The new tolls on I-66 inside the Beltway may be steep, but new data suggest they have yet to convince people to turn to Arlington’s public transit options instead of driving.
The rush hour tolls have been in place on I-66 between Rosslyn and the Beltway since December, but a new report by the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission does not show any substantial increase in Metrorail or local bus ridership around Arlington.
The regional transportation planning group’s researchers did find some upticks in express bus ridership in Fairfax and Prince William counties, which benefits from fewer rush hour traffic delays on I-66 post-tolling. Yet NVTC staff stresses that there is currently no clear evidence that the tolls, designed to convince commuters to carpool or turn to public transit to ease congestion on the highway, are having their desired effect broadly.
“While public transportation systems transport significant numbers of commuters from the Washington, D.C. suburbs to downtown, overall transit ridership in Northern Virginia has shown a gradual decline, which is influenced by employer transit benefits, transit service reliability, telework, and real estate development, among others,” the NVTC report reads. “However, new commuter and express bus services supported by the I-66 Commuter Choice [tolling] program have demonstrated stable demand and are expected to grow.”
The group examined ridership data on Metro’s Orange and Silver lines, running between stations west of the Ballston stop and Ballston itself, as well as between Ballston and stations east of it. For the month of February, the NVTC found that ridership increased by about 4 percent from the same month in 2017.
However, staff noted that could be due to the transit system’s recovery from its “SafeTrack” maintenance program, noting that “it is difficult to discern the influence of I-66 tolling from these statistics.”
The NVTC also found that bus ridership in the I-66 corridor declined from a similar time period a year ago, particularly in Arlington. Staff found that Arlington Transit routes along the corridor dropped by a total of 12 percent when comparing February 2018 to the same month last year, and Metrobus ridership in the area fell by 10 percent.
The new tolls helped local bus services run some buses more frequently along the corridor, but the group found declines in ridership on those routes too. For instance, ART started running buses on its 55 route once every 12 minutes during rush hour starting in June 2017, yet ridership fell by 7 percent when comparing February 2018 to February 2017.
Similarly, 2A Metrobuses now run every 10 minutes instead of every 15 during periods of peak ridership — and the route saw a 10 percent drop in riders, the report found.
However, the NVTC noted that bus ridership “declines persist before and after the I-66 tolling,” not only in Arlington in recent years, but also across the region and even the country.
They’re also hopeful that commuters are still taking time to adjust to the beefed up transit options, and are merely taking time to adjust their schedules accordingly.
“The public transportation service capacity added in FY2017 through the I-66 Commuter Choice program has met with stable demand,” staff wrote. “A ramp-up in demand is expected in the coming years.”
File photo. Charts via NVTC.
A motorcyclist died in a crash last night on I-66, near Arlington’s western border.
The crash happened just before 10 p.m.
“According to witnesses, two motorcycles were westbound on I-66 and traveling at a high rate of speed,” Virginia State Police said in a brief press release. “One of the motorcycles rear-ended a car traveling west on I-66. The impact of the crash caused the motorcycle to run off the interstate and strike the guardrail.”
“The motorcyclist died at the scene,” the press release continued. “The driver of the car was not injured in the crash.”
State police are investigating the crash. The name of the deceased has not yet been released.
Photo via Google Maps
New Weapon in Battle Against Opioid Addiction — “Arlington County has taken a proactive measure in the fight against prescription drug abuse by installing three permanent drug-take back boxes. The public can now safely and securely dispose of unused, unwanted or expired prescription medications 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 day a year. This disposal service is free and anonymous with no questions asked.” [Arlington County]
Lack of 5G Could Hurt Amazon Bid — Arlington’s lack of 5G wireless service could hurt it in the eyes of Amazon as the online giant considers the county for its second headquarters, says a letter to the editor writer. The county should have more actively adjusted policy and lobbied carriers for 5G, the writer suggests. [InsideNova]
Woman Arrested After Victoria’s Secret Assault — “A D.C. woman was arrested for attacking two employees at a Victoria’s Secret in Arlington after she says one of them followed her around the store, according to authorities.” [WJLA]
Average I-66 HOV Round Trip Cost — The average round trip cost for single occupant drivers on the I-66 Express Lanes, from their December opening to the end of April, was $12.72, according to new data. Some drivers have faced steeper tolls during “peak of the peak” times. [InsideNova]
Photo courtesy Jeremy Galliani
Workers are about to kick off construction on one of the most congested sections of eastbound I-66, and VDOT is rolling out its plans to widen the highway early next month.
