Greater Greater Washington

WAMU missteps with one-sided Outer Beltway story

WAMU's Metro Connection aired a sadly one-sided story on Friday about long-debated, oft-rejected proposals to build an Outer Beltway across the Potomac, far from the region's core. Positively, Metro Connection agreed that the piece wasn't up to their standards, and the reporter has already added some of the missing side of the story.


Rejected '60s freeway plan. Image from NVTA via WAMU.

The original piece only interviewed proponents of this destructive idea. While no voices from the smart growth or environmental perspectives appeared, Bob Chase, the professional booster for more freeways in rural Virginia, and AAA Mid-Atlantic's Lon Anderson, spokesperson for one of America's most polemical automobile association chapters, got considerable airtime.

The companion text article said, in the reporter's voice, that drivers should blame traffic on a "failure" to build a 2nd and even 3rd Beltway, as suggested in the 1960s, and that discussion of the issue would be "encouraging to some transportation advocates and commuters", parroting lines from Chase and Anderson.

Maryland officials explained that an outer Beltway isn't a priority and conflicts with smart growth and environmental principles. But they were the only ones saying that in the original article. They got scant attention. The broadcast audio paraphrased a few objections, but in nearly every case followed up with a sentence beginning with "But," implying that the arguments against the Outer Beltway deserve only rebuttal, not serious consideration.

The idea that arguments against the Outer Beltway are inconsequential is dangerously wrong. An Outer Beltway would primarily serve the large landowners in rural Virginia who want to fill their property with more cookie-cutter subdivisions. It actually won't help current commuters. VDOT's own 2004 study showed that 92% of drivers in the I-270 and Dulles corridors travel to and from the core, or along the current Beltway. An outer crossing wouldn't serve them.

Even for those who could use an Outer Beltway, a free or subsidized road would just induce its own demand, spurring new development in current farmland and filling up the road with new drivers stuck in new congestion. A toll road would have to charge a lot of money to pay back its costs. AAA would subsequently whine, as they are doing with the ICC, that it's too expensive and not enough people are using it.

The region needs better transit solutions between Bethesda and Tysons and the Metro lines in each corridor, not the failed Outer Beltway ideas of 50 years ago. The region has turned down these highways, over and over, because they simply won't solve our transportation troubles.

AAA is not a neutral source

It's not surprising that Bob Chase and AAA are still pushing an Outer Beltway as a transportation panacea, but it is disappointing when reporters fall for their pitch. Sadly, too many transportation reporters view AAA as some kind of neutral party.

AAA's helpful press releases on gas price trends and holiday weekend traffic let reporters fill column space without doing a lot of work. There's nothing wrong with those stories, but many reporters then fail to question when the organization's press releases attack officials on policy grounds, like AAA's broadsides against Mayor Gray's traffic safety camera initiative, or Governor Martin O'Malley saying that an Outer Beltway is not the priority for Maryland.

Bob Chase has a high-powered, expensive PR firm, Dewey Square, pitching far and wide his aggressive push for more and more highway lanes at the region's edge. Nonprofit advocates voicing alternative views, like the Coalition for Smarter Growth and Sierra Club, have to make do with much thinner resources. Good reporters put pitches from PR firms in their appropriate context and realize that they represent the interests of well-funded groups, not necessarily truth.

Unfortunately, we've seen several cases of journalists falling short on balanced coverage of late. WAMU stepped over the line recently with a brief morning story that only quoted AAA, and no pedestrian safety advocates, on traffic cameras. Reporter Armando Trull adapted an AP story which unquestioningly repeated the slant from The Washington Times.

AP reporters don't sign their articles, so we don't know who broadcast this biased story out on the wires without thinking. Besides WAMU, Fox5's Will Thomas also rewrote the traffic camera story, and the Washington Business Journal aggregated it, both without questioning its one-sided premise.

There's nothing wrong with opinion journalismour articles are all opinionsbut people know it. The Washington Times is mostly opinion, too, and so is anything from AAA, but many reporters and others mistake both. Running editorials on the Outer Beltway is one thing, but news reporters can and should stop regurgitating AAA's line on policy questions, and should look more critically at other outlets' stories when they don't.

WAMU worked to fix its mistake

After getting an earful from myself and a number of environmental and smart growth advocates on Friday, WAMU agreed with the criticism. Metro Connection Editor Tara Boyle told me on the record, "In looking at story a second time, we think the critique that we needed a bit more balance is real, and there is merit to these critiques."

The reporter, Martin Di Caro, spoke to Stewart Schwartz of CSG and myself, and added a section to both the audio and text versions with quotes from both of us. Di Caro has written many other, good-quality transportation stories in his 2 months at WAMU thus far, and I look forward to many more from him.

During our discussion, Di Caro mentioned that he's currently working at WAMU thanks to a grant. Their former transportation reporter, David Schultz, was also only at WAMU for a short time. It's terrific that WAMU is getting money to cover transportation issues, but it would be far better if they could rustle up more consistent funding to keep a single reporter more permanently. Transportation is not a trivial subject, and it's very helpful to have reporters able to develop some expertise in the beat. When a reporter is new, they're more likely to fall victim to AAA-itis or the related affliction, PR-rep-itis.

