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Thursday, July 28, 2011

VDOT plans I-395 HOT lanes off-ramp between Edsall and 236 exits

Stevenson Avenue with I-395 on the left
and Landmark Mews on the right
Residents of Landmark Mews have some serious concerns about plans to build a HOT lane off-ramp parallel to Stevenson Avenue, which is between I-395 and their community. Landmark Mews is in the Alexandria section of Fairfax County’s Mason District.

At a community meeting last night, representatives of the Virginia Department of Transportation and Fluor-Transurban, the public-private partnership building the HOT lanes  (high-occupancy toll) on I-395 and the beltway, explained the new “flyover  ramp” is needed because VDOT revised the plans for the HOT lanes in response to Arlington’s lawsuit.

Instead of extending the HOT lanes through Arlington to the Pentagon, they will stop at Edsall Road. Multi-occupancy cars and buses can use the HOT lanes for free, while cars with less than three people will pay a toll to use those lanes, with the cost varying according to the time of day and traffic conditions.

The view from Stevenson Avenue
The new one-lane ramp will serve as a transition from the HOT/HOV lanes on I-395 to the regular lanes. Drivers paying to use the HOT lanes will have to move to the regular lanes or risk getting a ticket for using the HOV lanes as they head north.

Several people at the meeting questioned why the off-ramp has to be at Stevenson Avenue instead of closer to Edsall Road or Duke Street.

Garrett Moore, VDOT’s Northern Virginia district administrator, said Stevenson is the best spot because VDOT owns the land there and the ramp can’t be too close to the exits because of the need for a transition to give drivers enough space to merge. A soundwall is planned to shied Landmark Mews from the highway.

Moore promised more detailed answers on VDOT’s rationale at a public hearing Sept. 28 at the Waterford in Springfield.

Others raised concerns about why this ramp is being handled separately from the new exit ramp on I-395 planned to relieve congestion at the BRAC-133 project at the Mark Center on Seminary Road. About 6,400 Defense Department employees are scheduled to move into the BRAC complex this fall.

“We can’t fund everything at once. It has to be done in increments,” Moore said. A hearing on the Seminary Road ramp is expected to be held in December.
Landmark Mews

Moore acknowledged that VDOT could have done a better job communicating its plans with the public when one Landmark Mews resident complained that “the first inkling we had of this was when workers started digging holes in May” for an environmental analysis.

And to residents’ concerns that both ramps will not solve the traffic problem—and could possibly make it worse—Moore said, “These are the only solutions we have.” Something needs to be done, because population growth projected for the area will contribute to the traffic congestion, he said.

Improved transit is also in the works. VDOT is also working on a transit study for I-395, focusing on buses and van pools.

Abi Lerner, deputy director of Alexandria’s Department of Transportation and Environmental Services, said a new shuttle bus service will connect the Mark Center with the King Street and Pentagon Metro stations. Buses will come every 10 minutes during peak hours.

The need to address increasing traffic congestion “shows how critical transit is,” said Del. Vivian Watts. “We do not have capacity for more lanes. We need transit,” but the state has not increased funding in 25 years.

In addition to Landmark Mews, other communities were invited to the meeting, including Bren Mar Park, Edsall Park, Lincolnia Park, Watergate at Landmark, and Overlook.

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