Tag: I-66

JOINT STATEMENT on I-66 agreement between Governor McAuliffe and Virginia legislators by Coalition for Smarter Growth, Southern Environmental Law Center, Sierra Club – Virginia Chapter, Piedmont Environmental Council, and Arlington Coalition for Sensible Transportation

February 10, 2016

Stewart Schwartz, Coalition for Smarter Growth, (703) 599-6437
Trip Pollard, Southern Environmental Law Center, (804) 318-7484

RICHMOND, VA — Three leading smart growth, conservation, and transportation reform advocacy groups released the following joint statement on the announced agreement between Governor McAuliffe and state legislators on I-66 inside the Beltway:

Our organizations have supported the Governor’s package of transit, HOV, and tolls for I-66 inside the Beltway as a far more effective approach than widening. This package of solutions will move 40,000 more people through the corridor in the peak hours faster and more reliably, and it won the support of Fairfax, Arlington, Falls Church, and the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission.

Therefore, we are deeply disappointed by legislators of both parties who have pressed to undo this effective demand-management and people-moving package in favor of a widen-first approach. In doing so, the legislators have failed to understand the settled science of induced traffic where widened roads in metropolitan areas quickly fill up again. They also failed to understand the benefits of funding transit through the toll revenues, and the effectiveness of the package in moving more people through the corridor during peak hours.

We’re grateful to the Governor for fighting for the package of solutions he has championed for I-66 inside the Beltway. Although we are very disappointed that the widening is being accelerated before more effective solutions are given the opportunity to work, the agreement reflects a political compromise. That said, we urge the Governor and local governments to accelerate the funding and implementation of transit and supportive ride-matching and transit marketing necessary to ensure we maximize the number of people using transit and carpooling before the widening takes effect in 2019.

We urge legislators to understand that an economically successful region like ours cannot build our way out of congestion through highway expansion. That widening is just a band-aid with an increasing cost to people’s homes, neighborhoods, schools, parks, and health.

We have long made the case that investment in transit and smart growth, which can be coupled with road and parking pricing, is the most effective approach to addressing traffic congestion in the near, medium, and long term. Creating a network of walkable, transit-oriented centers and communities allows us to maximize walking, biking, and transit trips, while minimizing driving. It reduces the sprawling development which is the chief contributor to our traffic congestion, and creates the types of communities so in demand today.

Finally, it is important to recognize that Arlington County’s internationally recognized success in coupling transit-oriented development (TOD) with transit investment has done more to reduce regional traffic congestion than any other jurisdiction or any highway expansion in Northern Virginia, while increasing the region’s economic competitiveness. Arlington’s success is a compelling case for why we should continue to maximize our investment in transit and TOD across Northern Virginia rather than widen highways all the way to DC.

The Coalition for Smarter Growth is the leading organization in the Washington DC region dedicated to making the case for smart growth. Its mission is to promote walkable, inclusive, and transit-oriented communities, and the land use and transportation policies needed to make those communities flourish. Learn more at smartergrowth.net.

The Southern Environmental Law Center is a regional nonprofit using the power of the law to protect the health and environment of the Southeast (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama). Founded in 1986, SELC’s team of over 60 legal experts represent more than 100 partner groups on issues of climate change and energy, air and water quality, forests, the coast and wetlands, transportation, and land use. Learn more at SouthernEnvironment.org.

The Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club is 15,000 members strong. We are your friends and neighbors working to build healthy, livable communities, and to conserve and restore our natural environment. Learn more at sierraclub.org/virginia.

Since 1972, the Piedmont Environmental Council has proudly promoted and protected the natural resources, rural economy, history and beauty of the Virginia Piedmont. Learn more about the Piedmont Environmental Council at pecva.org.

 The Arlington Coalition for Sensible Transportation has campaigned for a ‘wiser, not wider’ I-66 inside the Beltway since 1999.  Learn more at acstnet.blogspot.com.        


RELEASE: Groups Respond to Legislators – Urging Support for the I-66 Inside the Beltway Package of Solutions

Coalition for Smarter Growth, Southern Environmental Law Center, Piedmont Environmental Council, Sierra Club – Virginia Chapter, Arlington Coalition for Sensible Transportation

January 29, 2016

Stewart Schwartz, Coalition for Smarter Growth, (703) 599-6437
Trip Pollard, Southern Environmental Law Center, (804) 318-7484

RICHMOND, VA — Today, several smart growth, transportation reform, and conservation groups reemphasized their support for the McAuliffe administration’s proposal to improve traffic flow along I-66 inside the Beltway, in response to a letter a group of state legislators recently sent Virginia’s Secretary of Transportation voicing their opposition to the plan.

“We understand the concerns of legislators and constituents about the tolls, but the Governor’s package of solutions is many times more effective than the widening those legislators are pressing, and it represents both a progressive and a fiscally conservative approach to a major transportation problem,” said Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth.

