For an estimated price of between 10 cents and $1 per mile or more, motorists at the opening of the planned Capital Beltway high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes sometime in 2013 may very well find themselves racing past stalled traffic in the regular non-toll lanes.
But for residents living near the 14-mile stretch of I-495 in the Springfield Interchange to just north of the Dulles Toll Road where the HOT lanes will be installed, the potential loss of quality of life during and after a planned five-year construction period may be too high a cost to pay.
The Ernst Theater at Northern Virginia Community College in Annandale was filled to about three-quarters capacity on the evening of May 20 with residents and others, some of whom gave comment, during a public hearing meeting on the HOT lanes project hosted by the Virginia Department of Transportation. A similar second meeting was held on May 21 at Marshall High School in Falls Church.
Audience members spoke after VDOT project manager Ronaldo Nicholson presented an overview of the $1.4 billion project, which is a public/private partnership between VDOT and the companies Fluor and Transurban.
With preparatory work already started in April, the project will consist of two HOT lanes in each direction operating alongside four free non-toll lanes in each direction. The HOT lanes will be free for buses, carpoolers, motorcycles and emergency vehicles. Vehicles carrying fewer than three passengers will pay a variable-price electronically transmitted toll.
The variable nature of the toll, which increases with an increase in traffic congestion, is designed to control the number of toll-paying cars in the HOT lanes and keep the lanes free flowing at a targeted minimum of 45 miles per hour.
Businesses and residences will remain accessible during the half-decade-long construction period, Nicholson said.
All of this, however, means there will be delays for several years, he said, noting delays would probably be compounded due to concurrent construction work on most of Northern Virginias major highways.
During the public hearing portion of the meeting, representatives of Inova Fairfax Hospital requested that designs be revised to include exits from the HOT lanes onto Gallows Road so that ambulances traveling on I-495 HOT lanes can make their way to the hospital by the fastest and shortest route.
Several residents from Lafayette Village, a community of about 300 homes along the Capital Beltway between Little River Turnpike and Gallows Road, wanted contiguous and uninterrupted sound walls installed to protect residents from noise pollution.
Eight homes in Lafayette Village along northbound I-495 just south of Gallows Road are designated for demolition due to widening requirements of the right-of-way in the immediate area. They are the only houses slated for demolition along the 14-mile stretch.
Ravensworth community residents also requested that VDOT construct sound walls along busy Braddock Road near the beltway. They also wanted information on any plans to widen Braddock Road near their neighborhood.
One man suggested that any sound walls installed be placed back far enough from the highway to allow for future construction of a rail line that would run alongside the beltway.