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Saturday, April 27, 2013

VDOT chief will consider I-395 ramp alternatives but won't delay the project

At the ramp site, left to right: VDOT Chief Engineer Garrett Moore, Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton, Alexandria Mayor William Euille, and Fairfax County Chair Sharon Bulova.

Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton told residents of the Landmark area opposed to a ramp on Interstate 395 April 26 that he will consider their request to consider alternative locations for the ramp but made no commitment to delay the project.

The issue, said Connaughton, is to explore the possibility of moving the ramp or adding another ramp. “I understand the concerns,” he said. “If there’s a way to balance out the traffic, we should look at that.”

People who live in Overlook, Landmark Mews, and other communities in the area formed the group Concerned Residents of Landmark to oppose the I-395 ramp because of concerns about health risks caused by increased air pollution. They have urged the Virginia Department of Transportation to stop the ramp construction until a thorough analysis is done that conforms to federal requirements.

The ramp is already under construction.
Concerned Residents had been pushing for a meeting with VDOT for months. Three weeks ago they staged a rally on Stevenson Street with empty chairs symbolizing the public officials who were invited to speak but declined to show up.

Yesterday, Connaughton and other government officials came to the same spot overlooking the ramp construction, then walked to a meeting at the home of Concerned Residents co-founder Mary Hasty in Landmark Mews, a stone’s throw from the ramp.

Hasty told Connaughton that residents didn’t know about the ramp until they saw a VDOT truck. “We started asking questions. We never got any answers,” she said. When ramp opponents commissioned their own study about the impact of the ramp on air quality, “we were absolutely shocked” by the findings.

Once the ramp is finished, the increased traffic congestion will create a “toxic corridor affecting the health of 75,000 people,” Hasty said. She asked Connaughton to halt the project until further studies are conducted, adding, “this is a big red flag that must be addressed.”

Seated at the table in Mary Hasty's house, left to right: air quality expert Maureen Barrett, Mary Hasty, Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton, Fairfax County Chair Sharon Bulova, and Alexandria Mayor William Euille.
Maureen Barrett of Air Expertise Colorado, the author of the study commission by Concerned Residents, said the environmental study conducted by VDOT failed to use the models and procedures mandated by the federal Clean Air Act and the Federal Highway Administration.  

All drivers paying tolls to use the express lanes under construction on I-395 must exit at that ramp onto the regular lanes, because that’s where the express lanes end. Barrett said VDOT failed to take into account the fact that those cars will be idling as they wait to change lanes, which will cause more emissions and more air pollution.

Connaughton raised the issue of whether adding another ramp farther north, possibly at Seminary Road near the Mark Center, could help solve the problem by spreading out the traffic congestion. 

That idea did not sit well with the Alexandria officials at the meeting. “I can’t say Alexandria would accept that,” said Mayor William Euille. “You’ll get that community all riled up.” The concern for Alexandria is the possibility of increased cut-through traffic on side streets, such as Beauregard. He urged Connaughton to “look south as opposed to north.”

When asked whether the ramp could be moved farther south, Connaughton said that would be “almost impossible.” 

“This is an approved project,” said Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chair Sharon Bulova. “It’s been through the environmental studies and the contract has been let. If we decide not to do it at this late date, what else is there to do?” She noted that both Alexandria and Arlington are opposed to extending the express lanes all the way to Washington.

“Just because there isn’t another option, that doesn’t make this option the right one,” said a resident.

Dr. Michel Bryce, a public health expert who lives near the ramp, said, “if this proceeds, the impact will be severe.” Health risks include coughing and trouble breathing over the short term and chronic lung disease over the long term. “This will be impacting the health of a community for a lifetime,” she said. “That’s pretty serious.”

There will be air pollution from I-395 whether the ramp is built or not, Connaughton said. Bryce responded that the ramp will add 4,000 extra cars in a two to three-hour period every day, which will greatly increase the amount of toxins in the air.

After Connaughton left, Hasty said, “he listened to residents’ concerns and agreed to look at alternatives, so that was encouraging.”

Following that meeting, VDOT officials were scheduled to have a lengthier discussion with Barrett about the details of her environmental study. VDOT was given the study six weeks ago, and is only now getting around to reviewing it, Hasty said. “VDOT has not been an honest broker in this process. There has been a lot of stalling and foot dragging.”


  1. Sharon Bulova response is
    “This is an approved project. It’s been through the environmental studies and the contract has been let. If we decide not to do it at this late date, what else is there to do?”

    In otherwords she is saying "I do not care. Live with it."

    1. Affected resident and voter in Lincolnia Park4/30/13, 1:02 PM

      How could a valid permit be issued when the environmental study conducted by VDOT failed to use the models and procedures mandated by the federal Clean Air Act and the Federal Highway Administration?

      If I put up a building without a valid permit wouldn't it be torn down?

      Sharon Bulova is ignoring the law and her constituents. The attitude, "We snuck it past you while you were sleeping doesn't fly."

  2. Wow, congratulations to the citizen group for getting an onsite meeting with the VDOT director and Sean Cannaughton, Transportation Secretary. That is very impressive. Yes, our government officials, Sharon Bulova and Penny Gross, just want the whole thing to go away!