“VDOT’s analysis of the congestion reduction benefits of various projects found that the administration’s proposal to open the HOV lanes to all drivers while charging a toll for single-occupant vehicles, and using the toll revenue to fund transit, strategic widening, and carpooling improvements along I-66 would be six times more effective than widening alone. It would move 40,000 more people through the corridor faster and more reliably,” said Trip Pollard, Director of the Land and Community Program of the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Under the current multi-jurisdictional agreement, widening would be considered after the tolling, carpools and transit are given an opportunity to work and their effectiveness is fully evaluated.

“The problem with widening as the default response to every traffic problem, is that induced demand causes newly widened roads to fill up again in as little as five years,” said Schwartz. “I expect that to happen even more quickly on I-66, as the bottleneck gets pushed to a new location. Besides, where do additional cars go as they try to exit onto local streets in Arlington or Constitution Avenue in DC? We need a demand management solution, and that’s what the Governor’s package provides.” Studies in 2005, 2009, and 2012 built toward the 2015 proposal. All determined that a widening-only approach wouldn’t work very well.

Tolls on I-66 will make it possible for  single-occupant drivers to use the lanes, and dynamic congestion-pricing will ensure that carpools, transit, and single-occupant vehicles are guaranteed a minimum speed of 45 mph through the corridor, ensuring trips are faster and more reliable.

“The revenues from the tolls will also provide as much as $10 million per year to provide increased commuter bus service and rail cars needed for 8-car trains on Metro’s  orange line, helping even more people to move through the corridor to get to jobs,” said Douglas Stewart, Transportation Chair for the Sierra Club – Virginia Chapter. “It’s important for the legislators to recognize that increased transit service represents capacity expansion that is more efficient, effective and sustainable over the long-term.”

The Coalition for Smarter Growth is the leading organization in the Washington DC region dedicated to making the case for smart growth. Its mission is to promote walkable, inclusive, and transit-oriented communities, and the land use and transportation policies and investments needed to make those communities flourish. Learn more at smartergrowth.net.

The Southern Environmental Law Center is a regional nonprofit using the power of the law to protect the health and environment of the Southeast (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama). Founded in 1986, SELC’s team of over 60 legal experts represent more than 100 partner groups on issues of climate change and energy, air and water quality, forests, the coast and wetlands, transportation, and land use. Learn more at SouthernEnvironment.org.

Since 1972, the Piedmont Environmental Council has proudly promoted and protected the natural resources, rural economy, history and beauty of the Virginia Piedmont. Learn more about the Piedmont Environmental Council at pecva.org.

The Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club is 15,000 members strong. We are your friends and neighbors working to build healthy, livable communities, and to conserve and restore our natural environment. Learn more at sierraclub.org/virginia.

 The Arlington Coalition for Sensible Transportation has campaigned for a ‘wiser, not wider’ I-66 inside the Beltway since 1999.  Learn more at acstnet.blogspot.com.        



Coalition for Smarter Growth President “tired of the Arlington bashing,” says proponents of widening I-66 “apparently don’t believe in the science of induced traffic”

Check out the video of Stewart Schwartz of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, speaking in Alexandria at the December 9 meeting of the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB), and the partial transcript below. Schwartz does a great job, in a short amount of time, of explaining why we need smart growth solutions in the I-66 corridor, and throughout Northern Virginia, NOT more roads and more roads-inducing sprawl development.

The CTB meeting at which Stewart Schwartz spoke covered a number of transportation-related topics, including this mouthful: “Authorization to Impose Tolls on I-66 Inside the Beltway, Advancement/Allocation of Toll Facilities Revolving Account Funds, and Approval of a Memorandum of Agreement with the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission Relating to the Transform66: Inside the Beltway Project.” What on earth is that? Well, if you followed the closing weeks of the 2016 Virginia General Assembly elections, or if you simply turned on your TV in those closing weeks, you’re almost certainly aware that the issue of I-66 tolling came up, over and over again, in the most demagogic and misleading fashion. I’d note that, in the end, despite Republicans spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on these ads, none of the candidates they attacked (Jennifer Boysko, Kathleen Murphy, etc.) lost. In fact, it’s arguable that the ads backfired, if anything, as candidates like Kathy Smith won by far larger margins than had been expected. So, not sure about the political potency of this line of attack, but it certainly didn’t work in 2015.

Anyway, the bottom line is that the McAuliffe administration is generally on the right course with regard to addressing traffic congestion on I-66 inside and outside the Beltway. As the Coalition for Smarter Growth and many others understand, the LAST thing we should want is pouring more pavement, for a wide variety of reasons, including: a) increasing road capacity simply encourages more sprawl and more traffic (“induced demand”); b) locking in, and even adding to, fossil-fuel-powered transportation infrastructure is the 180-degree wrong way to go, at a time when we need to be rapidly phasing out greenhouse gas emissions if we want to avoid frying our planet; c) building new roads is a ridiculously expensive proposition, and for no good reason (see points “a”and “b”), other than to line the pocket of the road-building folks.

As for the McAuliffe administration’s plan for the I-66 corridor, what it does is basically harness Free Market Economics 101 to address/ameliorate a problem in a cost-effective, market-oriented fashion. Why Republicans of all people would oppose this is kind of mind boggling, until you consider that they also have flip-flopped and now oppose other conservative ideas, such as the “individual mandate,” “cap-and-trade,” etc.