State transportation officials are holding a community meeting to discuss the project on Tuesday, June 5 at Yorktown High School (5200 Yorktown Blvd). The event will run from 6:30-8:30 p.m., with a presentation from VDOT set to start at 7 p.m.
VDOT is adding another lane to eastbound I-66 between the Dulles Connector Road and Fairfax Drive (Exit 71), which is routinely ranked as one of the most intensely jammed locations in all of Northern Virginia. The work is taking place within the existing I-66 right of way.
The $85.7 million project will also connect two existing ramps at the I-66 and Route 7 interchange to connect I-66 eastbound directly to the West Falls Church Metro station. Additionally, plans call for a new bridge for the W&OD Trail over Lee Highway.
VDOT is hoping to start construction this year and open the new lane on I-66 by the fall of 2020.
Photo (1) via Google Maps
I-66 Toll Tweaks Coming — The Virginia Department of Transportation will tweak the algorithm it uses to calculate tolls in the I-66 express lanes, which possibly could lead to lower tolls, although VDOT doesn’t guarantee lower tolls in the long run. The high tolls caused outrage among drivers when they were first instated in December and drew national attention, although transportation officials contend they work as intended with deterring single-passenger vehicle trips. [WTOP]
Three Questions with Del. Lopez — Del. Alfonso Lopez offers some short responses to questions about his accomplishments and challenges facing Arlington. [Arlington Magazine]
Substance Use Town Hall — Arlington County will hold a town hall on substance use tonight at Kenmore Middle School (200 S. Carlin Springs Road) from 7-9 p.m. Panelists including police, school and human services officials, and the discussion will be moderated by Kimberly Suiters from ABC 7. A resource fair will immediately precede and follow the town hall. [Arlington County]
New Monument for the Old Guard — “A special ceremony [took] place in Arlington, Virginia Tuesday to honor more than 230 years of service by the Third U.S. Infantry Regiment, also known as The Old Guard. Soldiers, veterans and leaders from across the Army will gather for the unveiling of The Old Guard Monument at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall.” [Fox 5]
Streetlight Demonstration Tonight — County staff will hold an LED streetlight field demonstration bus tour tonight for residents to see and learn more about the products under consideration in the Streetlight Management Plan. The bus leaves at 8 p.m. from the Arlington Career Center (816 S. Walter Reed Drive). Registration is required. [Arlington County]
Traffic Enforcement Time Adjusted — According to an updated press release sent this morning, the all modal traffic enforcement scheduled for tomorrow at the intersection of Columbia Pike and S. Oakland Street will now be from 1-2:30 p.m.
Flickr pool photo by Dennis Dimick
Rehabilitation work on the I-66 bridge between the Rosslyn tunnel and D.C. has begun, according to the Virginia Dept. of Transportation.
Crews began setting out concrete barriers and pavement markings overnight on Wednesday, and will continue to do so through tonight (Thursday).
Lane closures on eastbound I-66 will be scheduled Monday-Friday from 9:30 p.m.-5 a.m., while westbound I-66 closures will be scheduled from 10 p.m.-5 a.m. on the same days.
VDOT expects traffic impacts to be minimal throughout the construction, which is expected to be completed by the summer of 2019.
For the next day or two, VDOT will periodically close the ramp from the southbound GW Parkway to the Roosevelt Bridge and westbound Route 50. The closures will take place between midnight and 5 a.m. to “allow for the installation of concrete barriers under the I-66 bridge,” according to the National Park Service.
The $5.7 million construction project will resurface the bridge’s deck, repair piers and abutments, and repave I-66 approaching the bridge.
According to VDOT, the bridge averages 54,000 vehicles a day eastbound and 44,000 westbound.
Photo courtesy VDOT
If you live near I-66, between the East Falls Church and Ballston Metro stations, the rumbling of Metro trains is a noise you’re probably used to.
But at least one person who lives in that area has taken to social media to comment on what she says is a recent escalation in noise: the constant, loud honking by trains as they roll by.
