Dr. Gridlock

Mar 28, 2016

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



His special guest today is Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne.

From Dr. Gridlock: Mr. Layne, the compromise between Gov. McAuliffe and the General Assembly that will speed up the widening of I-66 inside the Beltway seems to have been a political necessity.

Looking at it strictly from the point of view of future road users, how will the compromise affect their travels, compared to the original plan to study the effects of the HOT lanes, then evaluate widening?

Our modeling indicated that the road would have eventually been widened.  The compromise accelerates the four-mile improvement from the Dulles Connector Road to Ballston.  This area has been a significant bottle neck during peak travel periods.  Widening up front should increase capacity for users of the road sooner than later, shortening their travel time.

From Dr. Gridlock: The transportation bill known as HB 1069 went through many changes in the General Assembly before settling into what looks like a toll-payers' protection act, which I believe had the support of the administration, though the governor hasn't acted on it yet.

For Northern Virginia toll road users who may not have been following this one, can you explain what this bill would do for them?

It its present form, HB 1069 deals with how toll collectors must notify customers prior to escalating unpaid and/or disputed tolls.  The bill requires additional checks to make sure bills are correct before invoices are sent to customers.  It requires them to notify customers by email or phone (text) to allow them a chance to pay or resolve billing issues before escalating collection efforts.  The bill also limits fines  and fees to a maximum of $2,200 for first violators.

From Dr. Gridlock: You have said that a portion of the toll revenue from extending the HOT lanes north on I-395 will go to programs that help commuters leave their cars behind.

But many Northern Virginians -- particularly in Arlington County -- are concerned about how big a portion of the toll revenue will go for that purpose. When will they know?

Transit and Transportation Demand Management strategies are a big part of the solution on I-395.  We are still negotiating the exact amount of revenues that will be available, but the state is committed that amounts necessary to substantially and meaningfully support these services similar to what we plan on I-66.

There has been a lot of discussion about the jurisdiction allocation of the I-395/I-95 Transit Subsidy. The main concern of the project is are we going to have a repeat of the Stafford county merge at Eads St. near the Pentagon during peak periods?

Getting as many people across the river as possible should be the focus of the transit benefit. Based on what have seen from I-66 Transit Subsidy this could be a significant amount money. Buses are going to get trapped by the merge point and will struggle to complete with the additional volume the third lane will add.

To satisfy all the jurisdictions from Spotsylvania to Arlington/DC, reconstructing the Long Bridge and implementing a four track system between L'Enfant and Alexandria should be strongly considered.

Benefits include increased VRE service, MARC run-through, Richmond HSR, , Amtrak, and Efficient Freight Movements through DC/Virginia Ave Tunnel.

Is there a plan to fund this type of major state project or just give local jurisdictions/NVTC a percentage of the subsidy?

Law requires that revenues from tolling must be used in the corridor for the benefit of the users.  Long Bridge is a very important project for the region and we will continue to work with our partners in D.C., the federal government and CSX to fund a new bridge.

In the aftermath of the Governor's recent compromise over I-66 inside the Beltway, will there ever be a public process for extending HOV restrictions and tolling in the reverse-commute direction or for increasing the HOV occupancy requirements from 2 to 3?

There seems to be no rational reason to arbitrarily change from HOV-2 to HOV-3 in 2020, 2021, or 2022, if I-66 could still operate congestion-free during the hours of tolling.

On the other hand, the current plan to manage I-66 traffic only in the peak-commute direction, leaves I-66 congested for reverse commutes, which discourages ridesharing and bus transit on I-66.

This project has been one of the the most publicized and public projects in Virginia.  We will continue to seek public input as we evaluate traffic movements in the corridor, which may require adjustments to the original proposal.  

I ride 95 hot lanes from Prince William Parkway to 395 (DC) everyday. I was under the impression that the max charge was going to be .80 per mile. That is not true. is there a charge limit? or can they charge anything they want. i carpool, i will not pay to use the road.

HOV-3 users will continue to enjoy a free ride.  Tolling is based on maintaining traffic flow and will fluctuate accordingly.

VDOT's snow removal capability encountered some disastrous failures this past winter. Would Mr. Layne please comment on what is being done to try to avoid the same problems in the future?

In many localities in Northern Virginia, VDOT is not responsible for snow removal. For those in which it is, VDOT's primary objective is to clear the most heavily traveled roads first.  This was a record snow fall where no interstates were closed in Virginia.  Other states can not make that claim.  While we always strive to perform better, I am very proud of the job VDOT did this past winter.

Do you think your surname contributed to your interest in a transportation career?

