Dr. Gridlock

Jul 15, 2013

The Washington Post's Dr. Gridlock, Robert Thomson, will be online to take all your questions about Metro, traffic throughout the region and other transportation issues.

About Monday's chat: Setting priorities

On Monday, July 15, Dr. Gridlock will be joined by two guests: Martin Nohe of Prince William and Chris Zimmerman of Arlington, board members of the newly empowered Northern Virginia Transportation Authority. The authority plans to make decisions this month about a first round of spending on transportation projects that could amount to $200 million.

The money is likely to go to a variety of road, transit, biking and walking projects across the region, but some transportation advocates favor spending on just a few projects that would have the highest possible impact on congestion.

Submit your thoughts and questions here and join us for a discussion at noon on Monday.

I'm Chris Zimmerman, NVTA member from Arlington, and chairman of the Project Implementation Working Group.

Welcome, travelers. I'm pleased to have guests Marty Nohe and Chris Zimmerman for today's chat.  They will focus on questions about Northern Virginia Transportation Authority and the important decisions it's about to make.

I'll be looking for your questions on other local transportation issues.

Thanks to Arlington County, I cannot use I-66 to get into work. Instead, I must drive along US-50 with all of its stop lights and bus stops. While I realize that the more people who get to work on a bus, the fewer people there will be in cars. The problem is that a bus must stop along the side of the road to let passengers to get on and off the bus. Sometimes, there is a separate lane for them to use, but other times there isn't. Every time a bus stops and blocks a lane of traffic, traffic behind it will be slowed down. It might not be a big deal in stop and go traffic as everyone is already stopped, but in my opinion it does add to the problem. There needs to be a better way. I realize there isn't always room to build a separate bus lane, but that doesn't mean we don't need to continue to search for a solution.

Not sure why you can't use I-66, but I'm pretty sure it's not because of Arlington County, which has no authority over the roadway, which is a VDOT facility.  In any case, to your point about bus lanes:  I agree wholeheartedly that our regional transportation network would work much more effectively if it included exclusive lanes for buses.  More people would be able to get more places in less time -- both bus riders and drivers.  In fact, on Route 50 the third lane used to be a bus lane, but was turned over to automobiles.  I agree that adding bus lanes would be a relatively low-cost way to add capacity to our transportation system.  One especially low-cost way to do this is the "bus-on-shoulder" approach, used extensively in many other metropolitan areas (notably Minneapolis).  VDOT is actually working on a pilot for I-66, and the regional Transportation Planning Board is close to releasing a report with recommendations.

Thank you for having us online today, Bob.  I’m Marty Nohe, the Chairman of the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA).  The Authority is responsible for long-range transportation planning for regional transportation projects in Northern Virginia.  Whenever possible, we do this on the basis of a regional consensus. The Authority sets regional transportation policies and priorities for regional transportation projects. We do this through performance-based criteria such as the ability to improve travel times, reduce delays, connect regional activity centers, improve safety, improve air quality, and move the most people in the most cost-effective manner.

 

Thanks to the recently approved transportation funding bill approved by the General Assembly earlier this year, the NVTA is responsible allocating the Northern Virginia Regional component of the funding formula.  Northern Virginia is expected to receive approximately $270 million annually in new transportation funds in the coming years, approximately $190 million of which will be used by the NVTA to kickstart congestion relief projects throughout the region.

Is there any plan (or money) to begin repaving the roads in Fairfax County. I can't believe how bad the roads are around here. You can only patch a street so many times

This has become a very common question, as we are still feeling the effects of the reduction in maintenence funds that we experienced during the recession.  The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) does not perform road maintenence, like repaving, and in fact we are not permitted under the legislation to use the new Northern Virginia regional tranportation funds for paving.  But the legislation also includes new revenues that flow to the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDoT) for maintenence and my understanding is that they will be stepping up their efforts for this kind of repairs throughout the state.  That does not necessarily mean that VDoT can tell us now when a particular road will be re-paved, but I think its fair to assume that you'll see an increase in asphalt trucks in the coming years.

If there is a road that poses a particualr problem, you can call VDOT's citizen hotline at 1-800-FOR-ROAD and request that it be evaluated for re-paving.

I hope this helps!

Has anyone noticed a signicant change in gas prices in VA? As a long time nova resident I've always felt gas prices in Va were slightly cheaper than in MD. But I remember hearing that the VA transportation bill would structure the gas tax/sales tax differently, resulting in net higher VA gas prices now. Last night, passing by RockvilleTown Center, I noticed 2 separate stations which were at least 5 cents/gallon cheaper than the cluster of stations on the Arlington/Falls Church border where I usually fill up. That was a first. Have you noticed similar?

It was the Maryland gas tax that was supposed to go up this month, and the Virginia gas tax that was supposed to drop. But I haven't heard from any drivers talking about cross-Potomac travels in search of cheaper prices.

