This 2000 photo shows Interstate 66 (Custis Memorial Parkway) looking east from the Scott Street overpass in Arlington. In the center of the photo is the Key Bridge Marriott, the oldest surviving original hotel in the Marriott chain. (Photo by Nick Klissas.)
FROM THE POTOMAC TO THE BLUE RIDGE MOUNTAINS: As early as 1941, the route of what is known today as I-66 was included in the War Department's strategic network of interregional highways. During the war years and in the immediate postwar era, the general routing of I-66 from today's I-81 east to Washington was maintained in every proposed system map. The Federal Bureau of Public Roads (BPR) approved the basic routing of I-66 in 1956 as part of the Interstate highway system.
In the initial planning stages, I-66 was planned with six lanes from I-81 east to the Fairfax County line, and eight lanes east through Fairfax and Arlington counties; however, I-66 was built initially with four lanes from I-81 east to US 50 and six lanes from US 50 to I-495 (Capital Beltway). By the middle of 1958, most of the route from I-81 east to VA 123 in Fairfax had been mapped out, but the final route from Fairfax to the Potomac River was the subject of controversy. The Virginia Highway Department (VHD) considered four separate alignments through Fairfax and Arlington counties:
Fairfax Drive-Bluemont Drive / Washington and Old Dominion right-of-way through Arlington, then along new right-of-way (current alignment of I-66)
Current alignment of VA 267 (Dulles Airport Access Road / Dulles Toll Road), then along a new more northerly right-of-way
Reconstruction of existing US 50
Reconstruction of existing US 29
In June 1959, the VDH selected the Fairfax-Bluemont-Washington and Old Dominion alignment for I-66, defending as the least expensive and disruptive among the four potential alignments. The cost for the new I-66 "inside the beltway" alignment, which was to have eight lanes, was $68 million.
I-66 was to leave Virginia over a new Potomac River span at Constitution Avenue, which eventually was renamed the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge. The American Automobile Association (AAA), which had pushed the VDH to select this alignment, applauded this decision, as did officials in Arlington County. In later years, however, Arlington County officials had a change of heart regarding construction of I-66.
Early in the planning stages, it had been planned to cross the Potomac over a new span at Arizona Avenue, though the VDH dismissed this alternative as being too disruptive to communities and not providing adequate access to the proposed freeway system in the District of Columbia. The Arizona Avenue Bridge alternative also generated its own controversy on the District side of the Potomac, particularly as it was to connect to the Northwest Freeway (unbuilt I-70S / I-270).
CONSTRUCTION WEST OF THE BELTWAY: Although the section of I-66 east of the Capital Beltway arguably was the most controversial of any Interstate highway built in Virginia, it also took a long time to build I-66 west of the Beltway. By 1975, less than half of I-66 through the state had been built as follows:
December 1961: 8.6 miles from EXIT 43 (US 29) in Gainesville to EXIT 52 (US 29) in Centreville
May 1962: 3.3 miles from VA 731 in Fauquier County to EXIT 23 (US 17 / VA 55) in Marshall
June 1964: 1.4 miles of the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge approach in Rosslyn (Arlington)
November 1964: 12.9 miles from EXIT 52 to EXIT 65 (I-495 / Capital Beltway) in Falls Church; this section was built with a wide median for additional lanes and a possible rail transit corridor
October 1971: 6.6 miles from EXIT 1 (I-81) in Strasburg to EXIT 6 (US 340 / US 522) in Front Royal
In its early years, the completed 21.5-mile-long section of I-66 from the Capital Beltway west to Gainesville served as an important radial link from the Beltway and helped usher the growth of suburban Fairfax County. However, with links to the east and west still missing, concerns grew that I-66 never would be completed.
Construction of I-66 west of the Beltway appeared more secure, even though it was not completed west of the Beltway until 1980. Sections of the remaining I-66 west of the Beltway progressed as follows:
October 1977: 1.3 miles from VA 55 at Delaplane to VA 731
June 1978: 1.6 miles from EXIT 23 (US 17 / VA 55) to VA 647 / Free State Road east of Marshall
August 1979: 1.3 miles from VA 647 to EXIT 28 (US 17) east of Marshall
August 1979: 14.3 miles from EXIT 6 east to VA 55 at Delaplane
December 1979: 11.7 miles from EXIT 28 east of Marshall to EXIT 40 (US 15) in Haymarket
December 1980: 3.1 miles from EXIT 40 in Haymarket to EXIT 43 in Gainesville
This 2004 photo shows the westbound I-66 at EXIT 57 (US 50 / Lee Jackson Memorial Highway) in Fairfax. (Photo by Laura Siggia Anderson.)
