Unclogging I-66

Virginia DOT examines ways to free up one of the nation’s most congested roadways

February 13, 2012

The Virginia corridor of I-66 is notorious for its heavy congestion, but the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) is studying exactly what makes this highway so clogged and how it can be fixed, according to the Washington Post.

Chris Collins, the VDOT project manager working on the I-66 issue, said that the issues that complicate the interstate are myriad. Collins has worked on large-scale projects across Virginia, but describes this one as the most complicated because of the number of factors that create the traffic problems. Because there are so many factors, there also are many solutions, which is where the study comes in: to determine which solutions are the most fiscally viable.

The zone covered by this study extends 25 miles east to west, but they might as well be worlds apart. Over the next several decades, the time frame that Collins is examining, VDOT expects to see a lot more housing on the west side and a lot more job growth on the east side, which will make I-66’s congestion worse, not better.

VDOT held two public information and comment sessions last week and will be taking public comments for the rest of the month about what needs to be done with I-66. Motorists want to know if anything can be done within their commuting lifetime. Collins is optimistic about that, despite limited prospects for funding from federal and state sources.

He said the cluster of ideas that will emerge by the end of this year will not represent an all-or-nothing package. Some could advance faster than others.

These days, when transportation planners talk about increasing capacity, they do not put a priority on adding regular lanes, but take a holistic and varied approach to managing traffic.

Among the top priorities for I-66 is making travel time more reliable. Commuters know a trip along Fairfax County’s Main Street is going to take a long time, but the travel time at least should be consistent. Some actual reductions in travel time might be possible. Choke points could be eliminated.

Planners might be able to create more travel choices and increase access along the corridor for transit users, bicyclists and pedestrians. Managed lanes and tolling are among the options to consider.