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What About the Roads and Rails?

Okay, so now we see local governments in Virginia and Maryland acting to slow the growth of their counties in response to traffic congestion brought on by development. We've seen that pendulum swing before.

But the developers do their thing for a living, and they pay attention all the time. Voters get mad every once in a while, then walk away from the table before the underlying problems are solved. So the governments may hit the brakes on development for a while, but you'll still be hitting the brakes on your way to work for years to come.

That is, unless people now put pressure on their governments to act on all the fine transportation improvement plans that are resting comfortably on the shelves. Development moratoriums are passive things, compared to the long, hard work involved in creating a better transportation system to support liveable communities.

And it's fine to come up with master plans and projects that cluster development around our transportation hubs -- as long as they really are transportation hubs.

Despite all the talk about Rep. Tom Davis's bill that offers the region a billion and a half dollars for Metro over 10 years, we still don't have a commitment from Virginia and Maryland state governments to provide the steady source of revenue to match the federal share.

During a Live Online discussion Monday, a participant asked what I would do if I had $50 billion to spend on the region's transportation system. I'd spend a lot on road improvements, because that would have the most impact on congestion. I'd finance the rail tunnel through Tysons so there wouldn't be an elevated line through that congested area. I'd pay for the Purple Line light rail through Montgomery and Prince George's counties and the Corridor Cities Transitway.

How about you? Fifty billion dollars is a lot of money, but only a fraction of what we need to battle our way out of congestion.

By Robert Thomson  |  December 6, 2006; 8:07 AM ET
Categories:  Transportation Politics  
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That's a whole lot of money. I agree with the priority of completing a Metro purple line, but I'm not sure about the underground line at Tyson's. An underground alternative to the proposed ground-level or raised system would be a far lower priority to me than a circle Metro line that followed the Beltway right-of-way and, even better, a complete outer beltway with all commercial trucking vehicles prohibited from the "Inner Beltway."

Posted by: Laurel, MD | December 6, 2006 9:37 AM | Report abuse

I work in Tyson's and grew up in the DC area watching Tyson's grow along with me. Keep it underground. The only thing that should be built above ground is a double-decker Rtes. 7 and 123. There's too much congestion already and you want to close lanes on Rte. 7 to build the Metro? I realize they'll open back up, but still I don't want to suffer through years of an even longer commute to work though it would be cool to be able to watch the trains out my office window.

Posted by: Tyson's Person | December 6, 2006 9:41 AM | Report abuse

The rail should be underneath in tysons unquestionably, regardless of this fictitious $50 billion - anyone who has been through tysons during rush hour knows that's a no brainer. There's only 120,000 people who work here - and 2 main roads to get in and out, as we are cut off by the beltway and 267 (gallows and spring hill don't count - 2 lanes).

Rail circling the beltway sure does sound nice, but for mass transit to work, people have to be within a 5 or even 10 minute walk of the station. Otherwise, high speed distance rail is the better option - and it probably would be to IAD anyways rather than have metro through tysons. I would have two stations on the periphery of tysons, and then have a network of trolleys (which could be underground) through tysons. Then only 2 more stops to get to IAD. Otherwise, you don't have anything rapid to IAD.

Other uses of $50 billion - outer beltway, or at least a bypass of DC for truck traffic. A connection between American Legion and Point of Rocks - a tunnel would be great, connecting 28 as it dead ends into route 7 at Dulles Town Center to the ICC. How many miles (and fuel and air pollution) would be saved by thousands of people every day?

Funding the current plans for metro (8 car trains all around and tunnels between Metro Center & Chinatown and Farragut West & North) should be easiest and utmost importance and not part of a fantasy payment.

