In my Sunday column, a letter-writer suggested that one alternative to putting HOT lanes on Interstate 66 would be to double deck the highway, thus expanding its capacity.
Readers responded with their own proposals for improving travel on one of the region’s most congested highways. While most travelers dismissed the idea of double decking as too expensive and way too ugly, many many do like the idea of expanding capacity by expanding the pavement. Others sought ways of reducing the congestion by reducing demand for lane space.
To get an idea what a really big highway with multiple decks would look like, check this video flyover of the LBJ Express project in Dallas. It’s the fulfillment of General Motors’ Futurama from the 1964-65 World’s Fair — and I don’t mean that as a compliment.
Even among the travelers I hear from who would be happy with a highway widening, the LBJ Express example is probably well beyond what they have in mind.
The Virginia Department of Transportation proposals for I-66, both inside and outside the Capital Beltway, are much more modest. Outside, it’s three regular lanes and two HOT lanes each way. Inside, it’s the same highway, but with HOT lanes during peak periods.
Bob Chase, the president of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance and an advocate for big solutions to regional travel problems, noted that aside from being ugly, a double deck highway would be difficult to maintain and repair in our climate. Plus, it would be noisier for the neighbors.
While double decking may be extreme, the idea of expanding capacity is logical, he said. Inside the Beltway, Chase said, there’s adequate right of way to add a single lane in each direction between the Dulles Connector Road and Spout Run. Widening inside the Beltway should be part of today’s planning. “Clearly, additional lanes are needed,” he said.
Chase cited forecasts for continued population growth outside the Beltway. Their travel needs can’t be accommodated without significant new capacity. Hardening highway shoulders and planning for higher population densities around Metro stations won’t do it, he said.
On Monday, the Virginia Department of Transportation launched a test of one of its alternative solutions, opening some shoulders on I-66 inside the Beltway to commuter buses when the regular lanes are very congested.
Stewart Schwartz, the executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, also said that elevated highways won’t fly in the D.C. region: “It’s appalling to think that double-decker roads or nine lanes in each direction for I-66 would be considered reasonable by some.” (I noted in my column that some highway commuters react favorably to planners’ conclusions that we would need nine regular lanes in each direction to handle the future traffic demand on I-66.)
“The financial cost, visual blight and impact on neighborhood livability, and the continued environmental harm of water and air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions are unsustainable,” Schwartz continued. “Stop thinking we can build our way out of this with ever larger roads and create great, transit-accessible communities.
“With $58 billion in aging road, transit, water/sewer and school infrastructure, according to the recent [Council of Governments] report, we should be building where we have existing infrastructure, using demand management solutions for our roadways, and creating communities that are more efficient.”
Here’s a sampler of what online commenters proposed in response to my column:
Livin_in_MD: “Change the federal work culture that mandates workers be at their jobs 9-5 (or 7:30-3:30). Allow for flexible work schedules and you reduce the congestion on the roads at peak hours. No need to build more highways.”
pterostilbene: “Private business should be encouraged to maximize flextime. It’s in everyone’s interest.”
drewdane: “Leave your car at home, or at least at a satellite lot, and make use of the public transportation options available.”
Just_A_Reader: “Drivers drive because the public alternatives simply aren’t that good, and no one wants to spend the money on express service, more buses for longer hours, or more trains. ‘Don’t drive’ sounds a lot like ‘Let them eat cake.’ If it was that easy, it would be more popular.”
i said …: “if given the choice, i believe many employees who have jobs that could be established teleworking would certainly embrace it. The problem is not the employee teleworking, it is the employer preventing it.”
DCABuckeye: “Almost all of the traffic issues are the same as New York, people from New Jersey and Connecticut driving into the city. New York forces the use of mass transit by employing tolls entering the city from every bridge and tunnel. The difference here is cars with single drivers entering the city every day from Maryland and Virginia.”
jthough1: “Government is supposed to build infrastructure. Infrastructure is an economic stimulus. The trouble is that we call those with family income of $125,000 the middle class. In fact, $125,000 is top 20% or the rich by any definition. They are grossly undertaxed. They are big consumers and we need a VAT like all civilized countries to get at them.”
FergusonFoont: “Build roads with adequate capacity to handle actual traffic, and stop using these tricks like HOT lanes and ramp meters.”