WASHINGTON – A crippling ice storm and the opening of a long-debated road: Both make AAA Mid-Atlantic’s list of the best and worst transportation stories of 2011.
Who could forget the Jan. 26 “Commute from Hell” that lasted well into Jan. 27? Some commutes lasted 12 hours or longer, and many drivers decided to ditch their cars altogether, literally turning roads into obstacle courses the following day.
“The extremely heavy snowfall has led to extremely heavy traffic, to the point that we are stuck in gridlock,” veteran WTOP traffic reporter Bob Marbourg said on that fateful day.
Meanwhile in Maryland, residents either rejoiced or lamented the fact that the six-lane InterCounty Connector toll road opened and now cuts through Montgomery and Prince George’s counties north of the Beltway.
Here’s AAA’s complete best and worst list in local transportation for 2011:
Emergency Legislation Ends Expired Tags Arrests: After years of otherwise law-abiding motorists facing an arrest and jail time for driving with expired tags, the D.C. Council adopted emergency legislation that would stop the practice. The legislation removed the criminal penalty for the infraction, no longer allowing police officers to arrest motorists. As enacted, those driving a vehicle with a tag that is expired less than 30 days face a fine of $100, and any tag expired more than 30 days comes at the cost of $200.
Triad of Safety Laws Took Effect In Md.: Drivers in Maryland will be charged with a moving violation when pulled over for reading a text message or email while driving. Along with a $70 fine, those convicted will receive one point on their driving record. The state also closed a longstanding loophole in the vehicular manslaughter law. Now, it is a misdemeanor to cause the death of another person while operating a vehicle in a criminally negligent manner. Lastly, the expansion of the state’s mandatory Ignition Interlock System adds 4,700 more motorists to the program.
Fewer Distracted Drivers On The Beltway: A survey of 1,000 Beltway drivers found that key distracted driving behaviors — such as talking on a cellphone and reading or writing texts while driving — decreased in the past year. The results also show that programs such as “Orange Cones. No Phones.” have had a positive effect on motorists’ distracted driving habits. Therefore, they are making an effort to change their cellphone use behaviors in the Capital Beltway HOT Lanes construction zone, with 64 percent of those surveyed reporting that they have changed their cellphone use by either not talking on the phone or not texting.
Opening of the ICC: This highway was originally proposed in the 1960s as part of the Washington Outer Beltway. A project 50 years in the making has finally come to fruition with two sections of the InterCounty Connector opening to the public this year. Maryland’s first all-electronic toll facility, variably priced at about 25 cents a mile, has cut time off the commute of several motorists. The first segment of the east-west link between I-370 at Shady Grove and Georgia Avenue (MD 97) in Rockville/Olney opened in February and the second segment, joining Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, opened for use in November.
Under Construction: Construction continues on the High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes project on the I-495 Capital Beltway in northern Virginia. Once complete, the public-private transportation project will rebuild bridges and interchanges and enhance travel choices for commuters. Meanwhile, the project on the 11th Street Bridge continues. The bridge will allow direct travel from southbound DC 295/Anacostia Freeway to the Southeast-Southwest Freeway and from the freeway to northbound DC 295. Rehabilitation work on the 14th Street Bridges has involved minor repairs to the southbound bridge and major repairs to the northbound bridge connecting the District with northern Virginia.
Gas Prices Reach Record Numbers: This year’s gas price averages, both nationally and locally, have set a new record. The price of gas in 2011 averaged $3.52 nationally, $3.68 in D.C. proper and $3.53 across the Washington metro area. It was also a record-breaking year at the pumps in Maryland, with a 2011 average of $3.50, and in Virginia, averaging $3.41 this year. American households are on pace to spend $4,155 on gasoline during 2011, compared to $3,315 last year. That’s a swing of $840 per family. In the final months of this year, Americans drove fewer miles for the seventh straight month, including September, logging 1.5 percent fewer miles than a year ago.
Highest Number of Hit-and-Run Crashes: An analysis of crash data by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety shows that D.C has the highest percentage of hit-and-run crashes in the nation. In fact, the metropolitan region as a whole saw more than 30 hit-and-run crashes this year alone. Unfortunately, the uptick in fatal hit-and-run crashes is comparable to the numbers seen from 2000-2009 when drivers fled the scene in one in four crashes in the District and 76 people lost their lives. Approximately 2,600 pedestrians and bicyclists are injured and 89 killed every year in the Washington area, according to the region’s “Street Smart” report.
Ice Storm 2011: It was no “Snowmageddon,” but the January ice storm that dropped four to 10 inches of snow on the Washington metro area is still one for the history books. A good majority of evening commuters took to area roads during the brunt of the storm and at the same time as school buses, snowplows and salt trucks. Vehicles stuck and abandoned on the snow-covered streets blocked major roads, causing traffic jams that left some drivers stranded into the early morning hours.
Deadlock In Transportation Funding: Yet again, local, state and federal leaders have failed to fix the transportation funding crisis. Locally, Virginia lawmakers were tasked with increasing funding in northern Virginia and creating a constitutional amendment to protect transportation money. But, as usual, each respective legislative session concluded with temporary “fixes” that continue to leave motorists on edge. In October, Maryland’s Blue Ribbon Commission submitted a list of recommendations for annual transportation funding sources to Gov. Martin O’Malley. The problem is that most of the fundraising burden would be placed on motorists, who may be left to pay higher gas prices and Motor Vehicle Administration fees.
Maryland Speed Cameras: Outraged motorists continue to question controversial automated enforcement cameras in certain jurisdictions and some school zones in Maryland. So far, those jurisdictions that have filed reports to the Comptroller of Maryland show they collected $36.4 million in speed camera fines in the last fiscal year, with College Park reporting $3.6 million, Forest Heights reporting $2.7 million, Riverdale Park netting $2.6 million, Takoma Park taking in $2.1 million, Chevy Chase Village raking in $2 million and Mount Rainier $1.8 million. Montgomery County mailed more than 300,000 speed camera tickets and the face value of those tickets was $13.2 million. The accuracy of the technology and the commitment to due process and fairness of cameras in certain locations are the main concerns of ticketed motorists.