A homeowners' group in Alexandria is fighting a proposal by Virginia transportation planners to build a highway ramp near their homes.
Concerned Residents of Overlook, an upscale community adjacent to Interstate 395, is attempting to convince the Virginia Department of Transportation to relocate a ramp that will serve as the northern terminus of the 95 Express Lanes, 30 miles of high-occupancy toll lanes extending from the Edsall Road area in Fairfax County to Garrisonville Road in Stafford County. The $1 billion public-private project is scheduled for completion in December 2014.
"The ramp is going to be about 75 feet from my house," said Mary Hasty, who has lived in Overlook for 10 years. Hasty has learned to live with the constant din of highway traffic but did not expect VDOT would ever build an exit ramp so close to her residence.
"You get used to the hum of traffic, but I certainly never anticipated that I'd have cars 75 feet from my house and my patio and garden," she says.
The group claims VDOT failed to adequately study noise and air quality impacts that will result when traffic exits the new express lanes onto I-395 or local roads. The neighbors fear exiting highway traffic will back up and idle on the exit ramp.
"Our biggest issue is that they moved the end point, called the terminus, of the HOT lanes from Crystal City in Arlington County to our backyard, and they did not do any studies specifically to determine the impact on our communities," Hasty says.
Hasty's friend and neighbor, Sue Okubo, says the ramp will ruin property values, too.
"Already a number of neighbors are putting their houses on the market," Okubo says.
"Maybe there won't be an impact. I don't believe that. That's why we are having independent studies to determine what the impact is. We are late in the game, and it is a David vs. Goliath scenario, but we are pushing really hard." Hasty adds.
Construction of the ramp is already underway. Relocating it is unlikely, according to state officials.
"It would be very difficult to make a change at this point having gone through a lot of the studies and approvals at the state, regional, and federal levels," says John Lynch, VDOT's regional transportation director for Virginia megaprojects. Lynch refuted the homeowners' claims that the state failed to study traffic and pollution scenarios.
"We went through the federal requirements and developed an environmental assessment which includes analysis for both noise and air quality," Lynch says. "The bottom line is those studies met all the federal requirements and it was reviewed by both the Federal Highway Administration and Environmental Protection Agency. We wouldn't have gotten approval to move forward with this project if it didn't meet those requirements."
Lynch says VDOT responded to residents' concerns by extending auxiliary lanes to mitigate traffic congestion at the future interchange, adding that all the pertinent documents have been shared with the Overlook community.