I was one of the dupes caught up in the big delay last week. A few comments about Metro communication: 1) I was off loaded at Foggy Bottom at 6:15 pm. The entire time I was on the platform, the sign board said that the trains were single tracking but this was not true because there was no orange line train until 7:25 - about 70 minutes; 2) The signs continuously provided the false impression that the problem had been resolved because they kept changing from no time listed for the next train, to stating that the next train would be in five minutes. Great, I will wait it our I would say. Then, after 10 minutes, it would go back to no time listed, etc. etc.; 3) There was not one announcement explaining the delay or informing us that it would be a long delay; 4) the first announcement I heard was after I was on the platform for about a half hour but it was the canned announcement that starts out "First time riding on Metro? . . ." (imagine if this had been someone's first time!); 5) the first time the station manager made an announcement was after I had been there for over 45 minutes. The announcement was that the next Vienna train would be on the Vienna side of the platform. Uh, ok.

This is what I mean. In an emergency, key communications have to occur in the stations. It's fine to be sending out eAlerts and Twitter messages, but it's not a substitute for communications from the station managers and accurate information on the platform display signs.

This is just a guess on my part, based on your description:  Sounds like the platform signs were reverting to a computer-generated message about when the next train would arrive, based on the line's normal schedule.

I was on the Orange line train on Wednesday and received almost no communication from Metro throughout the entire ordeal. I'm sure we'll hear more empty promises from Metro about how they'll analyze the situation and make improvements but they say this EVERY time an event happens and nothing changes. It's baffling to me that somebody - anybody - can't pick up a microphone and tell people what's going on. Why is this such a foreign concept to WMATA? I'm done with Metro - it will cost me $5 more to park my car and only add 5/10 minutes to my commute each day.

Along with huge delays and overcrowded trains, communications was a target for commuter wrath on Wednesday night.

Here's a link to Dana Hedgpeth's story:

http://wapo.st/12oyizt

Generally, I find Metro has made big improvements in its electronic communications over the past few years, but that shouldn't be a substitute for direct communication with riders on the platforms and aboard trains. Or on the street level when bus bridges are being established to get around a shutdown on a line.

Two in a row, 4:30 pm, Metro Center, Tuesday, July 9, in the direction of Franconia-Springfield/Vienna. Three or four minutes apart, and the next Vienna train was ten minutes after the first Blue Line one. No announcements or anything from Metro indicating why this happened. It was extremely irritating, especially with a rapidly filling platform with patrons waiting for an Orange Line train. (I decided to back track to Federal Triangle and got a seat on an Orange Line train once it finally arrived.) Oh, and both Blue Line trains had seats galore. I could have gotten a bench to myself.

That's an attention getting headline on your comment. "Luxury Blue Line" is not a phrase I'm used to seeing.

At this point, the Blue Line trains for most of rush hour should arrive six minutes apart, followed by a 12 minute gap. But that's only if they're on schedule.

I recently started commuting on the Red Line again after a three year hiatus. When -- and why -- did cell phone service (I have AT&T) vanish from Farragut North during that time, and are there any plans for its restoration?

Have any other AT&T users been having trouble at Farragut North or other stations?

When I first read this question, I thought maybe it's related to the construction at the station, but that doesn't make sense, because my Verizon service works fine on the Farragut North platform.

I saw a wolf on the upper deck over the weekend.

At least it's being used.

I walked by this morning, but saw no activity -- human or otherwise.

This is our most recent story on the transit center travesty:

http://wapo.st/14jzx0M

 

I know it's illegal to pass school buses at stops, but what about Metro, Dash, etc.? Passing would require being partly in the oncoming lane. If there are no cars coming from the opposite direction, is it legal to pass? I'm mostly interested in the laws in VA if it makes a difference.

The only law I know of regarding passing buses is the DC law that bars a driver from pulling out from behind a stopped Metrobus and making a right turn in front of the bus. This law goes back a few years, and was intended to protect pedestrians.

I know of no law anywhere that bars oncoming traffic from driving past a stopped bus.

Blue line was screwed, there is no way they can justify the rates they are charging for Rush/Rush Plus/whatever - I can't believe people aren't up in arms over this! Some have no choice but to take Blue Line only, they shouldn't be penalized by higher rates to make up for the other lines.

I'm not sure how Metro could set up the fare system so that a person who chooses to take only the Blue Line would pay a lower fare.

I can tell you there's been no discussion of this before the Metro board.

Bad as things are now for the Blue Line riders, they're going to get a bit worse when the Silver Line opens. At that point, Blue Line trains will be 12 minutes apart at all times, rush hour and non-rush hour.

