Letter: Questioning VDOT On I-66 Plan

Letter: Questioning VDOT On I-66 Plan

Letter to the Editor

To the Editor:

The following is a statement by the 66 Alliance at the Virginia Department of Transportation’s public information meeting on the “Transform 66 Inside the Beltway Project” at the Arlington Public Library on June 17.

Good evening. My name is Greg Scott. I live with our family in Warrenton, Va. and have commuted on an almost daily basis from Fauquier County to downtown Washington, D.C. on I- 66 for over 13 years.

I appear this evening on behalf of the grassroots I-66 commuter advocacy group called the "66 Alliance." The Alliance is a growing group of I-66 commuters — now over 400 members after just a month of recruiting — committed to challenging many facets of VDOT's plans for I-66, both inside and outside the Beltway. More information on the Alliance can be found on our website at www.66alliance.org.

The Alliance's members are united by our concern about VDOT's plan to change the carpooling rules on I-66 from HOV-2 to HOV-3. We are concerned about VDOT's plan to end the Clean Fuel Vehicle plate program for all of I-66. We are concerned about VDOT's plan to toll I-66 inside the Beltway in both directions during the morning and evening rush hours, thereby impacting thousands of "reverse" commuters. And we are concerned about the collective impacts of all of these plans on the primary alternative commuter routes to I-66, both inside and outside the Beltway, and the potential for commuters to "bail" from these primary commuter routes onto residential and neighborhood streets.

Primarily, the Alliance's members are deeply concerned that VDOT is undertaking all of these plans for I-66 without a single public hearing on the impact of these plans on I-66's commuters, without seeking the input from the users of I-66,and without releasing a single study, report or analysis with respect to commuter impacts supporting any of these plans. In short, VDOT plans to disrupt the commuting patterns and personal and professional lives of tens of thousands of Northern Virginia commuters without answering the hard questions that should come with such momentous decisions.

The Alliance asserts that this lack of transparency from VDOT must end, and that end must begin today. The Alliance has sent an open letter to VDOT Secretary Aubrey Layne today — a copy of which I will share with the panel- asking 13 simple but vital questions to VDOT with respect to its I-66 plans. The Alliance's members are united in our conviction that VDOT should not move forward with any aspects of its I-66 plans, inside or outside the Beltway, before all of these questions are answered — comprehensively and in writing.

I would be pleased to pose some or all of the Alliance's questions to this evening's VDOT panelists if you wish. We could discuss some or all of the questions in this public forum for all attendees to hear. Please let me know if you would like to take advantage of this "Public Information Meeting" to impart some real and important information to the public, rather than the canned and uninformative presentations and charts that VDOT has presented to date at its myriad public hearings on its I-66 plans.

Thank you for this opportunity to present the Alliance's views at this public hearing. We look forward to receiving VDOT's responses to the Alliance's questions in the near future.

Questions for VDOT

The following letter was addressed to Aubrey Layne, Secretary Virginia Department of Transportation.

Re: Questions from the 66 Alliance Regarding VDOT's Plans for I-66 Inside the Beltway

The 66 Alliance, as a representative of the public and of I-66 commuters, poses the following questions to VDOT and asks for comprehensive answers, including sources for the data or studies referred to in each answer, to these questions before VDOT moves forward in any fashion with its plans for I-66 inside the Beltway.

  1. What is the hourly vehicle capacity for the existing lanes of I-66 between the D.C.line and the Capital Beltway? Is there a difference between the eastbound and westbound lanes?

  2. Where are the current congestion points on I-66 inside the Beltway in both directions during the morning and afternoon/evening rush hours, why does congestion occur at these points, is the roadway's maximum vehicle capacity exceeded during these times, and what alternatives has VDOT considered, besides a conversion to High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes in each direction, to mitigate this rush hour congestion?