Posted by: rail priorities | December 6, 2006 10:02 AM | Report abuse

I just want to get home. Get rid of all the traffic lights on supposed Parkways. Why did they make FFX Parkway with all those lights. Why can't they get rid of them. Removing the lights on FFX Parkway and Prince William parkway, let me throw in Route 7 and 28 too, will do more to eleviate traffic on 95, 495 and 66 then adding a lane to those roads because it would give people a reliable alternate route which they won't have to worry about sitting at 4 traffic lights in a mile all timed so only a few cars get through. No reason to widen these major interstates before we use the existing roads efficiently.

Posted by: AD | December 6, 2006 10:06 AM | Report abuse

Why don't we use the money towards what is already there first. Get all of the trains upgraded, and give the Metro workers a healthy raise, get a regional transportation system, no more county/city controlled transit systems; it's too confusing to take a Metrorail, connect to a DASH bus, hop on a Fairfax connector bus, then take Loudoun County transit back to downtown. Speaking of Loudoun County transit, it doesn't exist. 4 buses, none of them serving the actual county itself. You can't get from one side of Ashburn to the other by public transit. You can't get from Leesburg to Sterling on the weekend other than by car. If each county wants to have their own transit line, then actually make one, don't skimp out.

Posted by: Chris | December 6, 2006 10:13 AM | Report abuse

$50 Billion is a lot of money, but I honestly don't know how many miles of metro or miles of 4 lane parkway it buys you. That having been said, here's my transportation wish list for the holiday season:

1) Metro: underground at Tysons, and extended out to Dulles. Purple line around the top half at least. And while we're dreaming, some sort of really cool dual-track metro car that can ride the MARC line out to BWI, and preferably runs until 1AM. Get all three local airports on the metro, seemlessly. More parking at the metro stations would also be welcome. And maybe extend each line out radially a few more miles, and put a very large station on the end for car+rail commuters.

2) Roads: Oh, I don't know...maybe build a bridge somewhere between the beltway and point of rocks? How about at least the top half of the outer beltway, ICC + greenway from the ICC terminus across the river, through dulles, and merging onto 66 somewhere around centreville.

Posted by: StephenM | December 6, 2006 10:28 AM | Report abuse

How about adding another track/tunnel or two through downtown DC? Even with the Dulles extension, Purple Line and all of that, we still won't have done _anything_ to address the Achilles' heals of the system: the two-track system and shared tracks for Blue/Orange and Yellow/Green. Those two things limit capacity in the downtown core that amount of extension will fix.

This could either be an entirely new tunnel, such as one that goes down K Street, or at least adding additional tracks to the existing corridors (not easy to do, but might be possible either outside of or even under the current tracks. This obviously wouldn't cheap, but would allow more trains, the ability to go around stalled trains and the possibility of express service and the like.

Posted by: nashpaul | December 6, 2006 10:31 AM | Report abuse

1. Pedestrian tunnels connecting Farragut west and north, and one connecting Metro Center and Gallery Place.

2. Decouple the blue and orange lines, runnning a new "inner blue line" (or "Columbia Blue Line") through Georgetown, Dupont, Adams Morgan, and then along Florida to Benning Road. Connect with other lines at Rosslyn (orange), Dupont (red), Howard or U St. (Green & expanded yellow), New York Avenue (red) and a new station between RFK and Minn Ave (orange).

Posted by: washcycle | December 6, 2006 10:34 AM | Report abuse

(1) Underground Metro to and through Tysons, but NOT to Dulles. (See #2)

(2) Non-stop high-speed rail line connecting Dulles directly to Union Station along the model of the Heathrow Express.

(3) Rebuild some of our key highways along the lines of the 401 in Toronto or the Garden State Pankway from I-195 north to the Raritan River--i.e., separate express and local lanes with limited or no cross-over points. (I-270 has too many places where you can go back and forth.) I-395 would be at the top of my list for this. One of the major problems on that road is the horrible interchange design, especially at Duke Street and Edsall Road, where entering and exiting traffic must accelerate/decelerate and merge on/off in the right lane of traffic, thus slowing all lanes. US-50 in Maryland inside the Beltway and I-66 in Virginia outside the Beltway would be two other places.

