Monday, July 23, 2007

Bicycle crossings needed in Beltway HOT Lanes project

VDOT and a private contractor are in the midst of negotiating the final details of the Beltway HOT Lanes project. In May of this year FABB sent a letter to Transportation Secretary Pierce Homer expressing our concerns about the lack of bike facilities as part of the project. On June 1, 2007 WABA sent an alert with similar information, asking Virginia cyclists to contact VDOT and the County Board. Thanks to the many cyclists who sent letters of support.

In Secretary Homer's response he states that: “VDOT understands the importance of integrating bicycle and pedestrian facilities into the project, and is currently evaluating several design alternatives that include bicycle and pedestrian facilities.” We would like to see these plans.

Since that time little information has been forthcoming from VDOT about the project. We met with an engineer who said that bicycle facilities would be very expensive, and that VDOT and the contractor, Fluor/Transurban are negotiating what will be included in the project.

We are concerned that final plans are being developed with little or no public input. VDOT will likely hold public hearings soon. Meeting are being held this week on the 95/395 HOT lanes project. From what we can tell, the meetings were announced on July 18, less than a week before the first meeting, which is being held tonight.

Cyclists must be prepared for the Beltway HOT lanes public hearings. Information about the project is available on the VDOT web site. Documents related to the project are on the contractor sponsored site, The Documents and Resources page contains links to the Final Environmental Impact Statement, April 2006 [Warning: Large pdf; to view download and view locally], among others.

In the Final EIS VDOT claims that “The Existing Trails Map and Countywide Trails Plan [Also large pdf files] were reviewed to ensure that none of the existing or PLANNED trails within the study area would be affected by the project.” From what we've seen, this is not true. No bike lanes will be built as part of the project and the bridges will likely not be wide enough to accommodate them in the future, and yet bike lanes and major trails are planned on several of the crossings.

Delegate James Almand, 47th District, agrees that bike facilities should be part of the project. The Final EIS contains a letter from him (p. A-27) that states in part: "I would support inclusion of separate protected bikeways along the Beltway and safe bike crossings built into construction plans. I would also support walking/running trails to be placed alongside, separate from the bike trails."

As we receive more information about this project we will pass it on.

Update July 25, 2007: Congressman James Oberstar, Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, does not have a high opinion of public private partnership agreements for building highways. From a May 10, 2007 open letter from him and Congressman DeFazio, also of the Transportation Committee: "We write to strongly discourage you from entering into public-private partnership ("PPP") agreements that are not in the long-term public interest in a safe, integrated national transportation system that can meet the needs of the 21st Century...The Committee will work to undo any state PPP agreements that do not fully protect the public interest and the integrity of the national system."

Update 2 July 25, 2007: On June 5, 2006 the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors sent a letter to Secretary of Transportation Pierce Homer in support of including bike/ped crossings on ALL of the existing crossings of the Beltway as part of the HOT lanes project. They said: "Because the Capital Beltway currently acts as a barrier to non-motorized transportation options, pedestrians and bicycles must be accommodated at all crossings of the Beltway, and connections to adjacent existing and planned trails need to be completed as part of the project."

Update 3 July 25, 2007: On June 7, 2007 Providence District Supervisor Linda Smyth held a seminar on the HOT lanes projects. VDOT and Fluor/Transurban staff discussed the project and answered questions. If it's a really slow night and you want to learn more about the project, check out the video of the seminar on YouTube. The question and answer session begins about 57 minutes into the session.

With the information above and more information expected to be posted soon, we'll try to put together a separate FABB HOT lanes information page in the near future.

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