The bottom line, with regard to widening I-66 inside the Beltway, is that Arlington County is absolutely correct: this should be a last-ditch option, after all other options have been tried and ONLY if those other options fail. Frankly, widening I-66 is just as misguided and short-sighted as building new fossil-fuel-fired infrastructure, before we’ve maxed out on energy efficiency. Not smart at all.

With that, here are Stewart Schwartz’s comments at the Dec. 9 meeting of the CTB. Enjoy.

Regarding the previous speakers, they apparently don’t believe in the science of induced traffic, that it is a very real problem. They apparently think we can widen Constitution Avenue in DC. There is no place for these cars to go. If you build it, they WILL come on a wider road. That’s why your combined transportation demand management, transit, HOV solution is the best solution for that corridor.

And I get a little tired of the Arlington bashing. Arlington has probably done more to relieve traffic congestion in Northern Virginia than any other jurisdiction…Their transit-oriented development has sited millions of square feet of development, tens of thousands of housing units, in locations where their vehicle trips and vehicle miles traveled are lower than anywhere else in Northern Virginia. And they have, in the process, maximized transit, walking and biking. That IS a regional transit-oriented development…not what I’m hearing, which is a 1950s, can-we-please-build-rings-of-outer-beltways-and-widen-every-road.

We have to change our land use to do so in a more sustainable way…We DO care about the regional economy, we DO care about being competitive. That means we should maximize great placemaking and transit-oriented development to attract these companies, to retain the Millenials and the next-generation creative employees. And we should do our transportation smart, in a demand-management way like we’re talking about…

I-66 tolling plan wins Commonwealth Transportation Board approval

The Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) on Dec. 9 approved the McAuliffe administration’s proposal to allow single-occupant vehicles to use Interstate 66 inside the Beltway during rush hour, so long as they’re willing to pay for the privilege.

State Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne, who chairs the board, called the unanimous vote a victory for both commuters who use I-66 and those who travel on surrounding roadways.

“The data is showing that all people will benefit, all people’s lives will be enhanced,” Layne said at the CTB meeting, held in Alexandria.

But critics kept up their drumbeat that unless I-66 eastbound is widened – sooner rather than later – the latest proposal is merely a stopgap that avoids the bigger questions.

“The issue isn’t tolling or transit, but how soon widening can be achieved,” said Bob Chase of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance. “This proposal kicks the well-documented need for widening down the road.”

Under the proposal OK’d by the state transportation panel, driving on I-66 eastbound during the morning rush and westbound during the evening rush will still be free, so long as there are two or more passengers in the vehicle (a number that eventually will rise to three). Those with one occupant, currently banned during rush hour, will be able to use the road in return for paying tolls whose amounts remain uncertain.

Some of the funds raised through the tolling will go to the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission, which will parcel them out for improvements along the corridor.

The proposal has drawn pushback from advocates and lawmakers in the outer suburbs, who say their residents shouldn’t be forced to pay to use the road. But Layne countered that using excess capacity on I-66 will both raise funds and take drivers off surrounding arteries.

Saying that he understood the frustration of the plan’s opponents, and has taken some of their concerns into account, Layne said the Commonwealth Transportation Board and Virginia Department of Transportation do not have magic wands to solve all problems.

“Our role is to deal with the resources we have, and continue moving forward,” he said. “Our charge is to use [resources] as efficiently and as wisely as we can.”

Under the proposal, consideration of widening I-66’s eastbound side from the Dulles Toll Road to Ballston will not be considered until the 2020s, and only will go forward if certain thresholds are met.

Stewart Schwartz of the Coalition for Smarter Growth said those promoting widening as a panacea are stuck in a 1950s mindset.

“We should do our transportation-management smart,” Schwartz said. He noted that even if that portion of I-66 is widened, “there is no place for the cars to go” because Potomac River bridges and roadways in the District of Columbia can’t be widened to accommodate the increased traffic flow.

State officials say that once the project is up and running in 2017 – the last year of McAuliffe’s term – they will monitor what transpires and make adjustments as needed.

That’s a good idea, said Joung Lee of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. He told CTB members that, based on past experience across the country, they should anticipate teething pains.

“You’re not going to find that sweet spot right away,” Lee said. “It will take some tweaks and some experimentation.”

Read at Inside NOVA >>

RELEASE: Politics are Frustrating Good Planning and Long-term Solutions for I-66

NORTHERN VIRGINIA — “The swirling and politicized debate over what to do with I-66 is frustrating good planning and long-term solutions,” said Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. “On one hand, many are seeking to derail a good demand management solution for inside the Beltway; on the other hand, planning for expansion of I-66 outside the Beltway is sailing along even though it takes us further away from the long-term solution we need to address the underlying cause of high traffic volumes.”

Tuesday’s Elections Prove There’s No Such Thing as “Purple Virginia”

Northern Virginia is going a different way from the rest of the state, particularly on density and transportation.