CONTROVESY INSIDE THE BELTWAY: In the decade following the approval of I-66 east of the Capital Beltway, the VHD had acquired 94% of dwellings and 84% of the right-of-way from Falls Church east to Rosslyn, and nearly 500 families had been relocated. However, the state delayed construction because of (1) the passage of new laws in 1966 (the "Section 4(f)" legislation restricting highway construction through parkland) and 1970 (requiring extensive environmental impact statements); (2) negotiations over continued passenger rail operations on the Washington and Old Dominion Railroad, on whose right-of-way I-66 was to traverse; and (2) a protracted fight over not only the construction of I-66, but the location of its companion route, the I-266 / Three Sisters Bridge spur to Washington.
Design hearings were underway in 1970, and in January 1971, the VDH reaffirmed the original eight-lane design for I-66. With construction imminent, opposition groups formed, the most notable of which was the Arlington Coalition on Transportation (ACT), which sought to replace I-66 with a Metro extension along the right-of-way per the Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority's (WMATA) plan for the line adopted in 1968. ACT, along with a coalition of other groups and individuals, filed suit in US District Court to halt all future right-of-way acquisitions and construction, stating that plans for I-66 did not comply with Section 4(f) guidelines as its construction would require the taking of 15.5 acres of parkland. The US District Court rejected the suit in October 1971, but in April 1972, the US Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the lower court decision. The Fourth Circuit ruling prohibited further right-of-way acquisition and construction unless it filed an environmental impact statement and found no reasonable alternative subject to Section 4(f) guidelines.
Back to the drawing board, the VHD began comprehensive studies of the route in September 1972, resulting in a draft environmental impact statement in November 1973. Public hearings on the different alternatives, which included a no-build (baseline), Metro-only, and a variety of partial-build options (including a two-lane-only, reversible facility), took place in December 1973.
On the basis of these hearings, the VHD developed a preferred alternative, an eight-lane I-66 with median Metro option, in its final environmental impact statement in July 1974. Two months later, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) rendered its opinion and required the VDH to reduce potential impacts to the area. The VDH re-submitted its plan to the FHWA in November 1974, this time with the roadway reduced to six lanes (three in each direction)
On August 1, 1975, Norm Coleman, the Transportation Secretary under President Ford, rejected the FHWA-VDH "six-lane with Metro" proposal. However, Coleman did not rule out a scaled-down proposal that would combine a four-lane I-66 with a new Metro line, and in December 1975 interview with The Washington Post, he said the following:
I know this is going to make my environmentalist friends unhappy, but in Northern Virginia there is a great need for some method of moving traffic and cutting down the traffic jams on US 50 and the George Washington Parkway. Second, we've got to build a highway to move traffic swiftly from Washington to Dulles Airport.
The need for a compromise solution was growing. Officials in Fairfax offered their own solution in the form of a four-lane highway--not necessarily an Interstate highway--that would be open exclusively to carpools and buses 24 hours a day. However, with Interstate highway funds the only source of funding available, this was not a viable solution. Time also was running out to complete the 98-mile, $4.6 billion Metro system, and Virginia officials held up construction of the Metro there unless I-66 was approved.
This 2004 photo shows the eastbound I-66 near milepost 70 in Arlington. Sharing the center landscaped median are the two tracks of the Metro-Vienna line, and on the right is a multi-use trail shared with a utility right-of-way. (Photo by Laura Siggia Anderson.)