Me again @wmata I know you aren’t interested in my issue but I thought I’d share the honking fun from today’s trains. It happens ALL DAY LONG. Thinking it’s time for a noise complaint with @ArlingtonVA or @ArlingtonVaPD or maybe you could just stop the constant noise pollution pic.twitter.com/Y2K162EEMN
— alliesiggy (@alliesiggy) April 4, 2018
Video uploaded to Twitter indeed seems to show jarringly loud honking for a residential neighborhood.
The resident posted that she has lived at that location for 13 years and that this is a new neighborhood problem.
I can see @wmata that you are working on an answer to my question. Thought this video might help demonstrate the bizarre honking that happens ALL DAY. Why do residential neighborhoods have to listen to this every day? pic.twitter.com/Xza2i4Bg7n
— alliesiggy (@alliesiggy) March 7, 2018
The social media complaints go as far back as January 22, and regular Twitter posts indicate that the honking hasn’t ceased or abated, and occurs after rush hour as well as on the weekends.
Though WMATA officials haven’t yet answered an ARLnow request for comment, Metro replied to the resident on Wednesday via Twitter and said that the honking is a safety measure.
“Thank you for contacting us about the frequent honking near your home,” the transit agency wrote. “At times trains may come across animals or unauthorized people near or on the tracks resulting in the operator to blow the train horn. Your tweet was shared with the Rail Division for review.”
That explanation, the resident replied, seems unlikely given the frequency of the honking.
“Thank you for responding, however this is a constant occurrence… All day every single day,” she said. “This is new and extremely intrusive to anyone who has a home nearby.”
Update at 2:15 p.m. — The resident who first contacted ARLnow.com about the honking says it has stopped since the publication of this article. Also via Twitter, some say that the honks may have to do with workers on or near the tracks.
— alliesiggy (@alliesiggy) April 6, 2018
— Metro Reasons (@MetroReasons) April 6, 2018
Service was restored between East Falls Church and Clarendon Metro stations after grinding to a halt Thursday morning (April 5) for several hours.
Service was restored at about 8 a.m., but delays are expected to last at least throughout the morning. Metro referred to the incident as both a track problem and fire department activity at the Virginia Square Metro station.
The Arlington Fire Department tweeted that the Virginia Square Metro station was evacuated at about 6:20 a.m. due to smoke in the tunnel.
At about 6:58 a.m., the department tweeted that fire department units were going back in service, that much of the smoke was clear, and that commuters should expect “residual delays.”
The suspended service affects the Orange and Silver lines directly, though Metro tweeted that blue line delays were possible considering the congestion built up from the other lines.
On the highways, drivers reported heavier than usual traffic.
“We all suffer when the Metro fudges up,” one driver told ARLnow, who was stuck on I-66 in what she said was unusually heavy traffic for that part of her commute.
Several would-be riders took to Twitter to report long lines for WMATA buses and shuttles, as well as a general sense of “chaos” and “meltdown” at certain stations.
— Sally Harris (@sdadjou) April 5, 2018
It is 6:20 AM & my Orange Line train is holding due to smoke in the tunnel near Virginia Square. It’s been running for less than 2 hours – how is this happening?! @unsuckdcmetro @wmata #OrangeLine #fail
— Ashley Hollingsworth (@AshHollings) April 5, 2018
— Jim Mathews (@mathewsjh) April 5, 2018
Orange/Silver Line: Train service suspended btwn Ballston & Clarendon due to fire department activity at Virginia Sq. Bus service requested
— Metrorail Info (@Metrorailinfo) April 5, 2018
— Metro Reasons (@MetroReasons) April 5, 2018
— Maxine V Chikumbo (@mchikumbo) April 5, 2018
The contentious I-66 toll rollout only began about three months ago, but it appears that some non-HOV commuters have already found a way around the tolls.
Videos sent to ARLnow.com from a Rosslyn resident show commuters idling along the I-66 shoulder. It’s unclear whether or not the drivers are waiting for the toll to lower or if they are waiting for the tolling period to end all together. The evening tolling period is from 3-7 p.m., and our tipster tells us that this happens frequently just before 7 p.m.
A spokeswoman for Virginia State Police, which is responsible for enforcement on the highway, told ARLnow.com that “this has been an ongoing issue on Interstate 395” as well.