(4) Build Phase VIII of the Springfield Interchange (direct HOV ramps between I-95/395 and the Beltway). This would eliminate the need for people to exit the express lanes in advance and mix with local traffic the way we must do now.

(5) Build the Barney Circle Freeway to connect the SE/SW Freeway to DC-295 via a full freeway connection. In conjunction with this, upgrade DC-295 to full Interstate standards and repave it.

(6) Reopen E Street across the Ellipse.

(7) Build a Circle Line for Metro along the model of the line of that name on the London Underground.

(8) Build a new tunnel across DC to separate the Blue and Orange Lines, thereby increasing capacity on each.

(9) Build the I-66 K Street Tunnel to connect I-66 across town to I-395 at the Thrid Street Tunnel.

(10) Upgrade New York Avenue to a full limited-access freeway from I-395 all the way out into Maryland.

(11) Build the final link in the Fairfax County Parkway across the Fort Belvoir Proving Grounds.

(12) Extend VA-28 north across a new bridge and around to link up with I-370 and the Intercounty Connector. Also, extend the north end of the Fairfax County Parkway to provide a direct link into this new road.

(13) Extend MD-210 southwest across the Potomac to link to I-95.

(14) Replace DC's signalized traffic circles with proper British-style roundabouts. Come to think of it, replace lots of subuurban traffic lights with roundabouts too--and direct the police to enforce laws requiring use of turn indicators.

(15) Build the proposed interchange at Van Dorn Street and Franconia Road.

(16) Rebuild the 14th Street Bridge to be the same width and number of lanes as the highways feeding it, thus eliminating the choke-down that happens every morning. Perhaps the new bridge could also be more elegant and befitting of a capital city. The current one is ugly.

(17) Build more pocket tracks or sidings on Metro--stub tracks where disabled trains can be shoved out of the way during rush hour so that everything else doesn't back up while a train is removed from service.

I have NOT included one of my major pet peeves--express tracks on Metro--because I doubt $50 billion would be enough! But all NEW Metro construction should include at least three, and preferably four, tracks. (Three tracks would allow for a peak-direction express, such as on the Flushing Line in New York.)

Posted by: Rich | December 6, 2006 11:03 AM | Report abuse

$50 billion is a lot of money and it would be a transportation engineers dream to have that much. If I had that much money...
1. Build the Purple Line (light rail).
2. Widen I-66 through Arlington.
3. Fix the I-270 & I-495 interchange.
4. Since the ICC is already on track, build it into VA to connect with the FFX Parkway creating an interstate bypass.
5. Fix the I-495 exits in Montgomery County so that traffic can be quickly removed from the Beltway and not backup.
6. Create a normal interchange on I-295 at the 11th Street Bridge SE to allow traffic going in every direction to easily travel in and out of DC.
7. Create a faster way out of NW be it on Conneticut Avenue or 16th Street NW.

That looks like $50 billion

Posted by: Anonymous | December 6, 2006 11:19 AM | Report abuse

"a billion and a half dollars"

That's one billion dollars and fifty cents. $1,000,000,000.50

Maybe it should be one and a half billion dollars. $1,500,000,000.00

Posted by: karen | December 6, 2006 11:36 AM | Report abuse

Let me echo the other sentiments - particularly the Heathrow Express style service. But this does not need to be done with a separate system! A third track on the Dulles line and on the Orange Line between Ballston and EFC will allow Dulles trains to run nonstop from at least Rosslyn in off peak hours, and from Ballston in peak hours.

A connector between Court House and Arlington Cemetery, and two additional tracks in the Blue Line Arlington Cemetery section, to allow a Dulles-National shuttle with stops at Rosslyn (a new platform will be needed) and Pentagon.

The Tysons tunnel, of course; but also a connector along the Dulles Toll Road allowing these high speed services to bypass Tysons. (A local would still run to the airport making all stops.)

