The Virginia Department of Transportation’s plan to toll solo drivers on Interstate 66 inside the Capital Beltway seeks to address a complex transportation problem with no easy answers. Among the groups that have taken an interest in the project is the McLean Citizens Association (MCA), which is concerned that the tolls might divert commuters from I-66 onto McLean neighborhood streets.
“As you are aware, so-called ‘cut-through’ traffic on local McLean streets is already significant in volume and is a major concern of the community,” wrote James A. Robertson and James S. Phelps, co-chairs of MCA’s transportation committee, in a letter to Helen Cuervo, administrator of VDOT’s Northern Virginia district.
The committee had not taken a position on the controversial toll proposal but wanted to better understand the logic behind it. Accordingly, Robertson and Phelps asked for copies of any VDOT or VDOT-sponsored studies of predicted driver reactions to tolls, dynamic tolling and toll increases, including analyses of driver sensitivity to price changes. A seemingly simple request.
About three months later, Cuervo wrote back, providing a brief description of the toll proposal and the justification for it. She concluded:
VDOT has studied potential impacts on a number of surrounding local roads and does not anticipate negative traffic impacts on traffic flow as a result of the I-66 Inside the Beltway Project. Our team currently is in the process of updating our traffic analysis to include the eastbound widening plans, and plan to release this additional study to the public in fall 2016. As we move forward with this effort, public input will continue to be a top priority. We look forward to continuing to work with you in order to keep your community informed.
That was it. No studies. No documentation to back up the statement that VDOT anticipated no negative impact on local roads. I love the part about working with the MCA to “keeping your community informed.”
My correspondent, known to readers of the blog as TMT (short for Too Many Taxes) was not pleased. “Why won’t VDOT release the price elasticity information or state it didn’t use any? This is another reason ordinary people have trouble trusting government and why we see phenomena like Sanders and Trump.”
TMT, I sympathize. Welcome to the world that journalists deal with every day — getting non-responsive answers to requests for information. But I have a much better solution than voting for Trump or Sanders. File a Freedom of Information Act request! There are many advantages to going the FOIA route: (1) VDOT cannot dodge, duck or weave; it must respond; (2) VDOT cannot wait three months to get back to you; it must comply within 30 days (as I recall); and (3) you don’t have to explain why you want the information; just ask for it.
FOIA isn’t just for journalists. Citizens can use it, too. Check out The Document Project in which citizens made aggressive use of FOIA to lay bare the cronyism in Virginia Beach real estate development. Indeed, not only can you obtain formal reports or studies, a FOIA report can scoop up any email discussion relating to traffic diversion onto local streets. Go for it!There are currently no comments highlighted.