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February 3, 2011 Published in Top Stories, Traffic & Transportation

VDOT Nixes Inside-The-Beltway HOT Lanes, Approves Seminary Ramp Into Mark Center

By Carla Branch

I-395 at Seminary Road where BRAC employees will exit for their new Mark Center home (Photo: James Cullum)

Today the Virginia Department of Transportation announced a plan for transportation improvements to reduce congestion and improve the traffic circulation within the I-95/I-395 corridor. The plan, which will cost an estimated $1 billion, includes several changes that will benefit the City of Alexandria.

“We can no longer wait to deliver congestion relief and new travel choices,” said VDOT Secretary Sean Connaughton. “The Capital Beltway, I-95 and I-395 corridors are home to some of Virginia’s most important employment centers and military sites. We are doing what we need to do to get businesses and people across these critical routes moving again.”

VDOT plans on constructing a new, single-lane, reversible ramp to connect the existing HOV lanes on I-395 to Seminary Road. This ramp will provide a critical link between expanded regional transit and HOV networks to the growing Mark Center site, where BRAC-133 is scheduled to relocate later this year. The ramp will only be open to HOV and transit. Construction of the ramp is slated to begin in early 2012.

The HOT lanes project will not include originally planned construction of six miles of HOV/HOT lanes on I-395 in Alexandria or Arlington County, a plan that Alexandria’s elected officials opposed. The HOT lanes will end at Edsall Road, keeping the HOV-only lanes in Alexandria in place and avoiding changes to the Shirlington interchange.

VDOT will provide funding to support these improvements, coupled with substantial investments from the private sector for the HOV/HOT Lanes project. "A direct ramp from existing HOV lanes on I-395 to Seminary Road is good news for Alexandria residents and businesses," said Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille. "This positive development will have a big impact on traffic challenges near the BRAC facility at Mark Center. Alexandria had requested these improvements and we are encouraged that the Commonwealth of Virginia is proceeding with these upgrades and making a commitment to improve transportation infrastructure in Northern Virginia. Eliminating HOT lanes from I-395 is also the right thing to do, because no intrusive changes will be made to the Shirlington interchange. Alexandria will continue to work with our partners, Arlington and Fairfax Counties, and VDOT, to find additional solutions to our traffic concerns,” he said.

Virginia State Delegate Charniele Herring (D-46) spoke with representatives from VDOT before the public announcement this morning. They told her that their preliminary review indicated there should not be an impact to the Winkler Preserve. However, without being able to see the full plans Herring said that she is reserving celebration in favor of cautious optimism until the full plans are available and a long-term plan for the region is finalized to not include HOT Lanes in the area. She has filed a budget amendment for $17 million for additional road improvements in the area around BRAC-133 at Mark Center to assist with the gridlock expected in the wake of the facility opening.

“I am cautiously optimistic that VDOT is being responsive to the needs of my constituents and citizens of the Commonwealth plagued by chronic and severe traffic congestion. BRAC-133 at Mark Center represents over 6,400 new drivers in my district, and we are already plagued by severe congestion,” Herring said.

“My constituents have repeatedly expressed the importance of our green spaces here in the city, and in my conversations with representatives from VDOT assurances could not be made that this ramp would not be run through the Winkler Preserve or have a significant impact. I plan to continue to investigate and monitor this project and all matters related to the BRAC-133 at Mark Center”

Virginia Democratic Senators Jim Webb and Mark Warner and Virginia Congressman Jim Moran (D-8) released a statement praising VDOT’s investment in the Seminary Road ramp. "The Commonwealth's commitment to accelerate major road projects to upgrade the I-95/I-395 corridor, including a new ramp from existing HOV lanes on I-395 to Seminary Road, is welcome news. Support from the Commonwealth is crucial to ensuring that the BRAC relocations in Northern Virginia do not cause major traffic disruptions for area commuters, businesses, and local residents. We look forward to working with the Governor and VDOT to facilitate the construction of the ramp at Seminary Road as a top priority.

"With a long-term transportation solution for the situation at Mark Center now on the table, it is more important than ever that full occupancy of the facility be delayed until this critical project is completed. Fully occupying the building while major construction is underway at the Seminary Road intersection makes no sense. The road's major intersections in the vicinity of the Mark Center are already projected to experience failing levels of service. Construction of the new ramp will unavoidably disrupt traffic flow on the road even more, creating an untenable situation. We call on the Army to work with the community on a plan to phase in occupancy at the site timed to the project's completion. If the Army fails to revise its plan to accommodate this development, we will redouble our efforts to mandate a strict parking cap on the facility legislatively,” the statement said.

