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Two Highway Projects Advance

Two highway deals announced this month will affect thousands of drivers in Virginia over the next few years: Construction of the High Occupancy or Toll lanes along the Capital Beltway is scheduled to begin in the spring, and construction of the final, crucial segment of the Fairfax County Parkway is scheduled to begin in 2009.

Both projects are important for commuters who are likely to face increased congestion in the next few years because of the military base relocation program and the increasing development at Tysons Corner. Each project faced obstacles of the type that were bound to be overcome, because local leaders believed that the consequences of inaction would be dire. (The same will someday be said of the Tysons rail project.)

The big project in dollars and distance is the $1.4 billion, 14-mile HOT lane program along the region's busiest highway. The deal between the state and the private consortium of Fluor-Transurban sets up the Washington region's first experiment with highway lanes dedicated to both carpoolers and drivers willing to pay for the privilege of riding in congestion-free lanes.

Maryland isn't following the same course. The intercounty connector in Montgomery and Prince George's and the express toll lanes under construction on I-95 north of Baltimore will not be free for carpoolers. Maryland thinks that dual-use feature is too complicated.

This is some of what the private consortium is required to do as part of the Virginia deal:

-- Finance and build two lanes in each direction on the western side of the Beltway. Construction costs may not exceed $1.4 billion. The project must be completed before spring 2013. (The HOT lanes will be in the middle of the Beltway.)

-- Finance and build three new access points from the Beltway into Tysons Corner, build HOV connections from I-95 to the Beltway, reconstruct and improve more than $250 million worth of bridges, traffic lanes, overpasses, interchanges and signs.

-- Finance all but $409 million in project costs.

-- Accept the financial risk if HOT lane use does not meet expectations or if construction costs exceed the estimate.

-- Manage and fund all operations and maintenance of the HOT lanes, including the collection of tolls from those vehicles that don't qualify as HOV. (Tolls will be collected at highway speeds, via transponders, similar to the E-ZPass system. The tolls can vary, depending on congestion, but Virginia says the average cost of a trip during the morning or afternoon rush is likely to be five or six dollars.)

What Virginia does: Provides $409 million to support construction of the connection at the Springfield Interchange, improvements to the I-66 interchange, participation in the regional congestion management plan and reconstruction of bridges along the Beltway.


The other highway deal involves Virginia and the U.S. Army. As the expansion of Fort Belvoir approaches, they have finally reached an agreement on extending the Fairfax County Parkway two miles from Rolling Road to Fullerton Road, much of which is within the Fort Belvoir Engineering Proving Ground .

Virginia will provide $114.7 million to the Federal Highway Administration, acquire right of way for four lanes and maintain the parkway after the job is done.

The Army will provide the right of way through the proving ground, limit the total number of personnel at the proving ground to 8,500, cover the cost of modifying the construction plan to accommodate the BRAC improvements, complete the environmental cleanup of the right of way through the proving ground and pursue plans for five other road projects providing access to the proving ground.

In a statement, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly explained why this deal is important: "Our commuters have been waiting for the completion of this missing link since the cross-county parkway was first envisioned more than 40 years ago. The parkway already is a critical north-south corridor for the region, connecting major residential, job and recreation centers. The BRAC [Base Realignment and Closing] movements only amplify the need to complete this connection."

Construction between Rolling Road and Fullerton Road is scheduled to be done by the end of 2010.

By Robert Thomson  |  December 26, 2007; 9:26 AM ET
Categories:  Construction  
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Comments

Agreed that the final unbuilt segment of the FFX Co Pkwy is critical for the south county particularly in light of the huge influx of jobs going down to Fort Belvoir and the tremendous growth in the Fairfax Station/Lorton area in recent years.

Dr. G, do you know anything on the status of plans for improvements to the Fairfax County Parkway between US 50 and I-66? The signalized intersections at Monument Dr and Fair Lakes Pkwy are disasterous particularly on big shopping days. I know there were designs set out for this project but I wasn't sure on the status of funding and any construction timeline.

