Tag: I66

Coalition for Smarter Growth President “tired of the Arlington bashing,” says proponents of widening I-66 “apparently don’t believe in the science of induced traffic”

Check out the video of Stewart Schwartz of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, speaking in Alexandria at the December 9 meeting of the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB), and the partial transcript below. Schwartz does a great job, in a short amount of time, of explaining why we need smart growth solutions in the I-66 corridor, and throughout Northern Virginia, NOT more roads and more roads-inducing sprawl development.

The CTB meeting at which Stewart Schwartz spoke covered a number of transportation-related topics, including this mouthful: “Authorization to Impose Tolls on I-66 Inside the Beltway, Advancement/Allocation of Toll Facilities Revolving Account Funds, and Approval of a Memorandum of Agreement with the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission Relating to the Transform66: Inside the Beltway Project.” What on earth is that? Well, if you followed the closing weeks of the 2016 Virginia General Assembly elections, or if you simply turned on your TV in those closing weeks, you’re almost certainly aware that the issue of I-66 tolling came up, over and over again, in the most demagogic and misleading fashion. I’d note that, in the end, despite Republicans spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on these ads, none of the candidates they attacked (Jennifer Boysko, Kathleen Murphy, etc.) lost. In fact, it’s arguable that the ads backfired, if anything, as candidates like Kathy Smith won by far larger margins than had been expected. So, not sure about the political potency of this line of attack, but it certainly didn’t work in 2015.

Anyway, the bottom line is that the McAuliffe administration is generally on the right course with regard to addressing traffic congestion on I-66 inside and outside the Beltway. As the Coalition for Smarter Growth and many others understand, the LAST thing we should want is pouring more pavement, for a wide variety of reasons, including: a) increasing road capacity simply encourages more sprawl and more traffic (“induced demand”); b) locking in, and even adding to, fossil-fuel-powered transportation infrastructure is the 180-degree wrong way to go, at a time when we need to be rapidly phasing out greenhouse gas emissions if we want to avoid frying our planet; c) building new roads is a ridiculously expensive proposition, and for no good reason (see points “a”and “b”), other than to line the pocket of the road-building folks.

As for the McAuliffe administration’s plan for the I-66 corridor, what it does is basically harness Free Market Economics 101 to address/ameliorate a problem in a cost-effective, market-oriented fashion. Why Republicans of all people would oppose this is kind of mind boggling, until you consider that they also have flip-flopped and now oppose other conservative ideas, such as the “individual mandate,” “cap-and-trade,” etc.

The bottom line, with regard to widening I-66 inside the Beltway, is that Arlington County is absolutely correct: this should be a last-ditch option, after all other options have been tried and ONLY if those other options fail. Frankly, widening I-66 is just as misguided and short-sighted as building new fossil-fuel-fired infrastructure, before we’ve maxed out on energy efficiency. Not smart at all.

With that, here are Stewart Schwartz’s comments at the Dec. 9 meeting of the CTB. Enjoy.

Regarding the previous speakers, they apparently don’t believe in the science of induced traffic, that it is a very real problem. They apparently think we can widen Constitution Avenue in DC. There is no place for these cars to go. If you build it, they WILL come on a wider road. That’s why your combined transportation demand management, transit, HOV solution is the best solution for that corridor.

And I get a little tired of the Arlington bashing. Arlington has probably done more to relieve traffic congestion in Northern Virginia than any other jurisdiction…Their transit-oriented development has sited millions of square feet of development, tens of thousands of housing units, in locations where their vehicle trips and vehicle miles traveled are lower than anywhere else in Northern Virginia. And they have, in the process, maximized transit, walking and biking. That IS a regional transit-oriented development…not what I’m hearing, which is a 1950s, can-we-please-build-rings-of-outer-beltways-and-widen-every-road.

We have to change our land use to do so in a more sustainable way…We DO care about the regional economy, we DO care about being competitive. That means we should maximize great placemaking and transit-oriented development to attract these companies, to retain the Millenials and the next-generation creative employees. And we should do our transportation smart, in a demand-management way like we’re talking about…

RELEASE: Smart growth advocates support plans for HOT lanes and transit on I-66 inside the Beltway as a good idea

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                     
September 11, 2015                                                                                      

Contact:
Stewart Schwartz, CSG, 703-599-6437

NORTHERN VIRGINIA – Coalition for Smarter Growth Executive Director Stewart Schwartz said today that the Virginia Department of Transportation’s package of solutions for I-66 inside the Beltway – including rush hour tolling – is the most efficient and cost-effective way for Northern Virginia resident to improve traffic and provide more reliable commutes on one of the region’s major arteries.

Noting the concerns heard from some outer-jurisdiction legislators in Virginia, Schwartz also said that the proposed toll prices are fair and even cheaper in comparison with the total cost of other transportation options in the region, such as parking at an end-of-the line Metro station and riding in to DC or driving on the newly opened 495 HOT lanes.