I'm wondering if you could comment on whether, and to what extent, the NVTA will be able to force cross-jurisdictional cooperation. I live in Kingstowne (Fairfax County south of the Beltway) and I've noted the proposal for an interchange at Franconia and Van Dorn. While that might help at that particular intersection, in the mornings the true bottleneck is caused by Van Dorn's configuration in the City of Alexandria (due to a southbound left turn that needs to be banned, a northbound left-turn lane too short for the trucks that use it, poorly-timed lights, and the lack of a right-turn lane at Pickett Street). The City of Alexandria has shown little interest in cooperating with Fairfax County to try to improve traffic flow through there, probably because they have no desire to help people who don't live in and pay taxes to the City, and the result is that some mornings it can take well over half an hour to go two miles from Franconia Road to Pickett Street. This is a long way of saying that transportation improvements may be of limited value if they don't address the range of factors that can cause a bottleneck. What, if anything, can the NVTA do about situations such as the one I describe where a part of the problem is that one jurisdiction wants to make improvements but the other seems disinterested? (Former Lee District Supervisor Dana Kauffman and current Supervisor Jeff McKay have both mentioned several times at community meetings that Alexandria refuses to eliminate the stupid southbound left turn from Van Dorn to Eisenhower, for example, even though there's a loop-around ramp on the right that accomplishes the same movement.)

The rules of procedures that the NVTA follows are really designed to force us to work cooperatively and collaberatively across jurisdictional lines.  Being from Pricne William County myself, I'm sorry to say that I am not well versed in the details of this particualar project, but it seems that this is a good example of exactly the kind of congestion problem that the NVTA can address in a way that individual jurisdisctions may have struggled with in the past.  As you obviously understand, traffic jams don't respect jurisdictional boundaries, but county and city governments are really set up to address issues within their own boundaries.  As a regional authority, we can bring parties to the table to address congestion with a regional, rather than a local focus.  I'll pass on this concern to our planning teams.  Thank you for bringing it to my attention!

Zimmerman: Can you give us any update on route 50 around Clarendon and Courthouse. The intersection was in drastic need of a redesign, but it seems like its been closed forever.

This is all part of VDOT's Rte 50/10th Street/Courthouse Rd interchange project.  VDOT estimates completion as mid-2014.  (And as a worker in the Courthouse area myself, I fully appreciate your desire to see this one done!)

I see they are building a divided center lane on Route 1 in Alexandria alongside Potomac Yards (south of Crystal City). What is the purpose? From the looks of it I would guess that it's either HOV, dedicated bus land or a trolley.

I believe you are referring to the dedicated transit way that will be carrying bus service next year (Spring/Summer).  It is part of a regional effort that WMATA, Alexandria, Arlington and others have been working on for several years.  It benefited from one of the original TIGER grants, as part of a region-wide application put together through the Transportation Planning Board (which covers Va, Md, and DC).

I know that we need roads now. But, I wonder what future technology might bring... It takes years or decades to build roads. I can't help but think that even if technology allowed cars to operate more efficiently that the current roads might limit the usefullness. If the cars need special sensors in the road to communicate, gauge traffic and speed or upcoming traffic signals, how long would it take to update our roads?

Actually there is quite a bit of new technology being incorporated into the network now, with fiber optics, signal optimization, and innovative methods for real-time tracking of traffic on a 24-7 basis.  Look for more initiatives on this in the near future.

Has Metro ever said why they didn't consider having the Silver Line stop at Stadium-Armory during off-peak hours and run to Largo during rush hour, a la the Yellow line at Mount Vernon Square and Fort Toten? It seems like it will be an unnecessarily long ride from Largo to Loudoun County once Phase 2 is up and running.

I know the original idea was to turnback Silver Line trains at Stadium-Armory. But the difficulty was with the turnback, which would have to occur on the bridge over the Anacostia River.

So now the plan is to run the Silver Line trains between the west end of the Silver Line and Largo.

 

Why are improvements to Route 28 between Route 50 and the Dulles Toll Road even being considered? This is the only section of Route 28 with no congestion during rush hour. A better investment would be to save the money or allocate the $30 million to the Route 28/I-66 Interchange which leads to daily a 3-4 mile backup on Route 28 South affecting residents from Fairfax, Loundon and Prince William Counties. It seems NVTA is just spending money to show that new transportation taxes are doing something. This is not a good approach. Mark S. Manassas, VA

Route 28 is one of the most important transportation corridors in the region and there are a large number of projects that need attention.  One of the critereon that we are using for the first round of projects considered for funding is "project readiness".  I don't think anyone will deny that upgrading the interchange at Route 28 and I-66 would make a huge improvement to alleviating congestion, the project is huge.  It will take several years to complete, will likely require bond financing and will absolutely require tremendous advance planning.  The NVTA is a small organization and we are still very new to the project implementation process.  In looking at this interchange, it appears that it makes the most sense if it is not a NVTA project alone, but a partnership between the NVTA, VDoT, Fairfax County and the private sector.  Bringing together all of those voices will take a little longer than some of the smaller projects that we are considering.  So this is the kind of project that we will look at as part of our six-year improvement plan, that we will be begin to develop later this year.