(With that said, I really think the length of the FFX Co Pkwy between the Toll Rd and I-66 needs to be 6 lanes, either that or upgrading some of the problematic intersections, e.g. taking out the signals and putting in interchanges. The intersections at West Ox and Sunrise Valley are two of the worst.)

Posted by: xyv1027 | December 26, 2007 10:50 AM | Report abuse

As usual, it appears they underestimate the portion that the tax-payer will pick up to sell the deal. If anyone thinks all that is going to get done on $409,000,000, you've been sleeping under a rock.

It was honest to compare the Va deal to Maryland's $2,400,000,000 ICC toll road, which will be 24 hour Lexus lanes with no break for car-poolers.

Posted by: Donny | December 26, 2007 11:40 AM | Report abuse

What is really missing is something to fix the busiest section of the beltway, from I-66 to I-270. This critical section will dump more traffic on it from the HOT lanes right at the worst possible spot - just before the Legion bridge. Maryland needs to get off their rear end and connect to these lanes to increase capacity, since they aren't building anything between Point of Rocks and Cabin John at this point.

Maryland is right though - this "free for carpoolers" business is way too complicated and ripe for abuse. Carpoolers get a break anyways - they share the cost of the tolls. That should be enough incentive for carpoolers to use those lanes.

Thank goodness the ICC will be available to relieve mid-northern MoCo soon.

Posted by: Steven | December 26, 2007 11:56 AM | Report abuse

I'm unclear on one aspect of the HOT project. If I enter the HOT lanes, say, in Springfield, am I correct in understanding that the only places to leave the HOT lanes are at the interchanges? That is to say, there will be no slip ramps back and forth from the HOT lanes to the regular lanes of the sort that exist between the express and local carriageways on I-270? One reason I wonder about this is that the information I've seen on the HOT lanes talks about how the signs will display the price "for the next segment," and so I was unclear about whether this meant that if you're in the HOT lanes and approaching the next "segment" (whatever that means), and you decide the current toll rate is too high, must you exit the Beltway altogether, or is there a way back into the free lanes?

Posted by: Rich | December 26, 2007 12:09 PM | Report abuse

Whether you call them Lexus lanes, HOV, or HOT, segregated lanes are losers because of the shoulders. Look at I-95 south from Springfield. To get only 2 lanes of traffic going in one direction, you needed two more lanes of shoulders, let alone any potential lanes you could have picked up from the dividers and separation. If they had just added lanes to the existing roads, they could have gotten at least additional two lanes in each direction - twice the added lanes. And one of the commenters is correct - when the HOV/HOT lanes rejoin the road there is a massive backup/accident opportunity on both sets of lanes, just look at the end of the I-95 south HOV. Additionally, the need for added interchanges - flying over the entire roadways on both sides - adds hugely to the cost of the Lexus lanes, not to mention to the complexity and time of construction-related congestion for the normal lanes. Don't get me wrong. At the end of a weekend coming from the south it is wonderful when the HOV is with me. But it is terrible when the HOV is against me and I could be benefiting from two more lanes in whatever direction I'm going.

Posted by: Steve | December 26, 2007 1:11 PM | Report abuse

Good point about the HOT/HOV lane limitations, but are you serious about the $2,400,000,000 ICC toll road "relieving" MoCo traffic? Which roads or intersections will benefit? The State Highway Administration's own study states plainly that beltway traffic will NOT be relieved at all and neither will any north-south routes?

No one can actually describe how any traffic will be relieved by the ICC? My own estimate is that the biggest benficiary might be Randolph Road rolling east-west, but we have to consider that most of that traffic is local to the roads spinning off of Randolph Road itself. Any benefit will further be limited by the $14 per round trip ICC toll - which most drivers will NOT and cannot afford to pay.

Where will the $2,400,000,000 ICC relieve traffic in MoCo? We are all curious...especially since we are paying for it.

Posted by: Donny | December 26, 2007 1:34 PM | Report abuse

"Dr. G, do you know anything on the status of plans for improvements to the Fairfax County Parkway between US 50 and I-66?"

