- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 20, 2005

A plan to ease congestion on Northern Virginia’s stretch of the Capital Beltway moved ahead yesterday, as state transportation officials approved widening the traffic-choked road to 12 lanes between Springfield and the Dulles Toll Road.

The decision by the Commonwealth Transportation Board comes more than four years after officials began studying the environmental impact of widening the eight-lane road. The federal government must approve the study before construction can begin.

“Today was a milestone,” Joan Morris, a spokeswoman with the Virginia Department of Transportation, said. “Another option the board could have considered was 10 lanes.”

It was not certain how the Beltway’s expansion would be funded. VDOT is in negotiations with a private company to help pay for the project, Ms. Morris said.

Fluor Virginia Inc. wants to build two high-occupancy toll — or HOT — lanes in each direction. The new lanes would be free of charge to high-occupancy vehicles such as buses and car poolers, but solo drivers would have to pay to use them.

“With toll lanes, we’re kind of a reluctant bride at the altar,” said Lon Anderson with AAA Mid-Atlantic. “I think as gridlock gets worse, people will pay to use the lanes.”

Mr. Anderson said tolls are likely the only way motorists will see expansion on the region’s roads until state legislatures decide to better fund transportation.

Construction to widen the Beltway could begin in a couple of years if the environmental impact statement is approved by the government and negotiations go smoothly with a private partner, Ms. Morris said.

Also yesterday, transportation officials voted to continue studying two proposals to add privately financed toll lanes to Interstates 395 and 95.

Fluor has proposed a $1 billion project that would improve 54 miles of the heavily traveled corridor between the 14th Street Bridge in Arlington and Massaponax, Va. As part of that project, the two existing HOV lanes would be converted into three HOT lanes from Arlington to Dumfries, Va.

Clark Construction Group also has submitted a $407 million proposal that would widen 36 miles of I-95 from the Springfield Interchange to Route 17 in Stafford County, Va. That plan also calls for converting HOV lanes into HOT lanes, but over a shorter distance.

“We’ve got lots of questions for both of these groups,” Ms. Morris said. “But the decision today was to move ahead and let’s take this to the next stage of review.”

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