No TOLLS on I-66!

VDOT recently released their “preferred” plans for “transforming” I-66 (Transform66.org) both inside and outside the Beltway.  With proposed $17/day tolls inside the beltway (except for HOV-3) and additional HOT lane tolls from the beltway to Haymarket, this strikes me as highway robbery!

The imposition of HOT lane tolls by Gov. McAuliffe I believe will seriously depress the value of homes in Prince William, Manassas, Manassas Park, Fairfax and Loudoun because the cost to commute will increase significantly as will the cost of doing business for any company that uses I-66 to deliver products or services.

I object to the proposed tolls for inside and outside the beltway and encourage everyone to learn more and voice their opinions to VDOT both through the Transform66.org website and at the upcoming public meetings: (October21, 2015, Piney Branch Elementary School, 8301 Linton Hall Road, Bristow, VA 20136, 6:30-8:30PM.)

Toll structure construction is proposed to begin in 2016.  All lanes of I-66 inside the Beltway will be converted to HOV-3/Toll lanes for at least 4 hours in the morning and 3 hours in evening in both directions.  

I testified at the October 5th VDOT meeting in Fairfax. The proposed tolls will cost over $4,000/year for citizens who use the HOT lanes except for HOV-3.  If a husband and wife have different job start times or locations, that means an $8,000 commuting cost annually.  And toll revenue will not be used to add new lanes to I-66 inside the Beltway, but turned over to an unelected board to build bike paths and improve some mass transit.   

VDOT said they will “consider” adding another lane inside the Beltway after five years of review of the HOT lane project, but a required environment study would take another three years minimum before construction could begin.

VDOT also plans to convert the existing HOV-2 lane on I-66 outside the beltway to a 24/7 HOV-3/Toll lane and build one additional HOT lane in each direction which will also be HOV-3/Toll.  No additional regular use lanes will be built.  Taxpayers already paid for I-66 and we should not exchange an existing general use lane for an expensive HOT lane.

While the goal of the expensive tolls may be to “convince” more people to use mass transit, seniors and those with disabilities, would have a harder time waiting for buses in inclement weather.  Plus, there are inadequate parking facilities at many of the Metro and VRE stations.  

Turning I-66 outside the Beltway from HOV-2 into HOV-3 while keeping Hybrid vehicles off the new lanes will almost certainly dump more vehicles into the regular use lanes.  This is unfair to citizens who purchased homes and vehicles based on current expectations.  At a minimum current Hybrid owners should be grandfathered. 

Currently, anyone can use the HOV-2 lanes during non-HOV hours on I-66 inside and outside the beltway.  The new HOT lanes outside the Beltway will be tolled 24/7 so fewer regular use lanes will be available during off-peak hours.  VDOT will also affect the existing shoulder lanes that are available for use during peak hours, again reducing the number of regular use lanes.  I don’t see how this will improve traffic on I-66 unless commuters start using side streets to get to work!  

Prior to 2007, Virginia could place a toll anywhere on an Interstate with permission from the federal government.  In 2007, we changed the Code to add a condition that in addition to requiring federal approval, the toll revenue must be "reasonably related to or benefit the users of the toll" (such as widening the road or adding a new lane or interchange).  Turning over toll revenue to the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC) to pay for bike trails and transit will not benefit drivers who pay the tolls.  I also do not believe that Governor McAuliffe can eliminate an existing general use lane outside the Beltway and convert it to a tolled HOT lane because this would not comply with the part of the statute that requires tolls to be used to reduce "traffic congestion." Removing a general purpose lane on I-66 outside the Beltway cannot reduce "traffic congestion."

Again, if any of these plans concern you please contact VDOT and attend the upcoming meetings.  There will be a meeting at Piney Branch Elementary School, 8301 Linton Hall Road, Bristow, VA 20136 on October 21, 2015 from 6:30-8:30PM.  Information about other meetings is available at www.transform66.org.

 

MY PRIOR EXPERIENCE IN TRANSPORTATION ISSUES

I have had a long standing interest in transportation.  When I lived in Washington DC in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, a few horse drawn wagons and public water troughs for horses were around, as well as street cars.  I remember driving across the United States in 1952 with my parents in a 1947 stick shift maroon Chevy.  My dad stopped at a gas station in Kansas for directions to the Interstate Highway that the AAA trip ticket designated as our chosen road to California.  The attendant told my dad that we were on the Interstate highway, a four lane hard gravel road!  We have come a long way since then!

