Category: Transportation

Toll Cheating Drives Up Tolls on I-66

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting, 5/18/19

I am speaking on behalf of the Arlington Coalition for Sensible Transportation (ACST), not on behalf of the Arlington Transportation Commission, of which I am a member.

On May 2, 2019, VDOT Tolling Division Administrator David Caudill and NOVA Assistant District Administrator Monica Bhatia provided the Arlington Transportation Commission with a performance report on tolling operations on I-66 Inside the Beltway since their inception in December, 2017.

The good news is that headway on the corridor has improved with east bound speeds between Route 7 and Lee Highway increasing 30.2% from 41.4 mph to 53.9 mph and west bound speeds between Route 7 and I-495 increasing 25.4 percent from 40.1 mph to 50.3 mph.

The bad news is that tolling enforcement operations by Virginia State Police (VSP) are lax. On May 9, 2019, Caudill further reported:

“since December 4, 2017, Virginia State Police troopers have issued 258 citations eastbound and 615 citations westbound. 91 citations have been written between 7:30AM and 8:30AM.”

91 peak hour HOV citations in the 356 tolling days during the 74 week reporting period reduces to only about one peak hour citation for every four days of tolling or 0.256 HOV citations per peak-toll-price hour.

A 99% HOV-compliance rate among the I-66 ITB facility’s 14,000 daily HOV vehicle trips would equate to 140 toll-cheating trips/day or 17 citations per toll-price-hour. Yet actual HOV citation numbers are a fraction of that.

Significantly lower numbers of citations on eastbound I-66 further indicate that toll cheating contributes to higher peak hour toll prices documented in the a.m. on inbound I-66. Absent an adequate enforcement regime, tolls will continue to spike on eastbound I-66, fueling political opposition to the program, despite its success at reducing congestion.

Public Spaces Master Plan Calls for Widening Bike Trails

Comments At Arlington County Board Meeting, 4/25/19

The same environmental considerations that govern the Bicycle Element should guide the Public Spaces Master Plan (PSMP) especially for those areas that are located in Resource Protection Areas (RPAs) governed by the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act (CBPA). This includes the entire linear regional park along Four Mile Run and all of the local parks that abut it.

Dr. Bernard Berne has forwarded to you amendments to the draft PSMP to remove language to widen trails located in urban parks, on the grounds that:

“Wide paved trails within natural areas and Resource Protection Areas (RPAs) add impermeable surfaces that disturb natural areas, harm nearby trees, reduce the size of adjacent meadows and other natural features, and increase stormwater runoff.  Further, wide trails detract from the experiences that people visiting the areas for reasons other than transportation wish to enjoy.”

Dr. Bernard Berne

Dr. Berne cites the 2012 AASHTO Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities, which recommends designing trails for lower speeds in urban parks (p. 5-12).

He also recommends removing Section 2.3.4 (p. 90): as inconsistent with preservation of natural areas stipulated in Section 3.2 (p. 98):

2.3.4 Explore ways to safely separate modes, where space allows, on high traffic trail routes and where user conflicts commonly occur, while minimizing impact on natural resources and trees.

Separating bicycle and pedestrian traffic on the most heavily used routes will enhance the safety of all users.

And adding a second sentence to Section 6.1.4 (p. 128):

Mowed buffers adjacent to paved trails in natural areas should not exceed three feet in width, except where environmental conditions prevent this.

As authority, Dr. Berne cites the AASHTO Guide (p. 5-5), which recommends that:

. . . a graded shoulder area at least 3 to 5 ft (0.9 to 1.5 m) wide with a maximum cross-slope of 1V:6H, which should be recoverable in all weather conditions, should be maintained on each side of the pathway.

Finally Dr. Berne recommends an appendix that contains all existing County maintenance standards for parks and trails, so that the public can determine if the County is adhering to them.

Toll Cheating on I-66 Drives Up Tolls

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting, March 16, 2019

I’m speaking on my own behalf as an Arlington Coalition for Sensible Transportation (ACST) director, not as a member of the Transportation Commission.

