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                                                                                      

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.



Transportation overhaul: New scoring system for project funding nearly set

The Commonwealth Transportation Board is slated to vote Wednesday on the key details of a new scoring system that will be used to decide what new road projects get funding around the state.

The board is expected to weight various scoring categories in the formula, which will be used to judge all future projects. Projects expected to reduce congestion will score high in Hampton Roads, particularly if a change that the Virginia Department of Transportation has suggested wins board approval.

When the scoring criteria were rolled out in March, the plan was to figure 35 percent of a project’s score in Hampton Roads based on congestion mitigation. The new recommendation is 45 percent.

Board members said they’re not sure whether the change has the votes to pass Wednesday, and two said they’d prefer a compromise of 40 percent. That, they said, would allow increases to at least one other category that they believe has a longer-term effect on congestion relief than the congestion mitigation category itself.

The basics of the new scoring system were laid out last year in House Bill 2, which called for an overhaul of the state’s road-funding process. Supporters on both sides of the aisle, including Gov. Terry McAuliffe, said they wanted to replace an often political process with something more objective and transparent.

Projects will be scored, those scores will be posted online, and if the Commonwealth Transportation Board deviates from those scores when it picks projects, people will notice, supporters said.

There are six scoring categories: Congestion mitigation, economic development, accessibility, safety, environmental quality and land use. VDOT was tasked with deciding how much to weight each category.

Weightings will differ around the state. In rural areas, safety improvement projects will score better. In Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia, congestion mitigation will reign supreme.

But environmental and smart growth advocates said Tuesday that just because a project scores well on mitigation, as opposed to accessibility and land use, doesn’t mean it will have the biggest long-term effect on traffic. Adding lanes addresses issues in the short term, but can discourage people from car pooling, taking mass transit and scheduling travel at off-peak times, said Stewart Schwartz, executive director at the Coalition for Smarter Growth.

Accessibility scores, on the other hand, judge how much a project helps people get to and from work, and it includes a transit component. Land use is based on how transportation projects support efficient development.

Accessibility shrunk in importance by 15 percentage points to increase congestion mitigation’s effect in Hampton Roads, and to up land use’s by 5 points. Marty Williams, a former Newport News city councilman and Peninsula state senator who sits now on the state transportation board, said he’d like to see accessibility bumped back up about 5 points before the formula is finalized.

Both Williams and John Malbon, who represents Hampton Roads on the CTB, said they’d be comfortable with congestion mitigation at 40 percent. They noted that the old system – the one in place before House Bill 2 – probably put congestion mitigation at about 80 percent, though projects weren’t formally scored that way.

Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne said Tuesday that there was some push, from legislators and others, to crank congestion mitigation up as high as 70 percent. Local officials were more likely to prefer the 35 percent VDOT originally suggested, he said.

“I don’t think anybody is really happy with it (at 45 percent),” Layne said. “Which probably means we pushed it about as far as we could.”

Camelia Ravanbakht, who, as interim executive director of the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization, is heavily involved in suggesting projects for funding, said she was surprised Tuesday to hear about the increase proposal. Her group didn’t request the change, and she said it’s too early to know how it would affect specific projects planned in the region.

“I wish I did (know),” she said. “It’s very project-specific. You cannot really generalize it.”

Nick Donohue, the deputy transportation secretary who spearheaded the lengthy process that led to these weighting formula recommendations, told board members Tuesday that there will be some trial and error in the coming years. The state will probably want to tweak the formula “at least every few rounds.”

Local officials will submit projects for funding, but the project-by-project scoring will be done by the state. Donohue said that process hasn’t been set, but will be in the coming months. It’s possible that multiple teams will score projects so that at least some of the projects scored in each round are reviewed by separate teams, he said.

Fain can be reached by phone at 757-525-1759.

Read the original article here.

VDOT Plan to Add Tolls to I-66 Gets Tough Reception

The plans developed for a 25-year upgrade of Interstate 66 inside the Beltway by the Virginia Department of Transportation were presented at a heavily-attended public meeting at the Henderson Middle School in Falls Church Tuesday night, and left the audience more than a little unsettled, based on the comments and grumblings from many there.

The plans include the introduction of tolls for all vehicles carrying less than three passengers during rush hours in the morning and the evening, and going both ways.

The presentation faced a lot of angry criticism from the public that spoke up Tuesday night, including from Falls Church Vice Mayor David Snyder, who, even though he welcomed the audience on behalf of the City, issued a statement that exemplified the sharp criticism that the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and other planning officials were subjected to.