In the early 1970‘s I was a legislative aide for the Chairman of the House Public Works Committee (Congressman John Blatnik DFL-MN) which had jurisdiction over Interstate Highways.  I was the clerk of the Rivers and Harbors Subcommittee, and I pursued my interest in transportation.  (I even piloted a Tug Boat through a lock on the Saint Lawrence Seaway.)  

My wife and I moved to Prince William in 1979.  In the late 1980‘s, we joined a citizen’s group to plan a cross county road which eventually became the Prince William Parkway.  I was appointed by then Brentsville Supervisor Bill Becker to a road advisory committee.  The Advisory Committee recommended a much less expensive alternative to simply widening existing Davis Ford Road which saved many millions of taxpayers’ dollars for construction, more than 100 homes from destruction, prevented the need for school busses to stop on a busy residential road, significantly shortened construction time (due to not impacting traffic during construction since the road went through raw land), and reduced the number of traffic lights from what would have been at least 12 to 3.  Today the Prince William Parkway is an efficient roadway connecting Eastern and Mid Prince William.

Road Projects & Proposals Supported or Opposed:  

Tax Money raised for roads should be used on Road Projects:  

I opposed the 2013 transportation tax increases, and I also opposed diverting $50 million in new transportation taxes in the budget in 2014 to non-transportation uses.  The 2013 tax increase bill included a “kill-switch” that would have repealed the new transportation taxes if they had been diverted to non-transportation uses.  To get around this restriction, language suspending the “kill-switch” provision was included in the Virginia budget by the Assembly Leadership.  Myself and two other NOVA elected representatives were able to keep road tax money from being diverted to other uses.  

I also was the first Republican Assembly member to propose a transportation “lock box” Constitutional Amendment to permanently prevent the diversion of road taxes to other uses.  My Amendment or other versions of it have passed the House of Delegates several times, but the state Senate has never passed it.  Over a twelve year period approximately $1.2 billion ostensibly raised for roads has been diverted to other uses.

Bi-County Parkway:  

I have opposed this road, and variants of it, since at least 1997 when I introduced Joint Resolution 596 which was highly critical of the proposed Western Transportation Bypass route linking Virginia Route 7 in the vicinity of the Town of Leesburg with Interstate Route 95 north of the City of Fredericksburg.   I have supported the original Tri-County parkway from Business 234 near Manassas Mall to Route 7 south of Leesburg which is on an existing right of way that has been largely preserved intact or is currently in use in Loudoun as a divided highway.   The original Tri-County road would not open new areas for development, produce higher taxes or increase traffic. 

Many road projects, such as the Bi-County Parkway are really built for the immediate benefit of developers who want the public to pay for the capital investment for their new housing developments.  “Buchanan Partners owns ... properties on ... the proposed Bi-County Parkway ... have the potential for building thousands of housing units ... Del. Robert G. Marshall ... called the project a ‘developers’ road’ and suggested that rather than addressing traffic problems, its purpose was to create an opening for extensive development which would only create more traffic problems.” The Washington Post (7/22/13) 

Thankfully, VDOT recently said they were no longer pursuing the “Programmatic Agreement” or the environmental approvals for the Bi-County Highway project.  This project would have closed Route 234 and Rt. 29, through the Battlefield creating a big inconvenience to those who live off these roadways, and increase traffic on I-66.  In light of the recent information sent to both Delegate Tim Hugo and the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, I requested that the Commonwealth Transportation Board remove the Bi-County Parkway from the Corridor of Statewide Significance (COSS).   

The BCP was added to the North-South COSS in a very unusual way and now that the Board of Supervisors removed the BCP from the Comprehensive Plan, it should also be removed from the COSS.  Senator Black joined me in suggesting that the BCP be removed from the COSS, andthat the CTB support the original alignment of the Tri-County Parkway running from Business 234 near Manassas Mall to I-66 to improve traffic flow in the North-South Corridor. This alignment also would reduce the number of vehicles exiting at Business 234 and the 234 Bypass.   