I'm curious about the status of this project, as well. Tall Timbers Drive (I think that's what it's called) -- the road that connects North Lake Village with Monument Drive -- has just been completed and, if I'm recalling correctly, that was one of the prerequisites for starting work on that section of Fairfax County Parkway.

As I recall, the idea was to put in an overpass at Fair Lakes Parkway, eliminating the stop lights there and at Monument. I think they were also going to add an extra traffic lane in each direction.

Posted by: Rebecca in Fair Lakes | December 26, 2007 1:46 PM | Report abuse

So, Virginia's only contribution is the $409 million. I wonder who will pay all those tolls?

Posted by: washcycle | December 26, 2007 2:14 PM | Report abuse

Yes, Donny, the ICC will relieve Muncaster Mill, Norbeck Road, Olney Laytonsville Road, 108, and 198 to name a few. Do you have any idea how dangerous those roads are? How overburdened they are? And how much worse they will get without the ICC? Spot improvements would never cover it - the people want to keep the idea they are in a "rural" area and the NIMBYs would never let them make these silly rural roads into real thoroughfares as they are being used now, and will be used for decades to come.

And your toll comments miss the point - people pay tolls when it makes sense. We are adults; we can decide if the toll is worth it or not. If you are going to miss picking your child up at child care, at a rate of $2 / minute, a $7 or less toll to be on time makes a lot of sense. Or, if you are trying to get to BWI to make a flight to the remote lot, $10 / day cheaper than the daily lot, the toll makes a lot of sense. Like most roads, a lot of the users won't use the entire length of the road; they will use portions - say, from Georgia Avenue to I-95.

As far as the funding issue, the feds are paying over half the cost, the tolls (paid by the users of the road) will pay another portion of the cost, and the state and county pay the smallest portion. If the ICC had been built even only 10 years earlier, the cost would have been less than half. This is the cost of delaying and then attempting to appease every party. Paralysis by analysis, as Doug Duncan used to say. Those state and fed funds would never have gone to MoCo anyways; the feds would be building some useless road in South Dakota instead and the state probably paying for some rural county to get good access to its fast food from the interstate in a short-sighted attempt to increase jobs.

One need look no further than California for the success of toll highways, how users adapt and how successful they have been.

Posted by: Steven | December 26, 2007 2:34 PM | Report abuse

To Donny:

This post isn't to bash what you stated, but to answer your questions and clarify some things.

The purpose of the ICC is not to relieve congestion on the Beltway. And since when is an east-west route suppose to ease traffic on a north-south route??? That's like saying Randolph Road is suppose to relieve congestion on Georgia Avenue. The purpose of the ICC is to:

A) expidite east-west travel in the state by linking the I-270 Technology Corridor with I-95 and BWI Airport and

B) take the burden off rural east-west roads in Montgomery County that can no longer handle today's traffic volume.

Try driving from Gaithersburg to BWI Airport or driving from Laurel to Rockville during rush hour along Norbeck Road.

As for the price of the tolls: Montogomery County, northern Prince George's County and nearby Howard County are all affluent areas to a certain extent and I'm sure commuters can afford and be willing to pay the tolls to expidite their commute. And for airport travelers: if paying a toll to use the ICC means a quicker drive to BWI Airport, I'm sure they will be willing to pay the toll also. The $14 round trip figure is an estimate from end-to-end, US 1 to I-270. As Steven stated, not everyone will drive the entire route, just portions, ie Georgia Ave to I-270.

True an argument can be made that Randolph Road is used by mostly local residents, but it is also a major east-west route, starting as Montrose Road in Rockville and terminating as Cherry Hill Road in College Park. To get an idea of how a highway relieves congestion on local roads, just take a trip up to Anne Arundel and Howard Counties. MD 100 has taken the burden off of MD 103 and MD 176 (Meadowridge and Dorsey Roads) thus giving those roads back to local residents. If the ICC takes only one car off Randolph Road, that will be one less car on that route causing congestion for local residents.

