The Good News: We Know What Works and What Doesn’t
Fortunately, our region has invested millions of dollars in recent decades studying transportation needs and proposed projects, from new road improvements, to expanding mass transit service, to changing our land-use patterns to encourage more non-automotive trips in higher-density urban areas of our region. The question is, are our elected officials paying any attention to the experts in guiding their funding priorities?
The Best Strategy: Invest in a Balanced Program of New Roads, Transit & Other Modes
What all these studies show is that a combination of new road capacity, more transit options, and better land-use planning to improve bike and pedestrian access is a highly effective strategy for improving travel conditions in our region, reducing the time we spend stuck in traffic, and expanding economic opportunity to more area residents. None of these three approaches does the job by itself. Each jurisdiction has identified a list of short-term and long-term capital projects that have been thoroughly studied and analyzed. Some of these are ready to go now, many of the major projects that do the most good remain “on hold” and need to go through a formal “Environmental Impact Statement” (EIS) project study before they are ready to move to construction. The good news is, we know what will work, what won’t work, and the impact on travel conditions in each major corridor from the plans each jurisdiction has developed.
Sophisticated Traffic Modeling Analysis Points to Effective Solutions
Each of our local and regional planning agencies uses state-of-the art traffic modeling programs to develop their transportation plans and these programs are extremely accurate. Recent projections regarding the impact of replacing the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and building the InterCounty Connector, for example, have proven to be right-on-the-money. Both of these major projects performed exactly as the models predicted, dramatically reducing congestion delays. Major traffic bottlenecks have been virtually eliminated by providing the new capacity the traffic models had indicated we needed. Opponents’ fears that these new lanes would simply fill up with “induced” travel and make traffic worse simply did not materialize. The traffic models were right, and these projects performed in real life almost exactly as the models predicted. Similar results have been achieved all over the region, including Montrose Parkway in Montgomery County, which also completely eliminated the severe congestion in that area, exactly as the models predicted.
The Biggest Problem we Face: Local Leaders Not Focused on Regional Solutions that Work
Transportation planners and engineers have identified several key projects that would have a game-changing impact in reducing congestion, but local elected leaders have been focused on other things. This has to change. Frustration with traffic congestion will only grow worse in the coming years if leaders are not committed and new revenue sources are not identified to move some of these urgently needed road and transit projects to construction. What makes it even more frustrating is that we know these projects will make the most difference:
- Adding new express-toll lanes and express-bus service in the I-270 corridor;
- I-495 improvements to extend Virginia’s new toll lanes across the American Legion Bridge and around the Beltway in Maryland;
- Expanding bridge capacity crossing the Potomac River by widening the American Legion Bridge in the short-term, and studying longer-term solutions like additional bridge crossings to meet future demand in this critical choke-point;
- Building the Corridor Cities Transitway and the Purple Line to improve suburb-to-suburb transit access; and
- Investing in our Metro system and all other road, transit, bicycle and pedestrian improvements in our current plans.
We know what needs to be done to solve our traffic problems from a design standpoint, now we need to encourage our leaders to press for these proven solutions and come up with innovative new ways to pay for them. This is the challenge before us and it is one we can meet with the necessary political will – the solutions are all there.
The single most ineffective approach to transportation policy is further delay and indecision. There is considerable urgency in acting now, as construction costs typically only go up over time. We know what the future looks like without investing in key road and transit improvements – travel delays double, commutes get longer and more unpredictable, jobs will leave the area, and our local economy will be severely impacted. Clearly, doing nothing is the WORST and MOST EXPENSIVE option of all.
The Choice We Face is Clear: Invest in Transportation Now, or Bring our Local Economy to a Grinding Halt.
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