I write to you as both a commuter and a resident who will be affected by the proposed changes to I-66.
I live in a complex of garden-style condominiums just behind a sound wall near exit 60. It is a lovely place for a home. Like so many of my neighbors, I chose Northern Virginia for my work and family because of the rich quality of life here. Proximity to the cultural and professional opportunities of a thriving metropolitan area is only part of the allure. The parkland, woods, protected watersheds, and trails are the real gems of the region.
Northern Virginia has done a superb job of maintaining green corridors throughout its various counties and districts, even as the population has ballooned. This makes owning a business and raising a family here an especially welcome prospect, and it is what differentiates us from the development monstrosities that litter the landscape of many of our suburban and urban counterparts.
It is admirable that our regional transportation agencies are working so diligently to respond to the needs of our expanding region. I-66 is the favored bugbear of locals, and it is understandable that this is where attention is currently focused. However, when it comes to projects like this, it’s been shown time and again that individual vehicle use increases as roads grow. For this reason, I am surprised that widening I-66 for more vehicle traffic is even being discussed. There is ample evidence that drivers will only shift to bike or public transportation options when driving becomes more arduous than the alternative. More lanes = more cars, longer commutes, and a miserable ride for everyone.
Alleviating the congestion here requires creative and integrated solutions. It is good to see bus routes included in this conversation. Expanded bus/train/metro service is a necessary but insufficient condition for sustainability. Truthfully, the most appropriate options for Northern Virginia are walkable, mixed-use office and residential developments with a variety of interconnected transport options.
That said, I understand that expanding I-66 is a likely outcome. The medium-term time horizon of many of our region’s residents and commuters all but guarantees this. Sadly, too many of my neighbors think only of easing their own commutes or protecting their own property values rather than ensuring a livable home for our grandchildren. I have spent enough time in cities like Dallas and Los Angeles to see the disastrous, ugly, and unlivable results of such shortsighted transportation “management.”
I would like my son’s children to inherit a place more inviting than a gordion knot of mega-roads choked with cars. As a homeowner who wants to sustain this livable community many generations into the future, I ask you to consider the following concerns as you proceed:
- Please do everything in your power to maintain the wetlands, mature trees, and other uncultivated greenery that abuts I-66 outside the sound walls. If any of this must be cut back for construction access, I urge you protect the land from development or structural change, and work to restore the greenery when the project is complete.
- Please refrain from bumping the walls further into our neighborhoods and parkland. The current border of the freeway already pushes up against countless homes and green spaces. Moving those sound walls further out would be devastating. Construction noise notwithstanding, the long-term impact of that lost acreage would destroy the livability of this neighborhood as well as many others. Here alone, an entire community comprised of hundreds residents would face a stripped concrete surface for decades to come, perhaps longer. The blight this would invite is a chilling prospect. Maintaining the narrow but delicate band of greenery that buffers our neighborhoods from the freeway is critical. Please do everything possible to secure the walls in their current locations.
- If the bike path being discussed comes to fruition, please treat it as the transportation route it is rather than as a “trail.” Again, the limited greenery on the outside of the sound wall is already threatened. A bike path is essentially another road of barren concrete. The nearby streets and the inside of I-66 are already designed for wheels. They can be adapted for bike lanes with much less damage to the mature trees, wetlands, brush, and wildlife habitats that flourish in the current I-66 buffers. Please keep road elements together in the plans, and keep our green spaces lush.
Thank you for considering these comments and concerns. You have my great appreciation for all you do for our region.
A Cautiously Optimistic Neighbor