Alexandria residents argued that the off-ramp would make their air quality hazardous.
A coalition of homeowners groups representing 75,000 residents in Alexandria and Fairfax County is giving up its fight to delay the construction of a highway ramp, the planned northern terminus of the 95 Express Lanes project that is scheduled for completion in December 2014.
Concerned Residents of Landmark, which took its case all the way to Virginia Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton and spent more than $70,000 hiring independent environmental health specialists to study the effect of traffic emissions on their neighborhoods, is conceding it cannot stop the Virginia Department of Transportation from continuing construction.
“The ramp is going to be built. We accept that as reality. We never wanted to stop the ramp. We only wanted to delay it until VDOT did the studies it is required to do by law,” said the coalition’s Mary Hasty, whose Alexandria home lies about 75 feet from the construction site.
“It was both disappointing and frustrating that we couldn’t get the attention of our elected officials that this ramp is going to be detrimental to the health of all the residents in the area,” said neighbor Sue Okubo.
Concerned Residents of Landmark has insisted VDOT failed to properly study projected pollution levels that Hasty says will take years off the lives of nearby residents. VDOT maintains it followed every state and federal regulation in order to fulfill an environmental impact statement.
“We’ve reviewed both our study as well as the study that the concerned citizens put together and we’ve come to the conclusion our project will not cause any health issues,” said John Lynch, VDOT’s director of megaprojects in Northern Virginia.
The homeowners’ coalition is changing tactics. Hasty and her neighbors met on Tuesday representatives of State Delegate Charniele Herring (D-46th) to discuss possible legislation or budget amendments that would require VDOT continually monitor the air quality over the completed highway ramp.
“We want to have a baseline study of the air pollution as it exists now,” said Hasty, “and we are looking for funding to do air quality monitoring once the ramp is operational, once the cars are sitting there idling and spewing pollution.” Concerned Residents of Landmark contends that traffic exiting the 95 Express Lanes will back up on the terminus ramp as it empties into the general purpose lanes of I-395.
VDOT’s Lynch said his agency would follow any legislation passed by the General Assembly, but said air quality analysis conducted by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments already provides the data the homeowners are looking for.
“From a regional perspective the [Council of Governments] does air quality analysis and monitoring in conjunction with the Department of Environmental Quality. They have monitors around the region. There are also programs in place in which DEQ is adding additional monitors to try to get a better beat on emissions closer to roadways,” Lynch said.
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 project’s price tag is an estimated $1 billion.