The national study showing that the D.C. region has the worst congestion in the nation merely supplies bragging rights. It doesn’t pinpoint troubles on any particular route. But a new study for a Virginia transportation program provides a pavement-level view of the misery along the 25 miles of highway between Route 15 in Prince William County and the Capital Beltway.
This recently released study, called a Tier 1 Draft Environmental Impact Statement, was prepared by federal and state transportation officials as part of a lengthy review of the problems along the I-66 corridor and the programs that could ease them.
It doesn’t announce solutions, but it does a really good job certifying the problems. Here’s what researchers found:
Profile of a highway
I-66 is the main east-west interstate highway in Northern Virginia. The main line and its feeder roads serve the District; Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties; and many municipalities along the way. (Virginia has been studying I-66 inside the Beltway separately.)
Regular and high-occupancy vehicle lanes accommodate drivers and bus riders. The Orange Line, Metro’s second-busiest, runs along the middle of the highway for part of its route.
A small portion of the interstate’s drivers go the distance in this corridor. About 7 percent of the eastbound drivers who travel the highway between Nutley Street and the Beltway begin their morning trips west of Route 15. By contrast, 42 percent of the morning traffic enters the highway at Route 123 or Nutley Street, much closer to the Beltway.
Bad, and getting worse
The pipeline isn’t big enough for the job it’s being asked to perform.
More than half of the roadway miles in the peak direction each morning are so congested they are at or near the point of failure in their ability to serve travelers. During the afternoon peaks, nearly two-thirds of the travel miles fall to that level of poor service.
The eastern portion of the corridor, near the Beltway, routinely experiences four to five hours of rush-hour congestion in each direction.
Looking ahead to what conditions might be like in 2040, the researchers predict further deterioration because of population and employment growth. This would not only make the rush-hour traffic heavier but also make the peak periods longer, as many commuters travel earlier or later to escape the worst of it.
Peak-period congestion in each direction between Nutley Street and the Beltway is likely to increase to eight and 10 hours a day.
Meanwhile, the rest of the corridor is subject to the same trend. The number of daily congested hours in the midsection will probably grow from two to four to as many as six. The west side’s congestion could grow from an hour or less to five or six hours.
Connoisseurs of congestion can break down the problem further, down to the ramps, merges and interchanges that cause particular difficulty. Many will see their daily experiences confirmed in the researchers’ findings and will notice how many familiar bottlenecks will be rated as failures by 2040.