Wednesday) at Arlington Central Library (1015 N. Quincy Street). The gathering is set to start at 7:30 p.m.

The meeting is the first on the pond improvements since 2012, and the county has been eyeing some work on the small body of water since early 2011.

The pond, located near the intersection of I-66 and Fairfax Drive, was originally designed as a way to collect stormwater runoff from the highway back when it was first built decades ago. But sediment from the water built up in the pond over the years, and a combination of invasive plants and trash have also plagued the area.

Accordingly, the county has long sought to install new trash control devices and other new vegetation buffers around the pond. Officials have also decided to replace a walkway around its perimeter, particularly as it nears the CACI office building and AVA Ballston apartments, and add a new “boardwalk” along a section the pond as well.

The county drained the pond to clean it up a bit back in 2013, then spent the next few years removing unwanted plants growing nearby and securing the necessary easements to let the project go forward.

But with all that work finally completed, the county is now finalizing designs for the project and hopes to get work started later this summer.

So long as the community signs off on the designs, the County Board could vote to send the project out for bid this spring.

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Arlington is gearing up to ask for millions in I-66 toll revenue to fund a series of changes along Lee Highway, including the creation of a dedicated bus and HOV lane along the road during rush hours.

The County Board is set to sign off this weekend on funding requests for six transportation projects, totaling $6.9 million, four of which focus on reducing traffic along Lee Highway as it runs from Rosslyn to East Falls Church.

The Northern Virginia Transportation Commission doles out a portion of the revenues collected through the year-old I-66 toll program to localities, in order to help afford road improvements along the corridor inside the Beltway. Accordingly, Arlington is looking for cash for the following efforts along Lee Highway, per a county staff report:

Metrobus Route 3Y Service Improvements — $520,000 per year for five years, total request $2.6 million

This project will increase morning peak hour frequency and provide running time improvements for better on-time performance on the subject Metrobus route that connects the East Falls Church Metrorail Station with the Farragut Square and McPherson Square areas in the District of Columbia via Lee Highway and a short section of I-66 from Rosslyn to the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge.

Intersection Improvements at Lee Highway and Washington Boulevard — $400,000

This project will add a second left turn lane from northbound Lee Highway to westbound Washington Boulevard and provide pedestrian improvements at the intersection north of the bridge over I-66, which is 0.25 miles from the East Falls Church Metrorail Station.

Enhanced Vehicle Presence Detection on Lee Highway — $20,000 per intersection for 15 intersections, total request $300,000

This project will install forward looking infrared (FLIR) video cameras at key intersections along Lee Highway. FLIR technology uses thermographic cameras that improve the accuracy of vehicle, pedestrian, and bicycle detection in all lighting and weather conditions, and in turn improve optimal signal, intersection, and corridor operations and performance.

Design and Construct Peak Period, Peak Direction HOV and Bus-Only Lane on Lee Highway from just east of N. Kenmore Street to N. Lynn Street — $1.5 million

This project would convert the outside lane of Lee Highway to an HOV and bus only lane through pavement treatment, restriping, and signage. The lane would operate eastbound during the morning peak period and westbound during the evening peak period only; at other times it will continue as a general purpose travel lane.

The final project on the list is one that the county initially considered back in 2016 as an effort to prepare for Metro’s “SafeTrack” schedule disruptions, and the new lane would’ve run from Court House to Rosslyn. However, county transportation spokesman Eric Balliet says that lane was never constructed, and the new proposal calls for it to run from Cherrydale to Rosslyn instead.

The county expects a new lane would be particularly impactful along that section of the highway because about “25 loaded buses per hour” drive along it during peak period, and they often run into heavy delays near the highway’s intersection with N. Lynn Street in Rosslyn, according to the report.

In addition to the Lee Highway changes, officials are also hoping to earn $750,000 to add a new traffic light to the Washington Blvd entrance to the East Falls Church Metro station, as well as crosswalks and other pedestrian improvements at the intersection.

Finally, the county plans to ask for a total of $1.3 million over the next three years for “enhanced transportation demand management outreach” along the corridor, educating commuters about public transit and other strategies for getting cars off the road.

The Board is set to approve these funding requests at its meeting on Saturday (Dec. 15), and the NVTC will accept applications through Jan. 16. The organization plans to hand out $20 million in funding across the region through the program next year.

Photo via Google Maps

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Starting tomorrow, Virginia State Police are set to start enforcement activities intended to punish High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) violators on I-66.

VSP will start a focused HOV enforcement on I-66 express lanes inside the Beltway tomorrow (Thursday) during the morning and afternoon rush hour periods, the Virginia Department of Transportation recently announced.

