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Arlingtonians Still Concerned About VDOT's I-66 Plans

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Residents of Arlington and VDOT disagree about how to address congestion on I-66.
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Residents of Arlington and VDOT disagree about how to address congestion on I-66.

The Virginia Department of Transportation is inching closer to making major changes to Interstate-66 in hopes of relieving traffic congestion. An ongoing study of the I-66 corridor is expected to wrap up in May.

But concerns continue over congestion problems along I-66 in Arlington County, where residents and elected leaders are wondering how the state will address the problem.

Arlington County and Virginia's Department of Transportation just can't seem to see eye-to-eye. Last year, a lawsuit filed by the county forced the state to back off proposed High Occupancy Toll lanes along Interstate-395, and now Arlington residents are worried VDOT will push forward with a widening of I-66 without exploring other options.

VDOT's ongoing study of the I-66 corridor is multimodal, which means its considering improvements for mass transit, bicycle paths and highways. But many Arlingtonians still feel the agency is leaving good options off the table. Peter Harnik lives in a part of Arlington called Maywood, just three blocks from the highway. He has long worried that VDOT has made up its mind to add extra lanes, something the agency denies. Expanding Metro capacity and express busing options might be better choices in his eyes.

"Most of my friends roll their eyes when I come by and say, 'why are you even fighting this thing ... you can't beat Richmond, you can't beat VDOT,'" Harnik says.

County board member Chris Zimmerman argues that VDOT needs to stop focusing so much on automobile traffic. "There's a constrained amount of capacity, and we're trying to meet it in an inefficient way -- in single occupancy vehicles," says Zimmerman. He'd like to get more creative in looking for solutions to traffic problems, and he cites one alternative: allowing buses to use shoulder lanes during rush hour, an idea that Minneapolis is using right now.

"That would be a low cost alternative that would move a lot of people, and might even make it easier for people who have to use cars," Zimmerman says.

But residents argue that VDOT still needs to do a better job of involving local residents in the discussion, and 

The agency's Northern Virginia administrator, Garrett Moore, points out that more than 75,000 postcards and mailings were sent out to alert residents to public hearings, and agency representatives gave an extra presentation to the county's transportation committee to make sure local leaders and residents had all the information.

"We're always looking to improve public comment -- it's something that we try to get out and do the best we can," Moore says. 

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