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Tuesday, May 7, 2013

VDOT is failing to play fair in the I-395 ramp pollution issue

Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton (left) with local residents at the ramp site.
Residents of the Landmark area are “deeply disappointed” in VDOT’s failure to address their concerns about the impact of dangerously high levels of pollution resulting from a new ramp on Interstate 395.

Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton, Fairfax County Chair Sharon Bulova, Alexandria Mayor William Euille, and other public officials met with members of Concerned Residents of Landmark (CROL) April 26.

“While several potential alternative locations [for the ramp] were raised during the discussion, the crux of our concerns—and the reason our group exists—were not fully addressed,” CROL  co-founder Mary Hasty wrote to in the letter to Connaughton. “Our primary concern remains the devastating effect this project will have on the public health of over 75,000 Alexandria and Fairfax County residents.”

CROL is unhappy that a planned in-depth meeting with VDOT officials and CROL’s air quality expert, Maureen Barrett, took place after, rather than before, CROL’s visit with Connaughton. At that session, Connaughton and the other public officials walked to the ramp site then met in Hasty’s house, where local residents talked about their concerns with the ramp.

During the subsequent meeting on air quality, Maureen Barrett, the author of the independent study commissioned by CROL, met with Jim Ponticello and John Lynch of VDOT. While VDOT “quibbled over numbers and approaches, none of VDOT’s comments challenged the core findings of our study—that the project will result in a serious public health hazard due to dramatically increased local congestion and resultant spikes in specific pollutants,” states the letter from CROL to Connaughton.

Further, “the meeting revealed troubling indications of VDOT’s minimalist approach to its responsibility to determine the impact of its project on local residents prior to construction,” CROL charges. VDOT violated federal regulations by failing to conduct an impact analysis at the site of the ramp by Turkeycock Run. In addition, Ponticello repeatedly admitted that VDOT did not use up-to-date modeling tools and did not analyze the localized impacts of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and participate matter 2.5 (PM 2.5), which can cause short and long-term lung disease.

According to CROL, “VDOT has placed construction deadlines and the collection of tolls over the protection of people’s health.”

Hasty blames VDOT for being “shameless in its dirty tactics” in refusing to meet with Barrett before the larger meeting so she could have pointed out to Connaughton the lack of substance in VDOT’s claims against her study.  VDOT refused to give her a summary of their points of contention with her study prior to the meeting so she could prepare, even though VDOT had previously promised to do so.

VDOT has had Barrett’s study since January but kept delaying an analysis of its validity. Eventually, VDOT hired two private firms to review the study, even though both firms have had multiple contracts with VDOT, which Hasty calls a “glaring conflict of interest.”

“ While it may be cynical, some among us think that the reason the review took so long was because the initial review revealed no damning results and VDOT demanded a redo so the companies could come up with ‘the right answer,’" Hasty charges.

VDOT openly admitted to choosing the least precise methods in its air quality study, relied on EPA guidance from the 1980s rather than using federally approved up-to-date models, and conducted an analysis of air quality at a location four miles away from where the ramp is being built.

“We believe that this least-common-denominator approach was intentional,” Hasty says, “because had VDOT conducted a proper analysis of the local site, had they conducted analysis of two of the most dangerous vehicle-produced pollutants (NO2 and PM 2.5), and had they used the most up-to-date and precise modeling tools and methods, the danger and health impact would have been impossible to ignore and the project would not have been approved. “


  1. How hard is it for VDOT to take the time to listen and really take note what the people of CROL are saying? VDOT seems to have forgotten they work for us (the citizen's of Virginia) not the other way around.

  2. All of you (CROL) should be so proud of all you have accomplished--it is amazing. You are a great example for citizen leadership.

  3. DITTO - Great Job CROL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. Public officials say that nothing can be done about delaying the construction of the terminus ramp because the contract with the private partner has been signed. Any changes would cost the state too much money. How do they weigh the cost of changing the contract to the impact of dangerous pollutants on the health and life expectancy of constituents and voters?

  5. VDOT has at least been consistent in their obfuscating and stonewalling. This is something you would expect in Putin's Russia, not Fairfax County. Where is the county leadership on this issue?!?! You have an ad hoc citizens group doing what the Board of Supervisors should be doing!

  6. My immediate thoughts - has this group reached out to Elizabeth Chimento in Alexandria? It took her and another citizen years to shut down the Mirant (now called GenOn) Plant in north Alexandria yet last Oct the plant was formally closed. If citizens can close down a coal fired electric generating plant there are many Lessons Learned CROL could borrow from her playbook. Next, how much have they involved their Federally elected officials? I find state elected officials only go so far, yet the Feds? You know VDOT probably isn't building this ramp w/ state funds only. If there is one penny of Federal $s used, what does their Congressional rep and both Fed Senators have to say about the state not abiding by current EPA standards?

    Unbelievable our VDOT leaders are either that incompetent or sneaky.

    VDOT thinks it can avoid environmental compliance because the project has no federal funding. This is actually an integral, incremental project that connects I95 and I495, which have substantial federal funding. Who at the Virginia Dept. of Environmental Quality reviewed the air and water quality studies for this project? CROL should remember the years of inaction by VDEQ to protect Alexandria citizens from the air pollution emitted by the PEPCO-Mirant-GeOn electric plant.
    CROL should take this to the Federal District Court and ask for a temporary restraining order to stop construction. CROL should ask Fairfax County to join the lawsuit that would ask for an Environmental Impact Statement using all federal requirements.
    Let's see Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli defend Governor Bob McDonnel's actions on this project that endangers the health of Virginia citizens.