Alexandria residents contend that the off-ramp would make their air qualioty hazardous.
A coalition of homeowners associations against the construction of a highway ramp in Northern Virginia is taking its fight to the highest levels of state government on Friday.
Members of Concerned Residents of Landmark (CROL), which represents about a dozen homeowners' groups in the Alexandria area, will privately meet Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton to attempt to convince him to stop the construction of the northern terminus of the 95 Express Lanes project, a highway ramp that will empty traffic onto I-395 right next to homes in the Overlook community.
The 95 Express Lanes will be 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.
CROL contends that the Virginia Department of Transportation failed to properly study the impacts of backed-up traffic on their neighborhoods. The homeowners say the pollution from congestion will ruin their quality of life.
Today's meeting is the culmination of months of relentless lobbying by CROL members in an effort to stop the project. The group spent more than more than $70,000 to hire the national law firm of Shrader & Associates to perform a traffic and environmental analysis. The group's air quality expert will also meet Sec. Connaughton.
"We have a huge, new project spilling single occupancy vehicles into the general purpose lanes of I-395. By transportation conformity requirements, VDOT should have looked at that intersection of those two roadways," said Maureen Barrett, an environmental engineer with the firm Air Expertise Colorado. "It's congested. It's backed up. The merge points are failed."
VDOT has said it received all necessary approvals and met all federal safety standards, otherwise the project could not have proceeded.
"Our studies were approved back in the end of 2011, which met all federal and regulatory requirements and that is why we are proceeding with construction today," said John Lynch, VDOT's Northern Virginia megaprojects director.
VDOT has insisted the highway ramp project will continue as planned. The department has accepted and reviewed the homeowners' own traffic and environmental impact studies.
Barrett says her analysis of the project's pollution levels shows that thousands of residents near the ramp may be harmed.
"You have multiple, peer-reviewed medical studies showing that when you have impacts... in excess of what we see here at this terminus you will have poor health outcomes. You have respiratory issues. You have increased visits to the hospital," Barrett said.