In case you missed it, Virginia's transportation commissioner has directed the state Department of Transportation to enter into negotiations with the company Fluor Daniel to 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?
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 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.
He 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.
Greenway Not Empty
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I cannot even finish reading your column without writing a response to Kyle Thompson of Leesburg [Dr. Gridlock, Aug. 26].
What time of the day does he travel on the "deserted" Dulles Greenway -- 5 a.m.?
My husband and I live in Ashburn and travel to Tysons Corner and Reston, respectively. Although we leave home an hour apart (7 and 8 a.m.), we both hit a lot of traffic on the Greenway.
Most mornings, the main toll plaza is backed up one-fourth to one-half mile (on a good day!). And, for that benefit, we will pay an even higher toll this month.
Perhaps the higher toll will cause the amount of traffic to decrease, so that the Dulles Greenway becomes deserted, but that's just not the case right now.
Cathy W. Lyons
An Abundance of Traffic Courts
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
A friend of mine had to go to traffic court in Fairfax County recently. I was very surprised to learn that Fairfax County has four courtrooms tied up each day exclusively for traffic court.
The courtroom he was in was for tickets issued through the use of a radar gun. The court was started by the announcement of the calibration statistics of the radar gun in use. The officer who issued the tickets has a regular schedule for appearing in court, along with a prosecutor and, of course, a judge.
I found this discovery most unsettling. This isn't about protecting the public. This is about speed traps, red-light cameras and every other way to gouge the public.
With four courtrooms running Monday through Friday, all day, it is mind-boggling to think how much money Fairfax County is collecting.
And this is only the people who go to court. How many tickets are issued and paid by people who don't want to take a day of vacation and chance a judge who'll charge them for a violation whether they're guilty or innocent?
Things like this make me believe that it's time for taxpayers to tell government that enough is enough.
Not the taxpayers who write me. They want more enforcement, more tickets and more fines of the traffic scofflaws, including HOV violators, red-light runners, tailgaters, speeders and drunk and reckless drivers.
They want this because they figure their time on our roads would be less stressful and less dangerous.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or faxes at 703-352-3908. Include your full name, town, county, and day and evening phone numbers.