On June 22, County Board Chairman Jay Fisette issued this letter in response to a May 28, 2010 letter from the Northern Virginia Transportation Coalition and others requesting the County Board withdraw its lawsuit regarding the project and work with the Commonwealth to advance the project.
June 22, 2010
Northern Virginia Transportation Coalition
7600 Colshire Drive, Suite 215
McLean, Virginia 22102
Attention: Robert O. Chase, President
Dear Mr. Chase:
I am writing in response to the May 28, 2010 letter signed by you and a number of representatives of business interests in Northern Virginia requesting the Arlington County Board to withdraw its lawsuit regarding the I-95/395 HOT lanes project and work with the Commonwealth of Virginia to advance the project.
You may be surprised to learn that Arlington has attempted to engage the Commonwealth in constructive discussions about its concerns with the project for some time, both before and since the suit was filed. Notwithstanding the County’s efforts, the Commonwealth has been unresponsive.
As is true for all of the localities within the project corridor, Arlington has a number of concerns about whether HOT lanes are the best way to address the serious transportation problem in the I-95/395 corridor. However, it has never been the County’s goal to prevent the project from advancing. The HOV lanes have for more than forty years contributed greatly to the movement of people both through transit and high occupancy vehicles, and any changes to those lanes must not degrade that success. Arlington recognizes, nonetheless, that the highway is a Commonwealth asset and the Commonwealth has the authority to determine how it is used, including for commercial use by a private entity. Accordingly, Arlington’s objectives have consistently been to protect the movement of people so the HOV lanes are not sacrificed for private financial gain, and to properly analyze and mitigate secondary impacts, such as traffic impacts on local roads and air quality degradation.
Arlington has concluded that the categorical exclusion granted by the Federal Highway Administration was improvidently granted. It is apparent that the analysis done by the Commonwealth and its private partner was deficient in a number of respects. The assurance the Commonwealth repeatedly provides that, to quote your letter, “the HOV lanes will operate better than they do today and support increases in carpooling and buses” is based on this flawed analysis. Arlington maintains that further analysis in several areas should be performed to correct the analytic deficiencies in what has been done to date. It is essential that this be done to avoid the certain gridlock that will engulf the HOV lanes and local streets at each access point, and further degrade the already seriously impaired air quality in the corridor. This further analysis can be done in a short period without extraordinary cost, and is expected to identify impacts that will need to be addressed in the project design. Such analysis is something no one should object to. Whether it confirms conclusions reached by the Commonwealth, or identifies where additional mitigation measures are needed, the time and expense are investments to ensure not only that the project functions as the Commonwealth says it will, but also so we all do not come to regret committing the HOV resource to private hands.
As I said, despite overtures by the County to discuss a solution, the Commonwealth has thus far not responded. The concern you have expressed that the Commonwealth cannot re-examine design and access issues while the suit is pending is unfounded. The Commonwealth has consistently been re-examining design and access issues, and continues to do so. The suit precludes nothing including constructive, confidential settlement discussions. There are those who say the Commonwealth has no present intention of advancing the project and prefers to blame this on Arlington. I do not subscribe to this view and remain hopeful the Commonwealth will engage Arlington in good faith discussions so that the County’s concerns, and the Commonwealth’s interests, can advance.