THE "COLEMAN COMPROMISE:" On January 5, 1977, in one of this last acts as Transportation Secretary under President Ford, William Coleman approved the construction of a four-lane I-66 between the Capital Beltway and the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge approach in what became known as the "Coleman Compromise." The compromise was tied to promises from Virginia--now under the auspices of the Virginia Department of Highways and Transportation (VDHT)--that it would complete the Metro system in Northern Virginia. As Metro related specifically to I-66, Coleman required Virginia Governor Mills E. Goodwin, Jr. to transfer $30 million in highway funds to Metro (later raised to $38 million) marked originally for I-266 construction so that it could complete the rail line along the I-66 median from VA 120 (Glebe Road) west to I-495. (The rail line actually emerges above ground west of George Mason Drive.)
Even though the compromise had been struck, Virginia was at first unwilling to produce the $38 million in matching funds to complete the Metro rail line. According to The Washington Post, both the District of Columbia and Maryland had contributed nearly $900 million toward the construction of Metro, but Virginia had contributed nothing. Brock Adams, the Transportation Secretary under President Carter, threatened to suspend construction of I-66 until Virginia transferred the $38 million to Metro, which it did in 1978.
With the federal government giving the go-ahead on construction, the ACT and other groups opposing I-66 did not go down without a fight, seeking the courts as a means to fight its construction. Two federal court decisions in 1978 and 1980--one of them unanimous--paved the way for construction, and even though ACT had the option to appeal these decisions to the Supreme Court, it ultimately decided not to pursue this route.
DESIGNING A PARKWAY-LIKE INTERSTATE: Under the "Coleman compromise," this section of four-lane I-66 was subject to the following permanent restrictions:
HOV: Vehicles were required to have four or more occupants during peak weekday travel hours (HOV-4), except those traveling to and from Dulles Airport. Buses were permitted on I-66 at all times. This restriction was relaxed to HOV-3 (three or more occupants) in 1983 and to HOV-2 (two or more occupants) in 1995.
Truck restriction: Trucks were prohibited from using I-66 at all times. The exceptions were limited to emergency and maintenance vehicles.
The "Coleman compromise" ordered a parkway-like design for I-66. About six miles of the 9.6 miles of I-66 were to be built below grade level; the excavation required to place I-66 below grade level displaced six million cubic yards of dirt. Sound barriers, vegetation, and other features also were required to mitigate the adverse effects of I-66. There also was to be a 900-foot-long, cut-and-cover tunnel built atop I-66 along the northern edge of Rosslyn; atop this tunnel was to be a 3.7-acre park connecting downtown Rosslyn with the Potomac waterfront. To maintain street-grid continuity, several local street overpasses were built over I-66 in addition to those built for major arterials.
On December 22, 1982, the "inside the Beltway" finally was opened to traffic. The final cost of the I-66 extension was $285 million, well above the 1976 pre-construction cost estimate of $170 million and the original 1959 estimate of $68 million. The VA 267 (Dulles Airport Access Road) connector to I-66 was finished in 1984, while the Metro line in the I-66 median was not completed until 1986.
This 2004 photo shows the eastbound I-66 near EXIT 55 (VA 7100 / Fairfax County Parkway) in Centreville. (Photo by Alex Nitzman, www.aaroads.com.)
According to VDOT, I-66 carries about 30,000 vehicles per day (AADT) along its rural stretch west to EXIT 40 in Haymarket. However, volumes increases dramatically to 75,000 vehicles per day near Manassas, about 125,000 vehicles per day through central Fairfax County, and about 170,000 vehicles per day along the stretch between EXIT 57 (US 50) and EXIT 65 (I-495). Volumes drops off to about 100,000 vehicles per day "inside the Beltway," though a considerable portion of this traffic carries at least two or more occupants.
EXPANSION WEST OF THE BELTWAY: From the 1980s through 2010, I-66 was expanded to eight lanes (from four) from EXIT 57 (US 50) in Fairfax west to EXIT 43 (US 29) in Gainesville, with the left lane in each direction reserved for HOV-2 traffic. The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) considered plans to expand the widening west to EXIT 40 (US 15) in Haymarket, and although the state shelved these plans indefinitely in 2009 due to budget constraints, such plans remain under study.
The section between EXIT 57 (US 50) and EXIT 65 (I-495) has maintained its six-lane configuration for through-traffic lanes, but new collector-distribution (C/D) roads and extended exit-only lanes were built to relieve congestion over the years. Nevertheless, with the left lanes in each direction now reserved for HOV-2 traffic, and with additional widening in this area seemingly unlikely, VDOT has permitted the use of shoulders for through traffic in peak-period directions. Although the use of shoulders for through traffic removes a key safety feature of I-66, VDOT countered in a 2008 Washington Post interview (when shoulder use hours were extended) there was no significant increase in accidents when the shoulders were used for rush-hour traffic. There are nine emergency pull-offs along this stretch for disabled vehicles.