Snyder criticized the “lack of clarity and assurance” in the proposals, including “whether people will actually pay the tolls on avoid them and further clog already congested roads such as Route 7 and 29…The only long-term solutions lie in alternatives to more lanes to serve single occupancy vehicles.”
Others assailed what they called “a money grab” and “holding Falls Church and Fairfax hostage to tolls.” Whereas the comprehensive plan is not slated to be completed until 2040, the tolling will come in the first phase set to go by 2017, according to the planners Tuesday.
The overall purpose of the plan, officially called the “I-66 Multimodal Project,” is three-fold: to move more people, “enhance connectivity” between travel modes, and to provide new travel options.
Its benefits, according to VDOT and its partner in this project, the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT), are to “move more people and enhance connectivity in the I-66 corridor, provide congestion relief and new travel choices, manage demand and ensure congestion-free travel, provide a seamless connection to nearly 40 miles of express lanes in the region, create a ‘carpool culture’ on I-66 by providing free, faster, more reliable trips for HOV-3, van pools and buses, and provide support for multimodal improvements in the corridor or on surrounding roadways that benefit mobility on I-66.”
It is not related to another plan which calls for the widening of I-66 west of the Beltway, although they interface and of course are on the same highway.
The more specific data many citizens demanded Tuesday night will be forthcoming in the fall, insisted VDOT officials. The studies of various components of the plan for more precise numbers will be coming over the next months.
Snyder’s concern for the spill-over effect onto side roads, like Routes 7 and 29 that criss-cross the City of Falls Church, was expressed at a Falls Church City Council work session Monday night, and was the concern of a number of those who spoke Tuesday.

However, in comments e-mailed to the News-Press following Tuesday’s meeting, Stewart Schwartz of the Coalition for Smarter Growth wrote, “We are generally supportive of the VDOT proposal. It is a viable alternative to widening which would do more harm to homes, neighborhoods, parks, schools and the highly utilized commuter bike trail.”

He added that “peak hour congestion pricing in both directions will ensure the road works effectively and with HOV and expanded transit could carry far more people per hour,” and would “certainly help to address the current severe congestion in the ‘reverse commute’ direction.”

Pending more data, he added, the “diversion of traffic…might turn out to be no more than the diversions prompted by the current traffic congestion on I-66,” and “is counterbalanced by the fact that currently single occupancy vehicles are barred from I-66 for the peak hours and have been using parallel roads. With the option to pay for a free moving facility as compared to navigating local arterials with stoplights, the toll option could help local streets.”

Robert Puentes, a planner and former member of the Falls Church Planning Commission, wrote online at FCNP.com that “The VDOT plan is the right one to deal with the intractable problems in the I-66 corridor. There’s a long way to go to refine the proposal and the devil’s in the details but the general plan is a good one.”

In an anonymous response to Puentes on FCNP.com, a commenter complained that “reverse commuters face no restrictions now and in fact some have considered this in establishing their places or residence.”

He argued, “We need a comprehensive and robust mass transit solution to the traffic quagmire…We could focus on making Northern Virginia a showplace for light rail and bus networks designed so that people actually could use them instead of cars.”

Read the original article here.

I-66 coalition asks Virginia to reopen its congestion-relief study

The I-66 Corridor Coalition, a new group of community, transportation and environmental groups, is calling on the Virginia government to reopen a congestion-relief study for the interstate outside the Capital Beltway so that a broad range of options can be reconsidered. That study was completed in 2013.

Meeting to address concerns on I-66 HOT lanes

In announcing the forum, the Coalition for Smarter Growth named some of the popular topics in Fairfax County: How will homes and neighborhoods be affected? Will there be enhanced opportunities for walking and biking? What transit alternatives are being developed? How will the project affect parks, streams and natural habitats? What are the likely effects on everyone during the construction period?

Double deck I-66? Travelers stack up against it

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.

Public meeting held on widening I-66, adding tolls

Schwartz says he believes transit is the best way to solve congestion problems. Hamilton says carpooling and rapid bus service with limited stops along the Express Lanes would encourage transit. But Schwartz counters that similar promises about new rapid bus service were made regarding the 495 and 95 Express Lanes and neither actually happened.

I-66 to gain toll lanes inside, outside the Beltway

He says it’ll induce more drivers to commute long-distance alone. He also says VDOT has made promises about providing robust bus service on the 495 and 95 express lanes but neither have come to fruition. “If they consider rapid bus service as a top justification for the project, then we expect guarantees that VDOT will fund rapid bus service in the corridor. They’ve failed to do it on the 495 and 95 Express Lane deals,” says Schwartz.

D.C. digs itself out from latest snowstorm and deals with icy roads

D.C. digs itself out from latest snowstorm and deals with icy roads

Washington was in motion again Tuesday, one day after an icy snowstorm shut down the region, but many drivers inched along many minimally plowed neighborhood streets and pedestrians did the slip and slide on miles of sidewalks untouched by shovels.

Mother Nature may play out the hand she dealt Monday, trumping snow and ice with warmer weather that’s forecast to arrive Wednesday and continue through the weekend. A major melting should start by Friday, with high temperatures near or above 50 expected for five consecutive days, according to forecasts.

A combination of factors made snow removal challenging in the aftermath of the storm and into Tuesday. Roads normally treated before the first snowfall were left bare Monday because the rain that fell first would have washed the treatment away. The freezing rain that fell next left a crust of ice once the plows cleared the snow. Overnight and into the morning, frigid weather — with temperatures in the single digits most places — inhibited salt’s ability to chew through that ice.

