The aborted U.S. Route 460 Bypass apparently hasn’t soured the Virginia Department of Transportation on the idea of using P3s for major highway improvement. The agency has held conversations with five teams about the potential of using private dollars to help finance the addition of 25 miles of HOT lanes along Interstate 66 in Northern Virginia.

The teams, the members of which have not been identified, were consulted on ways in which a P3 might compare favorably with a public-finance option for reconfiguring the existing six- to eight-lane highway between the I-495 Beltway and Haymarket to include two HOT lanes and three regular lanes in each direction.

According to a VDOT statement, several teams “indicated that they could deliver the project with benefits to the Commonwealth that are materially similar” to those included in the agency’s risk/benefit analysis of a publicly financed effort, currently estimated by VDOT to cost $2.1 billion. 

As a result, VDOT Commissioner Charlie Kilpatrick has made a conditional recommendation to pursue a P3, a decision that will be reviewed by the state’s Transportation Public-Private Partnership Advisory Committee on August 17. A positive response could lead to the issuing of an RFQ as early as the following day.

Meanwhile, VDOT will continue to develop a public finance option. The agency expects to decide on a preferred delivery option by mid-October. The five-year construction program could begin as early as 2017.

Regardless of how the HOT project is paid for, any expansion of Northern Virginia’s primary east-west corridor will present a host of tricky design and construction challenges, including expanding the roadway through heavily populated communities of Vienna and Oakton where right-of-way is limited, as well as preserving the existing Metro Orange Line rail system and any future westward expansion.

Maintenance of traffic will also be an issue, especially during rush hours when one lane of I-66 is reserved for HOV users, and the shoulder lanes between Fairfax and the Beltway are utilized as travel lanes. Several interchanges are also congestion-breeding chokepoints even during non-rush hour periods.

VDOT is pursuing a concurrent, publicly financed program that will add rush-hour tolling to I-66 inside the Beltway, eliminating the current HOV-only restriction during those periods. Capacity expansion options along this 10-mile stretch of four-lane highway are limited, given the density of adjacent development and Arlington County’s longstanding resistance to large-scale expansion of any kind.

VDOT already operates dedicated HOT lanes along 14 miles of the Capital Beltway between Springfield and Tysons Corner, and 29 miles along I-95 south of the Beltway. The agency is currently exploring extending the Beltway HOT lanes another 8 miles across the Potomac River and into Maryland.