We’ve Been Kicked…by Route 66

The open wound called I-66, gouged through Arlington’s heart more than 30 years ago, came not from citizen demand but from economic and political overlords with dreams of development, profits and campaign contributions.

Those same folks are back again, as noted by the Connection’s David Schultz, with what they call their great “Idea 66” to widen this behemoth, because, argued by a staff person of Rep. Frank Wolf’s, “We’ve got to do something to relieve traffic.”

We know Wolf as the member of Congress who used to represent us and our needs. Well, Arlington is ancient history in his book; and the future he cares about is in his new district, stretching from Fairfax to Loudon, Fauquier and other far-out regions, some recognized as among the fastest growing counties in the nation. And his constituents, no doubt assisted by moneyed developers, are eager to get to DC, or wherever they’re going, by racing through this little pipsqueak called Arlington, if the naysayers there will just shut up and let the big cranes roll.

Our opposition to 66 has stuck in the craw of interest-dominated lawmakers since its inception; notably when then-Gov. Mills Godwin in 1975 personally held up any release of funds for Metro in Virginia unless 66 through Arlington was approved.

So, he and his cronies got 66 and it ate up acres of charm, replacing it with the 24-hour roar of traffic in our ears and tons of hydrocarbons into our children’s lungs. To give you some idea of what those with the political power and money did to us, just look at the photographs of some of the original construction of 66 at the Arlington Citizens for Sensible Transportation website:

But this is 2007 and Wolf, as his aide proclaimed, has “got to do something to relieve traffic.” What those folks did to our region, with the explosive and poorly planned developments and megatons of concrete, are not the responsibility of us Arlingtonians. Still, they rolled over us. They got their road and metro. Now, they want more.

The idea behind Metro was to lure people off of the roads and onto the trains, not expand the roads in the future. What reason is there to jump on the train, if you know your federal representative is going to ram through some more lanes to ‘whisk’ you to your far-out home?

For my mind, they ought to plow under the highway and put in some parkland. After all, Arlington is about ‘calming’ traffic these days, not ballooning it. We narrow neighborhood streets and even put boulevards in the middle of more-traveled roads. We’ve put a speed-activated stoplight at the bottom two hills, on what might be argued is another transportation corridor through Arlington, Wilson Boulevard.

Admittedly, there’s no turning back. But what allows these political and rich big boys to again transform Arlington? The highway exists and we live with it. But, we don’t have to live with what’s being proposed.

This expansion, which the “Idea” folks say is going to be “within the footprint” of the existing 66, is going to gobble up the Custis Trail and parks on both sides of the road. There’s no way any expansion can avoid destroying bike paths and valuable Four Mile Run ecosystems.

Remember when a fellow named Reagan fired the air traffic controllers for violating their “solemn oath” not to strike against the government? How does that logic on promises differ from Wolf’s attempt to violate the reasoned decision made by President Ford’s Transportation Secretary, William Coleman, who wrote in 1977 that Metro would be constructed between the two sections and that the road would henceforth be limited to four lanes of traffic. Reagan said “they broke a solemn oath.” What are today’s lawmakers doing to the Coleman ruling?

What would widening 66 accomplish? Instead of dumping two lanes of traffic into DC the road will screech to a halt to shoehorn three lanes into the District. What kind of sense does that make?

According to then-County Board Chair Chris Zimmerman, “the long term result of widening I-66 from four lanes to six would surely be swapping a four lane traffic tie-up for a six lane traffic tie up.”

Last month the federal and Virginia transportation departments conducted another of those ‘hearings’ that, in effect, tell people about the decisions that have already been made. But that’s no reason to give up. We need to ask Gov. Kaine to reconsider the project. We can continue to write Congressman Jim Moran and our U.S. senators; maybe the addition of Jim Webb to our delegation will offer some hope.

And stay informed on the developments via the sensible transportation coalition at Yogi famously said, “It ain’t over till it’s over,” and until the earth diggers and monster cranes are in place, we can still put up a fight.

Our Arlington and our way of life will not easily be trampled by purveyors of power.

Nick Penning is an Arlington freelance writer. His column, “Penning Thoughts,” appears in alternating editions of The Arlington Connection.

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