The region’s Transportation Planning Board gave its approval last week for a study that will take a close look at engineering and spot improvements on westbound Interstate 66, possibly paving the way for a future widening of the congested highway.
The $10 million study is the latest attempt to examine adding a third westbound lane between the Rosslyn Tunnel and the Dulles Access Road. The total cost of widening I-66 westbound to three lanes is estimated between $112 and $240 million.
The Arlington County Board is vehemently opposed to widening I-66 unless the undertaking is implemented along with other, more sustainable, transportation projects, including expanding Metro to Tysons Corner.
“What will we have gained if after spending hundreds of millions of dollars all we have is a three-lane traffic jam instead of a two-lane traffic jam?” said County Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman, who is a member of the TPB.
Virginia transportation officials are set to explore design work at three sections of I-66: between Lee Highway and Glebe Road; Fairfax Drive and Sycamore Street; and Washington Boulevard and the Dulles Access Road.
The spot improvements would essentially include adding a lane at entrances to the highway. But Zimmerman believes the improvements might worsen congestion.
“By creating a situation where the highway goes from two to three and back to two lanes, it’s hard for me to see how that will improve the situation,” Zimmerman said.
The TPB originally postponed the study in December, asking for greater clarification of its intent. Though some have claimed that the spot improvements are a back-door way of enlarging the road, Jason Rylander, past president of the Arlington Coalition for Sensible Transportation, disagrees.
“I do not look at it as a victory for widening,” he said. “This is an opportunity to debate whether adding an additional lane will really improve transportation in the region. There is a lot of evidence that alternatives would perform better.
ZIMMERMAN BROKERED A DEAL with fellow TPB members, ensuring that the study will not impact the planned extension of the Metro line, nor impinge on neighboring parks and property.
Proponents of widening the highway say it will relieve rush-hour traffic along the route, which is used by tens of thousands of Virginians who commute to Tysons Corner and Washington everyday.
Arlington county officials and residents have been outspoken in their opposition to any plan to expand the highway, often citing a 1977 promise to build only a four-lane road.
County Board members have called on state officials to produce a more comprehensive approach to transportation planning that includes greater Metro and bus service.
“This is like trying to solve an obesity problem by loosening your belt,” County Board member Jay Fisette said. “A systematic solution is looking at your diet and exercise, not just getting a new pair of pants.”
County officials also expressed concern that eliminating the shoulder in order to build a third lane will put drivers at risk.
“If your car breaks down or you need to pull over, this creates a very dangerous situation,” said board member Paul Ferguson.