The results of Tuesday’s elections in Virginia, leaving the commonwealth with a term-limited Democratic governor and a Republican-controlled legislature, are surely fodder for hacks who want to pump up the notions of bipartisanship and political enemies working together. Surely, Governor Terry McAuliffe will have to find some way to negotiate his desires for a Medicaid expansion and limits on gun ownership with a General Assembly run by GOP members from the southern and western parts of the state.

“That makes collaboration and good-faith negotiation—oriented toward crafting sound policy, rather than partisan gain—even more vital to lawmakers’ ability to represent Virginians’ interests in the coming legislative session,” reads a morning-after editorial in the Virginian-Pilot in Virginia Beach.

But stripping away the fact that scuffling with a Republican legislature might distract McAuliffe from his top priority for 2016—delivering Virginia’s electoral votes to his friend Hillary Rodham Clinton—Tuesday’s results were actually pretty good for progressive interests in the DC suburbs. Two retiring members of the Arlington County Board were replaced by Democrats, leaving independent John Vihstadt as the body’s singular minority; Loudoun County voters elected a Democratic county chairwoman and two Democrats to a board that was previously all-Republican; and voters in a suburban state Senate district rejected a candidate who made his campaign about opposing proposed tolls on Interstate 66.

Even if McAuliffe’s hopes for expanding low-income healthcare access and imposing some level of gun control are dashed next year by rural conservatives, Northern Virginia separated itself further from the rest of the commonwealth, particularly with respect to density and transportation.

“I think that indeed you are seeing sustained support for smart growth,” says Stewart Schwartz, the executive director of the Coalition for Smarther Growth, which advocates for greater implementation of transit and dense, urban development.

Arlington’s newest board members, Christian Dorsey and Katie Kristol, both ran on pro-transit platforms, perhaps giving the county a chance to pull away from the brink of becoming a soulless suburb. The Fairfax County Board’s incumbents mostly swept on Tuesday, leaving in power a group that has favored increased infrastructure spending in the county’s commercial corridors, especially on Metro and, most recently, Capital Bikeshare, which is coming to Reston.

Even Alexandria’s mayoral race might not be so bad for pro-growth idealists. Alison Silberberg, who favors “thoughtful, appropriate” projects—a blow to the developers seeking to rebuild the city’s waterfront as well as advocates of multi-modal transport—beat four-term incumbent Bill Euille’s write-in campaign. But Alexandria’s other incumbent council members were re-elected, and Silberberg’s biggest selling point was the rather broad promise of improving the city government’s community engagement. “That appears to be an endorsement in the direction Alexandria was going, balancing growth and historic preservation,” Schwartz says.

But the most encouraging result for the smart-growth set in Fairfax County might be in the state Senate race in which Jeremy McPike beat Manassas Mayor Hal Parrish. The Republican Parrish bombarded airwaves with ads stating his rigid opposition to a McAuliffe proposal to implement tolls I-66 during rush hours to relieve congestion on the typically clogged highway. While McPike also said he opposed the toll plan, Parrish’s message didn’t stick with voters; other local Democratic legislators who were hit with similar anti-toll attacks also won.

“Trying to do complicated transportation policy in an election year isn’t easy,” Schwartz says. “When you look at the options for 66 inside the Beltway, [the Virginia Department of Transportation] has come up with the best option for that corridor. It’s not an option to widen that corridor from Ballston in.”

The VDOT plan currently proposes collecting tolls from vehicles with fewer than three occupants traveling in peak directions during rush hours, with some of the revenue being used to pay for Metro and other alternative modes of transportation. Schwartz says simply widening the highway would cost hundreds of millions of dollars, result in the destruciton of numerous communities bordering the road, and funnel even more traffic onto DC roads that cannot handle the additional volume. While the toll proposal will almost certainly be tweaked many times, Schwartz says implementing it inside the Beltway could set a strong example for the outer suburbs, where officials favor building additional highway lanes, which are expensive and almost always result in more congestion by encouraging more cars to get on the road, a phenomenon transportation planners call “induced demand.”

But the outer suburbs might be taking steps that would surprise inner-Beltway eggheads. Two of the Democrats elected last night in Loudoun County are black, including County Chairwoman-elect Phyllis Randall; previously, the county’s current leadership is made up entirely of white Republicans. In Sterling, Koran Saines, a human-resources manager with Aramark, knocked off long-time incumbent Eugene Delgaudio, who is known best for his often toxic right-wing agitprop. Saines ran on expanding public transportation and building more transit-oriented real-estate developments; Delgaudio once called the Silver Line “a crazy circumstance in which the general public is going to get raped or not get raped.”

“I think what you have here is as much a reflection of changing demographics as anything else,” Schwartz says. “It reflects the diversity that is Loudoun today.”

To be sure, Democratic wins in Northern Virginia do not guarantee tolls on I-66, a wholesale expansion of express bus lines and Capital Bikeshare stations, or a solid timeline for Metro’s extenstion to Dulles. Many facets of those issues will continue to be negotiated in Richmond, which remains under the control of exurban and rural delegates far from Washington and who openly loathe McAuliffe and Clinton. But the results suggest that Northern Virginia continues to tilt toward greater adoption of alternative modes of transportation like rail and cycling, denser commercial and residential development particularly near transit hubs, and the will to pay for it.

