Kickoff to I-66 upgrade

Virginia Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne, Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) and Arlington County Board Chairman Libby Garvey (D) ham it up at a photo opportunity following the Aug. 1, 2016, start of a project that will bring high-occupancy toll lanes to Interstate 66 inside the Beltway. The event took place on the parking deck of Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, which is located above I-66. (Photo by Brian Trompeter)

Regrets? He’s had a few. And one of them relates to Arlington.

As he prepares to wrap up a four-year tenure as Virginia’s secretary of transportation, Aubrey Layne said the cancellation of the Columbia Pike streetcar project ranks as one of the major disappointments of his tenure.

The project, which had the strong support of state transportation officials, died when two members of the Arlington County Board (Jay Fisette and Mary Hynes) in 2014 switched sides and voted to kill it. Their defections took place shortly after John Vihstadt won a general-election County Board victory in what had been seen, in part, as a referendum on the streetcar project.

The decision by Fisette and Hynes gave the “no” side on the streetcar project four votes on the County Board, as both Vihstadt and Libby Garvey were critics of the project. Of those then on the board, only Walter Tejada remained a backer of the proposal.

(Tejada and Hynes left the board at the end of 2015, succeeded by Christian Dorsey and Katie Cristol, and Fisette is departing at the end of December, to be succeeded by Erik Gutshall. Since the 2014 decision, board members have not had the stomach to revisit the action, but theoretically could come back to it.)

The five-mile streetcar project, which would have connected the Pentagon City area with Skyline in Fairfax County, was projected to cost about $300 million. Supporters backed it as much for its economic-development potential as for its transportation value, since the project was unlikely to either take many private vehicles off the road or provide faster service than driving or Metrobus could provide.

The switch of Fisette and Hynes angered both state leaders and Fairfax County officials. The latter group was banking on the streetcar to provide development opportunities in the Baileys Crossroads area, with Arlington taxpayers picking up much of the cost.

Layne, who was appointed Virginia transportation secretary by Gov. McAuliffe in early 2014, will stay in state government under his successor; Gov.-elect Ralph Northam has announced plans for Layne to become secretary of finance in his administration.

(For the record, Layne’s other major regret during his tenure leading Virginia’s transportation agency was a lack of progress in expanding light-rail service in the Hampton Roads area.)

The final weeks of Layne’s tenure will coincide with the start, on Dec. 4, of “dynamic tolling” on the stretch of Interstate 66 between the Capital Beltway in Fairfax County and Route 29 in Rosslyn, designed to allow single-occupant drivers to use the roadway – for a fee – during rush hour.

State leaders are banking on the toll revenue to help fund transportation improvements in the I-66 corridor.

Electronic signs at entry points will show the price for up to three destinations; tolls will vary depending on traffic demand, but drivers will pay the price indicated for their destination when they enter the highway, and not be surprised by a change in the cost along the way.

Tolling for single-occupant vehicles will be in place from 5:30 to 9:30 a.m. eastbound and from 3 to 7 p.m. westbound on weekdays. Vehicles with two or more passengers will not need to pay tolls, and the lanes will remain free to all users during off-peak periods, including weekends.