Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Arlingtonians FOR Widening I-66

A vocal minority of Arlingtonians opposes widening I-66 between the beltway and D.C. and they are doing everything they can to slow the process down.

Let's hope they don't succeed.

The Curmudgeon is an Arlingtonian who favors widening I-66 and we bet many other Arlingtonians are with us. (Hear that Chris Zimmerman?)

After years of study, the Va. Dept. of Transportation came up with a plan to mostly widen I-66 to three lanes on the westbound side. This was a modest, sensible proposal that would mainly alleviate the congestion from the Glebe Road entry ramp to the Dulles Access Road exit in Falls Church. It would not encompass widening the existing I-66 right of way at all. (We would oppose any plan that would go outside the existing right of way.)

The other day, however, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Government's Transportation Planning Board, led by Arlington councilman Zimmerman, voted to scrap those plans. Fortunately, two Fairfax County reps on the Board who voted for that measure have since heard from their constituents and wisely decided to change their votes at the next meeting, when the issue will come up again. Changing those two votes will reverse the Committee's decision and, we hope, put the project back on the fast track, perhaps with stimulus money.

People in Arlington who oppose the widening like to pretend that no one who lives or works in Arlington uses I-66--rather, that it is just a road link from the outer suburbs to downtown D.C. that happens to cut through our little County.

That's quite false, however, as any regular user of I-66 would know. The primary bottleneck on the highway is in the heart of Arlington, where traffic from Glebe Road and Fairfax Drive dump onto the interstate. In a clear engineering nightmare, a two lane entry ramp merges into a two lane highway, creating a back-up in even relatively light traffic.

The folks entering I-66 westbound at the Glebe Road entry are not coming from D.C.--they are coming from Arlington. Some are residents; many are workers in Arlington who support our business base.

For those of us who live in the County and regularly have business or pleasure to the west--at Tysons, Dulles, Leesburg, etc. (e.g., the Curmudgeon's golf club), I-66 is the primary means to get out of the County efficiently, without creating bottlenecks on Rt. 50, Wilson Blvd., Washington Blvd. and Lee Highway.

In case of a terrorist emergency, I-66 is also our escape route. Sadly, it would probably be a death trap for Arlingtonians because it is so grossly inadequate.

The proposed widening will really only address the congestion caused at the Glebe and Sycamore entry points. So far, nothing has been proposed to address problems with Eastbound I-66, toward the district.

The prevailing wisdom is that widening I-66 eastbound would do no good because it eventually dumps into the Teddy Roosevelt bridge, which is already a choke point. However, adding a third lane between the Sycamore entry point and the Glebe Rd. exit would immensely help with traffic problems on eastbound I-66. Why? Because those same residents and workers who clog up westbound I-66 when they get on at Glebe Rd. are also clogging up the highway before they get off at Glebe Rd. Any regular traveler on eastbound I-66 knows that once you're past the Glebe exit, you're home free.

We think its terrific that Arlington has been a pioneer in efforts to encourage mass transit, walking, biking and other alternatives to the omnipresent automobile. But cars are, at least for now, a necessary evil. Forcing them off I-66 and on to Arlington's "surface streets" is hardly a good solution for our community. It's time for Arlington's leaders to get real on I-66.


matt said...

I'm with you. I just wonder if Glebe road could handle the extra traffic. Might need a dedicated right turn lane (that should be there already anyway)

Diane Gannon said...

Arlington often cites their reasoning for not expanding 66 as "to reduce the number of cars and pollution in the county". The number of cars still increases (in both directions), and now with the slow stop-and-go bumper-to-bumper traffic around Glebe and Rosslyn, pollution is increased. Cars emit more pollution in stop & go situations. If the road were expanded, allowing traffic to flow at a normal speed, it would REDUCE pollution. Can our elected officials be that stupid? What is the REAL reason Arlington fights this? Money?

Andrew said...

Er, everyone says widening will reduce congestion. OK. Driving I-66 will be more appealing. More people will drive on I-66. Congestion will return. This is basically a good idea (the road design is not good) with very little long-term benefit, especially if it increases capacity. Built it, and they will come. The underlying problem must be addressed; here the politicians are just giving and getting short-term payoff.