  3. During the rush hours (eastbound in the morning and westbound in the evening), how many vehicles use I-66 on an hourly basis that fall into the following categories: (1) HOV-2; vehicles with Clean Fuel Vehicle (CFV) plates; (3) vehicles travelling to or from Dulles Airport; and, (4) HOV "cheaters," or vehicles not entitled to travel on I-66 during these restricted times?

  4. How many of the I-66 HOV "cheaters" (expressed both as a percentage and as a number) are ticketed by state or county police on an hourly or daily basis on average between 495 and the D.C.line, what is the average fine for each citation, and how much revenue does the state and county forgo annually by not fully enforcing the existing HOV lane rules on I-66 between D.C.and the Beltway?

  5. Have commuters in both directions (with the rush hours and "reverse" commuters) on I-66 inside the Beltway paid for the construction and maintenance of I-66 through our federal and state motor fuel excise taxes?

  6. Based on the agency's answer to Question 5, what specific statutory or regulatory authority — derived from a federal or Virginia statute or regulation — gives VDOT the authority to either privatize a portion of an interstate highway paid for with taxpayer dollars or convert those taxpayer-financed lanes into HOT lanes?

  7. What, if any, contact has any VDOT employee had with each of the following — (a) the Federal Highway Administration; (b) any other federal agency; (c) any private company that is in the business of building and operating highways financed through HOT lane revenues; or, (d) any independent entity for the purpose of study or research — with respect to the conversion of I-66 inside the Beltway to HOT lanes, to I-66's existing HOV- 2 (as opposed to HOV-3) rule, to the use of I-66 by vehicles with CFV plates, or the role of HOV "cheaters" in the highway's congestion.

  8. How have VDOT's projections for HOT lane use, average toll per mile, weekly, monthly or annual toll revenues, congestion mitigation, non-express lane congestion, and surface and neighborhood street "bailouts" and resulting non-interstate congestion (particularly on Routes 29, 7, 50, and 244 in Fairfax and Arlington counties) compared to actual data for I-495's and I-95's HOT lanes, and how are VDOT's projections for the I-66 inside the Beltway HOT lanes similar to or different than its projections for those other projects.

  9. With respect to tolling "reverse" commuters on I-66 inside the Beltway, what data can VDOT provide on the impacts of this plan on "bailouts" from the interstate to surface and neighborhood streets (particularly on Routes 29, 7, 50, and 244 in Fairfax and Arlington counties), in terms of local congestion, neighborhood safety and projected revenue from the "reverse" HOT lanes?

  10. Why is VDOT planning to toll I-66 inside the Beltway in both directions during the rush hours when it did not impose the same tolls on the express lanes of 1-395inside the Beltway?

  11. Why is VDOT planning to repeal the CFV plate program on I-66 inside Beltway when it did not repeal a similar CFV program on I-395 as part of the I-395/I-95 HOT lane conversion?

  12. What number — both in percentages and total vehicles — of current HOV-2 users of I-66's inside the Beltway HOV lanes will continue to use these lanes as HOV-3 carpoolers, and how many current HOV-2 users will either shift to other roads or transportation options to avoid the tolls or simply pay the tolls in the HOT lanes?

  13. What plans does VDOT have to follow — or ignore — the opinion of many users of I-66 inside the Beltway that much of the congestion on this portion of this highway can be mitigated by widening I-66 inside the Beltway to 3 or 4 lanes in each direction?

The 66 Alliance sincerely appreciates VDOT's willingness to respond to these questions from the commuting public. We will wait with great anticipation to your comprehensive responses to these questions.

Once VDOT answers these and any other questions that the public may have on VDOT's plans for I-66 inside the Beltway, the 66 Alliance respectfully asks that VDOT schedule another series of meetings or hearings so that the public can discuss publicly VDOT's answers to these questions and, if appropriate, raise new concerns or questions about the information contained in VDOT's answers.

If you have questions about the information the 66 Alliance's members are seeking in this letter, please do not hesitate to contact me.

In advance, the members of the 66 Alliance thank you for your prompt attention to these questions.

Gregory M. Scott

The 66 Alliance