“With the temperatures being so cold, and especially last night, we had a refreeze,” said Carol Terry, a spokeswoman with Prince George’s County Department of Public Works and Transportation. “Some of those areas refroze. So it takes a little more plowing than usual. After it gets so cold, the salt doesn’t even work. We are hoping that it warms up.”

She said that the county’s major roads were in good shape but that residential roads still needed plowing.

Late Tuesday afternoon in the neighborhoods around Catholic University in the District, plow operations had shifted into the “mop up stage” as veteran driver Michael Miller steered his 40,000-pound truck onto the roads. His target was the narrow residential streets. He and other drivers were hoping to clear leftover snow and treat the roads, cleared but still slick,with salt before it refroze overnight, causing even more problems.

It was Miller’s second 12-hour shift. On Monday, he started clearing major roads — Michigan Avenue, North Capitol near and around the university and streets at nearby Washington Hospital Center — at noon, when snowfall and roads were at their worst. Still, Miller, who’s been doing the job for almost three decades, said he’d seen worse. Way worse.

“The main thing is the temperature,” he said. “It got dicey [Monday] evening, when everything that was treated froze up.”

Joan Morris of the Virginia Department of Transportation said that patches of snow and ice remained on the shoulders and turn lanes of some major roadways on Tuesday.

“Typically, we could knock that out in one day,” she said, but when temperatures fell below 20 degrees, salt no longer worked as well to melt ice.

VDOT, which is responsible for all roads and neighborhood streets in Northern Virginia, hoped to clear a path through every subdivision road by the end of the day Tuesday. Curb-to-curb plowing in those neighborhoods, Morris said, would “take them forever.”

Sharon Bulova (D), chairwoman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, who has been critical of VDOT’s snow removal in the past, said: “This winter, they’ve done a much better job than they’ve ever done before. In the past, there was a lot that we’ve criticized them for. This time, there was nothing to complain about. VDOT has improved their performance in clearing the roads of snow just incredibly.”

Bulova also said that federal and local governments in the region have taken steps to improve the situation by communicating closures the night before and allowing more government employees to work from home, keeping more cars off the road. Federal agencies, in particular, learned an important lesson after a massive traffic jam last year when the government released all of its workers early, at the same time, and drivers spent several hours trying to get home, she said.

The gusty wind that came in with the snow and ice also hindered cleanup operations, officials said.

“Strong winds kept blowing snow back onto roads, requiring crews to repeatedly clear main and emergency routes before plowing neighborhoods,” said Montgomery County spokeswoman Esther Bowring.

This was the 25th storm in Montgomery this winter, which has had a total of 50 inches of ice and snow so far, Bowring said.

“There is that hard, crusty layer that is impossible to remove with just one plow,” she said. “We have been able to get into all the neighborhoods, but we realize that a lot of the neighborhood streets are very packed. So now the crews are going back out and trying to do more to try to make them more passable.”

Loudoun County officials issued an alert Tuesday warning drivers that the roads were still dangerous “because the snow’s consistency is more like ice than powder” and because low temperatures will keep refreezing the surface for several days.

Icy or unshoveled sidewalks posed a particular problem in many places.

“There is no sensible way of clearing snow from sidewalks,” said Akshay Birla, 26, a Columbia Heights resident. “D.C. is such a heavy commuter city, in terms of public transit and walking, as opposed to driving, that it makes sense to have some sort of strategy to make sure that people can get to work.”

Even walking a block from his home to the Giant grocery store on Park Road on Monday was impossible, he said.

Cheryl Cort, the policy director with the Coalition for Smarter Growth, said the region as a whole should look at creating a more comprehensive policy for clearing ice and snow from sidewalks and pedestrian crossings.

“We put a lot of resources into clearing roads, but it is left up to individuals to clear sidewalks and intersections to cross. There needs to be more attention to prioritizing pedestrian routes. It’s got to be more than asking property owners to clear the sidewalks.”

Manassas residents face some of the region’s strictest sidewalk-shoveling policies, while just across the city border in Prince William County, there is no law mandating that residents shovel their walks at all.

Manassas residents have 12 hours to shovel their sidewalks once the snow stops — during the day. (For snow that stops overnight, homeowners have until 5 p.m. the next day.) Now that the 12-hour period is over for this storm, city officials are busy leaving notices at homes with snowy walks. There is no fine for failure to comply with the rules, but if residents fail to shovel after receiving a written warning, the city will do it for them — at a cost, Street Maintenance Manager Russ Graham said.

Graham recalled one homeowner’s association that received a bill for almost $1,000 when the city cleared all its sidewalks several years ago. He said that the city has not had to bill an individual homeowner in recent years, though. A warning is usually enough.

Prince George’s officials said they were receiving complaints about icy sidewalks. Inspectors were out Tuesday to warn property owners to clear sidewalks by 3 p.m. Wednesday, said Gary Cunningham, deputy director of the county’s department of permitting, inspections and enforcement.

Read the original article on the Washington Post >>