In the meantime, we want to also indentify those smaller projects which can get off the groud quickly, but which will be important to making the interchange improvements worthwhile.

Thank you for the question!

Dr. G - for your guests: How will you two work together as part of the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority to expand (yes, expand) I-66 from Prince William County ALL THE WAY through to it's end on the DC side of the TR Memorial Bridge?

Some of these improvements are underway now.  The Commonwealth Transportation Board is funding I-66 widening projects in Pricne William Countya ll the way to Route 15.  Widening I-66 inside the beltway is more challenging, and the NVTA has been involved with VDoT's work to identify spot improvemets that will help with chokepoints.  Adding more throughput capacity all the way to the Teddy Roosevelt Bridge will have to take on a multi-modal approach that also involves investment in expanding transit as well.  The NVTA has not taken on a specifc project in this area at this point, but we will continue to be engaged with VDoT and METRO to find solutions in that corridor.

I know that this answer is a bit unspecific, but this is a big undertaking and not all of the solutions have yet been identified.

Thank you!

Hi, Doc, Can you explain to me Metro's thinking after Nationals games? They hold the Green Line trains at Navy Yard for forever to pack every last seat and hand strap with passengers. I get that. But then, on a regular basis, this packed train will pull into L'Enfant Plaza while a Yellow Line train is at the platform, and before passengers can cross over to the other side to catch the ride to Huntington, that driver will close the doors and pull out, forcing this mass of passengers to stand through a 15- to 20-minute wait for the next train over the Potomac. It seems as though they are intentionally thwarting and angering passengers. If the Green Line train can wait five to seven minutes to load up with people, why can't the Yellow Line train pause for one or two minutes to get those very same people where they want to go without a long wait? Don't the Yellow Line drivers have the Metro Next Train app so they can tell when the next train is coming? This angers me game after game after game.

From talking with Metro officials over the past few years and what I've seen at Navy Yard: Metro's top priority after the games is to prevent dangerous crowding on the Navy Yard platform.

Metro's planning and execution are at their best right there on the platform. At transfer stations, things don't work as well. That's where much crowding occurs.

But I think it's also fair to keep in mind that not every traveler has been to the game, so there are plenty of riders who would get impatient if their trains were holding for long periods just to accommodate people coming from the game.

Mr. Nohe & Mr. Zimmerman: With the Silver Line extension optimally adding 100,000+ additional daily Metrorail commuters by 2020 it is clear that a separated Blue Line with a second Rosslyn tunnel is imperative and without the additional capacity public transit usage in Northern Virginia during AM & PM peaks is essentially going to be capped at close to today's levels. Now that the Silver Line's fate has been settled a separate Blue Line needs to be this regions top public transportation priority and it needs to be the priority now - not in 10 or 20 years. Is Northern Virginia going to step up and lead the push for this important and inevitable bit of transportation infrastructure? It would be nice if the plans for this capacity increase have been sorted out by the time Metrorail reaches Dulles in 2020.

I believe that Metro capacity is the single most important factor in improving the functioning of the region's transporation system.  An additional river crossing would be one way to address that, and might need to be part of  the long-term solution.  Even, if we had a plan for that, though, it would be many years before it could be realized.  There are also many other ways to address the shortfall you are referring to.  First, we need to fully utilize the capacity we have in our two existing crossings.  One of those -- the Rosslyn tunnel -- has been at full capacity for years.  The other -- the Fenwick (Yellow Line) Bridge -- still has capacity.  We need to make use of it.  There are improvements that can be made to the system that would increase flexibility, and improve capacity, like providing a "right turn" from Rosslyn down toward the Pentagon (and a corresponding "left turn" from the bridge in the other direction).  There is great potential for the commuter rail network to be enhanced, which could directly address the needs of riders in the Blue Line corridor (especially in view of coming projects for the Long Bridge into DC).  And then there are the short term projects that can help to give relief  starting now.  One of those is the proposal from Arlington to provide new bus service connecting the Blue Line areas in Pentagon City/Crystal City with the Orange Line.  These are just a few examples;  the truth is, we won't solve this problem with any one project, no matter how big, and we won't solve it over night.  But we can start making improvements now.  [For more project-specific information, please see www.thenovaauthority.org]

Good Morning, The Mayor of Ocean City stated that revenue from tourism is down in Ocean City, Maryland. Folks over here in Northern Virginia who liked going to OC are now going to other resorts because of the traffic problems. I wonder since this is now an economic problem for the Ocean City Administration if the State of Maryland will look hard at improving the Severn River Crossing and the Chesapeake Bay bridge in oder to cut down on the bottleneck that occurs every weekend. It would probably help if the State would disolve the Maryland Transportation Authority that oversees the Bay Bridge and a few other road systems and put these road sysems under the State roads system. This way improvement money from the general transportation fund can be used for these needed improvements and the costs can be absorbed equally among the taxpayers added by the toll payers. Thanks

I think I'd wait and see how things work out with the revenue from Maryland's gas tax increase.

