- County Board says “mutually beneficial outcome is possible”
- Cites “potential benefits” of dynamic tolling, as part of broad package that moves more people through enhanced multimodel services and facilities
- Details six issues of particular concern to Arlington
In a letter to Virginia Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne, the Arlington County Board has expressed optimism that the Commonwealth and the County can reach “a mutually beneficial outcome” for extending the I-395 Express lanes north through Arlington to the District of Columbia line.
The County is “optimistic that a mutually beneficial outcome is possible on I-395” County Board Chair Mary Hynes said in a letter sent Dec. 4 to Layne on behalf of the County Board. She cautioned, however, that “any successful HOT (High Occupancy Toll) project on I-395 must ensure that transit service is capable of operating effectively, and is enhanced rather than degraded further.”
Hynes noted that the County’s previous objections to the 2009 plan to bring dynamic tolling to I-395 were “due to the lack of a detailed impact analysis and to specific implementation details, as opposed to the general concept.” The inclusion in this new proposal of a full environmental assessment, a study of transportation demand service needs and opportunities, as well as on-going dedicated funds to support increased transit and other necessary mitigations in the corridor make this 2015 proposal significantly more balanced and sensitive to jurisdictional impacts than the previous project proposal.
The letter details six “issues of particular concern” Arlington has as discussion of the plan continues:
- Transit and Transportation Demand Management (TDM)
Transit and TDM must be an integral part of the project, well-planned and funded with ongoing, stable, and sufficient revenues. The Commonwealth should undertake a comprehensive transit/TDM study, including a detailed transit operations analysis, and commit to using the majority of toll revenue, beyond what is necessary to maintain and operate the facility, to finance multimodal projects. Significant up-front funding should be provided so that transit and other multimodal projects are implemented contemporaneously with the start of tolling.
- Third party concessionaire
The involvement of the third party concessionaire raises concerns. The concessionaire’s involvement must be strictly defined, and include enforceable protections that ensure the project retains its multimodal focus, its obligation to mitigate unintended consequences on local streets, and funding both during the implementation of tolling and over the long-term.
- Do not harm transit oriented communities
This project must not undermine Arlington’s successful investment in congestion-reducing transit-oriented development in Pentagon City, Crystal City, or Shirlington. These important mixed-use neighborhoods reduce congestion by focusing on walkable, transit-oriented land uses. The addition of highway-oriented infrastructure and increased traffic into these communities would have the unintended consequence of making it more difficult to walk, bike, and access transit, resulting in more traffic congestion, not less. Providing and maintaining balanced multimodal access to these neighborhoods is essential.Specifically, we appreciate the call-out of no changes to the off-ramp at Shirlington Circle. Special attention will need to be paid to traffic management and context-sensitive road design at the Eads Street exit, with a particular focus on preserving and enhancing bus access to the Pentagon, where over 1,000 buses connect every weekday, with still other transit connecting at Pentagon City.
- Impact studies
Comprehensive traffic and environmental studies are necessary to fully understand the proposed project, including a robust NEPA process that includes a study area extending at least one mile out from the I-395 right-of-way, to include parallel and connecting facilities such as Metro, VRE, Route 1, and Columbia Pike.
- Remain within existing right-of-way
Any changes to the I-395 facility should take place fully within the existing I-395 right-of-way only, and must not negatively impact multimodal infrastructure or service.
- Coordinate with DC
Given the profile of traffic using I-395, we strongly recommend coordination and, if possible, partnership with the District of Columbia, to extend the HOT facility across the Potomac River and to make needed improvements to transit, pedestrian, and bicycle accessibility in the 14th Bridge / Long Bridge corridor.
“Gaining Arlington’s ultimate support for this project will depend, as always, on implementation details such as these,” Hynes wrote.
To read the letter in its entirety, visit the County website.
The Board was responding to a Nov. 20, 2015 letter that Layne send to Board Chair Hynes, Fairfax County Chairman Sharon Bulova and Alexandria Mayor Euille, informing them of the Commonwealth’s intention to initiate an environmental assessment to study the extension of the I-395 Express lanes north through Arlington to the District of Columbia, and a transportation demand management study to identify multimodal strategies to improve travel in the corridor.
The Commonwealth’s proposal calls for easing congestion on I-395 by turning the Interstate’s High Occupancy Vehicle lanes into I-395 Express Lanes, to be operated by Transurban, and extend tolling to the District of Columbia line. The project also would expand the two-lane roadway into three lanes – those lanes will still be reversible for rush hour. Some of the toll revenue would be used to fund transit. Construction is expected to begin in 2017.
Arlington filed suit against the Commonwealth and the Federal Highway Administration over a previous plan to convert HOV lanes on I-95 and I-395 to HOT Lanes, saying the federal government should not have granted the project a “Categorical Exclusion” from an Environmental Assessment. The County cited concerns about the lack of a detailed impact analysis for the project, and the potential harm the project could cause Arlington residents. The state eventually abandoned the project, and Arlington withdrew its lawsuit in 2011.