Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I was recently appointed to the Prince William County Housing Advisory Board, a group that advocates affordable-housing options in Prince William County. I am also a commuter.
Among conflicting issues, two in particular have risen to the top of the list: cost of living and traffic.
The Washington Post recently published a report that demonstrated a housing shortage. This shortage is guaranteed to get worse, thereby driving up the cost of housing. More housing will be required, lest we end up with bidding wars and even more astronomical housing prices.
We're left with two questions: Build up or build out?
Building out tears up rural areas, reduces green space and results in longer drive times for workers.
Building up increases density and puts an even greater strain on local resources. Neither option will viably reduce traffic.
The bottom line is that people will continue to pour into this region in search of good jobs. They will need homes, schools, stores and many other resources.
Although there is a fight between those who want low-density growth and those who want high-density growth, both paths mean that more people will need more transportation resources.
The only difference is the mixture of roads with various public transportation options.
Regardless of how we develop, we have to evaluate what that mixture will be and make plans to address it.
Currently, the roads are at capacity, Metro is at capacity, and even the "new" Virginia Railway Expressway expansions into Prince William County are overflowing the available roads and parking lots.
It's time for Richmond, Annapolis and Capitol Hill to pull their heads out of the sand and develop a comprehensive plan to address the inevitable growth. Our transportation/housing crisis is not wine. It will not improve with age.
Well said. Call me myopic, but with no significant improvements ahead for Interstates 66 and 95, Routes 28 and 29, and the Metrorail system, I vote to protect what's left of our badly congested transportation system.
How about rezoning to one dwelling per 10 acres? That won't halt escalating home prices, but at least we could move about -- sometimes.
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
With right-turn-on-red being legal for some time now, I have noticed an increasing incidence of a particularly vexing and dangerous problem.
I often find myself sitting in heavy traffic, waiting through several lights, to get to an intersection. Because traffic is backed up, those of us with the green light must -- even though the light is green -- wait to enter the intersection until there is room for us to clear the intersection on the other side.
While we are patiently waiting to cross the intersection, drivers on the cross street will turn right on the red light, thereby continually filling the right lane, never leaving room for those of us with the green light.
That leaves no way to get through the intersection other than continuing to drive through, even though by doing so we block the intersection.
Common sense and common courtesy would lead those waiting at the red light not to turn onto a street where other drivers, with a green light, are waiting to enter. Neither of those virtues appears to be at work here.
Normally courteous drivers are being forced to either aggressively block intersections or never arrive at their destination.
Do you have a solution for this growing problem?
Where that situation exists, the Virginia Department of Transportation should post signs prohibiting right turns during rush hours. The hours should be posted on the sign.
You can nominate an intersection by calling 703-383-VDOT.
Bless you for not blocking intersections, as so many do in that situation.
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
In a response to a reader's concern over a "huge" residential development proposed next to Interstate 66 and the Vienna Metro station ("A Development March Toward Jammed Roads," Dr. Gridlock, Aug. 26) you demonstrated -- pardon the pun -- tunnel vision that is shared by so many residents of the D.C. area.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors does have a vision, and it is spelled out in the Comprehensive Plan. What neither you nor your reader noted was the change in types of development.
The I-66 and Dulles Toll Road areas have predominantly been developed as isolated office parks. Workers have had to commute from other residential areas to reach jobs there and in the District. Every worker had to get into his car and drive somewhere else for lunch, shopping, daily errands -- further clogging those roads.
Wouldn't it be nice if those areas were more lively after 5 p.m.? Perhaps some workers would remain for dinner or a movie -- delaying their commutes home and thereby reducing the number of cars on those roads at rush hour.
Some option for employees to live where they work might also be offered. Mixed-use development as proposed by the county provides alternatives.
The biggest flaw in your response to the reader was your failure to mention that this development is within easy walking distance of a Metro station, and you didn't note Metro as an alternative mode of transportation to I-66.
Maybe people who seek this type of housing do so because of its proximity to mass transit. Perhaps the county supervisors have this in mind.
Unfortunately, there is the old chicken-and-egg problem. You can't build the extension to the Metro system without the density (too expensive to support), but with timing and strong leadership, a more extensive mass transit system could be developed to alleviate the congestion.
