Relief may come for I-66 commuters

I-66 (Photo: Gail Pennybacker)

The Virginia Department of Transportation is offering a new plan that it says will relieve traffic on one of America's most congested roadways.

“The problem is the sheer volume on the road, it can't handle all the cars,” said Manassas resident Jana Horne about the stretch of I-66 between D.C. to Haymarket, Va.

I-66 is in line to get the D.C. area's first active traffic management projects.

Technology such as cameras and lane sensors will monitor traffic and then relay that information to drivers. Using $32 million in federal funds, a 34-mile stretch of I-66 will be equipped with the technology.

“We can immediately flip a switch, we can display a message to change that lane to a red x and an amber arrow to start moving people away from that lane,” the Virginia DOT’s regional operations director Hari Sripathi says.

Messages will be relayed with gantries, overhead signs and text messages, but driver Bob Bishell says the overhead signs seem the best option to him.

“That would more sense than trying to read something,” said Bishell, who lives in Fairfax.

The plan would use shoulder lanes as through lanes to move traffic in case of severe or sudden congestion. Shoulder lanes have been used for years in a limited fashion on I-66, for example to ease rush hour traffic.

John Townsend with AAA Mid-Atlantic says relying on shoulder lanes is troubling.

"Interstate 66 is one of our area's most challenging and congested roads," Townsend says. "By using the shoulder as a roadway, it creates a dangerous situation for all motorists."

Townsend suggests that any plan should include law enforcement to help keep "scoflaws" from using shoulders as open roadway.

Details will be discussed at a public hearing at VDOT Headquarters at 6pm at 4975 Alliance Dr. in Fairfax, Virginia. Construction will begin on east and westbound lanes of I-66 by early next year. The plan is set to be implemented by 2014.