Wednesday, December 9, 2015

ACST Dec. 8, 2015 Statement to Commonwealth Transportation Board

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

We commend Governor McAuliffe and Secretary Layne for moving forward with both Transform I-66 projects.  While we oppose expanding I-66 highway capacity as generally counterproductive, we acknowledge the current federal mandate against tolling existing general-purpose highway capacity outside the Beltway and the need for compromises to achieve regional consensus.

That said, both I-66 projects were necessitated by the Commonwealth’s decades-long failure to effectively manage I-66 as a multimodal corridor with Metrorail.  Inside the Beltway, the HOV occupancy requirements were progressively reduced from 4 to 2, while the HOV hours stayed constant and an HOV exemption for single-occupant clean-fuel vehicles was added.  Outside the Beltway, an inherently flawed unseparated HOV lane was built.

More recently, VDOT’s development of the inside the Beltway project has been a public relations disaster, needlessly generating strong fears, controversy, and objections throughout Northern Virginia.  When VDOT’s I-66 Multimodal sketch-planning Study concluded in 2012, VDOT failed to initiate a follow-up public process, to further refine the study’s recommendations in advance of a specific implementation project.  Instead, VDOT was silent until late 2014, when an implementation project was suddenly announced without details or information on potential adverse impacts, and the proposal had to be modified repeatedly in response to widespread public opposition.

We offer the following recommendations going forward:

1)    Since the tolls inside the Beltway are primarily to prevent congestion, set the toll price at each gantry to zero whenever current traffic volumes are below the highway’s capacity. 

2)    Establish a public process for adjusting the inside-the-Beltway hours and directions of tolls and HOV restrictions as well as any restoration of HOV-3.  The objectives should be to keep I-66 perpetually uncongested during peak travel times while moving the most people by ridesharing and transit.  As area motorists become accustomed to tolled express lanes and EZ pass transponders are widely used, there may be considerable public support in the future to expand the hours of congestion management on I-66.

3)    Phase the reconstruction of I-66 outside the Beltway to avoid any need for a private financing partner, to maximize the use of toll revenue for multimodal improvements and avoid any penalties for competing transit improvements. 

Thank you for this opportunity to comment on these vital regional projects.