The Purple Line in Maryland, of course.

I do like the extra Potomac River connector to Georgetown, but the only way I can think of is to build another bridge parallel to the Key, for rail and maybe pedestrians. Is there a way to make it look nice?

On highways, it's time to upgrade DC 295 to interstate standards (call it I-295) and complete the Barney Circle connection to I-695. I have never understood why this simple work has not been done. The "Howard Road Downtown" route to I-395 from the north is just nutty.

And why not include a transit component to the ICC? Even a busway would be better than what is planned now, which is nothing.

Posted by: andrew | December 6, 2006 2:13 PM | Report abuse

buy the cars from as many dc/surrounding residents as possible. have them sign contracts to not purchase another automobile so long as they live in the dc-metro area.
leads to>
demand for better public transportation- citizens will have the money to pay the taxes now.
and then>
I start the biggest used car lot in North Dakota.

Posted by: jt | December 6, 2006 2:18 PM | Report abuse

If I had $50 billion to spend on the region's transportation system, I would:

First connect the truncated freeways in DC - I 395 and I295; turn NY Avenue into an expressway (like they did Vine Street in Philly) from the stump of 395 to the BW Parkway; widen I-66 inside the Beltway (to hell with the NIMBYs who had it built too small in the first place); build the Intercounty Connector (ICC); build a new Potomac crossing to connect Rte 28 in Virginia with the ICC; create an express route from the Beltway to Waldorf by extending Rte 5; build an outer bypass on at least one side - either Maryland or Virginia.

After concentrating on long-overdue and terribly-needed roads, I would build what little additional rail is necessary - extending the Orange Line from Vienna to Rte 234 in Manassas; a spur from West Falls Church to Tysons; extending the Green Line towards Laurel.

As for the Purple Line, light rail won't outdo what buses already can. Same goes for a route to Frederick. And Dulles rail is completely unnecessary.

Posted by: CEEAF | December 6, 2006 2:26 PM | Report abuse

Dr. Gridlock, or anyone:

Can somebody please explain why we can't use bus rapid transit (BRT) - articulated buses on a dedicated transitway, instead of expensive rail for Dulles and for the Purple Line?

BRT is successfully used all over Europe, in Japan, and in US cities like Houston and Indianapolis.

The per-mile cost to build BRT is about 20% of the cost of building rail. And it costs much less in subsidies to operate and maintain. The difference could be spent to build/improve our inadequate road system - something that would REALLY help congestion.

Tell me, please. Why MUST it be rail?

Posted by: CEEAF | December 6, 2006 2:37 PM | Report abuse

CEEAF, here's what I remember from when the BRT issue was hot: The airports authority, which controls most of the right of way and now controls the project itself, doesn't want to have anything to do with a bus line. The authority's goal has always been to have a rail line to the airport.
Also, I recall that the landowner coalition that is helping to finance the line through Tysons did not want a bus line. The much lower cost of bus rapid transit appealed a lot to me. It seemed like a much more realistic match with the anticipated ridership. But there was a lot of transportation politics involved in the decision to go with a rail line.

Posted by: Dr. Gridlock | December 6, 2006 2:46 PM | Report abuse

I would take #1,2,3,5,8,9,10,12*,13,15,16 on Rich's list.

I'd add the caveat to #12 that no interchanges be built between the VA Line and Great Seneca Highway where Sam Eig Hwy now ends.

4,8,11 are already funded.

6 would take the Secret Service signing off, which would take more than $50bn to accomplish.

I'd add a few more things.
#1 - Require all buses routes in the area to run at least every 20 minutes on weekdays
#1a - Expedite equipping buses with GPS units so folks can look on their phones or online for the next bus arrival time.
#2 - Extend I-95 south from Beltsville along the PEPCO right of way into DC, to follow North Capitol Street down to the Third Street Tunnel. North Cap is a quasi-freeway for a good part of its length, and NE & NW DC would benefit from an easy gateway to downtown and BWI.
#3 - Scrap the ICC, and make MD 28 a parkway, much like Arlington Blvd in Arlington County, or Columbia Pike from White Oak to Ellicott City.
#4 - Make Arlington Blvd in Fairfax County look like Arlington Blvd in Arlington County - fewer lights, limited access.
#5 - Extend the Orange Line to Manassas. Bonus points if it can terminate in downtown Manassas, rather than on I-66.

