Car shouldn’t be king of Washington area transportation

(COURTESY OF VIRGINIA RAILWAY EXPRESS) - A Virginia Railway Express car. The commuter train service saw a 7.5 percent ridership boost from February of last year to this year.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Our city and country are unfortunate victims of those leaders who chose to ignore the philosophy of the great architect of Union Station, Daniel Burnham: Make no little plans.

Those of little plans gave us the elimination of streetcars, no rail to Dulles (yet), abandonment of the W&OD rail line, a starved and attacked Amtrak, reluctant funding of Metro and an almost fanatical devotion to cars, trucks and planes and the resulting addiction to oil.

I would propose the following rail-biased ideas that offer mobility, energy efficiency and quality-of-life pluses:

1. A rail tunnel under the Potomac River from Union Station surfacing around Potomac Yard in Alexandria to supplement existing routes.

2. A circumferential Metro or connecting light-rail links.

3. Rail to Annapolis from both Washington and Baltimore.

4. A Potomac River rail crossing from Richmond through Waldorf and further north, with connections.

5. A model, rail-served Eastern Shore with a Norfolk-Cape Charles rail tunnel, high-speed spine to Wilmington, Del., with revitalized rail links to the small-town treasures along the way.

6. A higher-speed rail line leaving the Northeast Corridor through Harrisburg, Hagerstown, Dulles and diverging on several routes: to Richmond and south; Charlottesville and Charlotte; and Lynchburg and west to Tennessee.

How to pay?

First, stop the flow of wealth to our oil-supplying enemies. Never again spend trillions on wars for oil or oil-related issues.

Gently accelerate taxation of gasoline, diesel and airplane fuel and divert it to rail systems that will reduce our oil addiction; remove cars and planes from the congested mess we have created; and provide sustainable employment and development for our cities and country.

Jim Churchill, Alexandria

DG: That’s certainly no little plan, and it’s just what I asked readers to attempt in response to the transportation proposals highlighted in the June report from the 2030 Group, an association of regional business and development leaders who advocate for long-term economic planning.

Each individual rail proposal is attractive, but we can’t have them all — not within the lifetime of anyone reading this column. In that span, we’re no more likely to build these rail projects than we are to build the highway projects — the outer bypasses and the Potomac River crossings — that fill out the 2030 Group’s list.

Congress almost certainly would cut federal funding for highways, transit and passenger rail until the cost at least approaches the level of revenue we’re willing to provide.

And we’re not willing to provide revenue through gas taxes at anywhere near the level that would pay for what we say we want. The states won’t pick up the slack, for the same reason. Even the gentle tax increase that Churchill calls for wouldn’t turn that fine list of ideas into construction projects.

C. Kenneth Orski, a transportation expert who publishes a newsletter called Innovation NewsBriefs, predicts that our big plans will have to wait at least until we’ve recovered from the recession and controlled the federal deficit:

“At that more distant moment in time, perhaps toward the end of this decade, the nation might be able to resume investing in new infrastructure and embark on a new series of ‘bold endeavors’ — major capital additions to the nation’s highways and rail systems.”

I think Orski’s timetable is optimistic.

Llama line to shore

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

In response to your solicitation on alternative routes to various summer travel destinations, I thought I’d share this route that I’ve been using for nearly five years between the Washington area and Rehoboth Beach.

I’m hesitant to share this because I don’t want to give out the secret, but in reality, I think this route can handle the few new drivers who try it. Friends call this the “Llama Route” because it passes a llama farm.

The route avoids some of the traffic-plagued spots on the Eastern Shore, including all of Route 404, and puts drivers on two-lane rural routes for about 30 miles. The downsides — if you want to call them that — are that cellphone service is spotty, and it’s very dark and a bit lonely at night.

This route is practical only for destinations in Lewes, Rehoboth and Dewey because it jogs farther north than the Route 404 corridor. It’s tricky, but you can make it from downtown Washington to Rehoboth in two hours:

Take Route 50 over the Bay Bridge, then take Route 301 north when it splits from Route 50. About eight miles past the split, take a right onto Route 304. This is about 60 miles out of the District and about 70 miles from the beach. The truck stop on the corner has clean bathrooms — the last ones before Felton, Del. You will be on two-lane roads for about 30 miles. You will lose cellular service about halfway down this road.

After about nine miles, take a left onto Route 312. Then after about 21 / 2 miles, take a right onto Route 313. You will pass the llama farm on this road. It’s pretty cool.

Follow the signs for Route 287 at Goldsboro. It becomes Route 10 at the Delaware border. Take a right at Martin’s Auto Parts onto County Road 56, Sandtown Road. (This is the hardest turn to find.)

Follow Sandtown Road all the way to the end, where it intersects with Route 12, then take a left. You should be able to use your cellphone again.

Go through the town of Felton. Watch the speed traps.

Continue on Route 12 to Frederica (another speed trap). Route 12 diverges and becomes one-way through town. Continue until Route 12 merges with Route 1. Route 1 is a controlled-access, four-lane highway with no traffic signals most of the way to the cut-offs of Routes 16 and 404, and Lewes.

After about 25 miles, Route 1 will take you right into the resort area.

Traffic will increase when Route 16 intersects and be even worse when Route 404/9 intersects, but you still made great time! Have a fun and safe weekend!

Scott Heemann, Reston

 
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