Greater Greater Washington

Could transit over the American Legion Bridge work?

For years, there's been talk of improving transit connections across the Potomac River between Montgomery and Fairfax counties. There might be a solution in Montgomery County's newly-approved rapid transit plan, and it could be a big deal for the redevelopment of White Flint and Tysons Corner.


How the North Bethesda Transitway could help connect Montgomery and Fairfax counties. Click to see an interactive map.

As the sole connection between Montgomery and Fairfax, not to mention a key link on the Capital Beltway, the American Legion Bridge is often very congested, carrying over 230,000 vehicles each day. 30% of those vehicles come from outside the DC area, but commuters still make about 32,000 trips between Montgomery and Fairfax counties during morning rush hour, and 25,000 trips in the evening. Up to 92% of those trips are drivers alone in their cars.

Officials on both sides of the river have explored transit as a way to reduce commuter traffic, which could improve travel conditions for everyone. In 1998, WMATA introduced a "Smartmover" Metrobus express route over the bridge, but discontinued it five years later due to low ridership. But as places on either side of the bridge grow, like White Flint and Tysons Corner, there might be a new market for transit. That is, if it's fast, frequent, and most importantly, reliable.

Low ridership, high costs killed Smartmover

The Smartmover struggled to attract riders for a few reasons. Buses ran infrequently and mainly during rush hour, so they could only serve commuters who worked regular, 9-to-5-type jobs. Buses didn't get their own lane on local streets or the Beltway, so they often got stuck in traffic, removing one incentive for drivers to switch over.

Except for downtown Bethesda, the Smartmover's stops at Lakeforest Mall, Montgomery Mall, and Tysons Corner were all really spread-out, auto-oriented shopping malls or office parks. This meant riders had to switch to a shuttle or take a long walk to their final destination, giving them another reason to drive instead. And shopping malls aren't where office workers are headed during rush hour.

The service was also very expensive to run. Its destinations are far apart, and in between are low-density, very affluent places like McLean and Potomac that don't produce a lot of transit riders. Though transit relies on public subsidies, Metro still needs some paying customers from other parts of the route to justify running a bus between them.

White Flint and Tysons Corner plans key to making transit work

Since then, a few things have changed that could make transit between Montgomery and Fairfax more successful. One is that both counties are planning to transform the office parks and shopping malls of White Flint and Tysons Corner into denser, more walkable places, allowing more people to live and work within easy reach of transit, thereby encouraging its use.

Together, the two communities might be able to support transit service over the American Legion Bridge. And transit might also justify denser development around Montgomery Mall, creating a third destination that can generate ridership.


The American Legion Bridge today. Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

Meanwhile, Montgomery County and the state of Virginia are doing things that could give transit its own lane, at least for part of the route. For 20 years, Montgomery County has set aside right-of-way for the North Bethesda Transitway, which would connect Montgomery Mall to the Grosvenor Metro station via Fernwood Road, Rock Spring Drive, Old Georgetown Road, and Tuckerman Lane.

While working on the now-approved Bus Rapid Transit plan, county planners suggested changing the route to follow Old Georgetown Road all the way to White Flint, which is a bigger office and shopping destination than Grosvenor. Planners have also proposed extending the North Bethesda Transitway to Northern Virginia via the Beltway. The transitway "could become part of a significant transit link between Tysons Corner and White Flint," they note. At Montgomery Mall, buses could follow a yet-unbuilt ramp from Fernwood Road to the I-270 Spur and continue onto the Beltway to Tysons Corner, where they could connect to the Silver Line, which will open next year.

It's unclear what would happen after that. Earlier this year, elected officials in Montgomery and Fairfax had a rare meeting to discuss ways to improve connections between the two counties. One possibility could be extending Virginia's 495 Express toll lanes from Tysons Corner north to I-270, which like in Fairfax would be open to buses.

Of course, that would be extremely expensive, politically fraught, and environmentally destructive. Like most of the plan, it has no funding, and Montgomery County will have to do more detailed studies and design work before anything happens.

Could buses run on the Beltway's shoulders?

A faster, cheaper alternative may be to simply run buses on the shoulder. The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments has studied whether buses could run on the shoulders of the Beltway, which already happens on Columbia Pike near Burtonsville and the Dulles Toll Road near Falls Church. On some roads, the shoulders will need reinforcing to carry the weight of buses, but it's something that could happen relatively soon.

Across the Potomac, Virginia is already preparing to open the Beltway shoulders to all traffic for about 2 miles south of the American Legion Bridge. The state will rebuild and reinforce the shoulders, meaning it may be able to run transit there one day. But once drivers get used to having the extra lane, it'll be a challenge to convince them it should be used for buses instead.

