VDOT continues construction of HOT ramp in face of protests

VDOT continues construction of HOT ramp in face of protests
The Seminary Road exit on I-395. (File Photo)

By Melissa Quinn

Despite protests from West End residents, the state Department of Transportation will proceed with construction of a high-occupancy toll lane ramp at Turkeycock Run.

The ramp, which will sit just south of the Duke Street exit going northbound on Interstate 395, will serve as the end point for a 29-mile stretch of HOT lanes running from Stafford County to Crystal City.

After construction on the ramp began, West End residents raised concerns about the possible pollutants emitted by motorists and their impact on more than 75,000 people living nearby.

Concerned Residents of Landmark, a grassroots group, commissioned an independent air-quality study, which found that idling vehicles waiting to enter and exit the interstate would emit toxic levels of pollutants, potentially causing asthma and bronchitis, said Mary Hasty, spokeswoman for the organization.

But the group is not asking state officials to move the ramp or abandon the project; it instead wants Richmond to sponsor an extensive study on the side effects of the exit.

“We would be fine with the ramp being where it is as long as a study was conducted by VDOT,” Hasty said. “Our only issue is the huge impact on public health that this project is going to have along the most densely populated area along the whole HOT lanes.”

Concerned Residents of Landmark reached out to local and state politicians, including U.S. Rep. Jim Moran (D-8) and state Sen. Dick Saslaw (D-35), in an effort to delay construction. Last month, Hasty joined Mayor Bill Euille and Sharon Bulova, chairwoman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, at a meeting with Sean Connaughton, the state secretary of transportation, and VDOT officials to discuss the construction.

“We thought the discussion was premature because you need to know what the impact is going to be,” Hasty said. “Our science is solid and speaks for itself. [VDOT officials] were nibbling around the edges.”

Maureen Barrett, an air-quality expert who conducted the independent study for the local group, also was on hand to discuss her findings, though Hasty said the results were not well received. State officials have previously shrugged off Barrett’s data and conclusions.

“We don’t accept that,” Hasty said.

Though the state objects to delaying the ramp’s construction, Connaughton did suggest moving the ramp to another location, said Steve Titunik, communications director for Virginia Megaprojects. But moving the exit farther north — to another location in Alexandria — would require the support of city council. And Euille said that’s unlikely.

“I made it crystal clear that this is a position the council would not buy into or change opposition on,” he said, referring to council’s stance against HOT lanes.

Connaughton, according to Euille, said relocating the exit would help spread out the impact of the lanes, thus lessening the effects on West End residents.

Bulova objected to moving the ramp farther south, saying it would violate VDOT’s contract and thus cost a substantial amount of money to break the terms. Her argument held little water with concerned West End residents.

“I don’t care how much money it is going to cost to change or break a contract,” Hasty said. “You simply can’t put a cost on the health of [thousands of] constituents.”

Titunik, though, said VDOT is continuing to review the ramp, even as construction continues. Euille hopes state officials and the ramp’s neighbors can come to an agreement.

“It’s a state project,” Euille said. “I made it clear where we stand, but we don’t have the authority to stop the project. It’s a matter of VDOT being receptive to the concerns expressed by the residents.