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Friday, March 18, 2005

I Can't Drive 66

The demands to widen Interstate 66 in Arlington have grown louder again.

I fully expect this to happen someday, and I fully expect it will do not one bit of good. For one thing, no one's talking about widening the tunnel in Rosslyn that's currently four lanes, which is just going to create a bottleneck at a different point on the freeway - presumably because it would be prohibitively expensive to do so in this time of limited budgets. Even if they do spend that kind of money to make I-66 six or eight lanes all the way to the Roosevelt Bridge, commuters will just respond to it the same way they respond to all other freeway widenings - by increasing traffic to the point where people will be clamoring to widen it again.

Arlington County never wanted this freeway in the first place, but agreed to it because it was four lanes, (mostly) carpool only during rush hour, and without large trucks. The result was an expressway that didn't damage and divide the community in Arlington in a way that many urban freeways did and still do. That Arlington wasn't interested in serving primarily as Fairfax (and now Prince William and Loudoun as well) County's driveway was obvious. I'm sure this widening will be very popular in the respective, almost entirely outside-the-Beltway districts of Tom Davis and Frank Wolf, which is why they're leading the charge to have it built.

When you build a new highway, people will start using it to capacity and beyond; you can't really build your way out of traffic congestion. Northern Virginia seems to built their own mini-Los Angeles, except without the beaches and mountains. To the extent there is a solution to this quandry, it lies in providing better public transit along key corridors (I-66, Dulles Toll Road, US Route 1) and between the job clusters that do exist (e.g. Tyson's Corner, Reston) in the area to alleviate some of the car travel in those areas. It would also help if density were concentrated in areas of existing transit facilities and discouraged in more remote areas. This could help remove the economic incentives that fuel suburban sprawl development.

But this being Virginia, I expect they'll keep building in their usual fashion until they run out of real estate and people on the far side of Richmond are getting up at 4 A.M. to get to the Washington area.


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