The great northern Virginia toll controversy, explained

Hal Parrish, the Republican state Senate candidate for Virginia’s 29th District (which includes Manassas and some of Prince William County), is making a very inflammatory claim here: that Virginia’s Democratic governor, Terry McAuliffe, and Parrish’s Democratic opponent Jeremy McPike would impose a new $17-a-day toll on a portion of I-66, which runs from northern Virginia (including Prince William, Manassas, Fairfax, and Arlington) to Washington, DC.

For someone commuting from Manassas to DC for work 250 days out of the year, that’d mean $4,250 more in tolls annually. Even though the 29th District leans left — President Obama won it by 28 points in 2012, and McAuliffe won it by 18 in 2013 — that sounds like a massive enough toll hike to make even many Democrats tempted to vote GOP. And the election’s tomorrow.

Here’s the thing, though: The claim is not true.

What McAuliffe is proposing is an optional fee for single drivers who want to use a stretch of I-66 during peak hours — something they’re currently barred from doing. No one’s tolls would increase unless they chose to take advantage of that service.

What McAuliffe is actually proposing

Currently, between the Capital Beltway and DC, I-66 bars single-occupancy vehiclesduring peak hours: between 6:30 and 9 am on the way to DC, and from 4 to 6:30 pm on the way from DC. There are some exceptions — notably for traffic going to Dulles International Airport, and for hybrid or electric vehicles registered before 2011 — but in general, if you’re commuting on that part of I-66, you need to be carpooling.

The Virginia Department of Transportation is proposing a number of changes to this. The basics, per a presentation the department released in September, are:

  • Stop banning single-occupancy vehicles, and instead allow them to pay a toll to use I-66 during peak times.
  • Have that toll vary with traffic so as to minimize congestion.
  • Expand the affected hours to 5:30 to 9:30 am and 3 to 7 pm.

The plan initially called for transforming I-66 from HOV-2 — that is, vehicles with two or more people can ride free — to HOV-3, where only cars with three or more people can ride free during peak hours. It would’ve also imposed a mild toll on cars going against traffic during rush hour that currently don’t pay to use I-66. Both of those changes have since been abandoned.

The DOT estimates that, assuming I-66 stays HOV-2, morning tolls would peak at $9 and evening tolls would peak at $8. That’s where the $17-a-day figure comes from. But that’s pretty misleading. Those are the absolute peak figures, for someone who manages to hit the worst traffic going both to and from work on a given day. That’s not especially likely, and some days tolls would never go that high. Also, for what it’s worth, the tolls would be lower if I-66 became HOV-3, as originally planned.

But the most important caveat is that we’re talking about fees for single-occupancy vehicles on I-66, whereas such vehicles are currently illegal during peak hours. There’s no constituency that’s currently using I-66 toll-free that’s going to be forced to start paying for it. Everyone currently using I-66 with high-occupancy vehicles will keep doing that for free. But people currently commuting via other routes will now have the option to pay to use I-66 if that would be faster for them.

Transportation wonks like the idea

This might all seem arcane, but transit advocates are generally fans of the proposal. Greater Greater Washington’s Richard Price and Canaan Merchant note that the plan’s congestion pricing could make traffic flow more easily during peak times. The I-66 plan also includes more bus service for northern Virginia — and if traffic is flowing well, that makes bus service faster and more reliable. GGW’s David Cranor notes that the toll revenue would go not only to improved bus service but to pedestrian and biking improvements as well.

The Coalition for Smarter Growth has endorsed the proposal as well. The group notes that the tolls are pretty competitive with pricing for the Metro. Taking the Metro from the Vienna station to Metro Center, including parking, costs $10.30, compared with a $9 peak fare for taking I-66 from Vienna to DC. Similar toll lanes on I-95 and I-495, two other major DC-area interstates, have seen maximum tolls of $20.90 and $15.05, respectively. Next to that, the $8 to $9 one-way toll in the I-66 proposal looks quite reasonable.

CSG and GGW’s Price and Merchant also note that the proposal would head off proposals to widen I-66, which have surfaced over the years. Widening, transit activists argue, would only encourage more cars to get on the road, would cost hundreds of millions of dollars, and would disrupt numerous homes and quite possibly the commuter bike trail in northern Virginia.

Why the issue matters

The toll attacks have a lot of money behind them. House Republicans have spent $850,000 on attack ads involving the toll proposal, which is a huge amount for state legislative races. Parrish, the state Senate candidate, has raised $1.4 million alone, and is spending on attack ads on the issue even though McPike, his Democratic opponent, opposes the tolling plan. Democrats have spent even more cash pushing back in these races, especially if you include the millions that Everytown for Gun Safety — the Michael Bloomberg–backed pro-gun control group — has poured into the state, including funding the anti-Parrish ad above. As a Washington Post headline put it last week, the election increasingly boils down to “tolls v. guns.”