I am honored to serve the citizens of Virginia.  Fortunately I am of Welsh descent and have a "y" in my last name, Layne. 

I seem to sit in slow moving traffic each morning on I-66 approaching the Beltway. When I get onto the outer loop, there usually isn't heavy traffic, so the problem is just with the way people get into the exit ramps to the inner and outer loops. There was work on the ramps when the HOT lanes were constructed, and that didn't solve any problems. Now, there are plans to add tolls to I-66, will anything be done to help traffic flow better from I-66 to the beltway?

As part of the Transform66 project, improvements at the I-66, I-495 interchange will be included to improve the flow and connection between roadways.

This is about the part of I-95 south that leads to VA-644 exits 169A & B, after collecting traffic from I395 and the Beltway.

After every winter it suffers from large potholes. Even worse, lane markings disappear, which in this area of multiple merges and lane changes creates a mayhem.

Yet VDOT for some reason is pretty slow addressing the problem. Last year (or was it 2 years ago?) nothing happened for many weeks since I reported the problem to VDOT, and I am sure I wasn't the only one. Only when I raised it here, repairs began.

This year I was glad to see that they milled the surface early. But then, for several weeks nothing happened, so no lane markings, still potholes, though at least the rough milled surface forces drivers to slow down.

I think they are going to pave it this week, there signs saying that the exit will be closed on Thursday.

My question 1 is: does it really have to take so long between milling and re-paving? Is it what technology requires (and if yes, can't a faster technology be used?) or is it only a planning issue?

Question 2 is more general. That area is one of several areas that develop serious problems every year, another example being Fort Myer Dr under Gateway Park in Rosslyn.

Apparently theses roads haven't be constructed properly for the local conditions and volume of traffic.

Couldn't VDOT one summer close such areas for a week or two and do a deep rebuild to prevent the problems from reoccurring every single year?

Repaving and repairing our interstate highways is expensive and challenging.  While pavement conditions have improved throughout the state, VDOT will continue to look at more efficient ways to perform maintenance without significantly adversely impacting traffic. 

From Dr. Gridlock: In the latest crisis for the D.C. region's transit system, the new general manager, Paul Wiedefeld, shut down Metrorail to deal with an important safety issue -- the condition of power cables -- that supposedly had already been dealt with.

What are you hoping to see out of Metro's leadership the rest of this year?

This is the first time in my two years as transportation secretary that WMATA management has proactively accepted responsibility for safety. Governor McAuliffe's administration has consistently stated that a safe and reliable Metro is the prime responsibility of management.

I am expecting to see continued management focus and follow-through on safety related issues.  Much rhetoric has been made about a new Metro Safety Commission, which we support.  But, safety can only be accomplished by management at Metro.

Hello Secretary Layne, I live in the western part of Arlington where there is already considerable road noise from the highways. 66 west has already been expanded to 3 lanes at Ballston and 4 lanes just past East Falls Church. We also have noise from 267 and the beltway. Plus there is also noise from both the orange and silver lines of the Metro. While I agree that widening 66 may provide some traffic relief for people west of the beltway it seems that it would be done at the expense of our quality of life in Arlington.

Sound barriers are considered on all of our widening projects.  The widening inside the beltway on I-66 will be accomplished in the current right-of-way. Our goal is to improve the quality of life by adding to mobility for the traveling public.

How will expansion of the 395 Express Lanes impact slugging? Currently, the HOV-3 lanes maintain the incentive for drivers to carry slugs in order to use the lanes. When the lanes change to express only, that incentive goes away. Then, there is only an incentive to perhaps save money. do you think slugging will fade away?

No.  I believe slugging will increase as solo drivers can have riders and the HOV-3 lanes remain free.  The slugging culture is well established in Northern Virginia and has provided a ride-sharing alternative for commuters.

We were told by the Govenor of Virginia that everyone that can use the HOV lanes on I-66 now will be able to use the I-66 HOT lanes free of charge in the future. Does this include persons with Alternative fuel vehicles (AFVs) displaying the Virginia Clean Special Fuel license? Currently they can use I-66 inside of the beltway during HOV periods.

Governor McAuliffe has always stated that motorists with  specialty clean fuel license plates would not be exempt under the I-66 proposal.  This is the same treatment as other HOT lanes.

The Prince William County board of supervisors removed the Bi-County Parkway from their comprehensive plan. How does this affect the I-66 Outside the Beltway project? Does an auxiliary/4th GP lane need to be added between Gainesville and Centreville to handle the anticipated traffic volumes in 2040?

The action taken by the Prince William County Board of Supervisors does not impact I-66 Outside the Beltway project.

