Dynamic Use of Shoulder Lane to Ease I-66 Congestion Finally Becoming a Reality:
Next week VDOT plans to open the first phase of the I-66 Active Traffic Management Project (ATM) which will finally bring us the long sought after ability to use the shoulder lane as an extra driving lane during periods of non-peak I-66 congestion. This use of this existing infrastructure (the shoulder lane) should bring some short term relief to the ever present non-rush hour congestion on I-66. The concept is simple – open the shoulder lane when traffic congestion forces speeds to drop to a point where it is safe to open the shoulder lane in order to get people moving again. When traffic is moving at speed, the breakdown lane is needed in case of emergencies and the shoulder lane will be closed. Currently the shoulder lanes are only open during certain posted times when VDOT knows there will be enough congestion to reduce the speed limits. The ATM project will provide other benefits, but the major one should be the ability to instantly add more roadway capacity and get people moving outside of the currently posted shoulder lane use hours.
I first started advocating for added use of the shoulder lane when I joined the Board in January of 2008 as constituents asked why we could not just change the old X’s to green arrows and use the shoulder lane during periods of weekend congestion. http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/springfield/pdf_files/i66_shoulder_hov_ramps.pdf . Over the next year, VDOT engineers studied the ability to use the shoulder lane but figured out that the congestion was not predictable enough to set regular additional shoulder lane hours on weekends and it would have to be done dynamically through the use of the X’s. Unfortunately the price tag was $6 to $8 million to upgrade the then current X’s to meet the federal standard and allow for the shoulder to be dynamically opened and closed. At the time VDOT did not have the funds to proceed with the project. Undeterred these two engineers, Hari Sripathi and Kamal Suliman identified a federal “Active Traffic Management” program that would provide funding for a project that would allow the dynamic use of the shoulder. After a long federal process we should see the first phase of the $38M ATM project opening next week on I-66 outside the beltway.
In 2008, I laid out a 4 point plan to address short term solutions to reduce I-66 congestion while we worked forward a longer term solution. We were able to get additional posted hours approved for the shoulder lanes in 2008, in February, 2011 we were able to open the ramps at Stringfellow and Monument during non-HOV hours (at least in one direction), and very soon we will finally be able to use the existing shoulder lanes during period of congestion. Now, as I have said in my last Herrity Report, we need to expeditiously move forward with a longer term solution for I-66 congestion and turn dirt on an Express Lanes solution in 2017 to give commuters more transportation choices – HOV, express bus or tolled trip with guaranteed travel times, or a free car ride in regular lanes that are less congested due to the capacity added by the Express Lanes.