May is a critical month for two big transportation projects.
On Tuesday, Virginia officials plan to unveil a new study on the proposal for high-occupancy toll lanes along 25 miles of Interstate 66 outside the Capital Beltway. Meanwhile, Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn is wrapping up what could be a make-or-break review of the 16-mile light-rail route called the Purple Line.
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
Virginia’s own studies show that I-66 would have to widen to nine lanes in each direction to solve the congestion problem: Transit is the only option.
A rapid bus system is overdue to connect the Orange Line commuters to Tysons Corner and the new Silver Line.
I-66 outside the Beltway has never been HOV2 during rush hour, which could reduce rush-hour congestion and allow a rapid bus system to move.
What is truly puzzling is why the Virginia Department of Transportation proposes to spend $3 billion on two lanes and pave neighborhoods when it hasn’t gone to HOV2 or developed the rapid bus system needed in the corridor.
Also puzzling is why VDOT would build towering flyover ramps to connect Transurban’s investment in Beltway HOT lanes and ruin our neighborhoods before implementing HOV2 and rapid buses.
Perhaps that’s not so puzzling. It’s all about the money. The investor is more important than the neighborhood, taxpayer, homeowner or commuter.
— Julie Hirka, Vienna
Many people who live close to the I-66 right of way fear they will be hurt by this project. Fairfax County Supervisor Linda Q. Smyth (D-Providence) is hosting a community meeting from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Monday at Oakton High School in Vienna, where Virginia Department of Transportation representatives will talk about design modifications in response to such concerns.
I think they may also clarify some points from earlier studies on I-66: Nine lanes in each direction would be ghastly and isn’t under consideration. Transit is part of the solution, and not the only part. So Virginia proposes three regular lanes and two HOT lanes in each direction. The HOT lanes would accommodate express buses as well as cars.
Failing to ensure a seamless connection between HOT lanes on I-66 and the Beltway would be terrible planning.
Today, the left lanes on I-66 outside the Beltway are HOV2, as are all lanes inside the Beltway at peak periods. Under the HOT lanes plan, people could avoid tolls by traveling in HOV3 carpools. Although all lanes inside the Beltway would be subject to the HOV3 rule, the state would not convert all travel lanes outside the Beltway to HOV, whether it was done in conjunction with a tolling system or not.
Applying an HOV standard to all lanes outside the Beltway would drive traffic off I-66 and onto local streets.
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
There is an alternative idea that Gov. Larry Hogan could choose instead of canceling the Purple Line totally. If the light rail ended at the Silver Spring Metro station and the final leg was a dedicated nonstop bus route that went to the Walter Reed/Bethesda Metro stop instead of downtown Bethesda, there would be a great savings in terms of infrastructure costs and potential lawsuits. This would also have a positive impact on the Capital Crescent Trail.
If the potential job base is at the National Institutes of Health and Walter Reed and one of the justifications for this project is to help Prince George’s County residents, they could come directly to their employment possibilities. And if their jobs were in Bethesda proper, they could transfer to the Red Line and go one stop.
Many people (bureaucrats) are invested in the idea of the Purple Line, but there needs to be a compromise that will save money.
— Jay Martin, Bethesda
Rahn told me his review for the governor is focused on cutting the light-rail project’s cost and not on converting any part of it to a bus line on a different route.
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
Recent Post articles mention that a Metro ridership decrease is straining finances. How much impact will the Purple Line have on Metro’s ridership if many people use the Purple Line instead of Metro to travel between Bethesda and Silver Spring?
Specifically, is the impact strong enough so that fare increases and service decreases on Metro are inevitable to make up for passenger revenue shifted to the Purple Line?
— Phil Gilliam, Chevy Chase
No. A key goal of the light-rail project is to improve access to Metrorail stations in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, which should enhance Metro ridership.
Dr. Gridlock also appears Thursday in Local Living. Comments and questions are welcome and may be used in a column, along with the writer’s name and home community. Write Dr. Gridlock at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.