The widening of I-66 in Arlington, a plan long in the making that is loved by some and loathed by others, moved one step closer to fruition last week.
A group of local government officials approved a regional transportation plan that would add extra lanes to the often-clogged highway despite objections from many within Arlington County.
An extra lane would be added to westbound I-66 in three places: from Fairfax Drive to Sycamore Street, from Washington Boulevard to Route 267 and from Spout Run Parkway to Glebe Road.
Gerald Miller, a program coordinator with the Transportation Planning Board, said that lanes are only being added to westbound I-66 because "There’s tremendous controversy just to doing this."
He said, "Arlington County has been opposed to this road since it was open. It’s been very difficult to even study or consider expanding the road in any place."
The I-66 plan, which is estimated to cost more than $75 million, was part of a larger project that was approved by the Transportation Planning Board, which is composed of representatives from all Washington-area municipalities.
The money for the project will come from state and federal sources. The Transportation Planning Board’s approval of the project was a condition for the allocation of the federal funds.
"This has been a very deliberate process but I feel it is important that it be so," Transportation Planning Board Chair and Fairfax County Supervisor Catherine Hudgins said in a statement. "This is an important step considering what direction we're going to move in."
The plan approved by the Board also included adding High-Occupancy Toll lanes to I-95/395 from the Potomac River out into Prince William County.
ARLINGTON COUNTY BOARD Member Chris Zimmerman (D) serves on the Transportation Planning Board and, despite being vocally opposed to widening the highway in the past, voted for the comprehensive plan.
Zimmerman said that his vote was not in favor of the I-66 plan itself, but that he voted for the overall regional plan.
"I objected to the elements in the plan," he said. "But it’s like a budget. It contains everything, every [transportation] project in the region for the next 30 years."
Zimmerman said, "Of course I’m still opposed [to widening I-66]."
He said that he wants the transportation authorities to look at the overall problem of highway overcrowding instead of merely trying to increase highway capacity.
"All [this plan does] is spend a lot of money adding shoulders," Zimmerman said. "It doesn’t move any more people [off the roads]."
The I-66 plan will now be subjected to an environmental analysis to study the impact that adding more lanes to the highway will have on the air quality of the surrounding area.
Miller believes the plan will pass the air quality tests because he said that the proposed changes amount to a small increase in the total cars on the highway.
After the analysis is completed in late fall of this year, the plan will go back to the Transportation Planning Board for final approval.
The I-66 plan also needs to be approved by the Virginia Department of Transportation before construction can commence.
Zimmerman said that, while the Transportation Planning Board’s approval of the plan last week did represent a step forward in the I-66 project, there are still many obstacles it needs to clear before it is brought to reality.
"There’s a whole lot more to be done," he said. "There will be more discussion."