Successful transit needs more than commuters

Traffic on the American Legion Bridge is bad, but only so much of it is commuter traffic. Most of the people who work in Montgomery and Fairfax counties commute from Maryland and Virginia, respectively, meaning they don't use the bridge. According to the 2011 American Community Survey, 47% of the people who worked in Montgomery County lived there too, compared to 40.6% in Fairfax. Less than 4% of Montgomery and Fairfax workers came from the other county.

Some people on the American Legion Bridge are headed to places far outside the DC area, and transit can't serve them. But there are others who might be headed to shop at Tysons Corner or dinner on Rockville Pike. Transit might serve a purpose for them, but only if it's available.

To not repeat the Smartmover's mistakes, area officials will have to make future transit service competitive with driving. Speed is one factor, and the dedicated lanes will help that. But the length and frequency of service is another. That means buses throughout the day and night, not just at rush hour. And it means service frequent enough that people won't have to rely on a timetable. Only then will people feel like they can use transit not just for work, but for all of their daily trips.

That could be the hardest part of making transit over the American Legion Bridge work. It will be expensive to run, which requires higher ridership, which in turn requires more service that's expensive to run. White Flint and Tysons Corner may become dense, transit-friendly places, but it's unclear for now where there will be enough demand to justify transit between them.

Crossposted on Friends of White Flint.

A planner and architect by training, Dan Reed also writes his own blog, Just Up the Pike, and serves as the Land Use Chair for the Action Committee for Transit. He lives in downtown Silver Spring. 

Comments

Add a comment »

The buses on shoulders idea is terrific. The biggest challenge will be political -- there are likely more people in the two states who would want to impose an embargo on the other state than there are people who want to improve connections. Starting bus service between India and Pakistan or Iran and Iraq would be less politically challenging.

by Falls Church on Dec 17, 2013 11:41 am • linkreport

A much simpler solution is for Maryland, which owns the bridge. to charge a toll sufficient to decongest traffic. The revenue could be used to pay for bus service which would no longer need special lanes.

by Ben Ross on Dec 17, 2013 11:53 am • linkreport

from a purely transit ops POV, there is NO reason this has to be made friendly to non-commuter uses from the start. You can start with infrequent, rush hour only use, and then layer on once the service is established - thats what we do with commuter rail, its what FFX county is doing with express buses on the beltway hot lanes.

That would only be a problem if running buses on the shoulders requires significant capital investment - the counties and other decisions makers might be reluctant to make that investment for the limited ridership an infrequent rush only service would draw.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 17, 2013 11:55 am • linkreport

I don't think its anything about the bridge itself that is an obstacle but the things that generally make transit successful as you outline.

When we talk about an eventual plan to connect Bethesda and Tysons via rail (extending the purple line or whatever) it's likely that going over the bridge itself will be considered. The geography and politics of the area make it hard to identify other suitable crossing sites (All the parkland, the technical challenges of the potomac gorge, the other landowners along the corridor) similar to why there isn't another bridge up until US 15.

The advantage that transit has in this case is that it's environmental benefits can better justify widening the bridge here (or adding a second span right along side it somewhere).

by drumz on Dec 17, 2013 11:59 am • linkreport

Just extend the Purple Line to Tysons already.

by Jasper on Dec 17, 2013 12:09 pm • linkreport

Would like to see more input from current Tysons-Montgomery commuters. You can't go by how things were or planned in 1998. Things are a lot different now on the VA side. "Smartmover" was poorly designed back in the day - it wasn't used because it'd drop people off in VA with no way to actually get to work.
Plus tech, government contracting work is not 9-5 - you have to get there earlier and leave later or you haven't a job. Nobody was overly fond of driving the whole way of that commute, it was foolish design from transit ivory towers that failed it. We can hope that won't happen again.

by asffa on Dec 17, 2013 12:12 pm • linkreport

@asffa

I'm not sure if you read through the whole post, but I have a whole section in there about how things are different than they were in 1998, and why that might make transit service more successful now. Thanks!

by dan reed! on Dec 17, 2013 12:15 pm • linkreport

@Dan Reed

Although you did mention the SmartMover (also known as routes 14A, B, C, D), I think you should have also mentioned some of the other MD-to-VA bus routes that had been attempted before, most notably the B11 Reverse Commute line that ran from Medical Center to Rosslyn, discontinued in 2003 at the same time as the 14s.