Alexandria City Councilman Rob Krupicka approved VDOT’s decision. “This is the right step but there is more to do,” said Krupicka. “This is a big win for Fairfax, Alexandria and Arlington residents concerned about overextended roads and cut through traffic. We need to study the details, but it looks like significant help to two big regional traffic problems is on its way. My hat is off to all of the regional elected officials who worked together on this. People often fight for credit in politics, but sometimes it really is a team effort.

“I was happy to draft the Alexandria City Council's policy against hot lanes as well as our position to protect the Winkler Preserve near BRAC. This action appears to be consistent with both (we have to look closely at the Seminary interchange plans). I think the best thing about this news is that it shows that civic debate, activism, discussion and effort can lead to a positive resolution.

“The focus needs to remain on transit. I co-chair the Alexandria planning group that is working to build a streetcar system in Alexandria that can connect to Fairfax and Arlington's Columbia Pike/Skyline streetcar project. We are also working on the dedicated transit connection between Crystal City and Old Town. Ultimately, these systems all have to connect throughout the region and that will give us a new transit backbone to serve us well into the future. Our region won't have a future if we don't get this mass transit infrastructure right. It takes a lot of work to work through the engineering and design details, but it’s some of the most important work we can do” Krupicka said.

New I-95 HOV/HOT Lanes Project

The new I-95 HOV/HOT lanes project will create approximately 29 miles of HOV/HOT lanes on I-95 from Garrisonville Road in Stafford County to the vicinity of Edsall Road on I-395 in Fairfax County and includes:

• Constructing two new reversible HOV/HOT lanes for nine miles from Route 610/Garrisonville Road in Stafford County to Route 234 in Dumfries, where the existing HOV lanes begin

• Widening the existing HOV lanes from two lanes to three lanes for 14 miles from the Prince William Parkway to approximately two miles north of the Springfield Interchange in the vicinity of Edsall Road

• Making improvements to the existing two HOV lanes for six miles from Route 234 to the Prince William Parkway

• Adding new or improved access points in the areas of Garrisonville Road, Joplin Road, Prince William Parkway, Fairfax County Parkway, Franconia-Springfield Parkway, I-495 and in the vicinity of Edsall Road.

The new HOV/HOT lanes project will no longer include the originally planned construction of six miles of HOV/HOT lanes on I-395 in Alexandria or Arlington County or upgrades to key interchanges at Shirlington and Eads Street in Arlington County. Those lanes will continue to be restricted to HOV, transit, eligible hybrids and motorcycles during rush hours.

However, VDOT is advancing plans to construct a new ramp at I-395 and Seminary Road for the Mark Center, concurrent with the HOV/HOT lanes project. The ramp will be open to HOV and transit only. Construction on the ramp could begin as early as 2012.

VDOT will also expand park-and-ride lots and fund other local transit improvements to maximize the benefit of the new HOV/HOT lanes network.

Public Input, Estimated Cost and Schedule

VDOT has initiated an environmental review for the new HOV/HOT lanes project and expects to host citizen information meetings in late 2011 to provide residents and travelers detailed information on project plans.

Construction could begin as early as the 2012 construction season and will take up to three years to complete.

The estimated $1 billion project is being financed and constructed under Virginia’s Public-Private Transportation Act. The private sector is expected to contribute a majority of the project’s funding and financing, with support from a state contribution. VDOT expects to finalize a financial plan for the revised project later this year.

Construction of the 14-mile HOT lanes project on I-495 is more than 50 percent complete and the lanes will open to traffic by early 2013.

VDOT is also advancing studies to support the ultimate extension of HOV/HOT lanes on I-95 south of Route 610 into Spotsylvania County.

HOV/HOT Benefits

The HOV/HOT project will directly link the I-95 HOV lanes to new HOV/HOT lanes on the Capital Beltway, creating a free-flowing network spanning more than 40 miles and providing direct HOV and transit service to major Virginia-based employment centers including Tysons Corner, Merrifield, Fort Belvoir and Quantico.

The project will also relieve one of the worst traffic bottlenecks in the region where the existing HOV lanes currently end at Route 234 in Dumfries.

Carpools with three or more people, vanpools and transit vehicles will have free access to the HOV/HOT lanes network.

The HOV/HOT lanes will keep traffic moving by using dynamic tolling that will adjust tolls based on real-time traffic conditions, video technology to identify accidents, a series of electronic signs to communicate with drivers and state troopers to ensure enforcement.

These strategies will help maintain travel speeds, make travel times more predictable and significantly reduce violators.

Construction of the project is expected to support more than 8,000 jobs.

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