|Citing health dangers, local residents want Gov. McDonnell to halt the ramp construction.|
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.|
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.|
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.