Violators caught in this area face fines ranging from $125 for a first offense, up to $1,000 for a fourth or subsequent offense within a period of five years from the first one.

Drivers must have an E-ZPass device or E-ZPass Flex for vehicles with two or more people to travel during rush hours.

All vehicles with two or more people may use the road during rush hours for free, but need an E-ZPass Flex switched to HOV-mode. Drivers who choose to pay a toll and drive by themselves in the express lanes also need an E-ZPass.

VSP’s last focused HOV enforcement initiative in the same area caught 32 violators, and police wrote 19 other citations on Nov. 30.

HOV hours are from 5:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. eastbound and from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. westbound, Monday through Friday.

File photo

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Westbound I-66 was temporarily blocked approaching the N. Glebe Road overpass due to a crash involving two vehicles this afternoon.

One of the vehicles ran off the side of the road into a ditch and overturned, according to scanner traffic. Another vehicle could be seen on traffic cameras stopped in the left-hand shoulder, but has since been moved to the right-hand shoulder.

Both lanes of WB I-66 were briefly blocked by debris and the emergency response, causing a lengthy backup that appeared to extend to the Rosslyn area.

So far, no serious injuries have been reported.

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Transportation planners will soon unveil the final design of a new bike and pedestrian bridge stretching over Lee Highway in East Falls Church.

VDOT plans to show off the finalized schematics for the Washington & Old Dominion Trail bridge at a community meeting next month, capping off a design process that drew plenty of flak from neighbors last year. The new bridge, which is being built as part of widening work on I-66 eastbound in the area, is designed to replace the trail’s current crossing at the highway’s intersection with Fairfax Drive and offer a safer environment for walkers and cyclists.

Officials had initially proposed a design for the bridge that featured a trussed roof and red paint, yet neighbors objected to those features, as well as the bridge’s potential to disrupt long-range plans for the area’s transportation networks.

But VDOT has since tweaked its design to address the most controversial features, proposing a bridge that’s gray in color without a trussed roof, in a bid to address some of those concerns. Even still, some questions about noise walls and public art lingered during a meeting on the project last year.

Planners will look to address those worries and more at an Oct. 11 meeting at Yorktown High School (5200 Yorktown Blvd) from 6:30-8:30 p.m., where they’ll deliver a presentation on “final design plans and aesthetic details.”

If all goes as planned, construction is set to start on the bridge by spring 2019 and run through fall 2020.

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Starting Sunday (Aug. 26), I-66 will be hit with overnight lane closures. Over the next two months, lane closures will occur between 9:30 p.m. and 5 a.m. on the eastbound lanes.

The first lane closures will close the outside lane to allow crews to strengthen and repave the shoulder. Once this work is completed, the lanes will shift to allow crews to work on widening the median. 

The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) warned that late-night travellers to expect delays and urged drivers to use caution near road work.

The repairs are part of the broader I-66 Eastbound Widening Project expected to add a new lane along four miles of I-66 by fall 2020.

The project comes with several local improvements, including new sound barriers, a new bridge over Lee Highway for the Washington and Old Dominion Trail, and constructing a new direct access ramp from I-66 to the West Falls Church Metro Station.

File photo

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Morning Notes

County Raises $40,000 for Citizenship Fund, Urges Donors to Give Elsewhere — Arlington officials say they have more than enough money in a newly created fund to help immigrants afford fees associated with the naturalization process. Only four people have applied for the money so far, and the county is recommending residents save their money for other nonprofits instead. [Washington Post]

Flooding Hits Arlington… Again — Last night’s intense storms prompted yet more flooding, including some scary conditions on Lee Highway. Some indoor flooding was even on tap for SER Restaurant in Ballston. [Twitter, Twitter]

A Soft Opening for New Japanese Barbecue Restaurant in Clarendon — Gyu-Kaku, on N. Hudson Street just across from Don Tito, is now accepting customers by reservation only. The first D.C.-area location for the chain previously ran into some permit problems, but is now back on track. [Washington City Paper]

Dockless Scooters Vex Local Policymakers — Just as Arlington officials were caught a bit off guard by the arrival of Bird’s electric scooters last month, other localities are mulling the best way to craft policies for the vehicles. Alexandria has started to see some scooters from both the county and D.C. pop up in its borders, but leaders are taking a “wait and see” approach. [Washington Business Journal]

Police Target Solo Drivers on I-66 Inside the Beltway — Virginia officials want to crack down on anyone violating the HOV policies on I-66 in the morning and evening rush hours, in a bid to make sure the new tolls are working as intended. [WTOP]

County Volunteers Get a Round of Applause — Volunteer Arlington held its second annual “Arlington Cares” event in Ballston to laud people giving back around the county. [InsideNova]

Photo via @thelastfc

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