I-66. Photo by drewsaunders on Flickr.

BeyondDC broke some exciting news. Thanks to the efforts of Arlington Board member Chris Zimmerman, who also sits on the Metro Board of Directors and the Council of Governments’ Transportation Policy Board, it’s the policy of the Washington Metropolitan Region not to widen I-66 at this time.

To recap, I-66 is two lanes in each direction as part of a deal struck with Arlington when the freeway was built. But VDOT now wants to add “spot improvements”, merge and weave lanes which are so long that the new lanes will span more of the freeway than not. As Michael revealed in October, VDOT was claiming these improvements would have no environmental impact, relieving them of the need to actually issue an EIS and follow process. Yet VDOT didn’t even know if the widening would induce new traffic, cause more accidents, or even speed up traffic at all.

The decision came in a TPB meeting yesterday about how to spend the region’s stimulus money. As BeyondDC explains, VDOT never considered other options, like transit or Transportation Demand Management strategies, preferring instead to ram a widening through the approvals process. The widening is “shovel ready”, but analysis of other alternatives is much farther behind. Zimmerman used this fact to get an amendment passed that removed the widening from the region’s list.

VDOT won’t stop trying, but they’re blocked for now. In the meantime, we need to find ways to change the culture at VDOT (and MDOT). The federal government, probably rightly, prefers to give money to state Departments of Transportation and regional Metropolitan Planning Organizations, and let them decide what to do. DC’s isn’t eager to run out and build that many new freeways, but Maryland’s and Virginia’s are. The planners there mean well, but many of them are used to building big roads, and so they plan more big roads to build.

As long as projects like Crain Highway or the “Techway” keep coming out of VDOT and MDOT, we’re fighting an uphill battle to keep the states from spending most of their transportation budget promoting car dependence and sprawl. We need a VDOT that seriously wants to use a variety of techniques to solve problems, from roads to busways to light rail to bicycle infrastructure and more, and seriously evaluates all of those before jumping to any one solution.

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Surface Transit. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions here are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.