Transportation: What's Good, What's Bad, What Will Help?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

1. What's Next in the I-66 Corridor

Virginia Transportation Secretary Pierce R. Homer described the increasingly congested interstate as the "most challenging and rapidly changing corridor in the region."

-- Travel patterns are much different now than they were a decade ago. The rush hour is much more balanced between inbound and outbound traffic.

-- The congestion, which lasts seven to eight hours a day, is caused not only by long-distance commuters but also by people who are using the highway for short trips. "I-66 is part of Main Street in this area," he said.

-- Shoulders that are open at certain hours to through traffic need to be replaced with real lanes. But more creative solutions to manage traffic demand, such as an express bus network and greater linkage between land use planning and transportation planning, must also be considered.

-- Traffic in HOV lanes is exceeding capacity. Increasing the carpool threshold from HOV2 to HOV3 is "a hard one" but needs to be considered.

-- Extending Metro beyond Vienna "is a necessity."

2. Meeting Metro's

Maintenance Challenges

Tom Harrington, Metro's director of long-range planning, said the transit authority's biggest expense is keeping the system in good repair.

-- Capital needs for fiscal 2011 through fiscal 2020 total $11.4 billion by current estimate. More than $7 billion would go to maintain the system and deliver safe and reliable service. Nearly $4 billion is needed to address projected growth in ridership.

-- Metro must replace a quarter of its rail fleet, the aging 1000 series, the rail cars that went into service when the system opened in the 1970s.

-- Metrobus looks to replace about 100 buses a year.

-- Other maintenance needs: repair leaking tunnels and crumbling platforms, upgrade tracks and related infrastructure, update critical software.

-- The most challenging aspect of this: finding the funding. Metro is trying to work out a new agreement on capital financing with the local jurisdictions that support it.

-- Without sufficient funds, service and safety will decline.

3. VRE Service Expansion

Dale Zehner, chief of Virginia Railway Express, cited recent gains in ridership and looked forward to expanding service to the south and west.

-- VRE had an overall on-time rate of nearly 90 percent last year, its highest since the service began in 1992. It had dropped to as low as 50 to 60 percent just a few years ago.

-- Ridership has been growing despite three fare increases over 13 months. He said improved reliability of the train schedule and new locomotives and rail cars were significant factors in the growth. On many days, the service carries more than 16,000 passengers.

-- Ten more rail cars are on the way, and a dozen more locomotives have been ordered, with an option for eight more.

-- Both the Interstate 95 and 66 corridors are expansion areas for VRE.

-- Spotsylvania County decided in August to join VRE, the first jurisdiction outside the original group to do so. VRE now will expand operations eight miles farther south along the CSX tracks. More than half of VRE passengers boarding at Fredericksburg, currently the southern terminus, are from Spotsylvania or points south.

-- Expansion 11 miles west from Manassas to Sudley Manor, Gainesville and Haymarket along the populous I-66 corridor offers a potential increase of 3,000 riders. VRE is working on this extension plan for the next decade.

4. I-95 Corridor Update

Virginia Regional Transportation Director Ronaldo "Nick" Nicholson is coordinating the work on Northern Virginia's "megaprojects" -- the HOT lanes, Dulles Rail, the Telegraph Road interchange, the I-95 widening and the Fairfax County Parkway extension. He presented these highlights about the busy future of the I-95 corridor.

-- There is no deal yet to build high-occupancy toll lanes on I-95/395, but the proposal would increase the existing lanes available for carpoolers from two to three. A southern section of this project would add HOT lanes along I-95 south to Massaponax.

-- Virginia is adding a fourth lane in each direction of I-95 between the Fairfax County Parkway and Route 123. The northbound lane should open by the end of this year. The entire project, including the widening of the Occoquan Bridge, is scheduled to be completed in 2011.

-- Reconstruction of the Telegraph Road interchange is scheduled to be done in 2013. This phase has two basic parts: widening 2 1/2 miles of the Capital Beltway and building new ramps connecting the Beltway to Telegraph Road and other nearby streets.

-- The Base Realignment and Closure program will add thousands of commuters to the I-95 corridor, and completing the Fairfax County Parkway is crucial to getting them where they are going. The project involves building the final two miles of the four-lane parkway, an interchange at the Engineer Proving Ground access road and an extension of Boudinot Drive to the southbound parkway. Those are scheduled to be done in late 2010.

5. Phase 2 Dulles Rail Project

We refer to the Metrorail extension as the "Dulles Rail" project, but the current phase is really Rail to Wiehle Avenue, then they run out of money. C. Lee Fifer, the legal counsel for the Western Alliance for Rail to Dulles, discussed the unfunded second phase.

-- The Western Alliance is a group of property owners who support the creation of a tax district to finance part of Fairfax County's share of construction west from Wiehle Avenue to Dulles International Airport and into Loudoun County.

-- If efforts to create the tax district fail, Fifer said, there wouldn't be enough money to pay for the three stations that supporters say would enhance the economy of western Fairfax and support its commuters: "The stations won't get built without this."

-- Those stations would be at Reston Parkway, Herndon and Route 28/Center for Innovative Technology.

-- The design of the stations would resemble that of the Wiehle Avenue Metro stop, to be built in the median of the Dulles Airport Access Highway/Dulles Toll Road with parking for several thousand vehicles.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company