Route 28 from Manassas Park to Fairfax County Line: 

In September, 2012 I asked VDOT to prepare a cost estimate for providing reversible lanes on Rt. 28 from Manassas Drive to the Fairfax county boundary.  The initial cost for lane reconfiguration/markings, shoulders, drainage, pavement, gutters, grading, and signals was $4.9 million exclusive of any right-of-way costs.  Possible engineering costs could add $962,000.  Operational costs were estimated at approximately $1 million per year.  This is the simplest, least expensive and fastest way to reduce congestion in this corridor.  Reversible lanes in PWC from Fairfax to Manassas Park would help commuters mostly in the evening until Fairfax widens Rt. 28 from the county line to Centreville, which they plan to do. 

Fairfax County Supervisors have committed to adding additional lanes on Rt. 28 from the Prince William/Fairfax border to Rt. 29 in Centreville and Fairfax has placed widening of Rt. 28 in their Comprehensive Plan.    

We need Local PWC Input:   

If local governments do not place a priority on specific road repairs or construction projects, VDOT will not undertake such projects.  The PWC Supervisors could designate that section of Route 28 on the County’s VDOT Six Year Plan for a three/two reversible lane configuration.  Prince William Supervisors could also construct the reversible lanes with county money if they chose to do so.

I serve as a member of the Route 28 Task Force which includes elected state and local officials from PW County, Manassas City, Manassas Park City and Fairfax, VDOT and county transportation staff.  We have been working to reduce congestion on Route 28 from Manassas to Route 29 in Centreville.   

During the regular 2015 General Assembly session I offered an amendment to the Budget to make this portion of Rt. 28 eligible for $6 million to implement morning and evening reversible lanes in Prince William. Unfortunately, the Appropriations Committee did not include my amendment, nor did it include similar amendments offered by other delegates for their own area projects.  

Northern Virginia Transportation Authority: 

The NVTA is charged with allocating roughly $351 million in locally raised state taxes for 2015-16 for NOVA projects.    

The Virginia law governing the selection of eligible projects provides that the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority “shall give priority to selecting projects that are expected to provide the greatest congestion reduction relative to the cost of the project and shall document this information for each project selected.”

NVTA Ignores the Law: 

Myself, and two other NOVA Delegates testified before the 3/25/15 NVTA allocation meeting.   We questioned how the NVTA arrived at the final proposed project list when it clearly did not propose to fund only those road projects that VDOT had identified as providing the greatest congestion reduction for the tax dollars spent.   Some projects were bypassed even though they provided up to 20 times the congestion relief per dollar spent!  

I questioned how any money could be spent on transit projects without a cost-benefit analysis given the legal requirement to document congestion relief for each project selected.  No response was forthcoming. The NVTA has instead allocated $139 million for 17 transit projects and two transit planning studies.

The NVTA Board clearly is ignoring this provision of the law by selecting lower priority congestion reduction projects over projects that move more people per tax dollar spent.  Further, the NVTA has NO objective measures for cost benefit/congestion reductions for any of their proposed 17 transit projects.  

I did thank the NVTA for agreeing to fund a $2.5 million Study to examine alternatives for the improvement of the Manassas to Centreville Rt. 28 corridor, which will examine:  widening Rt. 28 to six lanes (three north and three south) from Manassas to Centreville; widening Old Centreville Road to three lanes on existing right of way using two and one reversible lanes for the morning and evening commute from Manassas to Fairfax at Compton Rd.;  and re-examining   the previously designated Tri-county bypass at Godwin Drive from Rt. 234 Business near Manassas Mall to Rt. I-66. 

This $2.5 million study had been discussed at meetings of the Route 28 Study committee.  Several NVTA members are on the Route 28 Study.   There is unanimous agreement that with 60,000 vehicles travelling an average of 9 MPH in the morning commute, the road is way beyond its capacity, and will only get worse with the continued approval of additional housing units that will use Route 28, such as the 1,300 housing units near the Fairfax border!     