Several years have passed since the mainline of 95 from the Purple Heart bridge through Fairfax County was widened.

There are now four lanes and the road is straight and well lit. Why doesn't VDOT set a uniform speed limit of 65 through Prince William and Fairfax counties?

The 55 speed limit from northern Prince William through Fairfax county undermine safety by creating a lot of turbulence as drivers swerve around the few drivers obeying the speed limit or suddenly brake when they see a state trooper.

The current mish-mash of speed limits of 65, 60, and 55 make no sense in Prince William and Fairfax counties on 95. It would make far more sense to follow the example of the express lanes and set a uniform 65 speed limit.

VDOT regularly monitors speed limits for traffic flow and safety.  VDOT recently launched a new traffic management program that incorporates variable speed limits on the I-66 corridor.  In the future, this program may be expanded to other corridors in Northern Virginia.  I will bring this concern to VDOT's attention.

Why will the HOV to HOT lane conversion on 395 take away free access to the express lanes for one or two passenger vehicles during weekends and at night?

Your administration likes to portray the express lanes as all about choice-you can choose to pay the toll-but they impose significant costs on non-express lane drivers.

For example, on 95 the Express Lanes have worsened congestion in the mainline during the weekends because drivers who cannot afford the tolls are forced into the mainline and as you know there are major bottlenecks at Edsall Road and Garrisonville road as mainline drivers wait for Express lane drivers to exit.

So the argument that no one is worse off is untrue. On 395, I'm very concerned there will be serious congestion in the mainline during the weekends and at night especially when they're doing construction by taking away those lanes.

Further, the taxpayers already paid for the 395 Express Lanes so you're in effect trying to tax us again for something we already paid for.

Choice between free and HOT lanes will remain on this corridor.

 

I've never had a problem with any missed tolls or the like. But what I find odd is that Virginia doesn't require Transurban to query the E-ZPass database before sending violation notices. That is, I have three cars and two transponders. All three license plates are listed in my E-ZPass account. If my transponder battery died without my knowing, it'd be easy for Transurban to query VDOT's database and then bill my account. Why aren't they required to do this? What's the point of listing a plate number if the information isn't to be used?

Legislation passed this year will require such notification to the E-ZPass holder after querying DMV's database.  

Should only go to the roads and not mass transit. Let the users of mass transit pay for it. Especially since Metro is such a corrupt joke!

I disagree that Metro is corrupt, but I acknowledge it has significant issues. All modes of transportation are subsidized.  Moving people and goods are our priority regardless of the mode. 

The Northern VA area get its fair share of tax revenues for our roads etc. Currently we may get 17 cents back from each tax dollar we send to Richmond. I81 and I64 are really nice but dont benefit those of us in NOVA on a regular basis. 80% of the tax revenue generated by our fuel taxes etc should stay in NOVA and not go South!!!!

Virginia is a Commonwealth.  It takes care of all of its traveling public regardless of where they live. Projects in Virginia are now prioritized across the state, based on an objective and data-driven process.

self-driving cars are likely to become very popular in not-too-many years. what consideration, if any, is being made to factor in the effect they'll have on area transportation? for instance, dc will take a huge revenue hit when their parking fines and speed camera revenue goes to zero.

Autonomous vehicles and other technology-driven transportation solutions are being planned for by the state.  The Office of Intermodal Planning publishes a statewide master plan called VTrans.org.  In addition we work closely with the automotive industry and our universities on future trends. 

An inch of snow on the afternoon of January 20 left VDOT paralyzed; like so many thousands of others, my commute home lasted over six hours. Mr. Layne may be proud of his agency's performance during the big snow storm, but his answer gives me no confidence that his agency intends to try to learn from the storms that it has handled badly.

Honest critics are always valued as we strive for continuous improvement.

When I-66 Outside the Beltway was initially marketed to the public, VDOT and DRPT jointly billed the project as a multimodal transformation of I-66.

However, over time, the project steadily diminished it's highlighting of transit programs, a necessary component to address congestion and moving people stipulated in the Tier 1 EIS (i.e., no one solution—esp. not just HOT lanes—is adequate to address the corridor's problems).

We subsequently found out that the regional system had no identified regional operator(s) for transit, no specific funding source, and hypothetical headways of 25 minutes for two different types of bus service.

Thus, we are left with a Transform I-66 project that is merely a transformation to tolling. In spite of the public voicing its opposition to tolling and the extensive eminent domain and environmental impacts, VDOT is proceeding essentially with its intial plan (fwiw, imho, HOT lanes have their place in any package).

