The I-66 Conundrum

Everyone agrees that I-66 is the most congested traffic corridor in the Commonwealth.  Everyone agrees that traffic relief along I-66 is the most critical objective in Virginia, or at least in northern Virginia.

That’s where the agreement ends.  More transit?  More lanes?  Tolling?  HOV?  It all depends on where you are and where you’re going.

Divides in northern Virginia can roughly break down between “inside the Beltway” and “outside the Beltway.”  Nowhere is that more evident in the I-66 debate.  If you live inside the Beltway, there is no I-66 crisis — and you have 18 trains an hour departing for the District.  Your commute is a breeze.

If you live outside, the Beltway itself is a invisible wall.  You can’t get inside — it’s either gridlock or you need another warm body next to you.  So you spend your life traveling around the Beltway.

From the outside-the-Beltway perspective, there’s no reason to widen I-66 anywhere unless the widening occurs INSIDE the Beltway.  Otherwise, you just have more lanes funneling to the same bottleneck.  (And, no, you can’t toll lanes which are currently free to the public).

In addition to this basic dilemma, there is the further problem that widening I-66 at its most critical point — the I-66 and I-495 cloverleaf — means taking land from the historic community of Dunn Loring, which sits on both sides of Gallows Road as it travels north-south from “the Mosaic” to Tysons Corner.

Early VDOT plans showed a disregard for that fragile ecosystem.  Later plans are dialing that back, primarily through burying the new storm water ponds, but there’s still plenty of takings planned.  The biggest variable is whether the County will continue with its plans to widen Gallows Road.

On top of all this is the issue of whether the Orange Line will even be extended from Vienna.  It’s been early 30 years since that station opened.  Since then there has been no plans, even conceptually, to extend the line.  Based on current linear mile construction costs, that Metro extension would seem to be a pipe dream.

It’s a lot to digest.  All spring there have been meetings in Dunn Loring, Fairfax, Oakton and Chantilly — and there will be many more.  Eventually, the Commonwealth Transportation Board will make this final choice, although the Fairfax County Board will have a say.  Let me know what you think.

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