“State police take this issue very seriously and continue to enforce the law, but we are limited due to an ongoing shortage of troopers,” said the spokeswoman. Emergency calls take priority over tolling enforcement, she added.
Virginia law states that drivers cannot stop on the highway except in case of an emergency, accident, or mechanical breakdown.
Tolls as high as $40-50 have been reported on I-66 inside the Beltway since the HOT lane launch, despite initial predictions of tolls closer to the $7-9 range.
Major Orange and Silver Line Issues — Orange and Silver line Metro service has been restored but significant delays remain from an earlier disabled train at the Ballston station. [Washington Post, Twitter, Twitter]
Legislature Considering Expanding I-66 Tolls — Del. Tim Hugo (R), the state lawmaker who proposed a bill that would slash Arlington’s tax revenue from country clubs, is now also proposing legislation that would require I-66 to be tolled in both directions. “If you live in Arlington, D.C. or Maryland, and you are going to Tysons Corner or west, you pay no toll in the morning and you get a free ride home,” Hugo said. “We will even it out by getting some people in Arlington to pick up the freight.” [Washington Post]
County Board Members Lobby Against Country Club Bill — Both Libby Garvey (D) and John Vihstadt (I) were in Richmond yesterday to lobby against HB 1204, the bill that would provide a “windfall tax cut” for Arlington’s two country clubs. [Twitter]
Vegas Bunnies Arrive in Arlington — “Six furry, floppy-eared cottontails dubbed the ‘Las Vegas bunnies’ have arrived at an animal rescue center in Arlington after many others were poisoned in Nevada.” [Washington Post]
Arlington School Board Bill Passes — A state bill that would ensure that Arlington County has the legal standing to have an elected School Board, after questions arose about the School Board’s legality, has passed the state legislature and is now heading to Gov. Ralph Northam (D) for his signature. [InsideNova]
Single-lane, overnight closures will continue on I-66 inside the Beltway through the end of March, according to VDOT.
Crews are completing survey and “geotechnical investigation work” related to the I-66 eastbound widening project.
The single lane closures are scheduled for between 9:30 p.m. and 5 a.m. nightly between I-495 and Fairfax Drive (Route 237). Shoulder closures are intermittently planned from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m., weather permitting.
Real-time traffic information and lane and shoulder closure locations are available online.
More from the Virginia Department of Transportation press release:
The survey and geotechnical investigation work is needed prior to the start of construction that will add an additional through lane along four miles of eastbound I-66 between the Dulles Connector Road (Route 267) and Fairfax Drive (Exit 71) in Fairfax and Arlington counties. Other key project features include constructing a new bridge over Lee Highway for the Washington & Old Dominion (W&OD) Trail and providing direct access from eastbound I-66 to the West Falls Church Metro station by constructing a new ramp connection between two existing ramps (eastbound I-66 to Route 7 and the eastbound I-66 collector-distributor road adjacent to the station’s parking garage).
The additional lane will be open to traffic in fall 2020 and the overall project is expected to be complete in fall 2021.
Separately, VDOT has also announced additional overnight lane closures on Route 110 near the Pentagon.
On Monday night, Feb. 12 and Tuesday night, Feb. 13 between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. each night, the northbound right lane of Route 110 at the Route 27 interchange and then the southbound right lane of Route 110 will be closed to allow crews to demolish and rebuild bridge piers, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation.
The closures will remain in place for approximately two months.
The work is part of the Route 27 over Route 110 project, which is scheduled for completion this summer.
