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Saturday, April 6, 2013

Landmark area residents stage rally to protest I-395 ramp

Citing health dangers, local residents want Gov. McDonnell to halt the ramp construction.
Dozens of local residents took part in a rally Saturday morning to protest a flyover ramp under construction on Interstate 395 that will lead to more traffic congestion, resulting in unacceptably high levels of air pollution.

The ramp will be used to dump cars off the express lanes used by toll-paying drivers and high-occupancy vehicles onto the regular lanes on I-395. It was originally planned for Arlington, but when Arlington County officials refused to let the express lanes extend into their jurisdiction, the Virginia Department of Transportation moved the ramp to a location near Turkeycock Run, between the Esdall Road and Duke Street exits.

“The project wasn’t good enough for Arlington, so apparently VDOT thought they could force it onto our communities without much opposition,” said rally coordinator Debbie Fillipi of Concerned Residents of Landmark. “I have lived here all my life and people in this area don’t like being pushed around.”

Sonny Morrow (on a scooter) is worried about increased air pollution.

A key point of contention for local residents is the refusal of VDOT to conduct localized environmental studies, as required by federal law. An independent study commissioned by residents found that the projected increase in traffic will spew dangerously high levels of nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter, called PM 2.5, into the air.

The health risks from these pollutants are most pronounced for the elderly and children—groups that make up 25 percent of the population of the affected area. “These invisible particles enter the lungs of the young, where they can cause serious, irreversible damage,” said Dr. Michel Bryce, a public health expert who lives near the ramp. “It is inexcusable that VDOT refuses to look into this issue.”

Vietnam War veteran Sonny Morrow, a resident of the Watergate at Landmark, came to the rally because he is concerned that the increased pollution will worsen his breathing problems stemming from exposure to Agent Orange. Watergate resident Herb Treger, who was holding a “Shame on VDOT” sign, said the pollution “will go into everyone’s units.” People won’t be able to protect themselves by staying indoors.

The empty chairs represent absent public officials.
Landmark Mews resident Natalie Semake is worried about the impact of the increased traffic congestion on the health of her children, ages 4 and 7. “I don’t understand why there’s been no open dialogue with VDOT and they haven’t done the required studies,” she said. “I promised to keep my kids safe and healthy. Now I can’t keep that promise.”

In spite of repeated requests for a meeting to discuss the pollution dangers, VDOT officials have refused to meet with Concerned Residents of Landmark.

There were several empty chairs at the rally labeled for the Fairfax County and state leaders who had declined an invitation to appear: Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chair Sharon Bulova, Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross, state Sen. Dick Saslaw, Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton, and Gov. Bob McDonnell. Connaughton and Bulova also declined to meet with residents.

Among the few public officials who attended the rally were Alexandria City Council members Del Pepper and John Chapman. “It’s amazing that eight organizations can come together and raise $70,000 [for the independent environmental study] and speak with one voice. I hope VDOT will respond,” Pepper told the Annandale Blog.

Pepper noted that firm that prepared the study for Concerned Residents of Landmark, Air Expertise Colorado, is “the same firm that pointed out the dangers from the coal plant in Alexandria, yet no one questioned those findings.”

The City of Alexandria has not taken an official position on the ramp. Chapman said the ramp is under VDOT’s purview and that it is located in Fairfax County.

Alexandria Vice Mayor Allison Silberberg, speaking for herself and not the city, and Del. Kaye Kory issued separate statements sharing their concerns about the health risks of the ramp and expressing regrets at not being able to attend the rally.

Construction of the ramp has already begun.
Concerned Residents of Landmark wants VDOT to conduct a comprehensive analysis of the impact of the express lanes on local communities and conduct an analysis of alternative sites for a ramp.

Now that the new express lanes on the beltway are failing to meet revenue expectations, many local residents wonder about the viability of the I-395 express lanes. “When did it become more important to collect tolls than protect kids?” said Christine Adams of Lincolnia Park.

5 comments:

  1. What does one group have to do to be heard by their elected officials? Our tax dollars pay their salary and yet I do not think they remember that.

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  2. My tax dollars pay for highways and I WANT the ramp so these poor people can get to their jobs and pay taxes that support you all.

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    Replies
    1. Opposed to the Ramp4/8/13, 8:19 PM

      I see no reason why your vote should count unless you prove you live next to the ramp.

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  3. Opposed to the Ramp4/8/13, 8:19 PM

    Not a scientific opinion, but could not help but notice the number of trees along this stretch of 395 that are already showing signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. They have that scorchy look that the trees that used to surround the LA basin had before they died. I hate to think what increased pollution would do to them and MORE IMPORTANTLY to the people living near there.

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  4. To Anonymous - What is more important people having ramps or people having health? Take time to think what if this was coming into my backyard how would you feel. Personally the ramp is not in my backyard but I know that if it was me I also would be very concerned about my and my family's health. Don't forget these are your neighbors.

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