Growth Drives I-66 into a Bold Future

Article excerpt

Byline: Jim Watkins, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Time was when Interstate 66 was merely a convenient connection between Interstate 81 in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley and the nation's capital.

The highway has grown to corridor status as one of the region's primary arteries of growth.

Each morning, it facilitates the eastern flow of workers to jobs in Northern Virginia and the District. By evening, it leads homeward to growing suburbs and beyond.

It is a 76.8-mile length of modern highway, stretching from Strasburg, Va., to the District, crossing Arlington, Fairfax, Prince William, Fauquier and Warren counties. The breadth and intensity of growth along its path make it a corridor of substantial opportunities and challenges for the future.

"If you look at it, the growth is not just along the side of the highway," says John Dibiase, government and political affairs director for the Prince William County Realtors Association. "There is a broadening of the corridor."

Mr. Dibiase notes a number of projects under way on I-66 feeder roads, including Virginia Route 28, which connects to I-66 at Centreville, and the Virginia Route 234 bypass around Manassas, which connects at Gainesville in Prince William County.

There also is significant growth in the Haymarket area along U.S. Route 15.

In recently announcing $9 million in federal funding for reconstruction of the I-66/U.S. Route 29 interchange at Gainesville, along with other Northern Virginia projects, Rep. Tom Davis, Virginia Republican, said the funds were important to help ease "gridlock and congestion" so area residents "can spend less time in their cars and more time at work and at home with their families."

On a broader scale, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has been gathering public comment on an I-66 improvement plan (Idea-66). The comment period ends May 1.

Among the recommendations is the addition of a third lane reserved for high-occupancy vehicles (HOV), high-occupancy tolls (HOT) and/or an express bus lane within the existing rights of way between the Rosslyn Tunnel and the Dulles Airport Access Road.

The study suggests, as well, that the long-term solution to congestion on I-66 will have to include completion of the Dulles Metrorail extension in the 23-mile stretch between Virginia Route 772 in Loudoun County and the existing Orange Line with direct service to Tysons Corner and Washington Dulles International Airport.

The study says the Dulles Metrorail extension "represents the most significant transportation improvement in the study and is expected to have a major impact on the accessibility and transportation capacity of I-66 inside the Beltway."

Many residents of the I-66 corridor have opted to eliminate the car commute altogether. They are taking advantage of the nine stations of Metro's Orange Line in the I-66 corridor, including those in the highway's median.

Significant growth is occurring around those Metro stops, including "redevelopment" projects.

Clark Realty and Pulte Homes have plans to redevelop a former 70-acre neighborhood of single-family homes near the Vienna Metro station.

The project calls for high-rise offices with ground-floor retail and residential buildings close to the Metro stop. Midrise apartments and town houses are also part of the plan. In all, it should provide 2,250 housing units.

This is indicative of increasing developments along the I-66 corridor within walking or minimal driving distance from Metro stops that lead to jobs or urban amenities and recreation.

These mixed-use communities of offices, shopping, restaurants, condominiums, apartments and town houses are catering to home buyers who want the convenience of a short commute and the culture of a somewhat urban setting.

Farther west along I-66, though, affordability, a less urban lifestyle and access to the Shenandoah Valley, including recreational opportunities, seem to be the primary market drivers for home buyers. …