SPOT IMPROVEMENTS EAST OF THE BELTWAY: The easing of the four-lane restriction stipulated by the "Coleman compromise" in 1999 paved the way for VDOT to reconsider widening I-66 "inside the Beltway." As was the case decades earlier, however, a group of community and environmental activists forced VDOT to drop plans for a full-scale widening to six lanes along the entire stretch. Instead, VDOT plans three spot widenings along the westbound lanes as follows:
EXIT 72 (US 29 / Lee Highway) west to EXIT 71 (VA 120 / Glebe Road) in Arlington; in planning stages
EXIT 71 west to EXIT 69 (US 29 / Lee Highway and VA 237 / Washington Boulevard) in Arlington; completed in December 2011 at a cost of $14 million
EXIT 68 (Westmoreland Street) in Arlington west to EXIT 67 (VA 267 / Dulles Airport Access Road); in planning stages
In each case, the westbound acceleration and deceleration lanes will be lengthened to form continuous auxiliary lanes between each ramp. A new 12-foot-wide emergency shoulder will be built with full-strength pavement capable of carrying traffic during emergencies.
THE ORIGIN OF THE CUSTIS NAMESAKE: I-66 is ceremonially named the "Custis Memorial Parkway" for its length inside the Capital Beltway. Members of the Custis family were prominent participants in Virginia civic, political, and religious life from the late 1600s through the late 1800s, and one of its members, Daniel Parke Custis, was the first wife of Martha Washington (née Dandridge).
This 2004 photo shows the eastbound I-66 near EXIT 75 (VA 110) in Arlington. The headquarters of USA Today is on the right. (Photo by Laura Siggia Anderson.)
SOURCES: "Approach for Airport Urged for Highway 66" by Muriel Gunn, The Washington Post (6/18/1958); "AAA Backs Route in Arlington," The Washington Post (10/15/1958); "Link Picked for Route 66 in Arlington" by Laurence Stern, The Washington Post (6/06/1959); "Arlington Officials Will Ask If Interstate 66 Will Have Room for Transit Facilities," The Washington Post (8/06/1959); "Virginia Approves Next to Last Link of Interstate 66," The Washington Post (8/25/1962); "Highway, Metrorail Suggested in I-66 Corridor" by Douglas B. Feaver and Stephen J. Lynton, The Washington Post (12/12/1975); "Accord Sought on I-66" by Douglas B. Feaver, The Washington Post (12/18/1975); "Arlington Board May Shift on I-66" by Deborah Sue Yaeger, The Washington Post (12/24/1975); Secretary's Decision on Interstate Highway 66, Fairfax and Arlington Counties, Virginia, U.S. Department of Transportation (1977); "US To Halt I-66 Unless Virginia Pays Metro" by Douglas B. Feaver, The Washington Post (1/13/1978); "I-66: Another Court Victory," The Washington Post (3/16/1978); "Virginia Highway Chief Reassures Arlington Officials on I-66" by Sandra G. Boodman, The Washington Post (3/29/1979); "Court Lets I-66 Ruling Stand," The Washington Post (4/15/1980); "I-66 Opening Tentatively Set for December 22" by Jack Eisen, The Washington Post (4/24/1982); "A Long Road" by Stephen J. Lynton, The Washington Post (12/22/1982); "I-66 Inside the Beltway Feasibility Study," Federal Highway Administration and Virginia Department of Transportation (March 2005); "Parts of Interstate 66 Slated for Widening" by Steven Ginsberg, The Washington Post (11/27/2005); "Virginia Extending Shoulder Use on I-66" by Robert Thomson, The Washington Post (8/08/2008); "I-66 Spot Widening To Start" by Robert Thomson, The Washington Post (6/08/2010); Nick Klissas; Scott Kozel.
I-66 shield by Ralph Herman. HOV lane shield by C.C. Slater. Lightposts by Millerbend Manufacturing Company.