In Close to Home Aug. 14, Michael D. Barnes, chairman of the DO IT (to whom?) Coalition makes two separate points: 1) a group of highway/development interests continues to promote an Outer Beltway/Washington Bypass, and 2) the Capital Beltway is crowded and getting more so. It is the relation between these two points -- in fact, whether one solves or worsens the other -- that needs to be examined, although former representative Barnes seems to have made up his mind even before the studies that he endorses are completed.
I am amazed at how soon we have forgotten the wet rag thrown on the Outer Beltway supporters (perhaps that's why they are now "bypass" supporters) by the Federal Highway Administration study of May 1986. The resurrection of the old Outer Beltway under a new name, the Washington Bypass, came with a blast of developer steam, which claimed that a third of the Capital Beltway traffic could be diverted. The federal study, characterizing the western (Virginia) portion, cited "its primary function as a development highway" and estimated that the bulk of its traffic would be local and that only 3 percent to 11 percent of Capital Beltway traffic might be diverted. (Those figures represent from one-tenth to one-third of earlier advocates' claims.)
As Barnes says, the Virginia and Maryland highway departments will move inevitably toward construction. Both agencies are very good at building new roads, such as the I-270 widening, which will exacerbate the Beltway problem by moving congestion from one place to another. I expect the same performance in the future. What will probably not be done, although it was strongly recommended in the federal report, is a detailed study of the development and consequent traffic-generating and economic dislocation effects of the bypass plans. After all, the "new" proposals are just a larger-scale repeat of the Capital Beltway. Twenty years after that road was opened as a traffic panacea, it has somehow become a problem to overcome. The DO IT folks certainly plan to create the same problem all over again, but on a more grandiose scale. -- Gary G. Nelson
The answer proposed by Michael Barnes is to diminish the use of the Beltway by rerouting commuters onto alternative cross-county thruways. The idea has good intentions, but it overlooks the immediate cause of Beltway congestion. The problem lies in the daily influx of commuters from the outer suburbs to the work places inside and around the Beltway.
The DO IT coalition should not waste time trying to figure out how to reroute commuters away from the Beltway, but should instead concentrate on alternative means for those commuters to get to work: expand Metrorail, improve bus routes leading into Metro stations and provide additional parking facilities at Metro stations.
As a commuter, I welcome any approach to clearing up the Beltway congestion, but I realize that the problem will not go away by simply detouring traffic. The answer lies in promoting, expanding and improving the most practical means of commuting: public transportation.
Anyone looking at the figures projected for the year 2000 has to realize that the number of vehicles will greatly exceed the building of new roads. The only alternative is to reduce the numbers of vehicles by providing alternative means of transportation.
If this seems impossible, we can always walk.
-- Thomas L. Fisher