Express lanes open
Several reasons for placing the launch of the 495 Express Lanes at the top of the list: The impact would be great even if the lanes’ November opening simply ended four years of construction that disrupted travel along 14 miles on the west side of the Capital Beltway in Virginia. But the high-occupancy toll lanes are historic, bringing a new type of travel to the nation’s capital. The dynamic tolling system, in which the price of driving rises or falls with the level of congestion, could be the way of the future in managing traffic.
It will be a significant breakthrough if the lanes also prove their worth as a carpool and bus transit route.
Several generations of commuters had grown used to the difficulties of getting from freeway to freeway across the Anacostia River. As the District’s 11th Street Bridge project started to eliminate some of those difficulties this year, drivers would write in to ask for assurance that this meant what they thought it meant.
Many changes occurred throughout the year because of this project, but I think the two with the highest impact were the opening over the summer of the ramp from D.C. 295 South to the new bridge’s inbound freeway span and the opening this month of the ramp from the outbound span to D.C. 295 North. That eliminates several problems for drivers trying to get between the Southeast-Southwest Freeway and the Anacostia Freeway, and it should help the neighborhoods by getting commuter cars off their streets.
Beltway bottleneck gone
Drivers who loved the rebuilt Woodrow Wilson Bridge still hated the lane constriction and the resulting congestion on the Beltway’s outer loop at Telegraph Road. Until that bottleneck was uncorked, they couldn’t fully enjoy the benefits of the wider bridge.
The completion this year of the THRU and LOCAL lane system on both loops benefited both commuters and long-distance travelers on Interstate 95. Here again, ending years of disruptive construction along the Beltway was itself a significant step, but opening up the bridge-bound lanes qualifies as a breakthrough for the region’s transportation system.
This was the year’s top transit event, more significant even than Metro’s fare increases, despite the new fares’ wider impact on riders. In June, Rush Plus changed the peak-period service patterns, taking some trains away from the Blue Line and adding trains on the Orange and Yellow lines.
Metro officials said this would better align service with emerging ridership patterns and prepare for the launch of the Silver Line, probably in late 2013. Many Blue Line riders had not gotten over the first cutback when Metro announced in the fall that service would have to be reduced even further once the Silver Line starts sending trains into the bottleneck at the Rosslyn tunnel to go into and out of downtown Washington.