Photo courtesy of Michael Coffman
Arlington Gets New Emergency Management Director — Arlington County has named Aaron Miller as its new Director of the Department of Public Safety Communications and Emergency Management. He is currently the Director of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness for the City of New Orleans. [Arlington County]
Gunston Students Win Anti-Bullying Video Competition — Two eighth-grade girls from Gunston Middle School have won a second-place prize from the AT&T Film Awards for their cyberbullying prevention video. The duo will receive $2,000 in camera equipment and a one-day workshop at Gunston with professional filmmakers. [WJLA]
Vihstadt Could Face Tough Reelection — Democrats are energized by their opposition to President Donald Trump, and that could mean an especially challenging reelection for independent County Board member John Vihstadt. A blue wave in the 2018 midterms may make Vihstadt more vulnerable to his eventual Democratic challenger, one local political blogger suggests. [Blue Virginia]
Expensive Morning Commute on I-66 — “The toll to travel along eastbound Interstate 66 in Northern Virginia hit $46.75 Wednesday morning, about a week after it notched a record high.” [Washington Post]
Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman
Dog and Owner Help Foil Purse Snatching — Mazel was a very good boy. The miniature bull terrier and his owner chased down a purse thief in Clarendon Tuesday evening, retrieving the purse and all of its contents. The thief remains at large but the purse owner is very grateful to get her belongings back prior to a planned vacation. [NBC Washington]
Arlington Woman Plows Into Falls Church Store — A 41-year-old woman from Arlington drove her car through the sliding doors of a Falls Church Rite Aid store this past weekend, damaging shopping carts and an interior wall. She was arrested and charged with DUI. [Falls Church News-Press]
Planet Money Looks at I-66 Tolling — NPR’s popular Planet Money podcast took a look at the sky-high tolls now in effect during certain times on I-66. There is “a beautiful, econ 101 logic behind a toll that spikes when demand spikes,” the podcast explains. [NPR]
White Christmas Looks Unlikely — The odds are low that the Washington area ends its recent draught of white Christmases next week. However, some snow on Christmas Day appears to be a possibility. [Capital Weather Gang, Twitter]
Flickr pool photo by Jim Webster
The East Falls Church Metro station could get more bus stops in the future, if the Virginia Department of Transportation agrees to an Arlington County plan.
The Arlington County Board voted unanimously Saturday (December 16) to ask VDOT to redraw a limited access line for I-66 next to the Metro station’s park and ride lot, and make it parallel to the highway.
The highway’s limited access lines restrict uses on some of the land that surrounds it, which is intended to make the highway safer and easier to maintain. The land in question bounded by the line is currently used as a park and ride bus loop.
Metrobus and Fairfax Connector are planning more bus service connecting the station to Seven Corners, while Alexandria is exploring a bus rapid transit service to Tysons Corner, with a stop at the East Falls Church Metro station. Staff said the growth of bus service means this change is necessary.
“It is because of these myriad transit pressures, as well as ongoing coordination with VDOT related to moving more people more efficiently, that the County is requesting a change in the limited access line to allow for more land that can be used for purposes other than highway needs at the East Falls Church Metrorail Station,” staff wrote in a report. “By enacting this shift now, the County can feasibly plan, with its partners, for future bus-to-rail transfer capacity at the East Falls Church Metrorail station on land that is now used as a park and ride facility, and that will be used as a park and ride facility for the foreseeable future.”
Because VDOT owns the land, it has the final say on any line shifts.
Photo (top) via Arlington County, (bottom) courtesy Elvert Barnes
Arlington Ready for Possible Snow — The chances of “meaningful accumulation” have since gone down, but Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services crews started applying brine to county roads Monday night in anticipation a “potential snow/ice this Wednesday evening/Thursday.” [Twitter, Washington Post]
VDOT Pleased With I-66 HOT Lane Data — NBC 4’s Adam Tuss tweets: “Doesn’t look like @VaDOTNOVA plans to change anything about the I-66 toll lanes. They say their data shows commutes were faster and more reliable.” [Twitter]
Dems Want Satellite-Voting Centers — “The Arlington County Democratic Committee could again be at loggerheads with the county’s elections office over whether to provide satellite locations for absentee voting in non-presidential-election years.” [InsideNova]
ARLnow T-Shirt Now Available — Need a gift for the ARLnow.com fan in your life? Show your Arlington pride with this long-sleeved t-shirt from the county’s No. 1 local news source. [Amazon]
ACPD Officers Helping in Puerto Rico — The Arlington County Police Department is among the departments nationwide sending officers to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico to provide emergency assistance. The third ACPD team to rotate in is working on the island through Dec. 18. Officers who’ve gone say many challenges remain but there are hopeful signs as well. [Arlington Connection]
Westover Townhouse Battle Continues — Arlington County is weighing both a historic district and a “Housing Conservation District” for Westover, to protect aging but affordable garden apartments from being redeveloped into $800,000 townhomes. [Falls Church News-Press]
Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman