Live Blog: Ask the Traffic Experts

WASHINGTON – From the unveiling of the ICC, to the BRAC move, to the continuing construction of the HOT lanes, it was a big year in traffic projects around the D.C. area.

Thursday, WTOP will host “Ask the Traffic Experts,” with veteran WTOP Traffic Reporter Bob Marbourg, WTOP Sprawl and Crawl Reporter Adam Tuss and Robert Thomson, the Washington Post’s Dr. Gridlock.

The show will address the region’s major transportation and commuting issues, including HOT Lanes, the controversy over the Mark Center in Northern Virginia, and the Inter County Connector in Maryland.


How growing traffic congestion effects everyone

Bob Marbourg : People always tell me about how ‘This is the worst traffic ever.’ For each person, the transportation experience, it’s very very personal.”

Adam Tuss: The dirty little secret about congestion is that, in some respects its good. To have congestion means that people are going to jobs, that the economy is moving along.

D.C. has been ranked as the worst congestion in country, and it’s for a reason. It’s for a reason, there are a lot of jobs here, and a lot of people are going to be moving here. When you look at the big picture, we’re going to have traffic for a long time.”

Dr. Gridlock: Many of my readers say we should live closer to where we work. Other says “I have the ability to change jobs, do I have to move every time I change my job?”

BM: Even if you don’t change jobs, your workplace has changed. It all may make economic sense, from a personal standpoint, it can be terribly disruptive.


10:11 a.m.: Why HOV lanes on 395 can’t be like HOV lanes on I-66

BM: The whole idea of HOV lanes is to maximize the amount of people you can move. Unless you finesse the volume just right, then you will lose the ability to move individuals to where you need to go. When can look ahead to the HOT lanes and see how if it’s too successful with carpools, how it may not be a money maker.

What happens when HOT lanes open?

BM: I think the people who are not in the HOT lanes are going to look across that jersey wall with a certain layer of resentment.

AT: Here’s the encouraging thing, nothing is being taken away, lanes are being added. There’s two new lanes that will be added between Springfield and just north of the Dulles Toll Road. IN effect, you are going to have what you had before plus two new lanes in each direction. If you have three or more people, you can use those lanes for free. The people have said people have to keep a minimum speed, and that’s done by raising or lowering the toll.

DG: I think the HOT lanes folks figure they are not going to add or subtract from the overall amount of congest once the Beltway is in its new configuration. What they’re telling you is that you will be able to get a more consistent ride.

You will not use these not lanes every day, you will use them when you have to get to that daycare appointment, when you have to get to the 9 am appointment at Tyson’s.

10:23 a.m.: When will the HOT lanes open?

DG: Around the end of next year for the lanes to be open. However, we will be able to see some improvements in the lanes before that.

A new flyover ramp is going to open between eastbound I-66 and the Inner Loop of the Beltway. Drivers won’t have to use that left hand exit, which is so problematic.

For example, If you are going to the Route 7 exit from the Beltway, this new flyover ramp is for you. That opens this weekend.

AT: Another interesting thing about this debate, these roads are the wave of the future everywhere. Toll roads are going to drive how we get around in the future. It’s just the way things are going to be done.

DG: It’s not just about the building of the roads, this is about managing the traffic as well. I think we will get to a point where we start to talk about doing that in existing lanes, not just new lanes.

10:28 p.m.: On parking issues in the District

BM: The parking restrictions in the District of Columbia are really outdated by about 20 or 30 years. The rush hours in no way correspond to the times during which parking in restricted on the major arteries.

The other element of that is so many people are having goods delivered by so many different shippers. It’s no longer a matter of one store moving up to the loading dock.

10:34 a.m.: Montgomery County wants to create a rapid bus transit line. Metro and RideOn is already in Montgomery County, and no one can accuse it of being rapid. Why not fix that instead of adding a new line?

AT: A lot of localities are looking at rapid transit buses as a low-cost way to increase transit in the area. The problem is, How do you get those buses moving if they are sitting in traffic like everyone else?

One of the ways you do that is expanding the existing infrastructure that you have, in a way of using the shoulders, allowing buses to pass through signaled intersections with their own devices.

I know Montgomery County is looking at a rapid bus transit system. There was a long debate about whether the Purple Line should be light rail or a bus system. The Corridor Cities Transit way, which will run along the I-270 corridor, is being looked as a possible bus rapid transit system where the buses would have its own lanes, own stops. In essence, it would be a rail system on wheels. It’s a much more low cost open compared to light rail or heavy rail.

DG: Low-cost, but not cheap by any means. Probably still years away, even thought it does seem to be the transit system that is easiest to build.

I think one of the issues region wide is that when you consider this system, you are taking about, in many cases, one agency controls the vehicles and another agency (or agencies) that control the roads. It’s not a money issue, it’s also an issue of getting all the jurisdictions and agencies together.

BM: We have a psychological issue, too. We don’t get on a bus with the expectation that it’s going to move quickly. It’s going to be a bit of a rethinking on what mode of transportation is going to get you “there” quickly.

AT: One transportation expert in the region has told me, “You wont get people to go on to a buss, unless they are sitting in traffic, and that buss passes them.”