Meanwhile, WAMU deserves praise for looking at the story, recognizing that it was one-sided, and taking steps to do better with coverage now and in the future.

David Alpert is the founder and editor-in-chief of Greater Greater Washington. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and daughter in Dupont Circle. 

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Who is funding the grant for the WAMU reporter? Is it an entity with positions on transportation issues?

by turtleshell on May 1, 2012 11:08 am • linkreport

Well at least the anti's got their voices heard too.

by novasteve on May 1, 2012 11:13 am • linkreport

I like how it framed that planners dropped the ball on helping drivers back then without mentioning that it turned a lot of drivers into transit riders by building the 2nd busiest subway line in the USA.

Or completely ignoring the land use decisions that lead to people commuting from montgomery county to Tysons and such.

by Canaan on May 1, 2012 11:22 am • linkreport

The outer beltway is one of those ridiculous ideas that people driving on the beltway love because it's gonna get "everybody else" out of their way on the beltway. They think "well I won't use it because it doesn't fit my commute but all these other jokers will be gone!"

Problem is it won't work because very few people are making commutes that will be helped by an outer beltway. Few people make those commutes specifically because it's not easy to do so! You don't choose to live in Gaithersburg and further out if you are going to commute to the Dulles Corridor and vice versa.

If you want to get traffic off the beltway build Metro or light rail connecting Tysons with Bethesda and Silver Spring, instead of just enabling inefficient sprawl.

by MLD on May 1, 2012 11:39 am • linkreport

Ironically, the land-use decision in Montgomery County is partly to blame for the outer beltway. Limiting development near the Potomac river encouraged the suburban growth well past Dulles in Virginia. This spawned the extension of the DTR and part B of silver line currently in limbo. So actually the ag reserve restrictions caused the western sprawl into Virginia, and thus the need for an outer beltway.

by goldfish on May 1, 2012 11:41 am • linkreport

1. But there ISN'T a need for the outer beltway. Most of the folks who live in Loudoun work in Loudoun, or in Fairfax, not in maryland, and most of the employees in Loudoun and western FFX live in Loudoun, Western FFX, or PWC, not in Maryland.

2. Had there been more development in upper MoCo, and those folks had commuted to Tysons, the current beltway would be in even worse shape wrt congestion

I mean you can criticize the ag reserve for pushing development into Frederick Cty (Im not familiar enough to argue that one way or the other) but it seems very unlikely to me that it had any impact on development in NoVa.

by AWalkerInTheCity on May 1, 2012 11:46 am • linkreport

We don't need another Beltway. We need a DC by-pass (I-97) from Baltimore to Bowling Green (mostly over US-301) so that long distance travel can by-pass DC without ever getting near us. This would be following the example of the Francilienne that shuttles long distance traffic far around Paris, alleviating the Périphérique (and the A86).

But other than that, we need much more metro.

by Jasper on May 1, 2012 11:55 am • linkreport

goldfish, the sprawl in the Dulles corridor is because of the emergence of Tysons in the early 1970's. Tysons sparked more office parks farther out. People who worked in Tysons lived farther out. The offices around Dulles wouldn't have sprung up without Tysons breaking the ice.

Tysons' emergence had everything to do with being at the intersection of a bunch of highways in what was greenfield development nearish to the Pentagon during a time that was obsessed with such real estate. Being in the Favored Quarter certainly helped.

It had nothing to do with anything that happened in Maryland.

by Cavan on May 1, 2012 11:58 am • linkreport

That and an outer beltway would help freight/commercial traffic. However when you remove that, you still have a commuter problem. The fix to the commuter problem isn't gonna come from a bypass, its gonna come from a land use/transit solution. Then things will solve itself on the freight/commercial end.

by Canaan on May 1, 2012 12:05 pm • linkreport

@AWitC: Those jobs in Loudoun or in FFX could have easily been in Md, closer to the core, if development was allow to occur there. Also all that development out past Tysons could have been more evenly spread out if the MC zoning allowed it.

Since this keeps coming up, clearly there are some people that think it is needed. You may not be aware, or you may be dismissive of the terrible traffic in Virginia, for alternatives to the beltway and other roads to get around. Whenever I find myself out there I am amazed at the gridlock -- it is just as bad as NY Ave & No. Cap. All those cars are coming from houses in LC, that could have been built in MC, but closer in.

by goldfish on May 1, 2012 12:07 pm • linkreport

Bob Chase works for Til Hazel, who owns land that might be more valuable if taxpayers built him some roads (aka the Outer Beltway). The boards of supervisors for Loudoun, Clark and Fauquier counties have opposed it because it is not needed. There are more important road needs (e.g., Tysons Corner). Unless and until Maryland wants to connect to this road via a new Potomac River bridge, it's a road to nowhere. The latest argument for the Outer Beltway is it is needed to develop an air freight business at Dulles to replace government contracting. This project needs to be defunded.

by tmtfairfax on May 1, 2012 12:11 pm • linkreport

Recognizing a need for traffic solutions in Va. =\= advocating for a western outer beltway. (or at least one without any sort of transit provision, but no one has talked about how that could be done either)

by Canaan on May 1, 2012 12:17 pm • linkreport

Cavan -- wrt tmtfairfax's comment, Tysons was sparked by Til Hazel. It was the Growth Machine, Fairfax edition.

A few years ago at a used book store I picked up a copy of a Fairfax County planning report from something like 1962, called _The Vanishing Land_ about the perils of sprawl and leapfrog development.

It's not that the planners didn't know what was happening. They were just powerless in face of forces stronger than they...

And the drumbeat on the outer beltway is no different than the drumbeat of the ICC. Now we have the ICC, and it took decades to bring it to fruition.

by Richard Layman on May 1, 2012 12:26 pm • linkreport

"Those jobs in Loudoun or in FFX could have easily been in Md, closer to the core, if development was allow to occur there."

development IS allowed in most of MoCo. The areas in the ag reserve are not much closer to the core than Reston, or even Ashburn, AFAIK. And like inner MoCo, they would have add to counter the pull of Dulles, the Tysons contractor base, and lower taxes. Its not clear to me that leaving upper MoCo open to development would have resulted in a more compact region, but I doubt it.

"Also all that development out past Tysons could have been more evenly spread out if the MC zoning allowed it. "

I have no idea what this means.

"Since this keeps coming up, clearly there are some people that think it is needed."

yes, folks who want to build up Dulles Airport. And I guess some landowners who want more development along an outer beltway - (mostly in PWC I guess, since most of Western Loudoun is off limits due to both zoning and conservation easements)

"You may not be aware, or you may be dismissive of the terrible traffic in Virginia"

Unlike you I live in Virginia.

"for alternatives to the beltway and other roads to get around."

The Western bypass would not take a lot of traffic off the beltway. If a bypass were the answer we could do the proposed eastern bypass - even that wont help much. A more direct solution would be to add capacity ON the beltway (an extension to MD of the HOT lanes, which would also encourage transit use) - or a rail connection from Bethesda to Tysons.

" Whenever I find myself out there I am amazed at the gridlock -- it is just as bad as NY Ave & No. Cap. All those cars are coming from houses in LC, that could have been built in MC, but closer in"

you seem to be under the impression that folks are commuting from LC to DC, and might instead have gone from MoCo to DC. very few residents of LC commute to DC.

by AWalkerInTheCity on May 1, 2012 12:27 pm • linkreport

Ironically, the land-use decision in Montgomery County is partly to blame for the outer beltway.

The outer beltway is Montgomery County's fault? Because all of that sprawl absolutely had to be built somewhere, and if Montgomery County weaseled out of its fair share of sprawl-building, then dutiful Northern Virginia had to do the right thing, despite its own inclinations, and pick up the slack?

by Miriam on May 1, 2012 12:33 pm • linkreport

Why would a multi-ring system and a true bypass have been bad in the 60s?

by selxic on May 1, 2012 1:02 pm • linkreport

@AWitC: The American legion bridge is the northernmost bridge of the metropolitan area. The distance to the next bridge at Harper's Ferry is about 55 miles. The cross-river traffic from the entire area, a circle of radius of roughly 20 miles, or about 1200 square miles, must cross this bridge. This area encompasses represents about 1/6 of the total metropolitan area, probably about 1 million people.

Enlarging the AL bridge instead of building a new one will eliminate alternative routes. This will force all of the traffic down route 7 and I66 over the beltway, greatly lengthening the distances from LC and points around the Dulles corridor to the new developments in Germantown and similar points in MC. By limiting development in Potomac (not the ag reserve, my mistake), MC has indeed made these trips even longer.

Not saying that the land owners in Virginia are without fault. You could assign some of it to the Dulles airport: by not building a new bridge, even more traffic will be channeled on the DTR, providing the MWAA with the tolls they need to build the silver line.

@Miriam: in short, yes.

by goldfish on May 1, 2012 1:10 pm • linkreport

selxic -- because it would have created a scenario much more like Metropolitan Detroit, much more exurban, lots of land use on a per capita basis, significantly higher than the national average.

by Richard Layman on May 1, 2012 1:10 pm • linkreport

I'm waiting for the usual suspects to tell us how all of our traffic issues in DC could be solved if we stopped concentrating on public transit and just built a Houston-style freeway system complete with 16-lane stretches and facing lanes. Because Houston is what we should all strive to be...

by George on May 1, 2012 1:15 pm • linkreport

@George: compare the unemployment rates and make up your own mind:
Houston: 7.3%
DC: 9.9%
(BTW I do not think DC should build a Houston-style highway system.)

by goldfish on May 1, 2012 1:20 pm • linkreport

The American legion bridge is the northernmost bridge of the metropolitan area. The distance to the next bridge at Harper's Ferry is about 55 miles.

There is the US 15 bridge at Point of Rocks. This is where MD has intended to build a new road for years, in fact, the two lane US 15 in MD is meant as the southbound lanes of a new limited access highway, there is actually a bridge built years ago that can accommodate a four or six lane highway on this section.

Of course, the NVTA, AAA, and elements of VDOT don't care at all about what MD wants, or what it's priorities are. We're just supposed to roll over and submit.

by kinverson on May 1, 2012 1:22 pm • linkreport

@kinverson: interesting point, thanks. However this crossing is poorly connected to the road network and is too far north to be of any use for most people that need to cross the river.

by goldfish on May 1, 2012 1:26 pm • linkreport

@Goldfish

The next bridge is at Point of Rocks, MD. There's also White's Ferry to consider. The major issue on the Beltway at the American Legion Bridge is commuters from MD to Tysons, and somewhat less to the Dulles Corridor. People want to live in MoCo but their jobs are in Tysons.

An Outer Beltway *may* help alleviate this scenario, but a much cheaper and effective solution would be to extend the Purple Line from Bethesda to Tysons. Higher capacity, lower overall cost, very little impact on the environment compared with some grandiose idea to build an Outer Beltway.

Here's another idea - punch 28 across then connect that to I-270. Another bridge, but not another Beltway.

by Route 7 Warrior on May 1, 2012 1:28 pm • linkreport

@ Route 7:Here's another idea - punch 28 across then connect that to I-270. Another bridge, but not another Beltway.

And please, please then rename VA-28 to I-666 :-D

by Jasper on May 1, 2012 1:34 pm • linkreport

Rt. 28 is still pretty far from tysons. If you extend it due north you're gonna end up west around Germantown. I don't see how that really helps any significant number of commuters from MoCo. If you're really commuting from western Montgomery county to Tysons then you need to move. So let me repeat myself. The solution will have to come from public transportation to have any meaningful impact.

by canaan on May 1, 2012 1:41 pm • linkreport

"Enlarging the AL bridge instead of building a new one will eliminate alternative routes. This will force all of the traffic down route 7 and I66 over the beltway, greatly lengthening the distances from LC and points around the Dulles corridor to the new developments in Germantown and similar points in MC. By limiting development in Potomac (not the ag reserve, my mistake), MC has indeed made these trips even longer."

What trips are you talking about from Germantown to Loudoun County? There aren't enough of these kinds of trips to warrant building a new beltway. If Montgomery County wanted to develop land near the river, than perhaps it might make more sense because there'd be more demand for this kind of route, however at this point, there's not enough demand.

Many people who use the American Legion Bridge are going to I-95 or I-270. Building an outer beltway wouldn't help that many people accomplish this. Perhaps, an eastern bypass and an upgrade to US-15 across Point of Rocks would be better.

I agree with AWITC. An outer beltway wouldn't be a bypass or congestion reliever. It's a development project. Let's not mince words and not call it what it is.

To alleviate traffic between Montgomery and Tysons, the best thing to do would be to expand the Beltway in Maryland and develop better, more direct, transit links between Downcounty Montgomery and Tysons. The same could be said for Virginia. We need better transit links between Alexandria, Springfield, Annandale, Merrifield, and Tysons.

by Vik on May 1, 2012 1:43 pm • linkreport

An outer beltway wouldn't be a bypass or congestion reliever. It's a development project. Let's not mince words and not call it what it is.

Basically, I agree. Except that without it, the development will be forced along the existing spokes, and further out. And most of the VA traffic will go through Tyson's.

by goldfish on May 1, 2012 1:49 pm • linkreport

I'll also add that I think an outer beltway is almost inevitable at this point. It may take several decades, but I think it'll happen. This area is going to continue to sprawl. Our edge cities will continue to grow. We need more and better infrastructure in all areas pretty much.

I guess it's the politics w/ respect to these issues that I can't tolerate too much of. It's really not that much different than large-scale rail projects that we see proposed.

I think unless an area is well-planned and governed, large-scale projects like these in areas that are underdeveloped are to spur growth, whereas projects in places where the status quo has become intolerable are to relieve congestion.

by Vik on May 1, 2012 1:59 pm • linkreport

@Richard Layman,

You really cannot use Detroit as a comparison, for two significant reasons. 1) The entire auto industry resides there and people are infused into the car culture fairly completely, 2) geography plays a huge role in exurban growth there, as nearly all of southern Michigan is fairly flat land that could be expanded outwards for a couple hundred miles in every direction with only rivers and lakes stopping further expansion. The DC region does not have the same car culture identity and has real mountainous geographic limitations to unlimited exurban growth.

Having lived in Detroit for 43 years and driving its freeways for over two decades, I know its history all too well. While I completely agree with article on the need to focus on mass transportation instead of freeway construction for moving people, I do find it frustrating that there is never any easy way to travel from one end of town to another with the way the roads are now. Too many intersections have too long traffic lights. Some streets have more traffic lights than is necessary. Others streets have badly mistimed traffic lights that would improve the flow of conjestion if timed better. Some traffic lights should become blinking yellow lights after 9pm, but are not. And many intersections could use something as simple as an overpass or a viaduct to allow continuous flow of traffic.

A bypass road or freeway for truck traffic passing by the region is long overdue too. The failure of my home town to properly connect 1-275 all the way around the city results in truck traffic riding into the heart of downtown Detroit and adding to the general conjestion. This is not something that can be solved by mass transit and will be a problem as long as their is trucks going up and down the eastern seaboard.

I don't understand why this is even and us v them issue. You need improved public transportation and you need improved roads. You need them both.

by Ray B on May 1, 2012 2:13 pm • linkreport

How so, Richard Layman? Many of the roads were built minus the right of ways that would have gone along with making them "highways." It seems like we're now going back and trying to fix existing roads to make them what they could have been 50 years ago.

by selxic on May 1, 2012 2:24 pm • linkreport

"You need improved public transportation and you need improved roads. You need them both"

You will note thats lots of the people opposed to an outer beltway/western bypass SUPPORT A. Improvements to the Eastern Bypass B. Improvements to the rte 15 crossing C. Improvements to American Legion bridge and the capital beltway in Md.

by AWalkerInTheCity on May 1, 2012 2:24 pm • linkreport

Jasper is EXACTLY right on this: We don't need another Beltway. We need a DC by-pass (I-97) from Baltimore to Bowling Green (mostly over US-301) so that long distance travel can by-pass DC without ever getting near us. This would be following the example of the Francilienne that shuttles long distance traffic far around Paris, alleviating the Périphérique (and the A86).

But as for all this talk about the 'core' David. The DC area would be nothing if it were just the core..the core was about dead until the Reagan Economic Boom and thereafter. The core is enhanced by the wealth of the suburbs. The tax revenues necessary to keep METRO afloat comes from the non-core.

[Deleted for violating the comment policy.]

by Pelham1861 on May 1, 2012 2:39 pm • linkreport

selxic -- I am talking about the general paradigm of development of more land with an ever expanding metropolitan region. Now I didn't live in the Detroit region for as long as Ray M. but there is no question that sprawl deconcentrated the region in deleterious ways, the Chrysler move to Auburn Hills being but one example.

I don't think the issue is so much that Detroit is car culture and DC isn't. I think the issue is that automobility or car-centricy is most pronounced in the Detroit region because it started there first and because so many of the region's households were tied to the activity or spillover activity like housing construction (e.g., Kaufman & Broad and Pulte, national production housing builders were or are based in Michigan, etc.).

If you would have built an outer beltway back decades ago when demand wouldn't normally drive it forward, it would have led to a lot of relatively low dense sprawl development, just like the various beltways in Greater Houston.

Note that as an adult I didn't drive much on Detroit highways, so I don't know if there is really a serious "congestion" problem. There sure are a lot of highways. My understanding was that I-94 is the most congested with trucks, and it I think has the fewest lanes of the major Interstates serving the region.

by Richard Layman on May 1, 2012 2:45 pm • linkreport

The Outer Beltway is a total waste of money plain and simple. It would hardly benefit MoCo commuters, diverts money from mass transit, and encourages sprawl. Dulles airport would be the biggest beneficiary, and for that reason alone MD shouldn't support it.

Ehrlich got to build his ICC, fine; it should stop there. Let the pro-sprawl/highway wingnuts in Virginia build whatever nonsense they want, but Maryland should stick to building the Purple, Red, and CCT light rail lines.

by King Terrapin on May 1, 2012 4:36 pm • linkreport

@Anon

Haha couldn't have said it better myself (although this time I do agree with GGW's stance on the Outer Beltway)

by King Terrapin on May 1, 2012 9:49 pm • linkreport

@AWalkerInTheCity, Jasper

Anyone care to justify the idea that the Outer Beltway is bad but the Eastern Bypass is good? Why should one prefer sprawl close to the resource conservation areas protected protected by the Critical Areas Act over sprawl in the foothills of Virginia?

by Jim T on May 1, 2012 11:23 pm • linkreport

@ Jim T:Why should one prefer sprawl close to the resource conservation areas protected protected by the Critical Areas Act over sprawl in the foothills of Virginia?

I did not say there should be sprawl down there. I just suggested we divert long-distance traffic (and there is a lot of it) off of I-95 between Fredericksburg and Baltimore. You seriously can not blame traffic jams caused by sheer volume of mostly none-VA and MD tags on sprawl in Loudoun of Fairfax.

Building an interstate is no guarantee for sprawl, as long as you keep it away from cities. There is little sprawl on I-95 between Richmond/Petersburg and Jacksonville, the next town it actually goes through. In fact, I was driving on I-15 between Salt Lake City/Ogden and Idaho Springs last year or so, and not much sprawl there either. Oddly, Utah is the most urbanized state in the nation. Very little sprawl around I-70 in Illinois. You only get sprawl when you have people that elect weak local governments that sell out land for cheap.

And again, we mostly need more metro.

by Jasper on May 2, 2012 6:59 am • linkreport

I would like to see consideration of bundling three major transportation and infrastructure systems into a corridor of sorts to "connect" Fredericksburg and reconnect *north* of Baltimore with few "on" or "off" connections: rail, road, and power grid. This could move *through* traffic *around* our areas, through which it now moves of necessity, not choice. it would also pull rail and truck shipments I would rather not see in close proximity to the Capitol and downtown cores of Washington and Baltimore.

This is *not* unrealistic: there is a railroad right of way that loosely follows Maryland's segment of Rt 301 to the Potomac River and Rt. 301 is there itself, etc.

My point about few "on" and "off" options is intended to thwart sprawl that would otherwise likely emerge -- on and off locations should be by design consistent with regional and area master plans.

by Lindsley Williams on May 2, 2012 8:30 am • linkreport

Unless somebody has a traffic study or pretty much anything that shows that "You seriously can not blame traffic jams caused by sheer volume of mostly none-VA and MD tags on sprawl in Loudoun of Fairfax." then I'm disinclined to believe it. It's just an example of the "other people are the problem" argument.

by MLD on May 2, 2012 8:35 am • linkreport

@jim T

1. The bridge down there needs to be replaced anyway, so its cheaper

2. The highways connecting to it, IIUC, basically are in place already, though maybe needing some improvement, vs building something new to connect to a western bypass bridge

3. Its a more direct route for the bypass traffic

4. At least on the VA side, its an area unlikely to attract much more residential development, and to the extent it does so, it would not be much more likely with an eastern bypass - similar on the Md side, I think?

by AWalkerInTheCity on May 2, 2012 8:57 am • linkreport

The BIG Problem in Virginia isn't the lack of an outer beltway - its the lack of public transit. Part of that is as a result of density issues, but look at the subway miles per resident in DC or even MD and compare it to Virginia.

So Virginia shouldn't complain. The solution is right there in front of them. Invest in much more efficient rail solutions instead of highways.

Also - there is an Eastern Bypass already - the east side of the Beltway from Virginia to College Park. I can't imagine that someone who is going from Fredricksburg to Baltimore would use the West/North side beltway, and conversely someone going to Gainesville from NJ isn't going to go all the way around the East side. An Eastern Bypass would do little to alleviate traffic in the area mentioned here (although if you used 301 and 97 it WOULD alleviate some traffic on 95 between Fredricksburg and DC and between College Park and Baltimore.)

by Tom A on May 2, 2012 9:13 am • linkreport

Tom A,

A lot of people from Maryland commute to Virginia, so it's a regional problem. Traffic is terrible on the Beltway on the northern and western sides in Maryland and the purple line is not going to alleviate a significant portion of this.

And why do you use the Fredericksburg to Baltimore route as your test case? How about people driving from NY to NC? Why would you prefer to take the Beltway in this case? On the western side, I think we are going to get some sort of outer beltway at some point, but there are better things we can do.

by Vik on May 2, 2012 10:21 am • linkreport

@ MLD:You seriously can not blame traffic jams caused by sheer volume of mostly none-VA and MD tags on sprawl in Loudoun of Fairfax."

In my morning sleepiness I forgot to add the word "weekend". My point was that on Friday night/Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon and night I-95 between Fredericksburg and DC get very clogged up by beach traffic from the NJ/NY/New England (and hell, quite some Ontario tags as well) to beaches south of us. That is not due to the sprawl policy or lack of metro in Fairfax and PW county. That is because people who do not live here want to go to a beach that is not here.

@ Tom A:Also - there is an Eastern Bypass already - the east side of the Beltway from Virginia to College Park. I can't imagine that someone who is going from Fredricksburg to Baltimore would use the West/North side beltway,

Actually, the west/north Beltway is a mile shorter than the east side, so it is not a crazy idea to go the other way around. And if you're really talking about distance, then I-395/DC-295 is the shortest way anyway. Assuming (ha!) no road work or delays. Furthermore, I was not talking about people going from Baltimore to Fredericksburg. It is a regional embarrasment that there is no decent 18/7 rail connection between the two. I was talking about people who drive from Nova Scotia to Hilton Head. They could not care less about an extra VRE train or an extended blue line, both of which we need desperately.

by Jasper on May 2, 2012 10:25 am • linkreport

In my morning sleepiness I forgot to add the word "weekend". My point was that on Friday night/Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon and night I-95 between Fredericksburg and DC get very clogged up by beach traffic from the NJ/NY/New England (and hell, quite some Ontario tags as well) to beaches south of us. That is not due to the sprawl policy or lack of metro in Fairfax and PW county. That is because people who do not live here want to go to a beach that is not here.

This is all well and good but it would be nice to see some actual information about what the traffic mix is like. Again you are presenting the false argument that "everyone else" is causing these problems when wouldn't it be also logically fair to say that if lots of people are driving all the way from New England/NY/NJ to beaches down south that EVEN MORE people are driving from DC/MD/VA to those southern places since they are closer?

by MLD on May 2, 2012 11:24 am • linkreport

MLD, I don't have any actual information, but you can observe the difference between 395/95 inside and outside the beltway during times of heavy volume on the weekend, especially in the summer. You also have to factor in buses and large trucks that are dependent on an interstate to take haul things. These statements should be understood in the context of whether or not an outer beltway is necessary or not, and possible alternatives.

by Vik on May 2, 2012 11:57 am • linkreport

Current growth patterns have placed much more growth close to the existing Beltway, in places like Tysons Corner and North Bethesda, and less at the outer edge. The justification for a new beltway has always been about allowing people like Til Hazel to make money building new Edge Cities.

@Ray B: "You need improved public transportation and you need improved roads. You need them both." The problem is that there's money for neither.

@Anon: you will notice that the post includes the line "There's nothing wrong with opinion journalism—our articles are all opinions"

by Payton on May 2, 2012 1:01 pm • linkreport

I'm sorry I didn't see this post until today; I don't check this blog every day. BUT this is a subject dear to my heart.

I was born and raised in Massachusetts. I've lived all over that state. Boston effectively has an "inner" and "outer" Beltway, though no one uses the world "beltway" up there. Route 128, signed for most of its way as I-95, is about the same distance from the city core as our Beltway, and I-495, largely constructed during the mid-1960s, is about 10 miles farther out.

