September 24 Public Meeting: you want transit on I-66? know who to blame for current congestion?

The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation will host a public meeting on the I-66 Transit/Transportation Demand Management Study this Thursday, September 24, at Battlefield High School auditorium near Haymarket (see map).

This “I-66 Transit/Transportation Demand Management Study” will consider travel between western Fairfax and DC via US 50 between Fair Oaks and Arlington, and to DC from Manassas and Arlington via US 29, in addition to the 35 miles of Interstate 66 between Teddy Roosevelt Bridge and Haymarket.

The study’s focus is on short- to medium-term improvements that can be implemented over the next 5 to 15 years, especially Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), express bus service, carpooling/vanpooling, and park and ride lots.

Results of this planning exercise will provide input into the long-dormant I-66 Multimodal Transportation Environmental Study, and theoretically into the Virginia Railway Express (VRE) Gainesville-Haymarket Extension plans.  VRE has completed its final Alternatives Analysis Report, but the Potomac Rappahannock Transportation Commission has not announced any plans for implementing any alternative.

Anyone living near Gainesville knows that the traffic congestion is miserable, but most people stuck in traffic are allocating blame to the wrong people.  In the last 15 years, the elected Prince William County supervisors approved waaaay more houses than the western Prince William roads could handle.

For the last 50 years, there has been no link between land use planning (approved by county officials) and transportation capacity (planned and funded by state agencies).  The county’s Comprehensive Plan has always included a massively-optimistic transportation section.  It assumed VDOT would somehow ride to the rescue with new $$$billions to build new “lanemiles” before the new subdivisions approved by the county were completed.  You can see how well that has occurred in western Prince William – just look at the traffic jam on I-66 every weeknight.

Most Prince William roads are “free” to the county.  Roads in Virginia are built and maintained with state/Federal funds, except for a very few projects funded through local bonds. County officials have not been held accountable for transportation decisions.  Instead, every election the candidates blame Richmond for the traffic congestion created by the sprawl approved at the county level.

For 50 years, Prince William supervisors have approved new developments based on a Comprehensive Plan and local zoning, but without a realistic transportation plan.  The political calculus has been simple:  if the General Assembly refused to raise taxes or cut other state services to fund roads that subsidize sprawl – hey,  just blame VDOT, promise to “solve transportation” during the next campaign, and get re-elected.

After all, most Prince William residents have not caught on to the irresponsible decisionmaking of the county supervisors since the 1960’s… yet.

The VDRPT is a different state bureaucracy than VDOT, and is not the agency that builds roads.  Still, watch local residents focus their complaints on Thursday night.  See if the state officials get the major share of blame, and if county officials portray themselves as always solving and never creating the problem.


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