WASHINGTON - At the same time drivers sit in the bumper-to-bumper traffic that plagues weekday commutes on I-66, an in-depth discussion is going on in regards to long-term solutions to solve the congestion woes along one the busiest highways in our region.
Late last month, nearly 20 companies responded to a Request for Information (RFI) from the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) on how to solve the congestion.
The documents are now posted online, and reflect a complex debate about toll lanes, HOV rules, law enforcement, toll prices, public-private partnerships and the future of mass transit options, such as Metro, bus-rapid transit and light rail.
Among the RFI respondents were Transurban and Flour Enterprises, Inc. -- companies that teamed up to construct and operate the 495 Express Lanes and the 95 Express Lanes in development. Both touted experience in projects that could relieve congestion on I-66, such as toll lanes and extending the 495/95 model to I-66.
"Transurban believes the best option for relieving congestion in the I-66 corridor is a managed lanes concept that would increase capacity, provide new travel choices, enable express bus routes and other transit improvements," Transurban writes in its report.
"The inevitable complexity of construction in the I-66 corridor, substantial traffic levels, and the likely willingness of drivers to pay for faster travel options make the corridor an ideal candidate for a demand-risk public-private partnership," the company writes.
The proposed model would allow VDOT to own the roadway, itself, but lease it to Transurban exclusively, and allow the company to incur the costs to build the lanes, in exchange for controlling and keeping tolls collected to pay down debt.
"Flour (Enterprises, Inc.,) sees the likelihood or probability of success in using this P3 (public-private partnership) model for the I-66 corridor improvements as very high. Much of this is due to the extensive and successful experience that VDOT has with this model," Dan Stoppenhagen, executive director of transportation at Flour Enterprises, Inc., writes in its report.
"However, more importantly, the project fulfills a genuine need in the regional transportation network, and the resulting traffic demand increases the probability of successfully delivering this project years -- or even decades -- in advance of when it could have been (traditionally) delivered."
Abertis, which has an office in the District of Columbia, presented a different option from the Transurban-Flour model.
"Abertis suggests a project that first turns the existing HOV lanes to HOT Lanes. This would provide immediate relief before and during construction and expansion," says Abertis President Jordi Graelis in his report.
"Abertis also proposes adding an additional non-reversible lane in each direction, though, the availability of right-of-way could be a concern with this plan. One way to mitigate right-of-way needs is to shrink the width of the lanes from 12 feet to 11 feet and to subsequently reduce the speed limit (on I-66) from 55 to 45 mph for safety reasons. This solution will save space and money, and a guarantee of 45 mph should be sweet enough to entice toll payers."
Others companies -- such as Edgemoor Infrastructure, Clark Construction, Bechtel Corporation and Kiewit Infrastructure -- are contract engineers looking to construct toll lanes on I-66, but are uninterested and unwilling to operate or maintain the toll facility.
"Edgemoor does not look to take on traffic and revenue risk. If that is the firm direction of the Commonwealth, we would team with a concessionaire that specializes in taking that risk, and Edgemoor would not play a role in the sponsorship beyond delivery of the asset," Edgemoor Manager Director Greg Derby writes in his report.
Several of the contractors responding to the VDOT informational request pointed to the local toll roads that have gone under recently as a high risk, including Transurban-operated Pocahontas Parkway.
Transurban spokesman Mike McGurk told WTOP that the road -- which is south of Richmond -- is very different than the 495/95 Express Lanes and it would be wrong to compare the two.
The documents also reveal an interesting debate in regards to tolling. At issue: who would control toll prices, and would they be dynamic, like the 495 Express Lanes, or fixed, like the Dulles Toll Road and Maryland's Intercounty Connector.
"We suggest that I-66 use the same dynamic pricing model for its managed lanes to maximize the revenue and be compatible with I-495. We also suggest implementing a direct connection from the I-495 Express Lanes to the I-66 managed lanes. This integration is practical because the majority of expected toll revenue comes from the vehicles using the path connecting the two interstates," writes Joe Wingerter of the Kiewit Development Company in his report.
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