NVTA Falls Short on Rt. 28: 

While the NVTA is proposing an allocation of $5 million out of a $45 million cost for widening Rt. 28 in Fairfax from the Prince William Line to Centreville the NVTA did not suggest a short term solution of reversible lanes for Rt. 28 from Manassas to the Fairfax Count line.   The NVTA also allocated $16.7 million to widen Rt. 28 from the Rt. 234 Bypass to Linton Hall Road, and $3.3 million of a $12.9 million project to widen from four to six lanes Rt. 28 from Godwin Drive in Manassas City to the PWC line.  The most congested section of Rt. 28 was left with NO improvements, while less congested sections were given substantial funds!

I will continue to advocate for short term congestion relief for the Manassas Park to Fairfax portion of Rt. 28 with reversible lanes constructed on existing road right of way.  Reversible lanes do not require taking of businesses, moving power lines and reconstructing the Bull Run Bridge and can provide a quicker, cheaper short term solution.  

Bob Marshall’s Laws to Promote Road Safety and Traffic Reduction:

Delegate Bob Marshall introduced these bills all of which became law with support from both Democrats and Republicans.

  • Require Disclosure of Road Construction bids (2003) 
  • Ban Tractor-trailers in the Left Lanes of I-66 & I-495 (1997 & 2000) 
  • Study Safety of Large Vehicles stopped on roadways (2002) 
  • Require Traffic Warnings for disabled commercial vehicles at roadside (2003) 
  • Authorize adjoining localities to build roads, bridges or ferries (2006) 
  • Require Full Road Cost Disclosure for all road improvements needed when a locality rezones or amends its Comprehensive Zoning Plan (2006) 
  • Increase fines for unauthorized use of highway crossovers (1997) 
  • Identify Abandoned Rail Lines by Virginia Rail Dept. for future mass transit (2007) 
  • Enable regular Audits of METRO to save your tax money (Marshall amendment to SB 934, 2005) 
  • Suspend new EPA Ethanol Requirements -- Bob’s resolution passed House of Delegates urging Congress to block EPA e-15 rule (2011) 
  • VDOT initially was planning a single railroad track bridge for the Rt. 29 train track crossing. I happened to be in the VDOT “Residency” planning office and pointed out that a single track overpass bridge for Rt. 29 would make the future extending of VRE to Haymarket very difficult.  VDOT redrafted their plans to provide a two-track bridge to accommodate simultaneous freight and commuter rail out to Haymarket.  

Road Improvements Bob Actively Supported: 

  • Extended I-66 shoulder drive time in morning and evening rush hours.  Del. Marshall requested then Transportation Secretary Pierce Homer to also conduct a safety study.
  • Supported Bonds for the 234 Bypass from I-95 to I-66, upgrade Rt. 7 in Loudoun, the Fairfax Parkway & Springfield Metro Station. 
  • Widened Linton Hall Road from Rt. 29 to Devlin Rd. and Rt 28 from Manassas City to Vint Hill Road. 
  • Co-patroned 2011 Road Construction Bond bill (HB 2527) for extra $4 Billion in projects across Virginia. 
  • Worked with Sen. Chuck Colgan and the late Del. Harry Parrish to convince Gov. Mark Warner to expedite widening of I-66 from Rt 234 Business to Rt 234 Bypass by incremental improvements as money became available.

Prince William Parkway: A Citizen Proposal:

As a private citizen, and before my election to public office, I helped form a citizen transportation group, “Citizens for a Trans County Parkway,” which eventually recommended the “Prince William Parkway” from Hoadly Road to Liberia Avenue.  The road was actually the brainchild of a good friend, Bob Allen, whose wife Roseleen also served on the Citizen Advisory Committee with me.  My wife, Cathy, also assisted with the effort to gain county officials’ support for the concept of building a new mid-county road, rather than widening the existing Davis Ford Road.  

As it turned out, this alternative road saved millions of taxpayers’ dollars for construction, more than 100 homes from destruction, shortened the construction time (due to not impacting traffic since the road was built through raw land as opposed to being constructed on a road in use), reduced the number of traffic lights from what would have been at least twelve to three, and resulted in additional east-west lanes to provide a better link between the eastern and western parts of Prince William County.  This experience proved to me the value of citizen input, the importance of civic responsibility, and the necessity for follow-through and organization to reach a goal.