While Republicans will almost certainly maintain control of the state house, the fate of the state Senate hangs in the balance. Control of the chamber has flipped twice in the past two years, with a special election tipping the balance to Democrats in late January 2014 and a Democratic senator’s resignation in June tipping it to the Republicans. The GOP still has a majority, but with a razor-thin 21-19 margin, and the state’s Democratic lieutenant governor means that Democrats only need to make it 20-20 to take control again. McAuliffe has said that a Democratic Senate could be enough for him to finally push through Medicaid expansion in the state. That’s doubtful given GOP control of the House, but it certainly would help his policy agenda on the margins.

Side note: Off-year elections are bullshit

Any post about Virginia’s 2015 elections wouldn’t be complete without noting that they shouldn’t exist at all.

Virginia is one of five states to hold gubernatorial elections on odd years. But it also holds legislative elections on odd years when the governor is not up for reelection. It’s like a midterm election to a midterm election. And the consequence is that basically no one votes in these things. In 2012, when there was a presidential election, turnout was a whopping 71.78 percent. In 2014, when there was a US Senate race and US House elections, it was 41.6 percent. In 2013, when there was a governor’s race, turnout was 43 percent, or around midterm levels. But in 2011, the last year when these kind of weird state-level midterms happened, turnout was only 28.61 percent.

In an ideal world, midterms wouldn’t exist at all, and the larger, more diverse electorate that turns out during presidential elections would get to vote for every office. But the least Virginia could do would be to move Senate elections so they’re aligned with gubernatorial elections and extend House terms to four years so they sync up as well. As it stands, a pathetically small chunk of the voting population is deciding these races.

Read on Vox >>

I-66 Expansion Is Probably Inevitable, And Decision ‘Will Not Be Vague,’ VDOT Says

Expanding I-66 inside the Beltway eventually will be necessary to meet Virginia’s goal of congestion relief in the corridor, says the commonwealth’s top transportation official.

“There is some traffic management we can do, but eventually there’s going to be expansion needed,” said Virginia Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne in remarks to reporters Thursday at VDOT headquarters in Fairfax.

And by expansion, he essentially means adding a third lane eastbound between I-495 to Fairfax Drive. Adding a third lane on the other side isn’t practical, given constraints within the I-66 corridor.

When might it happen? It will depend on the effectiveness of initial steps designed to move an additional 40,000 people per day along the corridor. They will be a mix of congestion pricing with E-ZPass toll lanes and public transit, biking, and walking options paid for with toll revenues.

If “throughput” doesn’t adequately improve, the state would move toward adding the third eastbound lane.

“It’s both transportation and political realities that are driving this plan,” Layne said. “We agree we should exhaust every other opportunity that we can to move more people through before we [make] capacity changes.”

Data will drive any decision, he said.

“It will not be vague once the metrics are established,” Layne said.


Tolls first, another lane years later

Political leaders in jurisdictions inside the Beltway have long opposed expanding I-66 but reached an accord with VDOT on the possibility of building more lanes sometime before 2040. First, toll revenues will be used to pay for multi-modal options within the corridor, which includes Routes 29 and 50.

Starting in 2017 rush hour tolls will be charged during mornings and afternoons in both directions on I-66 inside the Beltway. HOV-2 carpoolers will ride free; the restriction will be tightened to HOV-3 in 2020.

Eastbound tolls during morning rush hour will cost as much as $9; westbound tolls will be $1. In the afternoon rush hour, westbound traffic will be charged tolls as high as $8, with eastbound motorists paying $2. Officials caution that the tolls will be dynamically priced based on traffic flow. Federal law requires that traffic maintain speeds of at least 45 miles per hour.

Drive-alone commuters currently are prohibited from using I-66 inside the Beltway during rush hour, but the Virginia Department of Transportation estimates more than a third of eastbound traffic during mornings and close to 50 percent of westbound traffic in the afternoons is single-occupant vehicles. Not all are HOV violators, however. Some are exempted hybrid vehicles or emergency responders.

Still, the plan to toll the existing lanes would eliminate the majority of the cheaters while also enticing some drive-alone commuters who now avoid I-66 inside the Beltway to pay the toll for a faster ride. Sharp disagreements remain, though, on the issue of adding lane capacity.


Congestion pricing

Charging high tolls without adding capacity is a form of congestion pricing designed to stop single-occupant vehicles from flooding downtown D.C. and other destinations, although Layne declined to use that term.

“It’s a dynamic pricing plan that reduces congestion,” he said. “The objective is to move more people, and the way to do that is increasing transit that is available.” More than one-fourth of eastbound vehicles trips on I-66 that begin east of Rt. 267 end in the District of Columbia, according to VDOT data.

“I would say a poll would show that the overwhelming percentage of people in Northern Virginia including Arlington favor widening I-66. It is such an obvious need. Traffic backs up on 66 all the time,” said Bob Chase, the president of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, a group that lobbies for major, regional highway improvements.

Additional capacity is necessary for off-peak travel times, too, when tolls would not be charged, Chase said.