Posted by: Build the ICC Finally | December 26, 2007 3:53 PM | Report abuse

Well, I appreciate hearing the pro-ICC side of the argument, however, we'll have to agree to disagree. Unfortunately, the only way to resolve this is to charge the public $2,400,000,000 and built the ICC (if it can be built for that). Even then, the $14 per full round-trip toll will keep most drivers away and I think traffic will not be relieved.

We'll see. My fiscal concern is this...when the liberal toll revenue projections don't will the coffers, we'll have another tax hike. Additionally, this could be WAY more than $2,400,000,000 to built the ICC. I just read that Massachusett's "Big Dig" started off costing $2.5 billion and ended up over $12 billion. Food for thought.

Posted by: Donny | December 26, 2007 6:57 PM | Report abuse

One more point, regarding the ICC's high toll ($7 each way per trip). For those wanting to get to BWI quicker, be sure you understand that the Dulles toll road (which takes you directly to the airport) is only 75 cents each way. The ICC will cost NINE times that and will NOT take you near the airport...it will merely dump you into I-95 northbound with over 20 miles still to go.

I'm no fan of Dulles nor its toll road, but I think we can all agree ... it has done nothing to relieve No Va traffic.

Thanks.

Posted by: Donny | December 26, 2007 8:45 PM | Report abuse

I have lived in Washington long enough to realize that more and wider roads ALWAYS leads to more traffic congestion. I remember when they opened all those fresh new lanes on the Beltway back in 1986. Ahhhhh.....it felt so good, for about a year, until all the new capacity induced new demand that filled the Beltway back up. We should be focused on transportation alternatives, not new and bigger roads.

Posted by: anon | December 26, 2007 8:54 PM | Report abuse

"transportation alternatives, not new and bigger roads"

Why not both?

Posted by: Andrew | December 26, 2007 10:14 PM | Report abuse

I don't give a damn about the HOT lanes because I think they are a waste of money and another indulgence for the elite. I'm reminded enough about that whenever I drive through Clifton, Great Falls and Langley.

Finishing the parkway is really overdue. We have been denied the pleasure and the ease of cross county travel for long enough. I was beginning to think I was living in Maryland, with all the delays. At least it won't take 50 years.

Posted by: Michael1945 | December 26, 2007 10:20 PM | Report abuse

Actually, it doesn't cost any tolls to go to/from Dulles Airport - the "Access" Road is free. It's the "Toll" Road and Greenway that you get tolled.

And yes, we need both transit alternatives and roads.

Posted by: wlevey | December 26, 2007 11:36 PM | Report abuse

Good point and thanks for correction. So, we go from publicly funded, public access roads to partially tolled roads priced at 75 cents to 24/7 completely tolled roads priced at $7 each way per use. The height of taxation without representation is the $2,400,000,000 publicly funded toll road which will only be accessible to those willing to foot the $14 round trip toll.

While this is "chump change" to some, even those making six figures and above can begin to see where the well-heeled may feel the pinch if toll prices continue to rise. The certainty that this will happen in no leap in faith. As tolls rise, numbers of driver who can afford the tolls will drop...thus forcing the tolls on those paying even higher.

Like most drivers, I will always avoid paying a toll when perfectly good public access roads are available for free. Over time, those "Lexus Lanes" will drain transportation funds and the quality public access roads we all now enjoy may suffer and become unsafe. This is an issue we all need to watch.

Posted by: Donny | December 27, 2007 7:59 AM | Report abuse

The Beltway Hot Lanes deal was negotiated in secret, financial details continue to be secret, $M400+ of public money is involved, non-competition language (also secret) is included that may prohibit corridor rail transit FOR THE NEXT 80 YEARS. The devil is in the details! This is a 75 year cash cow like no other, untested, and negotiated in secret. This is a sell-out of public property to a private consortium (partially foreign) and the Governor is silent about the details. Makes one wonder.