The Maryland Transportation Authority has quite a few responsibilities for tunnels, bridges and highways on the eastern side of the state.

And the authority should be looking at the future of the Bay Bridge crossing.

One of the challenges that we face at the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) is that we are generally seen as a fairly new organization and many NoVa residents are not familiar with who we are and what we do.

The NVTA is a regional organization, made up of representives from the Counties of Fairfax, Prince William, Loudoun and Arlington; the Cities of Alexandria, Fairfax, Falls Chuirch, Manassas and Manassas Park; plus representtives from the General Assembly and the Governor's office.

Having been tasked by the General Assembly to program and allocated the Northern Virginia component of the new transportation funding bill, we are in the process of developing an intital list of projects to be paid for with these new funds.

·         The Authority’s primary goal is to select projects that will kick start congestion relief.

·         All of the projects selected have been approved regionally in TransAction 2040; each project in TA2040 has a cost benefit analysis.

·         The Authority takes its responsibility seriously when it comes to spending this new transportation funding wisely.

·         The Authority is committed to transparency and inclusiveness.

 

·         The Authority is focused on maintaining a balance of investments in both roads and transit in the region to maximize congestion relief. 

·         The final proposed project lists were developed incorporating public comments received and and were re-advertised on July 10, 2013. 

·         Written or e-mailed comments on the final proposed project lists will be accepted until 11:59 pm July 22, 2013 so that staff can prepare them for distribution for the July 24, 2013 NVTA meeting. 

·         After July 22, additional public comments are welcome at the July 24, 2013 public hearing and will be heard until the NVTA meeting begins immediately following the public hearing and we encourage residents to be as engaged as possible in this process, not just now, but in the coming years as well.

Farragut North is a black hole regardless of your service provider. I have Verizon, and my cell service drops off completely at and near Farragut North (including in the tunnels between that and either of the surrounding stations). Last week I tried to send a text while standing on the platform there, and I had no signal at all (with an occasional flicker of one bar).

Is the potential metro station at Potomac Yard in Alexandria within the purview of the NVTA? With all the new residential development being built on that stretch of Route 1, adding a station to the existing metro tracks would go a long way to mitigating congestion, etc.

This is an Alexandria project, for which the City has requested funding from NVTA.  For fiscal year 2014, they are seeking NVTA funding for 'additional studies, planning and the development of a design-build package for a new Metrorail infill statin at Potomac Yard'.  The project is currently in the Environmental Impact Phase;  additional funding is needed to finalize it and enter into preliminary engineering.  They have requested $2 million.  This is among the projects on the list recommended for approval to be considered at the July 24 NVTA hearing.

When will the streetscaping be completed in Connecticut Ave., between K and N Streets? It looks to be stalled for the last several months, with the firing up of the traffic lights and (hopeful) repaving / restriping the only things left to do.

This project is in the District of Columbia, so the NVTA isn't over-seeing this.  That said, we do have relationships with our frinds in DC, so I may be able to get you an answer.  If you send this question as an e-mail to theauthority@thenovaauthority.org, we would be happy to forward it to the right folks and try to get you a response.

Isn't Arlington County the reason for HOV restrictions on I-66 and haven't they been blocking VDOT from adding additional lanes to I-66 to help traffic?

The answer is "no".  It is true that Arlington opposes widening I-66 inside the beltway (for a variety of reasons we need not get into here);  however, Arlington has no power to block VDOT from doing anything.  Lack of funding, right-of-way complexities in a dense, built-up area, and extraordinary project cost are big obstacles to such a project.

I've noticed that the walk signal at 15th & H has been adjusted. Before, cars had time to make a right turn from H Street onto 15th Street with a "no walk" signal to pedestrians (pedestrians had a walk signal before it changes to "no walk"). This timing was crucial because it allowed cars to make a right hand turn and not run the risk of pedestrians crossing. Now, the walk signal lasts the length of the light and it is more difficult to turn right due to heavy pedestrian crossing at that intersectioncars, plus no turns on red lights are allowed at that intersection. (This is a confusing sign because after H street, 15th street is one way heading north.) Is there someone at DDOT to contact to suggest that this timing be adjusted?

This is another District of Columbia issue, so the NVTA isn't over-seeing this.  But if you send this question as an e-mail to theauthority@thenovaauthority.org, we would be happy to forward it to the right folks and try to get you a response.

I have a 10:00 a.m. flight out of Dulles on Thursday, and I'll be driving from Takoma (near the old Walter Reed campus) to the economy lots at the airport. Any thoughts on the timing for that drive? Google Maps suggests about 40 minutes' driving time (supposedly accounting for traffic), which seems very optimistic to me.