“If you just increase tolls during peak periods and add transit, you will totally ignore the congestion that occurs the rest of the day and on weekends,” he said. “If you are serious about reducing congestion on I-66 you have to add new lanes.” Chase noted his position would benefit high-capacity commuter buses in addition to cars.

Opposed to Chase’s view is Stewart Schwartz, the head of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, which opposes major highway expansions in favor of transit and transit-oriented real estate development.

“What is ridiculous about the idea of widening I-66 is where do the cars go in Washington, D.C? Where do they go in the neighborhoods of Arlington and so forth? We have got to stop this process of building more [lanes] for more and more cars, and start focusing on moving more people,” he said.

Some congestion experts point to induced demand as the reason to avoid widening highways. In other words, build it and they congestion will come — eventually.

“The smartest solution is pricing,” said Todd Litman, the executive director of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute in British Columbia.

“It is foolish to add extra, free capacity. We know that for sure, because it won’t solve the problem that people are concerned about it. It won’t reduce traffic congestion because of the induced travel. There is latent demand,” said Litman, who noted each additional highway lane can accommodate only 2,000 cars per hour before degrading.

“On the one hand, there is a reluctance to expand roads,” Litman added. “On the other hand, motorists are extremely reluctant to pay anything. A lot of people are offended at the very idea that they should have to pay to use a road. Motorists are significantly subsidized and yet they still complain any time anyone wants to charge them more. They are particularly upset about the idea of congestion pricing. That is, any sort of pricing that is intended to change their behavior.”

The tolls drive-alone motorists pay for rush hour access to I-66 inside the Beltway will be used to increase mobility throughout the corridor, and officials said it will not take years for those improvements to be felt.

“We hope to put the multi-modal improvements in place on day one, if not sooner, and we think they will immediately start to make an impact,” said Nick Donohue, Virginia’s deputy secretary of transportation.

“You can expect to see new commuter buses, new carpool assistance, vanpools, and better access to the Metrorail stations,” he said.

Outside the Beltway

Secretary Layne’s remarks followed a major presentation by VDOT of its plans to transform I-66 outside the Beltway, the 25 miles from I-495 to Haymarket.

Construction is supposed to begin in 2017. The highway will be expanded to five lanes in each direction: three regular lanes and two express toll lanes with an HOV-3 exemption. The new lanes are scheduled to open in 2021.

First, however, VDOT must decide who will build it and under what financing mechanism. In December officials are expected to decide whether the project will be a full concession to a private-sector road builder, or publicly financed so the state may keep the toll revenues. In either case, Layne said there will be a public-private partnership.

Under current design plans, eleven homes would be condemned for the expanded right-of-way. Five are in Dunn Loring, where Deanna Heier said she and her neighbors are being penalized despite making the right decisions.

“We need to find a way that people can still live in Northern Virginia without running them over with highways. We picked these houses because they are near the Dunn Loring Metro. We picked it because it is near our work. But we are the ones who have to suffer for people who made a different decision.”

Heier’s home will not be displaced, but a ramp will “tower” over her house, she says, and the property surrounding the neighborhood’s school, Stenwood Elementary, will be impacted. Plus, there are four years of construction to look forward to.

Read this on WAMU >>

Estimates on I-66 tolls may shock commuters

HOT lane tolls on Interstate 66 inside the Capital Beltway could be $7 during the morning rush eastbound and $9 at the peak of the westbound rush in the afternoon, according to the Virginia transportation secretary’s office.

In Virginia’s high-occupancy toll lane systems, the toll varies with the level of traffic. It rises as travel demand increases to ensure that traffic remains free-flowing. At 8:15 a.m. Monday, the toll for using the northbound HOT lanes on the Beltway was $12.85.

But the state’s proposal for creating nearly 10 miles of HOT lanes on I-66 inside the Beltway is a bit different from the systems on the Beltway and on I-95/395. I-66 would not be expanded to add HOT lanes. Instead, the existing lanes would all become HOT lanes in both directions during the peak periods. Drivers who meet the carpool rules would travel free, but other drivers would pay the variable toll.

That proposal, which the state hopes to implement in 2017, has riled up long-distance commuters who would rather see the state widen the highway.

Others back the HOT lanes concept. The Coalition for Smarter Growth, a regional environmental advocacy group, issued a statement Friday in support of the state’s plan, emphasizing that the toll revenue would support transit improvements in the I-66 corridor.

“We believe that the package of solutions proposed by VDOT is the most cost-effective and efficient approach to addressing I-66 congestion as soon as possible, and for maximizing the number of people who can commute through the corridor during rush hour, while also guaranteeing a much more reliable trip for everyone,” said Stewart Schwartz, the coalition’s executive director.

Schwartz was my guest for an online discussion Monday, and we talked about this issue.

Using the toll estimates in a transportation department document (reported by WTOP last week), the coalition made some comparisons.

The cost for a Metrorail trip from Vienna to Metro Center is $10.30, including station parking for $4.85 and the Metrorail peak fare of $5.45. The peak toll reported for the I-95 HOT lanes was $20.90, or 72 cents per mile for 29 miles compared with the state’s estimate of a 94 cents per mile toll on I-66. The maximum reported toll on the Beltway HOT lanes was $15.05 for the full 14-mile trip, or $1.08 per mile. (The coalition drew the maximum HOT lanes tolls from the quarterly reports produced by the operator, Transurban.)

