Ramp near Dunn Lor­ing sta­tion re­jected

The Washington Post Sunday - - COMMUTER - BY LORI ARATANI lori.aratani@wash­post.com

Vir­ginia trans­porta­tion of­fi­cials have scrapped plans to build a fly­over ramp near the Dunn Lor­ing-Mer­ri­field Metro sta­tion and in­stead will find an­other way to deal with a Metro power sub­sta­tion that sits in the path of its planned ex­pan­sion of In­ter­state 66.

The an­nounce­ment by Vir­ginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) drew cheers from area res­i­dents, who were fear­ful that the con­crete struc­ture would dis­rupt their quiet neigh­bor­hood and hurt their prop­erty val­ues.

But for many res­i­dents of the com­mu­nity in north­east­ern Fair­fax County, the vic­tory is just one win in a pro­tracted fight over the project.

The ramp was part of a $2.3 bil­lion project to add two toll lanes and three reg­u­lar lanes in each di­rec­tion on I-66, from Gainesville, in Prince Wil­liam County, to the Cap­i­tal Belt­way in an ef­fort to ease con­ges­tion on the peren­ni­ally grid­locked high­way.

“We’re very en­cour­aged by it,” res­i­dent Mary Hagopian said. “But I don’t think the fight is over.”

state Del. Mark L. Keam (D-Fair­fax), who rep­re­sents the area, “Just be­cause we re­solved this one is­sue with the fly­over doesn’t mean the rest of the is­sues have gone away.”

Even so, McAuliffe’s an­nounce­ment on WTOP’s “Ask the Gov­er­nor” show gives those who have watched the project with grow­ing anx­i­ety some hope that they might win con­ces­sions on other con­cerns, in­clud­ing a plan to al­low large trucks to use the toll lanes and the in­clu­sion of stormwa­ter ponds near a play area for chil­dren in the neigh­bor­hood.

Su­san Shaw, di­rec­tor of Mega Projects for the Vir­ginia Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion, said the pro­posal for a fly­over ramp sur­faced only after VDOT of­fi­cials be­gan to re­con­sider an ear­lier plan to move the sub­sta­tion to land north of I-66, which the depart­ment was al­ready ac­quir­ing for the project. Shaw said that plan was doable but not with­out risks. Among them: The power sta­tion would be re­built in a res­i­den­tial neigh­bor­hood, she said. There also was the pos­si­bil­ity that mov­ing it could de­lay the project, be­cause re­lo­cat­ing Metro-owned build­ings and util­i­ties can be The pedes­trian bridge lead­ing to the Dunn Lor­ing-Mer­ri­field Metro sta­tion spans east­bound In­ter­state 66. The scrapped plan for a fly­over ramp was part of a $2.3 bil­lion project. com­pli­cated and ex­pen­sive.

In the mean­time, Shaw said, VDOT had be­gun the process for se­lect­ing a part­ner to build and op­er­ate the toll lanes that will be part of the I-66 ex­pan­sion. The con­tract was awarded last year to I-66 Ex­press Mo­bil­ity Part­ners. Aware of VDOT’s con­cerns about re­lo­cat­ing the power sta­tion, the group pro­posed an al­ter­na­tive: In­stead of mov­ing the power sub­sta­tion, a ramp would be built over it.

Re­vi­sions to the early plan weren’t im­me­di­ately shared with res­i­dents, who said they learned about it only after see­ing it men­tioned on Twit­ter. Part of that, Shaw said, was be­cause of con­fi­den­tial­ity re­quire­ments around the se­lec­tion of a pri­vate part­ner that would build the project.

The re­sult was that some res­i­dents felt blind­sided be­cause the new plans in­cluded el­e­ments — such as the storm-wa­ter ponds — that were not part of an agreeAdded ment they reached with VDOT of­fi­cials in 2015. And then there was the fly­over. “We un­der­stood there was this black pe­riod when we weren’t go­ing to hear any­thing,” said Deana Heier, one of the res­i­dents who has helped or­ga­nize the neigh­bor­hood. “But once they picked the pri­vate part­ner, th­ese de­signs could have come out.” Now the fly­over is no more. “We are back to the draw­ing board,” Shaw said.

Shaw said it’s pos­si­ble that the sub­sta­tion could be moved to an­other lo­ca­tion on Metro prop­erty. Ex­press Mo­bil­ity Part­ners will be re­spon­si­ble for the cost as long as it is equal to or less than its orig­i­nal pro­posal to build a fly­over ramp. If it is more ex­pen­sive, it would be up to the state to make up the dif­fer­ence. If, how­ever, the plan saves money, the state would share in the sav­ings, she said.

In re­cent days, both VDOT and rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Ex­press Mo­bil­ity Part­ners have met with res­i­dents, rais­ing hopes that a com­pro­mise can be worked out.

“The over­ar­ch­ing goal is to limit or re­duce the hor­i­zon­tal and ver­ti­cal foot­print of the project while still mov­ing more peo­ple safely and ef­fi­ciently,” Shaw said in an email. “Ev­ery ef­fort will be made to main­tain the hor­i­zon­tal and ver­ti­cal foot­prints that were pre­sented pre­vi­ously to the pub­lic.”

Con­struc­tion on the project is ex­pected to be­gin this year and be com­pleted in 2022. VDOT of­fi­cials said the ex­pan­sion will add 22.5 miles of road­way and will mean that, by 2040, about 150,000 more peo­ple each day will be able to move through the cor­ri­dor. Driv­ers will have the op­tion of trav­el­ing in reg­u­lar lanes or pay­ing a toll to use “ex­press lanes.” The toll, like those on the 495 Ex­press Lanes, will vary de­pend­ing on traf­fic.

Neigh­bors say they un­der­stand the need to ex­pand I-66 but add that they just want to en­sure that it’s done in a way that keeps their con­cerns in mind.

“We’re not try­ing to stop this project,” Heier said. “We’re try­ing to make sure it doesn’t for­get about us, run over us. I’m still hope­ful [we] can get back to a place where there’s more of a dis­cus­sion. In a way, it’s easy we all agree on one thing: Every­one wants traf­fic to get bet­ter here.’”

MATT MCCLAIN/THE WASHINGTON POST

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