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Dr. Gridlock
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Posted at 12:48 PM ET, 05/10/2012

D.C. area congestion relief won’t come from big transportation projects

Travelers in the D.C. region write in to ask when they’ll be able to break free of traffic congestion. When will they be able to get to their appointments on time? When will they be able to get home before the kids go to sleep?

It’s not happening, and don’t count on it happening in your commuting lifetime.

For the latest evidence, see today’s article by Anita Kumar and Peyton M. Craighill, reflecting the results of Washington Post polling asking Virginians about transportation spending.

The authors point out the following in the poll results:

l  Fewer Virginians say increasing spending for transportation is as important as five years ago, even as the state faces dwindling resources and escalating needs.

l  Poll respondents of all political persuasions agree it should not be raised now.

l  Statewide, 32 percent described Metro’s Silver Line to Dulles as extremely or very important, compared with 64 percent who said it is not.

This is not just about Virginia. You can see it in the deliberations in the Maryland General Assembly and in Congress. The politicians reflect the public mood. My summary of the public mood: People are determined to see congestion relief, and equally determined not to pay for it.

I can add a few things based on the trends I see in “Dear Dr. Gridlock” letters.

People are somewhat inclined to contribute to transportation projects that might benefit them directly. They are disinclined to pay for projects that might benefit someone else. (I think that’s reflected in the statewide poll result on the Silver Line.)

The statement that “Now is no time to raise the gas tax” will be popular in poor economic times, and it will be popular in good economic times. (In good economic times: “Now is no time to stall the recovery by raising gas taxes.”)

Some advocates for transportation improvements hold out hope for converting the gas tax to a tax on vehicle miles traveled. Forget it. That won’t be any more popular than the fuel tax.

Others look to tolling as a method of financing. We’ll see. The D.C. region doesn’t have much experience with tolling. It will be interesting to see how drivers react to the high-occupancy toll lanes coming later this year on the Virginia side of the Capital Beltway and later on to I-95/395.

The most frequently asked question among my readers about Maryland’s Intercounty Connector tolls: When will the state come to its senses and drop the tolls?

I’m not suggesting we abandon all hope. But I think it’s time to abandon wishful thinking about improving the commute by investing in major transportation projects.

We should hunker down and look to maintaining the transportation network we have now, while seeking less costly but more realistic solutions such as increased telecommuting, more bus options, more bike lanes and better sidewalks.

By  |  12:48 PM ET, 05/10/2012

Categories:  Transportation Politics, Virginia, Silver Line | Tags:  DC transportation, Virginia Department of Transportation, Maryland Department of Transportation, Silver Line, Post poll

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