Monday, June 24, 2013

ACST May 2013 Statement to Commonwealth Transportation Board

Arlington Coalition for Sensible Transportation
Statement to the Commonwealth Transportation Board
by Allen Muchnick, president, May 29, 2013

I’m Allen Muchnick with the Arlington Coalition for Sensible Transportation (or ACST).  Since 1999, ACST has advocated "wiser, not wider" traffic management and public transportation improvements to I-66 inside the Beltway to most effectively move more people and minimize highway congestion and travel times.

Last week, Secretary Connaughton was quoted in the Washington Examiner as advocating tolls on I-66 inside the Beltway: If you don't want us to widen the road, then we're going to have to figure out a way to get more capacity out of the road, and I think express lanes are a way to do it.

ACST and Arlington’s elected officials, in fact, agree strongly with Secretary Connaughton.  As early as January 2001, SRJ 411, a study resolution patroned by State Senator Whipple and co-patroned by rest of the Arlington delegation, directed VDOT to study “the imposition of variably priced tolls for use of Interstate 66, so that use of the facility at peak travel hours would be more costly than during off-peak hours”, although this provision was struck from SJR 411 prior to passage.

Moreover, despite the completion of DRPT’s I-66 BusTransit and TDM Study several years ago and VDOT’s I-66 Multimodal Study last June, the CTB has yet to advance any of the many previously unfunded transit, TDM, and traffic-management improvements recommended in those studies, including running all 8-car Metrorail trains during peak periods.

VDOT's I-66 Multimodal Study was a vital and commendable start toward developing a much-needed long-range management plan for this major regional corridor.  Its final report recommends strategically implementing an integrated multimodal package of highway management, rail and bus service improvements, transportation demand management measures, pedestrian and bicycle facilities, and limited highway widening over the next 28 years.  A key finding was that--without expanded congestion management such as HOV restrictions or tolls--adding travel lanes to I-66 would undermine the objectives of moving more people and reducing travel times and highway congestion along the corridor.  Yet, in funding "Spot Improvement" #2 construction last June, the CTB advanced a 1.6-mile fourth westbound I-66 travel lane that will prove counterproductive until expanded HOV restrictions or tolls are finally put in place.

ACST supports converting I-66 inside the Beltway into a High-Occupancy/Toll (HOT) facility, in both directions--during peak periods only--as soon as feasible and in advance of any further highway widening.  Doing so would 1) immediately eliminate highway congestion and shorten auto and bus travel times, 2) effectively address problematic HOV enforcement and increase ride-sharing and transit use, 3) maximize freeway access for off-peak travel, and 4) generate much-needed revenue to strategically implement the many vital and otherwise unfunded I-66 Study recommendations.  While tolling an existing freeway is controversial, toll roads are now an essential and accepted part of our regional travel network, and effective leadership can sell the public on this change.  I-66 has existed as an HOV facility and Metrorail line for nearly 30 years.  A VDOT commitment to effectively manage these key assets is decades overdue.