If you're getting on the Beltway and going via the Legion Bridge, the worst part of the trip is likely to be the first part: The outer loop to Georgia Avenue. After that, you're generally in pretty good shape.

But answering questions about catching flights, I'm always very conservative. If Google says 40 minutes, I'd double it.

Does the NVTA have any role in helping choose WMATA's leadership and if so can they use their influence to hold them accountable for their failure to provide adequate service to the DC Community. Since they are largely a unaccountable organization, removed multiple times from the ballot box, there are no good ways for the public to hold them accountable for their actions.

Short answer: No, Metro Board members are appointed by another regional body, the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission -- yes, I know it's confusing;  but the members of that body are elected officials, fully accountable to the voters of Northern Virginia.

In northern VA we have seen the growth of both ART and the Alexandria Bus system are these systems destined to replace the MetroBus network, supplement existing service or serve areas without coverage. Will we see growth in these newer networks?

ART (and I think the other systems) are not intended to REPLACE Metrobus, but to SUPPLEMENT it.  In Arlington we have been expanding our commitment to the regional service (Metrobus) even as we have grown our local (ART) service.  The goal is for an integrated transit network, that will take you where you want to go, when you need to get there.  We're not quite there yet, but we're getting there.

I'm asking from the perspective of someone behind the bus. I would have to be halfway in the oncoming lane in order to pass, but there are no cars in that lane. May I pass?

If you've got a solid line between you and the other side, I wouldn't cross it. I'd just wait for the bus to move on. (I know you're saying you can't see any oncoming traffic, but I still wouldn't do it.)

I don't believe there's any specific part of VA traffic law that addresses the presence of a bus in that scenario.

Are there any plans that can help reduce the ever growing gridlock on Old Bridge Road in Lake Ridge? As more and more people bail off I-95 and more homes/apartments continue to be built out this way, the road has become a nightmare.

As someone who drives on Old Bridge Road almost every day, I am very sympathetic to this issue and I agree that it is a big problem.

Old Bridge Road itself is built to its full planned width almost everywhere.  There simply isn't much road right-of-way left to widen it any farther.  In its current configuartion however, it should be wide enough to accomodate the local Lake Ridge traffic and then some.  The congestion problem is due in large part to throguh traffic coming from further upstream travelling from Hoadly Road and beyonf toward I-95.

Prince William County just recently approved a project that will widen the PW Parkway to six lanes between the western end of Old Bridge Road and Minnieville Road, that will include intersecton improvements at Hillendale Drive.  This project should provide a huge increase in the capacity of the PW Parkway and make that road the more attractive route to get from mid-county to 95, and relieve much of the congestion on Old Bridge.  It certainly won't solve every problem, but I think it will make a notable difference and it probably trhe best investment we can make in that corridor right now.

If you have more specific questions about this project, I would encourage you to contact the office of Supervisor Mike May who can put you in touch with the County Transportation Department who are always happy to provide more detail. 

Thank you!

Dr G - For the second travel day in a row, fare gate problems at Silver Spring have meant that my commute is free. Friday, it seemed intermittent (it worked for some but not others.) Today all the gates were out of order so they just let everyone through the gate without paying (and then on the other end at Farragut North the station manager just opened the gates.) Between the times my smart card doesn't work and incidents like Friday's and today's, do you have a sense of how much money Metro is losing due to decrepit and non-functional far collection? Is there a timeline for the new gates to be put into operation?

I don't know how much revenue is lost that way, and haven't seem a timeline for replacing the fare gates. (But I'd love to know what time you're going through Silver Spring. The fare gates always are working when I pass through, and I always have to pay.)

Is WMATA going to waive its rules about drinking water on trains this week? It's certainly going to be hot. If not, under what conditions does it usually allow water?

Metro does that on the really superhot days. And we may well have some days like that this week.

The history is that Metro puts out an announcement about it, usually on the day it's in effect. Never seen a situation where Metro says, Water's okay for the next three days, or something long-range like that.

Is there a website that lists the scheduled openings of the WW bridge? I think it would be interesting to see, especially from the pedestrian path on the bridge.

I'll see if I can find out. For years, I would look for it on the Wilson Bridge project Web site, but that no longer exists. I can't spot an alternative site to suggest right now.