Posted by: Joe | December 6, 2006 3:23 PM | Report abuse

Not related to this topic but this is on Metro's website. Haven't seen anything in the Post about it.
Thursday evening street closings near White House to cause detours

Street closings for the Pageant of Peace Opening Ceremony from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday will cause detours of buses operating near the White House and the Ellipse. Lines affected are:

the 13 on Constitution Avenue
the 30 line on 15th Street and
the H1, L1, P1, and X1 leaving Potomac Park
Customers are advised to plan to board and exit buses at stops outside the affected area.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 6, 2006 3:27 PM | Report abuse

50 billion is a lot.

I'd start with a lot more bike lanes such as in Rock Creek. What we have now forces Rock Creek riders on the road for several miles, slowing down drivers and putting riders at risk.

Bike lanes are cheap, good for the environment, good for drivers b/c they reduce the number of cars and congestion and they are fun to ride.

Posted by: Mike | December 6, 2006 3:41 PM | Report abuse

While extend orange to Manassas? There is already double track to Manassas and beyond that is used by VRE. That line could be upgraded for faster operation for MUCH less than building a whole new line down the I66 median! Norfolk and Southern - who maintain it very well - has already offered to sell the line to the state! The interchange with CSX in Alexandria, the bridge and track to DC & Union Station should be federalized because CSX is so incompetent at managing it.

Posted by: Another Laurel MD | December 6, 2006 3:49 PM | Report abuse

WMATA projects that the present Orange Line would be "at or near capacity" by 2020. Given what is described as the Orange Crush, it is hard to imagine how you could extend the Orange Line to Manassas and still have anyone fit on the trains by the time they got to Arlington. Just look at the stories in the article and the people pictured in the photo at . The article already describes people now who can't fit on the trains and have to let some go by before squeezing onto one. Extending the line to Manassas would only work if you could run express Metro trains from Manassas, leaving inbound local Metro trains to pick up people in the close-in suburbs and in DC. You would have to run only some (not all) of the trains to and from Manassas, like they do with Shady Grove and Grosvenor. If Metro were to expand, it really would need some of the extra tracks that Rich said he wasn't going to mention because the cost would be so high. In fact, it needs them now.

Posted by: Express tracks | December 6, 2006 5:10 PM | Report abuse

I'd concentrate on making our inside-the-beltway Maryland and Virginia suburbs and large parts of the District much better served by a combination of more Metrorail, new streetcar, new dedicated bus lanes and new and improved bikeways. Huge chunks of these older, mostly compact, already built-up areas (think Bailey's Crossroads, College Park/Riverdale and Northeast) get nothing better than bad bus service that sits on traffic choked roads. These close-in and transit-oriented urban areas deserve better. And the higher level of service could have a revitalizing effect.

Sure we should connect up the major centers outside the beltway to the core, but why should we continue pour money after bad land-use and development decisions in the outer burbs just because they are new? I'd invest the money where it could do the most good by impacting more people.

Posted by: Chris in Alexandria, VA | December 6, 2006 10:16 PM | Report abuse

Rich is spot on.

Extend Green Line to BWI. Amid all the talk about Dulles, Ft. Meade and BWI are the next traffic nightmares, thanks to BRAC.

Make Metro train car windows escape-able. Given the fatalities a few years ago in a MARC crash, and the possibility of an "incident" on a Metro train, the current labyrinth/tax code escape routes are something we should shudder to think about.

Posted by: Marcer | December 7, 2006 4:35 PM | Report abuse

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