Perhaps that is something the county should have implemented 20 years ago, when the additional Metrorail riders could have resulted in the Orange Line becoming the top priority for new cars now being phased in by Metro.
I wonder how current Orange Line riders would feel about adding thousands of commuters to their already-cramped cars.
I-66 inside the Beltway is already limited to HOV-2 during morning rush hours, and Metrorail is standing room only. That leaves the secondary roads, such as Route 50 and Route 29, for the solitary commuter. Can those roads absorb thousands more vehicles?
One possible option -- working at home or at nearby satellite-office rentals -- offers hope but has little to do with population density.
That's my opinion. Here's more:
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
Kudos to reader Mark Tipton for raising the issue of the proposed Vienna Metro mixed-use development.
Mark didn't mention that the development will also result in the loss of 650 Metro parking spaces, with no requirement that they be replaced. Thus, the county is essentially taking 650 confirmed Metro riders and turning them back to the roads (read: I-66).
This and other developments under construction or planned adjacent to the site will bring more than 10,000 residents to our neighborhood, plus the thousand more people who might work in the planned office space.
Let's do the math: The county thinks that 32 percent of the residents, and 10 percent of the workers, will take the Metro. That means an additional 4,000 people trying to ride Metro from the Vienna station (less, of course, the 650 current riders who can no longer park there).
The remainder will use automobiles for transportation. That's another 4,000 cars traveling in and out each day -- mainly on I-66. I-66 and Metro are already operating beyond capacity.
The state and the Metro board say there is no money for improvements.
How far do you think we are from meltdown?
Not far. The county seems determined to impose more and more development on its residents regardless of the consequences to our faltering transportation network.
Remember that when the supervisors are up for reelection.
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I respectfully disagree with your comments on the traffic impact of the proposed Vienna-Fairfax Metro development. Saying that a pedestrian- and transit-oriented mixed-use development will cause more traffic is to miss the forest for the trees.
Continued rapid growth in Fairfax is inevitable. The only way to accommodate it without making our traffic worse is to be smarter about how and where we build our houses, apartments, office buildings and stores.
The proposed Metro West development will get far more residents and employees in Fairfax walking and taking transit. That equals fewer cars choking the roads.
I live in Fairfax and respect some of the concerns that residents have expressed about the scale and density of this development. But we can't just wring our hands and wish development would go somewhere else. If we do, it will go somewhere else, and make our roads even worse.
If a movie theater is filled to capacity, should the proprietors keep admitting more people just because they want in? Soon, no one will be able to see the movie.
I would like to hear from Orange Line riders about the conditions of their commute (including Arlington Orange Line commuters).
Do you think we can add thousands of passengers from multiple high-rise residential buildings at the Vienna station?
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
When my husband and I read the letters and your comments about the potential growth around I-66, with the new residential developments, etc., we agreed wholeheartedly with the disastrous scenario that was being forecast -- until we realized that it may not be all doom and gloom.
We thought that many of the families moving into those apartment blocks, etc., are already likely to be living in the region and wishing to move closer to the Metro or coming from places such as Loudoun and Fauquier counties.
So the potential traffic is not necessarily going to be worse, and the pollution might also not be as bad because those people will not be driving into the District from so far away.
We appreciate that the traffic tie-ups are likely to be moved from one area to another, but "new" traffic is possibly not the only scenario. (Are we clutching at straws?!)
Virginia and Chris Johnson
I share the concern that this development could adversely affect our existing transportation facilities. Remember, there are few resources available to Metro and VDOT to improve the situation in the years ahead. We have to safeguard what we've got.
Give Toll Lanes a Spin?
In case you missed it, Virginia's transportation commissioner has directed the state Department of Transportation to enter negotiations with the company Fluor Danielto build two more lanes each way on the Capital Beltway, from near the Springfield interchange to north of the Dulles Toll Road.
This public-private partnership would allow the extra capacity to be built at a time when state funds alone are insufficient to cover the cost, Transportation Commissioner Philip A. Shucet said.
The new lanes would be high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes, free to vehicles carrying three or more people and available for a variable toll (depending on congestion) to others. The toll revenue would help offset the cost of construction.