Those who push highway congestion as the only approach to "reducing congestion" ignore the problem of "induced traffic" -- how new roads quickly fill up and hwy expansion fuels more spread-out development. Therefore, do you agree that it's best now and over the long-term to make investments in transit to offer commuters a better option to avoid and reduce peak hour traffic? And to support the mixed-use, walkable, transit-oriented communities that is in such demand and where each resident drives much less? Don't you agree that this transit-oriented future is the most effective congestion-reduction approach for our region including Prince William? Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director, Coalition for Smarter Growth

You are certainly correct that building capacity without taking into account land use and development patterns will only lead to recreating the same problems.  One of the strengths of NVTA is that it brings together the folks responsible for land use decisionmaking (basically local officials) with the regional transportation responsibility.  Throughout its now decade-plus history, the Authority has been preparing a regional plan that seeks to achieve balance across modes and across the region, precisely so that we can achieve sustainable, long-term benefits, and not just short-term mitigation.  The regional plan -- TransAction 2040 -- evaluated projects using a set of project-based performance evaluation criteria.  The project-level performance assessment provided feedback how each project addresses the regions defined goals and performance objectives.  These include supportive land use, regional connectivity improvement, person throughput, cost-benefit, safety, among others.  For more information, go to the Authority website:  www.thenovaauthority.org, and click on "TransAction 2040".

Mr. Zimmerman & Mr.Nohe: Does it make sense that this region has so many transportation authorities? WMATA has trains and buses and VRE and MARC also run trains and there are more bus systems than anyone can reasonably keep track of. And now all 3 jurisdictions are adding various surface rail systems that it seems will not cross jurisdictional borders which makes no sense. Yet many of these systems cross paths in various places and share infrastructure like at Union Station. Would it not make sense to merge some of these operations? The counter example thankfully is Capital Bikeshare which thus far works exactly the same wherever you go - and I bet the economies of scale are part of why it works and is appealing to both riders and local governments. How about some more uniformity - same buses, trains and light rail and fares and employees etc - would that not be of great benefit to the region?

This region is large and complex.  There are inevitably many different solutions, and many different facilities, each with its own history.  The important thing is that all of them work together, in a coordinated fashion.  And actually, this region is pretty good at that.  The principal obstacle has been lack of funding for any of them, which is why now is such an important opportunity. 

All too often, when there is talk of building a new road or making an existing one wider, people complain that it will only open the door to more development. In my opinion, the roads are already 10+ years behind schedule. We needed them years ago and the development continues without them. How can we convince these people that putting off the roads is worse than the future problems they are predicting?

Change of any type is always difficult and any transportation improvement project is going to have its detractors.  When looking for ways to alleviate congestion, the NVTA always wants to work closely with the local jurisdiction and the community that uses the corridor.  In many cases, widening a road or expanding an intersection is the best (or only) way to allow more commuters to get where they are going each day.  In other cases, better transit solutions are needed.  Sometimes problems can be solved with technology.

The goal of the NVTA is to look congestion problems from a regional perspective and use all of the tools in our transportation toolbox to find the most cost-effective solutions to gridlock.  You are very much correct when you suggest that many problems exist becasue they were allowed to linger for a decade or more and have never gotten the atentino that they need and that commuters deserve.  I thinkt hat is why the General Assembly chose to place the responsibility in the hands of a regional Authority, made up primarily of local officials who are more acutely aware of the problems, what solutions might be available to address them, and what the community concerns might be.

We won't be able to solve every problem, and we certainly can't solve any problem overnight, but I do beleive that we are in good position to begin addressing the congestion challenges for which the region has not had funding to address for far too long.

Thank you for the question!

What's the best way to register a complaint about the result of a road construction project in Fairfax? Crews have been working to install a median on Prosperity Ave near the Dunn Loring Metro. With the way they installed it, no repainted lines and sun...I saw 4 cars stopped with damaged cars after hitting the new median this morning (full disclosure, my wife was in the same predicament).

You might want to contact VDOT at 1-800-FOR-ROAD.

What's Virginia's position on connecting the Dulles tech corridor with I-270 in Montgomery County? Is it along the lines of, "Virginia is a pro-business state, while Maryland, and especially Montgomery County, sacrifices growth for quality of residential life. We're not interested in creating jobs for out-of-state commuters"?

The NVTA always beleives that we need to look for more opportunities for connectivity throughout the region, and we have to recognize that Northen Virginia is not an island: Virginia and Maryland and the District create a transportation system that has to operate across state boundaries.

That said, there is a fair amount of disagreement both between the states of Virginia and Maryland, and even among Virginians, on HOW to add additional capacity across the Potomac.  The idea of a Western Crossing has been around for a long time and the two states have never agreed on how to accomplish it, or even if it is a good idea.  There has been particularly high resistance to the idea in Maryland, and the Potomac River is in that state, so this seems to be stuck as a long term goal rather than something we can make happen int he short term.  Should there be agreement in the future on this, the NVTA would certainly want to be part of that discussion.

I hope this feedback is helpful, if not exactly the answer you were looking for.

A recent Washington post column discussed declines in the number of cars on the road and drops in traffic congestion. That seems hard to believe to the average commuter. Is this truly the case? If so, what's responsible and how is the region responding?