The office of Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne confirmed Monday that the $7 and $9 figures are the Virginia Department of Transportation estimates for the peak tolls. While the carpool standard for a free ride in the HOT lanes will eventually rise to three people per vehicle, VDOT is considering whether to maintain the current two-person carpool standard for the first few years after the HOT lanes open.

These are some of the other highlights.

The system proposed for I-66 is different from the existing HOT lanes systems in that it would be operated and maintained by the state, rather than a private partner. The toll revenue remaining after expenses would support programs encouraging drivers to leave their cars behind for a trip in the I-66 corridor. These programs would be selected by the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission board. They are to be implemented within four years of the funding allocation.

Under today’s rules, I-66 inside the Beltway is not open to drivers who don’t meet the carpool rules at peak periods. These HOV restrictions have created a pent-up demand among commuters, and the current outlet is to use other roads in the corridor. State transportation officials say that creating HOT lanes would allow some of that pent-up demand to use I-66, if the drivers are willing to pay the toll, and also ease congestion during the morning rush on the local roads that absorb today’s spill-over traffic.

There would be some bailout traffic from I-66 in the reverse-peak direction. These are drivers unwilling to pay tolls estimated at $1 westbound in the morning and $2 eastbound in the afternoon. Today, those trips are free and without HOV restrictions. Virginia transportation officials estimate the effect of this diversion on local roads will be minor.

Many drivers would not pay the full toll, because they don’t make the entire trip on I-66 inside the Beltway.

By 2022, vehicles with fewer than three occupants would pay an estimated toll of $8 during the morning peak and $1 dollar toll during the evening peak hours traveling eastbound. Traveling westbound, they would pay an estimated $1 during the morning rush and $3 during the evening peak hours, according to the VDOT numbers. By that year, VDOT hopes to have rebuild 25 miles of I-66 outside the Beltway so that it has three regular lanes and two HOT lanes in each direction. The department has not yet released estimates for typical tolls in the HOT lanes outside the Beltway.

Read on The Washington Post >>

HOV switch on I-66 pushed back until 2020

FAIRFAX, Va. — The Virginia Department of Transportation has delayed a move to convert high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) rules on Interstate 66 until 2020, three years after tolls are introduced inside the Capital Beltway.

VDOT has suggested the conversion might happen when tolling began in 2017 during a meeting before the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board in January. Under the Constrained Long-Ranged Transportation Plan, VDOT must convert I-66 from HOV-2 to HOV-3 by 2020.

“It’s part of our air quality commitments and changing it would risk us losing federal transportation dollars,” said Sharon Bulova, chairwoman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

There is a consensus among many across the spectrum that the delay is a good move.

“It’s a smart choice to say they’d start at two and move to three because slugging is a different culture,” said Arlington County Board Chair Mary Hynes. “Both for buses and slugs, you need places for that to happen outside of the corridor. This gives us a chance to get that infrastructure into place.”

Adding tolls and changing the HOV rules would eliminate the clean plate exemption, which allows certain hybrid vehicles to use the HOV lanes even without two people. The Coalition for Smarter Growth backs the delay as well, even though the group aims to get as many cars off the road as possible.

“This decision makes sense,” said Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. “Delaying until 2020 puts it in sync with what they’re doing on I-66 outside the Beltway. We’ve recommended that VDOT do some market studies to make sure that HOV-3 is going to be effective and there will be demand for it.”

Even Fairfax County Supervisor Pat Herrity supports the move, although he has serious concerns with the overall plan on I-66 inside the Beltway.

“With HOV-2 and the hybrids — our HOV is just not working,” Herrity said. “We need to get that fixed. We’re going to need to go to HOV-3 in that corridor. It’s very unpopular, but if we want to move people through carpooling, then we need to go to HOV-3.”

Among those opponents are groups like the 66 Alliance.

“For owners of hybrid, electric and other clean fuel vehicles, that could mean you would pay tolls of up to $10,000 per year to continue to drive in the HOV lanes during rush hour,” the group wrote on its website. “HOV-2 carpoolers would be forced to find another carpooler, pick up an unknown passenger [aka “a slug”], or pay similar tolls to enjoy the same HOV privileges you currently take for granted.”

There could be one potential problem from the delay. Drivers will need an E-ZPass Flex transponder in HOV ON mode in order to get a free trip with two passengers, similar to the 495 and 95 Express Lanes.

But since the HOV-rules will not be in sync between 2017 and 2020, vehicles with two people will have to remember to turn on the HOV mode on I-66, then turn it off before entering the 495 or 95 Express Lanes.

If a driver were to forget to turn off the HOV mode when exiting I-66 for the Capital Beltway, he or she could be subject to a ticket for an HOV violation on the Express Lanes. The first violation carries a $125 fine and then it escalates up to $1000 for a fourth offense.

Read on WTOP >>