It is highly disappointing that VDOT was not more responsive. Where are the buses?

Transform66 has the most robust commuter transit component of any project in the Commonwealth.  DRPT continues to work with local transit agencies who will operate the service and define additional opportunities.

Multiple times a month, I take I-95 South from Arlington to the Richmond area, and there is a massive amount of slowdown from Woodbridge to Fredericksburg. I know there is a plan to expand the Express Lanes an additional two miles and have the ramp exit on the left instead of right - but this will only alleviate the traffic approaching Route 610 - not the many miles before. What studies are being done?

VDOT  is currently exploring alternatives with the regional transportation organization to alleviate both peak and weekend congestion in this area. 

from what i remember, the only reason the I-66 segment inside the Beltway was permitted originally is because it was promised never to be expanded.

Is my memory correct, and if so isn't it a bait and switch to now expand the road anyways?

The Coleman decision from the federal government placed control over Inside the Beltway with VDOT.  It has the authority to make necessary improvements to the roadway.  

Neither VDOT nor its contractors apply induced demand/induced travel factors in its modeling for projects.

For the broader audience, induced travel means that if you build a new, wider road, it will be overwhelmed before long by drivers who previously hadn't used that route or hadn't used it at that time of day.

The result is that the new roads or added lanes will fill up sooner (even with managed lanes) and taxpayers will be on the hook for misguided attempts for future widening projects.

Additionally, it perpetuates the mistaken perception that widening is the only solution to our surface transportation problems.

One solution is using leading edge modeling; there are DOTs that use ABM or DTA modeling for forecasts. When will VDOT adopt the concept of induced travel first recognized in 1962?

When will VDOT begin to incorporate induced travel into its forecasting?

The state continues to evaluate transportation modeling techniques.  Although important, induced demand is not the only criteria to be evaluated in improving roadways.

The city of Alexandria is using $7 million in state urban funds to widen a road, Eisenhower Ave, which has the same traffic volume as it did in 2002. The city first justified the widening because the area would attract thousands of new residents and jobs but after 6,000 people have moved into the immediate area and 10,000+ jobs have been added, traffic on this road stayed the same. Then, the city argued that when it hooked up Eisenhower Ave to I-95, traffic would increase but again, traffic has remained the same (VDOT does excellent traffic volume estimates). Why are you allowing state money to be wasted on an unnecessary expansion project?

I am not sure state money is being used on this road.  However, the city of Alexandria would make the ultimate decision for funding and constructing this road.

Is there a time-table to take 395's Express Lanes farther north to the Pentagon?

We are working on the project now.  Construction could begin before 2018.

What current plans are there for I-66 Westbound lane expansion in Falls Church and points west? There are several places where home development is quite close to the current I-66 westbound, and it is not clear to me that widening could be done without land seizure or eminent domain proceedings. Is VDOT contemplating such actions?

There are no plans for additional right-of-way acquisition for Transform66 Inside the Beltway and currently no plans to widen this westbound stretch.

From Dr. Gridlock: Please give us an update on where we stand with HB2, the scoring process intended to make the selection of transportation projects more rationale.

As of middle of January, the first round of HB2 scoring and a preliminary funding recommendation were completed and submitted to the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB).  This is the first time in modern history that project selection is based on a data-driven process and is available for public comment well in advance before the CTB votes in June.  We are in the process of conducting public meetings; the first one is tonight in Bristol.  We are looking forward to sharing the results of this fiscally constrained plan.

When is this going to be fixed? the short right lane that merges to then go off into exit 3b is absurd and causes a bottle neck every day.

We agree this bottleneck exists. As part of the I-395 Express Lanes project, we are developing a permanent solution to eliminate the lane drop.

Do you support the idea that one of Metro's (many) problems is the lack of dedicated funding from all jurisdictions? Would you work to support creating a dedicated funding stream for Metro, as other mass transit systems around the country have?

I agree that Metro should have a dedicated funding stream.

I would like to thank everyone for participating in the web chat today.  The transportation agencies in Virginia look forward to working with the public as we improve our infrastructure.

Thanks, to Secretary Layne and all you travelers who participated today. I'll be back next Monday at noon with our regular chat. Stay safe.

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 the Dr. Gridlock blog, as well as in the Metro section of The Washington Post.
Aubrey Layne
Aubrey Layne, a Virginia Beach resident, was appointed transportation secretary by Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe. Layne, who had served on the Commonwealth Transportation Board and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel Commission, now has a prominent decision-making role in the D.C. region’s traffic and transit debates, including the future of Metro and Northern Virginia’s HOT lanes program.
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