“We believe that the package of solutions proposed by VDOT is the most cost-effective and efficient approach to addressing I-66 congestion as soon as possible, and for maximizing the number of people who can commute through the corridor during rush hour, while also guaranteeing a much more reliable trip for everyone,” said Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth.

VDOT’s package of solutions to growing congestion on I-66 inside the Beltway is based on variable tolling in both directions for single-occupant vehicles during the morning and evening rush hour periods. Two-person carpools would travel for free, and when I-66 converts to three-person carpools, they would travel free. Outside of rush hours, the highway would be free for all users.

The toll revenue would be publicly owned and used for transit, road and other improvements in the corridor, benefiting all users including drivers. Preliminary estimates by VDOT indicate a peak toll during the most congested times of $8 to $9 inbound in the morning/outbound in the evening, and $1 to $3 outbound in the morning/inbound in the evening.

“We’ve checked comparable pricing for Metro in the corridor and the peak tolls on the privately controlled 495 and 95 HOT lanes,” said Schwartz. “We found that the potential highest tolls on I-66 inside the Beltway are competitive and reasonable. They’re also a much better deal that the public is receiving with the 495 and 95 HOT lanes, because public ownership allows us to invest the revenues in express buses and other transit services that will further improve conditions for those who drive.”

Toll and Metro Comparisons:

  • VDOT estimate of peak toll on I-66 inside the Beltway: $9.00 (.94 cents per mile for 9.6 miles)
  • Metro from Vienna to Metro Center: $10.30 (includes parking $4.85 + Metrorail peak fare $5.45)
  • Metro from W. Falls Church to Metro Center: $8.95 (includes parking $4.85 + Metrorail peak fare $4.10)
  • I-495 HOT lanes, “maximum dynamic toll” to date: $15.05 ($1.08 per mile for 14 miles; equates to $10.37 on I-66)
  • I-95 HOT lanes, “maximum dynamic toll” to date: $20.90 (.72 cents per mile for 29 miles; equates to $6.91 on I-66) 

Sources: 1) WMATA and 2) Transurban data from March Quarter 2015 .Transurban’s quarterly report includes   the “maximum dynamic toll” for that period. To get the numbers above, we have assumed the “maximum dynamic toll” was applied to a vehicle traveling the entire length of the respective HOT lanes.

VDOT’s Proposal for I-66 inside the Beltway

  • High-Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes will operate in both directions, but only be in effect during peak hours (am/pm). Carpools will not pay tolls. HOV2 will convert to HOV3 when the HOT lanes are opened outside the Beltway.
  • Unlike other northern Virginia HOT lane projects, the I-66 inside the Beltway HOT lanes will be publicly-owned. So, instead of net toll revenues going to private profits, they will fund transit to move more people, more quickly, further reducing congestion.
  • Transit investments could include Metro railcars for 8-car trains, and buses on I-66, Route 50 and Route 29.
  • Investments could also be made in pedestrian and bicycle connections to transit stations and work destinations.
  • Road widening from the Beltway to Ballston, but not beyond, could be considered in the future, but not before determining whether the HOT, HOV, and transit package have done the trick.

The Coalition for Smarter Growth supports the proposal for these additional reasons:

  • The package of HOT, HOV, and transit can be implemented much faster, and at much less cost than widening.
  • The alternative of road widening, particularly through the narrow I-66 corridor between Ballston and the Roosevelt Bridge, would cost hundreds of millions of dollars and result in years of traffic delays during construction, if it were even feasible.
  • Unlike widening, this solution will not impact homes, neighborhoods, parks, and the heavily used commuter bike trail.
  • Unlike widening, which would simply attract more cars that in turn would crowd connecting streets from Constitution Avenue out to the Beltway, this package would provide funding to expand and encourage more transit use and carpooling.
  • While some have worried the tolls might divert cars to other corridors, the option to pay a toll for a faster single-occupant trip on I-66 could instead shift cars back to I-66 (i.e. those who use parallel roads during rush hour today because I-66 is both congested and currently limited to carpoolers in at least one direction).

“The VDOT proposal is a creative and fair approach that will maximize benefits for all commuters in the most cost effective and efficient manner. We are confident that if it is looked at objectively, it is the best approach for I-66 inside-the-Beltway, providing congestion relief much sooner and at far less cost than widening, moving far more people and doing so much more reliably,” concluded Schwartz.

About the Coalition for Smarter Growth
The Coalition for Smarter Growth is the leading organization in the Washington DC region dedicated to making the case for smart growth. Its mission is to promote walkable, inclusive and transit-oriented communities, and the land use and transportation policies and investments needed to make those communities flourish.  Learn more at smartergrowth.net.

Please note: this version corrects an error in an earlier version which had reversed the toll amounts for I-495 and I-95. That error has been corrected.

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