Recently, ACST made FOIA inquiries with Virginia State Police (VSP) and VDOT to determine whether toll cheating on I-66 Inside the Beltway (ITB) by solo motorists is inflating the toll prices.

Reportedly, pursuant to the attached, redacted Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between VDOT and VSP, during the first year of tolling, VDOT reimbursed VSP approximately $550,000 from I-66 toll revenue for new VSP enforcement activities, including at least four additional state troopers to monitor the gantries along I-66 for toll cheaters.

Under this MOU (p. 4), the VSP Area Commander is supposed to issue daily, monthly, and quarterly HOV-enforcement reports–“with vehicle information and the time/date of violations”–to VDOT’s “I-66 ITB Facility Manager”. VSP indicated that it does not routinely do this.

Instead, it produces database-generated summary reports showing incidents and citations by incident type. The incident summary report for the first 53 weeks of I-66 tolling shows 1,326 HOV stops resulting in 702 citations.

Dividing the 702 HOV citations by 253 8-hour tolling days in this 53-week reporting period, yields an average of 2.77 HOV citations for every 8 hours of tolling.

A 99% HOV-compliance rate among the I-66 ITB facility’s 14,000 daily trips vehicle trips/day taken with an E-ZPass Flex set in the HOV mode would equate to 140 toll-cheating trips/day, whereas the VSP has cited fewer than 3 vehicles/day, on average, for HOV violations.

Moreover, ACST suspects that HOV enforcement on I-66 is largely limited to westbound travel, allowing eastbound solo motorists to routinely cheat the tolls with near impunity.

Populist outrage over the “sky high” AM eastbound tolls threatens to undo the Transform 66 initiative, leading to more traffic congestion in Arlington and DC and an even wider I-66. Unless elected officials and VDOT get serious about enforcing I-66 tolls, I fear that will happen.

Arlington Civic Association Says VDOT Responsible for Erosion of W&OD Trail

Comments At Arlington County Board Meeting, 2/26/19

I am speaking in my capacity as a director of the Arlington Coalition for Sensible Transportation (ACST), not as a member of the Transportation Commission.

I support VDOT’s request for temporary and permanent easements along the W&OD and Custis Trails to implement needed trail improvements between East Falls Church Metro and Ballston.

I pulled this item from the consent agenda because it does not include a plan to address the root cause of flooding of Four Mile Run in the immediate vicinity of the work VDOT has outlined.

You should have received a recent letter from the Madison Manor Civic Association (MMCA) thanking you for undertaking to shore up erosion along the W&OD trail in the vicinity of the Patrick Henry overpass.

However, MMCA is concerned that unless the cause of the erosion is addressed, it will recur. Members of the civic association have identified the problem as clogged intakes to a storm water diversion bypass tunnel about one third mile upstream.

It is irresponsible for the County to ignore this situation, of which it is surely aware. County Board itself in approving the I-66 widening project on 1/28/17 in agenda item 37.C.e stipulated to VDOT that:

any new stormwater management facilities proposed with this project be adequately maintained, specifically that erosion and sediment controls should be outlined and contain information on inspection and enforcement actions.

County Board should direct staff to contact VDOT and stipulate the repair and upgrade or replacement of the existing intakes as part of the I-66 eastbound widening project, which authorizes such improvements as long as they are within the scope of the project.

Insofar as the bypass tunnel runs directly under the I-66 ROW before emptying into Four Mile Run, it is definitely within the eastbound widening project’s scope of work. Thus it is well within the authority of Arlington County Board to make this request.

County Board Ignores Neighborhood in Approving APAH Deal

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting, 2/23/19

I am speaking on my own behalf and not on behalf of the Transportation Commission, which heard this item on February 7.

I support affordable housing in general and Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing (APAH)’s mission to provide it in particular. However at over $400,000 per unit, which is the price of a luxury condo, I do not believe that APAH actually provides affordable housing.

Regarding the American legion site, I am concerned that issues raised by the neighborhood have been ignored. The Ballston-Virginia Square Civic Association submitted a letter dated 2/7/19 to both the Planning and Transportation Commissions detailing its concerns. It concluded:

In conversations with several planning commissioners, it has been made clear that Arlington County’s need and desire for affordable housing means this project is moving forward regardless of its deleterious impacts to nearby residents. It is feared that neighborhood concerns are not being fully considered and given the weight they duly deserve. In this way, citizens have participated throughout the process, but their voice has been lost.