One thing to keep in mind is that your individual commuting experience is impacted not only by the number of other drivers, but on specific conditions related to capacity on your route.  So, even if the number of drivers goes down, if there is a lot of construction under way (both for road projects, and adjacent private activity), your drive may get worse, at least temporarily.  There will be a lot of this as we begin to implement projects;  some things will get worse before they get better.   

It is true that the overall pattern of travel -- here in this region, and across the nation -- seems to have begun to change dramatically in recent years.  People are driving less, for a number of reasons.  Young people are less inclined to get driver's licences and to own cars than ever before.  People are moving back to city centers and to suburban areas well connected to transit, to bicycle networks, and that are walkable. This applies to older people as well as younger folks.  And this of course, is pushing real estate values up in those walkable, less auto-centric places.  This is likely to be the new reality for a long time to come -- especially if energy prices begin to rise, and if new regulations ultimately force us to deal with climate change.

The work at VA 27 & VA 244, is that replacing a WWII era bridge, or will there be increased capacity there when the work is done?

The new facility will be much-improved, for travel in both directions (over it and under it), and for all modes.  Can't wait.

How is the traffic circle (or roundabout) experiment going along Route 50 is Loudoun County going? Any thoughts about repeating it in other areas to reduce the number of traffic lights?

Being from Prince William County, I have to apologize that I don't have a great deal of detail about the Loudoun County traffic circle project, except that this is a Virginia Department of Transportation (VDoT) project.  Some additionasl information is available on VDoT's website at...  http://www.virginiadot.org/projects/northernvirginia/route_50_traffic_calming_measures.asp.

 

In terms of the longer term plans for Route 50, the Northern Virignia Transportation Authority (NVTA) will soon begin working on developement of our Six Year Improvement Plan that will allow us to map out those longer term projects, beyond the initial project list that is in developement now.  Loudoun County will idenify those projects that they feel provide the most congestion relief  "bang" for our transportation "buck", and the NVTA will look for ways to integrate the funding for those projects into our six year plan.  I am sure that Route 50 will continue to be a high priority for the Loudoun Board of County Supervisors.

I want to thank Dr. Gridlock for allowing us to particiapte in this live chat today, and thank all of the readers who sent in questions.  The NVTA wants to engage with as many Northern Virginia residents as possible to make sure that we deliver the transportation solutions that do the most to alleviate congestion in the region, and get everyone home from work faster.

We would liek to encourage you to visit our website at http://thenovaauthority.org/ for more information about the projects we are considering, and I would like to invite you to particiapte in our upcoming public hearing on Wednesday, July 24 at 6:00 at Fairfax City Hall.

For ongoing updates about NVTA's efforts, please 'like' us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Northern-Virginia-Transportation-Authority/274323302647755?fref=ts.

 

Thank you!

Thanks, all, for your questions and comments, and thanks to our two guests, who have been working their fingers to the bone for the past hour addressing Northern Virginia transportation questions.

Join me again next week -- I'll be alone -- and stay safe ou there.

In This Chat
Robert Thomson
Robert Thomson is The Washington Post's Dr. Gridlock. He offers therapy for that most intimate relationship: the one between you and your commute. You can read his work on his namesake blog, as well as in the Metro section of The Washington Post.
Martin Nohe
Nohe is the chairman of the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority. He also is vice chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors. A native of Prince William who lives in Woodbridge, he represents the Coles Magisterial District on the county board. He was first elected to the board in 2003. His colleagues chose him to sere as vice chairman in 2007 and again in 2012. He has been a member of the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority since 2005, serving as vice chairman from 2006 to 2008 and as chairman from 2009. Nohe has participated on many of Northern Virginia's transportation panels. He has been a member of the Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission since 2004. He has served as an alternative member of the Virginia Railway Express Operations Board since 2007, and as a member of the Prince William Parkway District Commission since 2004. Nohe also is a member of the Route 234 Bypass District Commission. Outside of his governmental work, Nohe is president of Appliance Connection, a family-owned appliance store in Woodbridge.
Christopher Zimmerman
Zimmerman is a member of the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority and chairman of its Project Implementation Working Group. He also is a member of the Arlington County Board. Zimmerman has been a resident of Arlington County since 1979 and lives in the Douglas Park neighborhood of south Arlington. He was first elected to the county board in 1996 and re-elected in 1998, 2002, 2006, and 2010. He served as vice chairman in 1997, 2001, 2005, and 2010. He also served as chairman in 1998, 2002 and 2006 and 2011. Regionally, Zimmerman has worked to promote the concept of "smart growth" as the Washington area seeks to cope with the problems of traffic congestion and environmental pollution. Zimmerman has represented Arlington on many transportation panels. In 2004, he was chairman of the Transportation Planning Board for the National Capital Region, which he has served since 1999. He represented Arlington as one of Virginia’s two members on the Metro Board f Directors from 1998 to 2010, serving as chairman in 2002 and 2008.
Recent Chats
  • Next: