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Announcing an advancement toward the project’s construction start two years ago, Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican, said the lanes would not only stimulate the economy, but also “bring congestion relief and new travel choices to Northern Virginians.”

Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, a Democrat who represents Northern Virginia, said initially he heard mixed feelings from his constituents about the project, but opinions have swayed in favor of the work which relieves “the horror of the commute on 95.”

“This is not the be-all and the end-all. We’ve got to be creating lots of other solutions,” he said, referencing transit extensions, additional capacity on the Virginia Railway Express commuter line, retrofitting existing roads and bridges, straightening bottlenecks, and adding interchanges. “Sometimes even modest improvements at a bottleneck can make a dent in the commuting pattern.”

But not everyone is so sure the express lane project was the best solution.

Whether the effect on traffic will be a positive one is what Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, is worried about.

“It’s a huge expensive experiment,” Mr. Schwartz said of the project. “We’re still upset [the Virginia Department of Transportation] never considered other options such as maintaining the current and additional extended lanes solely for HOV and express lanes.”

“We’re unsure what this will do to a very successful slugging system,” he said of the widely used but unofficial method of commuters hitching rides from other commuters at roadside meeting sites to meet the HOV requirements. “Whether it will cause slugging and carpooling to decline in the corridor” no one knows.

The coalition is also concerned that workers in the area might just consider working closer to home, or from home, given the rapidly expanding region.

“It becomes a never-ending cycle. At a time when tax dollars are stretched so thing, people are locating housing closer to jobs, closer to high-capacity transit,” Mr. Schwartz said. “To us, so much about this project mirrors what VDOT has done all along: Start from the conclusion and work backward. The VDOT approach is that sprawl is inevitable and you have to have the capacity to handle traffic that results. To us, their approach is like digging a hole in the sand at the beach. There’s always more sand.”

But VDOT officials say they do realize there’s a limit on how much they can increase capacity on existing roadways. If the department had decided to expand the lanes, that would have required more time and money to take up more rights-of-way and purchase of private property.

“The amount of housing development along the 95 corridor is feeding the beast of the job market in the D.C. area,” VDOT spokesman Steven Titunik said. “VDOT has to keep up with it. We will never win the battle of better lifestyle for commuters and motorists if we keep expanding. You can’t build your way out of congestion.”