Thousands More People Per Hour Expected to Move Through Improved I-66 Corridor
Moving More People, Not More Cars: $3.7B Public-Private Partnership Project on Northern Virginia’s 22.5-Mile I-66 Corridor Adds Capacity by Expanding Travel Options
As population and traffic congestion grow in northern Virginia near Washington, D.C., “Our focus is on moving more people, not moving more cars,” said Susan Shaw, PE, Northern Virginia Megaprojects Director for the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT).
That’s why VDOT’s multi-billion-dollar Transform 66 project incorporates multimodal solutions to add capacity on Interstate 66 near the Capital Beltway (Interstate 495).
“Years ago, VDOT tended to focus on moving more cars by adding capacity,” Shaw said. “This project represents a broad-based approach to solving transportation challenges in a very urbanized environment. Our early studies said that if we just built pavement, we’d need nine additional lanes in each direction based on demand. There’s no way we’re going to have that big of a footprint. We’d have to wipe out communities to do that. We’re trying to improve the transportation system with as small a footprint as possible while being as efficient and effective as possible in moving people.”
VDOT developed two separate projects for the Transform 66 corridor. The Inside the Beltway project converted existing high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes to dynamically tolled express lanes during peak travel periods to move traffic faster. An additional $85.7 million of work over the next two years will further reduce bottlenecks. (See “Inside the Beltway” sidebar for details.)
To complete the $3.7 billion Outside the Beltway project, VDOT explored various delivery methods and ultimately formed a public-private partnership (P3) with I-66 Express Mobility Partners (EMP), headquartered in Fairfax, Virginia.
When the Outside the Beltway project finishes in late 2022, 2,000 to 4,000 more people an hour will move through the 22.5-mile corridor via express lanes, improved interchanges, more reliable bus service, and added capacity for bikes and pedestrians. In an area where travel speeds currently drop below 15 mph at times with higher-than-average crash rates, commuters will have more choices, improved safety, and faster, more predictable travel times.
Which Delivery Model?
When VDOT initially bid the Outside the Beltway project, “We wanted to look at the different project delivery models including owner financing and private-sector financing,” Shaw said. “That approach reflected some lessons learned on prior projects, but also a new focus in the state. We’ve made our evaluations more robust across all projects before we enter into a P3 where there’s a long-term financial and ownership arrangement.”
VDOT procured bids for three different delivery methods – P3, design-build, and design-build with a five-year, renewable operations and maintenance phase. In the initial bids, “We used confidential, indicative pricing to gather information for our analysis,” Shaw explained. “That gave us the data we needed to determine the best delivery model. Based on that information, the Commonwealth decided in December 2015 to continue the procurement process with P3.”
After another round of technical submissions and evaluation, VDOT awarded a 50-year concession contract to EMP – a consortium of Cintra, Meridiam, John Laing Group Plc., and APG – to finance, design, build, maintain, and operate the project. The agreement signed in December 2016 includes $2.3 billion in construction costs and an upfront payment of approximately $579 million that the state is using to fund additional transportation improvements in the corridor. Over the next 50 years, EMP will also provide $800 million for transit improvements and $350 million for other corridor improvements.
The design-build contractor for the project – FAM Construction, a joint venture between Ferrovial Agroman US, based in Austin, Texas, and Allan Myers, VA Inc., headquartered in Worcester, Pennsylvania – contracted directly with EMP.
Early construction activities for the Outside the Beltway project began in late 2017, then major construction commenced in April 2018.
How Vehicles Travel Faster
“One of the big changes in the corridor is providing a choice for people to drive on the express lanes congestion-free,” Shaw said. “Today, because of extended hours of congestion, it’s a very unreliable trip.”
Currently, one HOV lane spans the length of the corridor. However, “It’s not barrier-separated in any way so it breaks down with the rest of the lanes because there’s a lot of traffic that merges into and out of the HOV lane,” Shaw said. “The new express lanes will be separated by plastic bollards, similar to what we have on the Capital Beltway.”
In addition to converting the HOV lane, crews will build a second express lane in each direction, additional access points to the express lanes, new toll gantries, and pricing signs. Solo drivers will be able to use the express lanes by paying dynamic tolls based on demand, while vehicles with three or more people can use the lanes for free.
Improvements to the corridor’s other lanes will enhance safety, capacity, and operations, Shaw said. “We’re not adding any general-purpose lanes, but we’re looking at some of the hot spots in the corridor and improving those locations.”
Crews will also work on 65 bridge structures – 31 new bridges, 15 bridge replacements, 14 bridge widenings, and five bridge modifications. Almost 30 miles of auxiliary lanes will be added, especially on the heavily traveled eastern end of the corridor.
In addition, the project includes work on 12 interchanges. At Route 28, four traffic signals will be removed by mid-2020. “Huge volumes of north-south and east-west traffic move through that interchange, so there’s a lot of investment in that area,” Shaw said. “The new interchange will offer multiple connections between multiple systems – we’ll have express to express, express to general-purpose lanes, and general-purpose to express lanes. We’ll have a lot of opportunities for people to make choices.”
In addition to the options for drivers, the project incorporates improvements that expand choices of travel mode. For instance, 13 miles of parallel shared use paths will be built, and that number reaches 18 miles when including crossings, connections, and off-corridor trails constructed as part of the project.
The improvements will also improve bus service. “Today, buses enter the interstate on the right-hand side with all the other traffic, then weave across to the left HOV lane; when they’re ready to exit they do that in reverse,” Shaw said. Through the Outside the Beltway project, “Buses will have direct access to the express lanes at specific locations.”
To make bus access and carpooling more convenient, new and expanded park and ride lots will provide more than 4,000 new spaces, with direct access to the express lanes.
“We want to give people travel choices,” Shaw said. “Maybe a bus becomes more palatable when you can be sure how long the trip will take, and better access shortens the route.”
The project also sets the stage for the future. Currently, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Metrorail runs through the median in the eastern two-and-a-half miles of the corridor. “When we rebuild bridges over I-66 or do interchange work, we’re making sure to leave enough room in the middle area for a later extension of Metro,” Shaw said. “We’re making an investment today for something that’s planned for the future.”