I-66 Doesn’t Need More Lanes or Expensive Infrastructure

Phase 1 of the Dulles Metrorail Megaproject off Route 123 near the future site of the Tysons East Station.

Yes, Virginia Interstate 66 is a mess. Commuters are right to decry the congestion along this stretch of interstate, where travel times from Northern Virginia into D.C. are the longest in the region.

But reports from Dr. Gridlock in the Washington Post that the state and federal governments are considering plans to add additional lanes onto I-66 are not only maddening, but they fly in the face of everything we’ve learned about induced demand.

With years of evidence to back it up, induced demand was defined beautifully in a recent story in Wired, which explained that because “increasing the supply of something (like roads) makes people want that thing even more … the ways we traditionally go about trying to mitigate jams are essentially fruitless.”

In other words, it’s impossible to build ourselves out of congestion because the roads themselves cause traffic.

While the Virginia Department of Transportation’s (VDOT’s) plan to implement “Active Traffic Demand” along the interstate is a better plan, VDOT’s request for proposals from private corporations indicates that the agency is also considering large, engineering- and infrastructure-intensive solutions to I-66’s problems.

Instead, why not entertain these much cheaper (and probably more reliable) solutions: transportation demand management (TDM) and use of high-occupancy vehicle lanes?

VDOT has been very good at congestion management when it has done big projects. Think back to the Mixing Bowl project, the Wilson Bridge Project, and the Mega Projects. VDOT pours money into transportation management programs (TMPs) that are designed to communicate about the problem and encourage people to share the ride, use transit, or avoid the area at peak times.

Yet at the end of each project, VDOT packs up its bag of tricks and leaves thinking that the job is done. Imagine if the kind of intensive effort VDOT gives as projects unfold were also applied to a corridor day in and day out, year after year. Could results be achieved? I think so. VDOT could spend $5 million to $10 million per year – not a lot for the agency – and do some really sophisticated TDM marketing and incentives.

VDOT could work with employers in D.C., Arlington, and Fairfax. It could promote carpooling and transit. It could provide incentives. It could provide real-time vanpool and commuter bus information. This stuff works. We’ve proven it in Arlington.

One could couple these TDM programs with HOV-3 both ways during the rush and HOV-2 at all other times to ensure that road use on I-66 is maximized. Getting the best use out of the existing facility (demand management) is what VDOT should concentrate on, not continually trying to increase the supply. It doesn’t work.

HOV-3 and TDM will work, will be more cost efficient, and are better long-term solutions for everyone.

Photo by Virginia Department of Transportation

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8 Comments or Mentions

8 Comment(s)

Mark Scheufler

Non-protected managed lanes cannot be properly enforced during peak capacity without compounding congestion due to a police presents.

Adding HOT lanes to I-66 outside the Beltway and a Metro Extension to Fair Oaks Mall/Fairfax Corner with an inline highway BRT stop below are the best long term solutions/investments. A combination of HOT lanes and GP lanes provide users with reliable transportation options. (Express Bus, Free HOV3, Toll for SOV)

HOT lanes mange induced demand because there is a price associated with roadway expansion.

Below is link to my recommendations for I-66 outside the beltway:
goo.gl/Ooa2xV

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Scott Gibbons

A policy on the use of Interstate highways is long overdue. It is time to reserve Interstate highways for the purpose of long distance travel and not for commuting and subsidizing developers projects. Alternatively, TDM could be combined with regional development fees/tax surcharges to reflect the actual cost of regional transport facilities at the developer and household level. The market has to be made to pay the cost, rather than restricting individual users without recourse (any HOV), or endlessly generating cross-subsidies.

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Allen Muchnick

Unfortunately, HOV restrictions–which are widely violated and require substantial and sustained police enforcement–have been a failure on I-66. HOV restrictions are an outdated and broadly unpopular strategy that is now obsolete with the advent of automated tolling technologies. Variably priced automated tolling is much easier and cheaper to enforce and keep travel lanes uncongested. Moreover, it can provide 24/7 access to business travelers, such as home repair and improvement contractors, whose livelihood requires uncongested highway travel in single-occupant vehicles. Automated tolling can benefit everyone by helping to reduce the cost of our services and goods. Northern Virginia’s political leadership needs the vision and courage to achieve the public consensus needed to convert the existing I-66 HOV facilities into express-toll or HOT facilities. Converting these existing lanes could involve minimal construction and thus avoid any need to turn this public asset over to the private sector.

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oon2ooo

This is great in theory but the public transportation options already are at or near capacity in Arlington. Additional TDM and HOV lanes (especially HOT lanes) may push people to other options like Metro but Metro does not have capacity to accommodate this in VA. Ask anyone on the Blue Line who just got forced into waiting 12 minutes between trains at peak times because Silver Line was added. Without a third rail for express trains being built there simply isn’t enough capacity for all the people who work in DC.

It’s great to suggest that all commuters should ride buses and/or carpool while people with money can just fly in HOT lanes without any congestion. And while that may work, you are intentionally making the lives of many much worse off to benefit the lives of a few. Expand the metro both in distance and capacity and you can do this all you want.

Otherwise you might just identify this for what the net result will be (intended or not), elitist.

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Charlie Smiroldo

Why not simply make a lane dedicated for Arlington County exits? That way 2 lanes are for people simply passing through.
I personally only sit in traffic when I travel from the toll road connection to the glebe road exit – but only live 3 exits down from that congestion.
Widening the lanes will only want people to move further out.

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Wayne Kubicki

Mr. Hamilton – where do you live?

I presume you office at Courthouse Plaza – how do you get to work every day?

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Chris Hamilton

Hi Mr. Kubicki –
I live almost six miles away from my Court House office in the Bloomingdale section of Washington DC (2nd and W Streets NW). I bike to work most days. Metrorail and Capital Bikeshare in the winter.
Chris

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Allen Muchnick

A dose of reality: Governor McAuliffe announced his plan for I-66 outside the Beltway on July 17 [ https://governor.virginia.gov/news/newsarticle?articleId=5549 ] .

While not advancing (or precluding) future Metrorail, VRE, LRT, or BRT extensions, this is a reasonable approach that would provide an uncongested transitway for express bus services operated by local agencies and private providers. It will be a challenge, however, to squeeze two to four additional highway lanes plus safety shoulders into the existing highway right-of-way, and the announcement fails to address the fact that I-66 has been a formidable barrier to comfortable bicycling and walking, both across and along the corridor.

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