And guess what! Although there are slowdowns and jams sometimes, the Boston suburbs are nationally ranked nowhere near as badly as the DC 'burbs in terms of traffic. I submit that the Boston suburbs are not any environmentally worse off than our suburbs.

Oh, and commuter rail? Despite having both an "inner beltway" and an "outer beltway," the Boston area has a much more extensive commuter rail system than MARC and VRE put together.

I really think this area should have had an outer beltway built 40 or 45 years ago, *before* the 'burbs got so built up. Now it would be way too hard to shoehorn such a roadway in between everything that already exists.

Why, yes, I like mass transit. I prefer to ride Metro into the city rather than dealing with potholes and bad drivers, and I regret that my neighborhood has absolutely no bus service 14 percent of the time (i.e., on Sundays). But many people need to drive because they need to bring a lot of stuff with them, or they need to bring the whole family, or they need to transport pets (who are not allowed on WMATA). With this latest round of fare hikes, we're already at the break-even point where it costs a family of four (two adults, two school-age kids who still must pay full fare) the same to go downtown whether they take Metro or drive and park at a garage.

I also feel strongly that we in Maryland need more jobs EAST of the invisible line that follows 16th Street. I desperately need work, and yet so many jobs that I would qualify for would require me to drive to Tysons or the Dulles corridor, or perhaps areas of the Alexandria-Arlington area that aren't near a Metro station. Even getting from Greenbelt to Silver Spring stinks during rush hour. So far I have not moved from my modest Prince George's condo because the only thing I'd get for a comparable price in Fairfax/Loudoun is a rented room in someone else's house. No way could I actually afford to live on my own, either renting or buying. And no, I can't move in with my parents until I die, because they have been buried in the cemetery for many years. We need more professional jobs in Prince George's County!!

by Greenbelt Gal on May 2, 2012 1:27 pm • linkreport

"Oh, and commuter rail? Despite having both an "inner beltway" and an "outer beltway," the Boston area has a much more extensive commuter rail system than MARC and VRE put together."

due to a legacy of local railroads built mostly in the 19th century, when Washington was a small town.

"But many people need to drive"

I dont think the discussion on this thread has said no one should drive. The question is whats the best way to create additional capacity between MoCo and Fairfax/Loudoun.

"I also feel strongly that we in Maryland need more jobs EAST of the invisible line that follows 16th Street."

I completely agree.

by AWalkerInTheCity on May 2, 2012 1:33 pm • linkreport

@ MLD:Again you are presenting the false argument that "everyone else" is causing these problems when wouldn't it be also logically fair to say that if lots of people are driving all the way from New England/NY/NJ to beaches down south that EVEN MORE people are driving from DC/MD/VA to those southern places since they are closer?,

I don't have data, but that does not make it a false argument. I can not, in Virginia, distinguish between local and long distance drivers by just looking at their tags. I have driven from here to the deep south and noticed that all along the route, the number of NJ/NY/NE/ON tags stays high. Sure, there were drivers from VA, DC and MD as well, but they (including me) would not have been helped by an extra metro stop in Lorton.

Beyond Richmond, the problem goes away, presumably because many people take I-295/I-64E and go to VA Beach or the OBX. [And I note that I do not understand why VA Beach is worth a 7h drive from NJ]

by Jasper on May 2, 2012 1:37 pm • linkreport

Greenbelt Gal: I'm from the Boston area. I think Boston is far sprawlier than the DC area. More of the jobs seem to be in outer areas (office parks on 128 and 495). Most of the housing is single-family homes, even in inner towns like Cambridge and Newton, while the DC area has far more of a mix of townhouses, apartments, and SFHs even farther out.

Boston has pretty good commuter rail, but most of the T lines don't go nearly as far out as Metro does.

I think that much of this stems from individual towns having control over land use and paying for their own schools. Each town wants to maximize the property taxes per dwelling unit, which means big luxury houses, and wants to put commercial development at the edge.

It's a lot harder to agree to preserve a large swath of a county as agricultural, as Montgomery has done, and focus growth closer to the center, in Mass.

by David Alpert on May 2, 2012 1:55 pm • linkreport

I'm just glad I rarely have to commute into MD. The one time I had to visit MD recently for a site survey, it took me 2 hours from Fairfax to Mount Airy and 3 hours back - no accidents, just congestion between the 270 spur and Tysons. My buddy and I were joking about the idea of taking a job in MD recently, as in how ludicrous it would be because we could not reliably get there. I would imagine the same is true of MD residents into VA. Similarly, I never consider BWI because in the past it has taken me as long to get there as the whole flight is.

My family and I visit Lancaster PA quite often, when we do we leave Saturday at 7 AM - before the stores open. Traveling mid-day on Saturday will set us back an hour on average.

Plain and simple - commuting between the ALREADY BUILT UP and dense Dulles and 270 corridors is completely nonfunctional either by car or by bus. I emphasis already built up because each corridor is already dense, planned for mixed use if not already, and now with the silver line, built both along highways and high capacity mass transit. It is not one, but the two working together that makes each work independently.

I sympathize with the argument that many of the "players" behind the new push might be landowners, so is the case of all road or mass transit development, ever. So was the case in the push for Dulles rail - in the end it was largely driven by the landowners of the office parks. But one's devil cannot be a saint just because they now back your preference.

