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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Landmark area residents organize effort to oppose I-395 ramp

I-95 as viewed from the site of the proposed ramp. Some of these trees have been cut down since this picture was taken in 2011.

People who live in several housing developments next to the forthcoming flyover ramp on Interstate 395 in the Landmark area are up in arms about the dangerously high air pollution levels likely to be generated by increased traffic congestion. They are also concerned about noise, damage to wetlands, and increased traffic clogging side streets.

A newly formed advocacy group called Concerned Residents of Landmark is urging the Virginia Department of Transportation to delay the project until the full impact can be determined. They’ve collected over 1,400 signatures on a petition that states: “We fear for our health, our homes, our environment, and our quality of life. In its rush to build, VDOT has failed to assess the negative impact the ramp will have on adjacent communities.”

Mary Hasty of the Concerned Residents group said the organization has scheduled meetings with Rep. Jim Moran and state Del. Vivian Watts and is seeking a meeting with Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chair Sharon Bulova.

The ramp, known as the “northern terminus project,” would be used for motorists exiting the I-395 “express lanes,” which would be restricted to carpoolers and drivers who pay tolls under the same sort of “dynamic pricing” scheme recently implemented on a section of the beltway running through Annandale.

The I-395 express lanes were originally supposed to end at Eads Street in Arlington, but that plan was rejected by Arlington County. An alternative plan to end the express lanes at the beltway mixing bowl was nixed by Fairfax County, so a flyover ramp is now slated for the section of the highway that passes Turkeycock Run between the Edsall Road and Duke Street exits.

Among the housing developments affected are Overlook, Bren Mar Park, Lincolnia Park, Landmark Mews, the Watergate at Landmark, Olympus, and Jefferson Square.  

The Concerned Residents group spent $50,000 to commission an independent environmental analysis by John Britton, a managing partner with the Schnader Harrison Segal and Lewis law firm. Britton presented his findings at a meeting of the Overlook HOA board Dec. 19. 

Britton’s analysis found the increased traffic congestion when the northern terminus is built will lead to levels of nitrogen dioxide (N02) that are 10 to 20 times higher than the EPA standard.

Research has shown “well-documented, significant impacts on public health” from increased levels of N02, he said, and that’s of most concern to the most susceptible populations, including  children, the elderly, and people with chronic illnesses like asthma and heart disease.

“This is serious,” Britton said. “These are troubling results. . . . Even short-term exposure can cause serious impacts. We’re talking about taking years off your life.” The air pollution would affect people at nearby playgrounds, parks, backyards—and even inside houses.

His study also predicted increased levels of “fine particulate matter” (PM2.5), which is invisible but gets embedded inside the lungs and can cause cardiovascular and respiratory problems. While Britton found “significant levels” of PM2.5 in the study area, a more comprehensive analysis would be needed to determine if this pollutant would violate the EPA standards.

“Our results are red flags,” Britton said, noting that his analysis was somewhat limited although it relies on an EPA-sanctioned model not used by VDOT.

According to Britton, VDOT is required by law to analyze the environmental impact of projects and disclose the results to the public before a decision is made and also is prohibited from undertaking activities that contribute to the deterioration of environmental quality. “VDOT didn’t do this,” he said. Instead of doing a study of the area most affected by the ramp, VDOT’s study was done on a regional basis.

If traffic were zooming through, it would not be a problem, Britton said. It’s when cars are backed up and idling that pollution levels rise to unacceptable levels. His study estimates there will be way more traffic congestion when the ramp is built, not only on the ramp itself, but as increased traffic spilling over onto side streets, including Beauregard Street, Little River Turnpike, Van Dorn Street, Seminary Road, and Edsall Road.  

Britton accused VDOT of “shirking its public duty” by not doing the required analysis.


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