Transportation agencies adjusting their long-range plans


The D.C. streetcar on H Street NE is not yet carrying passengers, but the District continues plans to expand the network. (Eva Russo/For The Washington Post)

The District, Maryland and Virginia governments are proposing to add and subtract from the D.C. region’s long-range transportation plan.

The most interesting subtraction is the D.C. Department of Transportation’s intention to remove the project creating bus-only lanes on H and I (Eye) streets NW in downtown Washington. The plan needs more study, DDOT says.

Removing something from the regional long-range plan doesn’t kill it, just as adding a project to the plan doesn’t guarantee that it will be built. But this periodic review does offer some insight into the status of planning and the intentions of the governments.

The regionwide program is known as the Constrained Long Range Plan, and its keeper is the regional Transportation Planning Board. The board includes representatives of the D.C. region’s governments and its transportation agencies.

The panel meets at noon Wednesday to get a briefing on the jurisdiction’s proposals. A public comment period will end on April 15; on April 16, the board is scheduled to vote on the changes.

While the list of changes is long, it represents a small portion of the hundreds of regionally significant projects that the governments and transportation departments expect to be able to afford by 2040. (That doesn’t mean it will take till 2040 to build all these things.) The Transportation Planning Board updates the plan each year, reflecting changes in priorities, local schedules and financing.

Wonder why it may take so long between the time you first hear about a transportation project and when you see it getting built? The April vote isn’t even the end of the beginning for many of these projects. Over the spring and summer, a review will determine whether their construction would fit into the region’s air quality standards. The planning board will review that review and then consider the projects for final acceptance into the long-range plan in October.

These are highlights of the projects proposed for inclusion in the long-range plan.

D.C.
DDOT proposes three new transit projects: a Union Station to Georgetown streetcar, an M Street SE/SW streetcar and a Benning Road streetcar spur.

The Union Station to Georgetown line could run along H Street NW to New Jersey Avenue NW and continue on K Street, ending at Wisconsin Avenue. This one would link up with the H Street/Benning Road line now in its testing phase. The streetcar tracks would be laid in a regular travel lane through the eastern portion of the route, but a transit-only lane would be created on K Street between Mount Vernon Square and Washington Circle. The District estimates this could be ready in 2020.

The M Street line would run from Good Hope Road SE across the 11th Street Bridge to M Street and end at Maine Avenue SW. On the east side, it would link with the planned Anacostia streetcar line at Good Hope Road. This also could be done by 2020, the District says.

The Benning Road spur would link the H Street-Benning Road line with the Minnesota Avenue Metro station. That could be done by 2018.

DDOT is also proposing studies to examine the potential for creating managed lanes on the 14th Street Bridge, the Southeast-Southwest Freeway and Interstate 295.

One study would look at converting the two northbound lanes on the 14th Street/Rochambeau Bridge to High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV 3) lanes during the morning rush on weekdays and the two southbound lanes to HOV 3 for the afternoon rush. This would match the HOV configuration on the Virginia side of the Potomac River. The 14th Street Bridge is actually a set of adjacent spans with different names. The four northbound lanes on the Arland Williams Jr. Bridge and four southbound lanes on the George Mason Memorial Bridge would still be general purpose lanes, open to regular traffic. The District says the study would also consider a subsequent conversion of the HOV lanes into High Occupancy Toll lanes.

Another study would examine the possibility of HOV lanes on the Southeast-Southwest Freeway from the Case Bridge on the west side to the 11th Street Bridge on the Anacostia River side. This study also would consider a later conversion to HOT lanes.

Similarly, another study would look at the possibility of HOV and later HOT lanes on I-295 from the 11th Street Bridge south to the D.C./Maryland border, near the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.

The bus lanes project proposed for removal and further study would create bus-only lanes at rush hours on H Street NW between 17th Street and New York Avenue and I Street NW between 13th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.

Maryland
The State Highway Administration is resubmitting a plan to complete the Capital Beltway interchange at the Greenbelt Metro station by 2020. Today’s partial interchange allows access to the station from the inner loop but not the outer loop. Construction also would add auxiliary lanes between the Greenbelt Metro station and the Route 201 interchanges.

This project was removed from the long-range plan in 2010 for financial reasons. It’s an example of how plans can get added and subtracted without either killing them or guaranteeing construction.

Virginia
The Virginia Department of Transportation proposes to widen a segment of Route 1 in Prince William County and to widen a portion of Route 123 in Fairfax County. The section of Route 1 is from Fuller Road to Russell Road. That could be done by 2025. The Route 123 section is from Route 7 to the Beltway. It could be done by 2021.

Perhaps the most debated project on the entire list is Virginia’s proposal for a new access highway on the west side of Dulles International Airport. VDOT now has three alternatives for this route. The department says it anticipates the Commonwealth Transportation Board, the decider on Virginia projects, will select a preferred alternative before the Transportation Planning Board’s April 16 meeting so that only one alternative will find its way into the air quality review. Tom Fahrney, VDOT’s project manager for the access highway, says the department plans to select a staff-preferred alternative before the Transportation Planning Board’s April 16 meeting. VDOT tentatively plans to ask the Commonwealth Transportation Board, the decider on Virginia projects, to review the VDOT staff recommendation at its July meeting.

These are the three alternatives.

  • Build a four-lane roadway from Route 50 at Northstar Boulevard to Route 606 at the new Dulles Airport access point.
  • Convert a portion of Route 50 to a limited access highway and widen it from four to six lanes between Northstar Boulevard and Route 606. Convert Route 606 to limited access and widen it from four to eight lanes between Route 50 and 1.5 miles north of the new access point to Dulles Airport.
  • Build two airport express lanes in the median of Route 50 between Northstar Boulevard and Route 606. Upgrade and widen Route 606 from four to eight lanes from Route 50 to the new Dulles airport access point.

The Dulles access highway is a separate proposal from the highly controversial Bi-County Parkway plan for a new north-south route on the west side of the Manassas National Battlefield, but the two are related in both the planners’ intentions and the adjacent communities’ concerns about development and pollution.

Robert Thomson is The Washington Post’s “Dr. Gridlock.” He answers travelers’ questions, listens to their complaints and shares their pain on the roads, trains and buses in the Washington region.
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