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Keep the Bus and Toll the Road

I am delighted at VDOT’s decision to toll I-66 inside the Beltway and to investigate the impact of tolling and other Transportation Demand Management (TDM) measures to mitigate congestion before undertaking any further widening of the roadway. This makes good sense from both a traffic engineering and financial standpoint. If improved mass transit options together with tolling reduce congestion what’s the point of spending millions of dollars that VDOT could use better elsewhere in Northern Virginia?
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Silver Line Alternative to Parking on I-66

Last December during morning rush hour I shuttled with my bike from the Wiehle Reston Metro Station to Herndon Park and Ride, where I then boarded a standing room only 5A bus to L’Enfant Plaza.

I commented to the 5A bus driver that he must be very popular with commuters to attract such a crowd. No, retorted an irate middle aged passenger. She said it takes more than an hour to get into town via the slow moving Silver Line, whereas it takes only 45 minutes via the 5A bus, which stops at Rosslyn Metro en route to L’Enfant Plaza.

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The Failure of Spot Improvements Have Made My Case

There’s a widespread misperception among elected officials in Northern Virginia that Arlington County is obstructionist, because it opposes widening of I-66 inside the Beltway. Nothing could be further from the truth. You are looking at the only Arlington resident who publicly opposed the ill fated Spot Improvement project–which has widened I-66 piecemeal–by suing VDOT in federal district court.

I lost the court battle but not the war. Rush hour bottlenecks on westbound I-66 persist at the locus of Spot 1, because most outbound traffic is forced back on the I-66 main line at the Sycamore Street exit. In fact the only drivers who benefit from Spot 1 are local motorists who use the added merge lane as an alternative to parallel arteries between Ballston and Falls Church.
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Debt Service on Trolleys Not Included in County Debt Ratios

The County’s proposed ten year capital budget (CIP) allocates over half a billion dollars for the Crystal City and Columbia Pike trolleys. This represents more than half the transportation capital budget and 19 percent of the total capital budget of $2.7 billion. Yet according to the Underlying Assumptions section of the Debt Capacity Analysis (B-15), the debt ratios utilized to determine the County’s bond rating do “not include revenue bonds anticipated to be issued for transportation projects [including the trolleys] and supported by the commercial real estate tax or the Crystal City TIF.”

In effect the debt service on $137 million worth of bonds to be issued to finance the Crystal City and Pike trolleys is off budget. Why? Continue reading

Bus on Shoulder on I-66 Inside the Beltway Might Work

The Washington Examiner recently reported that Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton is promoting tolled express lanes as the solution to congestion on I-66 from the Beltway to Gainesville. He wants to link them to the Beltway’s toll lanes to provide those who can pay with a seamless ride through much of northern Virginia. According to the Examiner, Connaughton isn’t currently planning to install express lanes on I-66 inside the Beltway right now because of political opposition. But it quotes him saying:

“If you don’t want us to widen the road, then we’re going to have to figure out a way to get more capacity out of the road, and I think express lanes are a way to do it.” Continue reading

A Streetcar Named Disaster

On May 2 Arlingtonians for Sensible Transit (AST) apprised voters of new developments in the Columbia Pike streetcar saga. First, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) rejected Arlington’s bid for $75 million in Small Starts funding, because Arlington low balled the cost at $250 million to meet the cost cutoff for such projects. Yet according to FTA the actual cost exceeds $310 million. So the project was disqualified. Continue reading

EV Cabs Put on Hold

On December 10 County Board scuttled a plan to put 40 electric powered cabs (EVs) on Arlington streets, bowing to pressure from cab drivers who packed the County Board hearing room with gags in their mouths to signal their opposition both to the EVs and to Board Chair Mary Hynes’ decision to cut off public comment. As an inducement to approve the project EV Taxicabs had promised to install dozens of electric recharging stations around the county that would be available to the public free of charge. At first blush, EV taxis looked like a win-win for both Arlington residents and the environment. However, the Arlington Transportation Commission vetoed the project over concern whether the cabs could provide reliable service to/from Dulles Airport. Continue reading

A Streetcar Named BRT

I’m sure County Board members are squriming over the report recently released by transportation consultant and Democratic Party leader Peter Rousselot which recommends BRT (bus rapid transit) for Columbia Pike instead of the trolley. According to Rousselot, the bus alternative actually performs about as well as the trolley on a number of key criteria but costs far less, $53 million for the bus v. $250 million for the trolley. Continue reading

I-66 Spot Improvement Project: Arlington’s Bridge To Nowhere

Last Friday at around 3:30 p.m. I was biking on a pedestrian bridge over I-66 and noticed traffic backed up all the way from Fairfax Drive to the Sycamore Street exit. So what else is new, you ask? Well, the fact that a little more than a year ago, VDOT spent about $15 million dollars of taxpayer money earmarked by Congressman Frank Wolf to construct an extended merge lane to alleviate congestion between Fairfax Drive and Sycamore Street. Continue reading

Road Rage Against Arlington Transit Buffs

In a recent blog, WP columnist Steve Pearlstein attacked as nazis, zealots and nimbys Arlington activists who opposed recent road widening projects inside the county. He’s outraged that Arlington forced VDOT to abandon its plans to widen I-395 absent an environmental assessment of the project. Stewart Schwartz of the Coalition for Smarter Growth replied: Continue reading