Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Arlington's Stance on I-66 Is Killing Democrats

One issue that's killing Democrats in Virginia is Arlington's steadfast opposition to widening I-66.

Because Arlington is a Democratic stronghold, statewide candidates who want to court Arlington voters are required to adhere to the I-66 orthodoxy here. That, in turn, hurts them in the larger--and Democratic leaning--counties outside the beltway (Fairfax, Prince William and Loudoun). Folks in those counties want better roads, and none is more inadequate than I-66.

Our friend Ben at NLS recently posted his reasoning on why widening I-66 would do no good (it's in the context of a rebuttal to the Washington Post's inexplicable endorsement of Arlington delegate Bob Brink's Republican opponent).

We disagree. Ben's reasoning is that putting more people on I-66 will just add to congestion in Tyson's Corner. That ignores the two fundamental bottlenecks on I-66.

Heading westbound, traffic gets jammed where the double lane Glebe Road on-ramp meets double-lane I-66. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that having a two-lane on-ramp merge into two lanes of interstate highway will quickly jam things up. Adding an additional lane from Glebe Rd. to the Dulles Access Rd. (267) would greatly ameliorate the daily traffic tie-up on I-66 in Arlington. The sad thing is that Arlington's elected officials oppose this fix, even though it is mostly people living and working in ARLINGTON (those getting on at Glebe Rd.) who are hurt by the current abysmal design.

On the eastbound side, there is a similar problem, where the Sycamore Street ramp meets I-66. Too much traffic is coming in from this ramp, causing traffic to slow to a crawl. A little over a mile later, much of that traffic gets off at Glebe Rd. (again proving that much of I-66 traffic is people living and working in Arlington, not just pass-through traffic from the outer suburbs). After Glebe Rd. the traffic clears up. An easy solution to this problem is to extend the ramp from Sycamore St. all the way to the Glebe exit ramp.

These fixes won't solve all of I-66's problems, but they would at least resolve most of the particularly aggravating traffic jams that occur outside of rush hours or against rush hour traffic.

Arlington officials are doing no good for the majority of Arlingtonians by opposing these fixes. While we intend to vote for Bob Brink--because we don't think he's really part of that problem--we do think the Post has a point: it may take getting rid of a few Arlington Democrats to save the rest of Northern Virginia's Democrats, and to bring some sanity to the transportation issue.

1 comment:

Allen Muchnick said...

This post greatly oversimplifies and misrepresents the I-66 widening debate.

1) Governors Warner and Kaine, both Democrats, supported widening I-66, at least in the westbound direction, provided that roadway widening is confined to the existing highway right of way. Creigh Deeds has stated a similar position.

2) VDOT has *never* advanced building a continuous third westbound travel lane between Glebe Road and the Dulles Connector Road. Instead, it has advanced three discontinuous "spot improvements", where a westbound on-ramp is extended only to the next off-ramp. Because the spot improvements would leave two westbound travel lanes between the Glebe Road off-ramp and the Fairfax Drive on-ramp and between the Sycamore Street off-ramp and the Washington Boulevard on-ramp, such widening would create two new westbound bottlenecks. Moreover, in advancing the "spot improvements" project, VDOT refused to look at any reasonable construction alternatives or traffic management changes that could be much more cost effective.

3) VDOT's own I-66 widening feasibility study (dubbed Idea-66 and published in March 2005) found that a continuous third westbound lane would not be particularly effective, unless the added lane were better managed than the existing travel lanes; e.g., as a busway or with tolls or increased HOV restrictions.

4) The same VDOT study found that, with the Dulles Rail Extension and a planned shift from HOV-2 to HOV-3, I-66 would attract less traffic in 2030 than in 2004. In other words, I-66 will be less congested in the future if I-66 is basically left alone, and scarce highway widening funds would be better spent elsewhere.

5) Arlington County's elected representatives have never been opposed to a full and fair study for improving I-66. In fact, they have repeatedly requested such a full and fair study while opposing the various misguided efforts to force added and poorly managed road capacity down Arlington's throat without first proving the *overall* effectiveness of that approach.