So when the question of sprawl comes up I ask, how much more are you going to sprawl Reston or Rockville? If anything, adding transportation capacity would permit those two areas to be more dense, mitigating sprawl in WV, & Hagerstown. So instead of the debate being "no highway" vs "big highway" I propose we ask, what type of parkway? Let us instead propose the Reston/Rockville Techway would be a twisting, tree-laden 3-lane-each direction parkway (looking more like the GW Parkway following the contours of the land - perhaps the Watts Branch from Rockville, crossing the Potomac, and then following the power lines straight to the middle of Reston, connecting the Fairfax County Parkway with the Montrose Parkway) with a wide bike trail (connecting the Rock Creek Park trails, C&O Towpath, Great Falls National Park, the W&OD, and Fairfax Cross County systems). Trucks over a certain size would be banned, and it would be congestion-tolled (but publicly-owed). During rush hour, the far left lane would be limited to HOV and express buses would go directly from Shady Grove to Reston Town Center. The speed limit could be, and (should be on a twisting parkway) 45 MPH. While such a road would cost more on the planning and design end, construction costs could be reduced by making it more a road for Washington commuters and less a "DC bypass". Following the contours of the land would not only mitigate speed and more gracefully allow for mixed uses (safer to bike along), but be more scenic and mitigate the "clumping effect" on either end.

Thoughts?

by stevek_fairfax on May 2, 2012 8:00 pm • linkreport

@goldfish re unemployment rates

The metro area statistics tell a different story:

28 Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV Metropolitan Statistical Area 5.5%

110 Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, TX Metropolitan Statistical Area 7.0%

via http://www.bls.gov/web/metro/laummtrk.htm

So superhighways are still bad :)

by loganhc on May 3, 2012 10:09 am • linkreport

@loganh: including West Virginia as the DC metropolitan area goes too far imho, and invalidates the comparison. But in any case if you follow through with it, you must also consider that such a large area for "DC" probably has more highways than Houston, and therefore, the point stands.

by goldfish on May 3, 2012 10:26 am • linkreport

goldfish,

I don't think including parts West Virginia invalidates the comparison, but you can easily remove it and it wouldn't change much from the unemployment standpoint.

As to your second point, here's one list that shows cities w/ the most highway miles per-capita. Houston is near the top, and DC is near the bottom. Houston proper is more than 600 square miles, though. Houston's highways are wider than what we have in most places in the DC area as well.

http://streetsblog.net/2012/04/20/cities-with-the-most-highway-miles-a-whos-who-of-decay/

But, you should provide some statistics to show that Houston metro has less highways than DC.

by Vik on May 3, 2012 10:43 am • linkreport

@Vik, you take this too far -- my original point was a intended to be facetious. You could have just as easily cited a large city with lots of miles that has high unemployment, such as Detroit, as a counterexample. Obviously unemployment is much more complicated.

by goldfish on May 3, 2012 10:55 am • linkreport

@goldfish,

I know your initial comment was facetious, but, unlike some, I think we do need to build more roads, but in a smart way. I think part of the congestion in the region has to do with a lack of infrastructure, roads and rail, development to keep up with growth. I don't have a big issue expanding road capacity if we also follow certain planning procedures. I don't think as many people would have an issue with an outer beltway if you couldn't build medium/high density sprawl right next to it, and had a limited amount of exits.

by Vik on May 3, 2012 11:29 am • linkreport

"Well at least the anti's got their voices heard too."
-------

What's an "anti"?

by ceefer66 on May 3, 2012 3:14 pm • linkreport

@ceeefer

A woman who marries your unkle

by AWalkerInTheCity on May 3, 2012 3:19 pm • linkreport

Like it or not, the DC area will continue to grow into the near future, and all the new people moving here will have to live somewhere.

If we don't build outward (and build a second beltway), then we have to build upward (more dense highrises in existing downtown areas). Unfortunately the people & groups who protest against suburban sprawl are often the same ones protesting urban development projects (think building height limits, development restrictions, etc).

I for one would much rather have dense urban highrises than suburban sprawl, but the point is: you can't have it both ways by restricting both suburban and urban development.

by Glen on May 4, 2012 2:32 pm • linkreport

Unfortunately the people & groups who protest against suburban sprawl are often the same ones protesting urban development projects...

Are you sure about that? It seems to me there might be some minor overlap, but at least around here, they're two distinct groups.

by oboe on May 4, 2012 2:41 pm • linkreport

Denying additional river crossings - (it seems that many here are against additional automobile AND mass transit crossings) - merely encourages "leapfrog" sprawl into WV, Western MD, and Fredericksburg, while denying more contained development, I am afraid. It has already happened, basically. Reston and Rockville are built up with density and lots of jobs, but due to inadequate lateral movement around the "medium-out" burbs, those commuting to work in those places choose to live further and further out.

Build a bridge from Leesburg into MoCo, then I agree it would do little other than encourage development further out.

Build a bridge between these two areas that have already somewhat urbanized and ALREADY UNDERGOING further changes to higher densities, and you can maximize the urban potential of Reston/Rockville and the Dulles & 270 corridors.

by stevek_fairfax on May 5, 2012 12:15 am • linkreport

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