I concur with this assessment. In particular I’m concerned about the decision to remove the fence separating this development from the 12th Road residential neighborhood in order to provide egress to emergency vehicles.

In another letter a resident of that block pointed out that 12th Road is a narrow, one way street with no sidewalks or adequate lighting. If indeed emergency access is needed to 12th Road, then the County should treat this situation like it does any other easement.

The County should require compensation from the developer to pay for needed street improvements. To me upgrading 12th Road is both a matter of public safety and simple equity. The fact that APAH would find millions to spend on the American Legion site–over $38 million–while beggaring the neighborhood is amazing.

Crystal City Traffic Impact Analysis Misreported

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting on May 19, 2018.

Although I’m a member of the Arlington Transportation Commission, I’m speaking on my own behalf, and my opinion does not reflect that of the Commission on the matter at hand.

I like this plan because its principal feature, a 21 story residential tower, represents a practical way to reuse a vacant office building that promises to remain vacant otherwise. It will meet the demand for more housing while promising economic benefits to the developer and the County. The architectural design is aesthetically pleasing, and the developer promises to dedicate a major portion of the site to a public park.

However, my principal focus is traffic generated by the development, and I am concerned about the numbers reported and the conclusions drawn by the Traffic Impact Analysis (TIA), which is referenced in the staff report accompanying this agenda item. (more…)

NVTA’s Funding Formula Is Biased

Comments at Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) Meeting, May 10, 2018.

Although I’m a member of the Arlington County Transportation Commission, I am speaking only on my own behalf.

NVTA ranked 60 projects as a preliminary to awarding more than $1.2 billion under the FY 2018-2023 Six Year Program (SYP). NVTA ranked five Arlington projects as follows:

  • 1 Transportation Demand Management (TDM) project;
  • 2 Metrorail station improvement projects–one at Ballston and the other at Crystal City;
  • 2 bus system improvement projects–one to extend the Crystal City Transitway to Pentagon City and the other to construct improved ART bus facilities.

Of those five projects, the only one with a high CRRC (congestion reduction relative to cost) rank was the TDM project. All the others scored low—extremely low. In fact ART bus facility improvements ranked 56 out of 60, even though ART bus is one of only two regional bus services to realize an increase in ridership in 2017. Improvements to the Crystal City Metrorail Station scored 58 out of 60 even though it is seen as necessary to service a projected major increase in VRE ridership offloading at Crystal City. (more…)

Traffic Impacts? What Traffic Impacts?

Remarks for Arlington County Board meeting on April 21, 2018.

Although I’m a member of the Arlington Transportation Commission, I’m speaking on my own behalf, and my opinion does not reflect that of the Commission on the matter at hand.

I applaud Wesley Housing Development Corporation’s ambitious plan to put in affordable housing at Route 50 near George Mason Drive. But analysis of the traffic impact analysis (TIA) prepared by Wells + Associates belies its claim that the traffic impacts of the project will be negligible. (more…)

Metro Should Be Accountable For Poor Emergency Management

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting on April 21, 2018.

Although I’m a member of the Arlington Transportation Commission, I am speaking only on my own behalf.

DC Metro’s new slogan is “Back2Good”, but if its recent performance is an indication, Metro is “Back2Bad But Good”. On December 28, three eastbound trains offloaded at Ballston, reversed course and head back the way they came. By the time another inbound train arrived, the platform was packed, leaving one wheelchair bound patron to negotiate his way down the platform just six inches from the edge. (more…)

VRE Crystal City Rail Station Needs More Study

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting on 9/19/2017.

The fact that VRE is planning a new rail station for Crystal City points to the success of its rail operations in Northern Virginia. The fact that it has actively solicited input from VRE rail riders demonstrates its commitment to serving them. Unfortunately VRE’s consensus building efforts have excluded residents of Crystal City, who challenge VRE’s claims that construction of Option 2 will have no significant noise or pollution impacts. (more…)