Posted by: Jim | December 27, 2007 10:32 AM | Report abuse

I'm pretty certain that you're incorrect about the non-compete language in the case of the HOT lanes deal. I seem to recall reading something that specifically stated that there is NO non-compete provision. (Such a provision was requested by the companies who were seeking to improve I-81 in Virginia, and it proved to be a major sticking point and is one reason nothing has been done on that project.)

Posted by: Rich | December 27, 2007 11:53 AM | Report abuse

Follow-up--the VDOT press release states that the Commonwealth retains the right to build any other transportation improvements in the Beltway corridor, but that Fluor-Transurban have the right to bid for the opportunity to construct such improvements. (I see no problem with that.)

PDF link: http://www.vahotlanes.com/documents/VDOT_Press_Release_1220.pdf

I wonder whether we will get a higher speed limit in the HOT lanes. Current Virginia law allows a speed limit of up to 65 mph on any Interstate highway (except I-85, where 70 mph is allowed).

Posted by: Rich | December 27, 2007 11:56 AM | Report abuse

"I have lived in Washington long enough to realize that more and wider roads ALWAYS leads to more traffic congestion."

That what always happens when road construction doesn't keep up with growth,DUH!

" I remember when they opened all those fresh new lanes on the Beltway back in 1986. Ahhhhh.....it felt so good, for about a year, until all the new capacity induced new demand that filled the Beltway back up."

Then you should also remember that the project was inadequate for even 1986 population levels much less that of today. Also consider the failure to expand since 1986. not to mention that the eastbound section from I-270 to Wisconsin Avenue, which narrows from 5 lanes to 2, has never been mproved. This isn't rocket science.

Perhaps you should think a situation through before you comment. So far, you're only proving the premise that road opponents don't know what they are talking about.

"We should be focused on transportation alternatives, not new and bigger roads."

"Alternatives"?

30 years of the "Lets' do anything but build 'new and bigger roads' and let's start with building rail" "alternatives" has given the region the nation's second-worst traffic.

Ever hear of insanity? That's doing the same thing and expecting different results.

We've spent enough time and resources on "alternatives". We DON'T ned any more "alternatives". We need SOLUTIONS.

The defeat of the relentless ICC oppoNUTS was a step in the right direction. Hopefully, it's the start of a trend.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 27, 2007 12:10 PM | Report abuse

Above posted by ceefer66.

Posted by: ceefer66 | December 27, 2007 12:24 PM | Report abuse

12/19/07 response to a VA FOIA request: "Language to be adopted for demand non-competition and future infrastructure modification in the corridor is currently confidential and proprietary and exempt from disclosure in accordance with §2.2-3705.6 (11) FOIA. This project is still being negotiated."

Posted by: Jim | December 27, 2007 12:32 PM | Report abuse

Corruption.

Posted by: RU Dreaming | December 28, 2007 7:44 AM | Report abuse

induced demand = providing adequate services to the taxpaying public

Posted by: cut the spin | December 28, 2007 3:26 PM | Report abuse

Math is good.

ICC and I-495 HOT lane construction costs to tax payers > any real value to citizens

News coverage of corruption and transparency of government spending on these projects < what tax payers should expect in America.

Posted by: R U Dreaming | December 28, 2007 8:29 PM | Report abuse

Non-Compete clauses should cause outrage for 495 HOT lanes. Even when they aren't formal VDOT has secret non-compete agreements.

The Dulles Greenway is a perfect example. VDOT has failed to make any East/West connections other than the existing ones, Waxpool RD and Rt 7. Meanwhile it continues to improve North/South routes to feed the Greenway.

Simple Math makes this non-competitive behavior apparent

East/West Public Routes:
Waxpool- 5 lanes
Rt 7- 6 lanes

North/South Public Routes:
Rt. 28- 6 lanes
Pacific Blvd- 4 lanes
Loudoun Co. PKWY- 4 lanes
Ashburn Village- 4 lanes
Claiborne PKWY- 4 lanes
Belmont Ridge- 2 lanes being expanded to 4

This noncompetitive behavior will undoubtedly continue with privately owned 495 HOT lanes.

Posted by: R. Timm | January 2, 2008 12:06 PM | Report abuse

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