"The private sector is able to share in the risk of funding this project, which otherwise would be practically impossible if VDOT had to rely on traditional funding sources to improve the Beltway," Shucet said.
No timetable is available, pending completion of negotiations.
This is a potential milestone for public-private road endeavors and could help us reduce gridlock.
Maryland is also looking at express toll lanes, although they would be open to everyone for a fee.
Dr. Gridlock is for implementing such lanes to see how they work. What do you think?
Alternative Route to Va.
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I noted with interest your response to Marilyn Lynch of Chantilly regarding finding Interstate 395 from D.C. 295 south (Dr. Gridlock, Aug. 26).
You had advised Ms. Lynch to exit at the poorly signed Howard Road exit (3B) and proceed over the South Capitol Street Bridge and through several traffic signals to get to the entrance to I-395.
I may have a better route for Ms. Lynch.
Although I'm a Virginia resident, my family and I often travel to Maryland to visit friends and enjoy the restaurants, shopping and entertainment the state has to offer.
To get back to Virginia from southbound D.C. 295, we travel south and take the first exit past the Howard Road exit, or 3A, marked Suitland Parkway/Navy Yard. We stay in the offramp lane, which then becomes the freeway on ramp to D.C. 295 north. We thus get back onto the freeway heading north. We have essentially made a legal U-turn by using this off/on ramp.
The next exit after getting onto D.C. 295 north is the 11th Street Bridge, which will take drivers to I-395 (either north or south). In fact, the exit is marked as leading to I-395.
From there, it's a pleasant drive over the 14th Street bridge and back to the commonwealth. Although you do slow down to exit D.C. 295 south, and have to accelerate again at the on ramp to D.C. 295 north, you will not encounter a traffic signal, stop in a seedy area or otherwise have to stop.
It's a great solution to the dilemma of finding I-395, and you and your readers might want to try it.
Thanks for the tip. I'll try it next time.
Isn't it a shame you have to go north in order to go south, and put up with confusing signs to boot? Please read on.
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
Marilyn Lynch from Chantilly asked a good question about a return route to the District from D.C. 295 south.
This is such a good question, it has been asked over and over again. Your answer, once again, is great advice.
Now the question is, why doesn't someone fix the sign on the road? How hard is it to add a piece to the Howard Road exit, saying "To I-395"? This is not the only problem regarding road signs. There is a major problem in this area, and I am not sure who is to blame.
The D.C. area is a tough place to drive in and around, but if the signs were marked better and posted at a distance far enough to allow drivers to safely maneuver, it would ease frustration for those of us who live here and for the enormous number of visitors we receive each day.
Does a local Department of Transportation even exist here? What does it do? This problem is not unique to the District, but also can be found in Maryland and Virginia. Is there a central agency, along the same lines as Metro's transit system, that handles all road issues?
E. Scott Howard
There is no regional agency. Each state and the District has its own transportation department. They can work with one another, as they are doing on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge project.
The Howard Road exit sign is a bad one because it doesn't include a "To I-395" or any reference to the South Capitol Street Bridge, a major entrance into the city.
This has been a sore point in this column for two decades. Apparently, city officials just don't care about this bad sign.
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
In your Aug. 26 column, you noted that readers could connect from D.C. 295 to Interstate 395 by exiting at Howard Road and passing through a "seedy" block en route to the South Capitol Street Bridge and I-395.
I take issue with your use of the word "seedy."
That small stretch on Howard Road going toward the bridge is well kept, with the Howard Road Academy and a relatively new mental health building.
There is a car repair shop -- neatly fenced in; there is the entrance to the Green Line Metro parking lot; there are two small garden apartments; and the grass is well kept in that area.
Perhaps you should revisit this area and see for yourself. I live one block from the Metro station.
Shirley R. Allen
Ms. Allen, I apologize. I haven't been on that route for a while, and it appears the situation has changed. I applaud your neighborhood pride.
Transportation researcher Diane Mattingly contributed to this column.
Dr. Gridlock appears Sunday in the Metro section and Thursday in Extra. You can write to Dr. Gridlock at 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. He prefers to receive e-mail, at email@example.com, or faxes, at 703-352-3908. Include your full name, town, county and day and evening phone numbers.