10:41 a.m.: Why isn’t there a unified traffic reporting unit in the D.C. area, similar to New York City?

BM:With all of the jurisdictions we have, it’s a very fascinating place. You’ve got two states and the District of Columbia. When we’ve had governors in our traffic center, I point to our 50-mile map and I say ‘Your constituents don’t see those jurisdictional boundaries. They only see where they live and where they need to be.”

What we need is the sense is that we are all in this together as a region. The only way we are ever going to get out of it, is regional cooperation.

AT: During any sort of emergency evacuation, this is what it’s all about. It’s all about who is calling the shots, and not stepping on anyone’s toes. Ultimately, does the federal government bigfoot everyone else and make the final decision?

What the Council of Governments is trying to do right now, is trying to figure out a way of who is the person to be in charge or what structure we should have when any sort of emergency or evacuation takes place.

BM: I’m not sure it takes one person overall, but it takes a willingness to cooperate.

DG: When snowstorms are coming, all the region’s agencies, more than 100 folks get onto a conference call at 3 a.m. and try to figure out what to do. It’s not just one grand decision. It’s actually very complicated, not just a question of jurisdictional boundaries, but also the actual experience that we are in for.

10:45 a.m.: Since the new 11th Street Bridge opened, a series of accidents during evening rush hour. What’s happening and will this be fixed?

BM: We’ve gone through one phase of the project, and it’s a major engineering challenge to build a new road and keep it open at the same time. In some cases, it doesn’t go all that smoothly, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.

DG: A flyover span is scheduled to open this weekend, and then another to scheduled to open next week. We are really looking forward to these thru-way spans, ultimately they’ll have links to the interstates, eliminating some missing links that have been problems for decades. There’s progress still to come.

AT: (The 11th Street Bridge) project is the biggest, largest, most expensive project that the District of Columbia has underway right now.

BM: It was also a breakthrough when they briefed us on what that project was going to consist of. It was the first time D.C. acknowledged the fact that there are commuters that travel through the District to get back and forth between work and home, between Maryland and Virginia.

Up until now, they tried to make it as difficult as possible, but people would find their ways around, and usually it’s a matter of going through the neighborhoods. If you provide people a pathway that moves, you actually have a chance to benefit the neighborhood and the people passing through.

10:53 a.m. – How to allow snow crews to do their job in event of bad weather

BM: The mayor came out yesterday and talked about the option of sheltering in place. We’re not advocating that you take three days to stay under your office desk during a snowstorm. However, what we all need to remember is, you don’t start spreading salt until the snow starts to fall and begins to stick on the roads.

What we need to do is to give the men and women driving the salt spreaders and snow plowers about a 90 minute head start to at least complete one pass on the route they have been designated to cover, so a half-inch of snow doesn’t become a eighth-inch of glaze.

DG:Many of us remember Jan. 26 when the forecast was spot on, but people looked out their window and saw no snow was falling, it arrived exactly on schedule at 4 p.m., and everyone got stuck in the afternoon rush hour. It was Mother Nature vs. human nature.

10:54 a.m. – Compliance with red light and speed cameras around the region

AT: I think you have to look no further than Connecticut Avenue in Chevy Chase. Everybody knows that they are there. Once they are past the cameras, they speed up a little bit.

I always point back to the former D.C. Police Chief Charles Ramsay who said “If you don’t wanna speeding ticket, don’t speed. If you don’t want a red light ticket, don’t go through them.” Regardless of how you feel about them, that’s just the basics about it. If you’re speeding – by the way, you usually get about a 12-mile-per-hour cushion – don’t speed, and you won’t get a ticket.”

BM: There is the concern and the respect for people’s neighborhoods and school zones, and places where it’s inappropriate to try and drive highway speed on roads and streets that are simply not intended (for those speeds.) In D.C., by statute, the speed limit in 25 MPH unless posted otherwise.

The District has also deployed new speed cameras, I can assure you it’s already looking for you. (Check out the photos in our photo gallery attached to this story)

DG:I find that people have no problem with the speed limit. They have a problem with enforcement of the speed limit. I see that in the letters I’m getting about the ICC where the speed limit is 55 MPH. People ignore the speed limit unless they see a police car. They complain that there are too many police cars on the ICC now.

10:57 a.m. – The BRAC Building at Seminary Road and I-395 – Wasn’t there an alternate site? Where were the politicians before all the hand wringing about the current site?

AT: There was a lot of movement to put what is now the MARC center building at the Franconia-Springfield VRE station, next to the Franconia-Springfield Metro station, there was a lot of transit-oriented development that was associated with that, and it got pulled away.

The city of Alexandria was willing to welcome the jobs that it would bring the site it’s on now. Of course, that Seminary Road interchange doesn’t function well as it is, you throw 6,000 people in the mix, it’s going to get worse.

DG: One issue about all the BRAC decisions was that the fed just didn’t give the locals enough time to plan for the traffic improvements that were going to be needed. The whole planning and funding process, and construction, takes about 10 years. There was nowhere near that much time available.

AT: It seems in some levels at least, the federal government, the Dept. of Defense is realizing that they need to help fund some of these issues. Specifically around Bethesda Naval, you’re seeing some improvements go in there.

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(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All rights reserved.)