In the past, cross-jurisdiction buses have failed for a number of reasons, but part of it is the fact that there isn't a steady, predictable flow of riders in one direction at any given part of the day. That resulted in low ridership no matter which directions the buses ran during rush hour, and resulted in a number of commuters whose needs were not met in terms of having transit options for their commute.

I don't think it's a question of whether it's possible, I think it's a question of 1) who's going to pay for it, 2) who's going to use it on a regular basis, and 3) whether the cost justifies the increase in ridership.

by DCDuck on Dec 17, 2013 12:34 pm • linkreport

@DCDuck: who's going to use it on a regular basis

I think the answer to that will become more apparent as Tyson's Corner develops as an employment center. Right now, I'd say it's a good ten years in the future, but I think it's more than possible that with an increase in jobs in Tyson's Corner will come more people commuting from Maryland. And it'll be interesting to see how many of those will be Metro commutes through the downtown core.

by Ser Amantio di Nicolao on Dec 17, 2013 12:47 pm • linkreport

@ Ser - correct. Which is why Metro is doubling down in its 2040 plan on more connections in the core, including that Orange/Silver line express route from Rosslyn to Tysons Corner. So maybe bus/BRT first, followed by a purple line route, but at some point it looks like Metro still wants to funnel people through the core.

by JDC Esq on Dec 17, 2013 12:59 pm • linkreport

@Be Ross A much simpler solution is for Maryland, which owns the bridge. to charge a toll sufficient to decongest traffic.

I am under the (perhaps mistaken) impression that it extremely difficult to get approval to add tolls to existing interstate highway lanes. New lanes, fine, but existing ones, such as the American Legion Bridge, darn near impossible.

by Birdie on Dec 17, 2013 1:01 pm • linkreport

Those who suggest the use of the shoulders on the American Legion Bridge and its I-495 connections likely have the best solution.

In October 2010, representatives from the Maryland Highway Administration, the Federal Highway Administration, VDOT, Congressman Wolf's office and Congressman Van Hollen's office met with officials of the McLean Citizens Association to discuss the American Legion Bridge, traffic congestion and potential relief, as well as interstate transit. The West Side Mobility Study was also discussed.

None of the federal and state agencies indicated the Bridge could be widened in any cost effective manner. Maryland expressed no interest in building a replacement bridge that could accommodate special transit or traffic lanes. Besides the construction costs, there are significant right-of-way problems with the construction of a new bridge. Engineers did not believe the existing bridge could support any additional lane capacity, although they were planning to study the possibility of adding one more lane (details not provided). (Read that as not impossible, but not likely.) No one stated, however, that the shoulders could not be augmented to handle transit. Neither did they propose that as a solution. I would think this option should be explored further.

Maryland offered a number of "mid-term" alternatives for relieving traffic congestion at the ALB, which generally involved restriping and narrowing lanes from 12 feet to 11 feet. My copy of the notes from this meeting include the following mid-term options presented by Maryland.

Restripe Beltway lanes to provide an additional lane-reduces the lanes to 11 ft wide (preferred alternative),

Peak period left shoulder use- provides lane at peak period on left shoulder and reduces 2 lanes from 12 ft to 11 ft,

Peak period right shoulder use-provides lane during peak period on right shoulder, and reduces 1 lane from 12 ft to 11 ft,

Reversible lanes on I-270 and spurs-provides greater flow during peak hours,

Convert existing HOV to HOT-maintains all existing lanes.

Of course, positions and opinions may have changed in October 2010. Hope this additional information helps.

by tmt on Dec 17, 2013 1:19 pm • linkreport

Tolls slow traffic and add congestion even further - EasyPass is not an equitable choice since it discriminates against the poor since it requires a credit card and outlays costs are more than the tolls in fees. (BTW - Clearly those who planned the ICC didn't consider poorer drivers as relevant enough to put in cash pay tolls. )

by asffa on Dec 17, 2013 1:28 pm • linkreport

That would only be a problem if running buses on the shoulders requires significant capital investment - the counties and other decisions makers might be reluctant to make that investment for the limited ridership an infrequent rush only service would draw.

Then allow HOV vehicles in the shoulder lanes as well. This way the lanes will get enough use to justify the cost.

Plus tech, government contracting work is not 9-5 - you have to get there earlier and leave later or you haven't a job.

I'm sure even rush hour only service would allow you to work a 10-11 hour day. Plus you can take conference calls and work on your laptop/tablet on the bus.

by Falls Church on Dec 17, 2013 1:32 pm • linkreport

tmt - Many of those ideas are smart, except adding tolls (HOV to HOT)and reversible lanes. Tolls slow traffic and discriminate against poorer people, and reversible lanes mean more head-on collisions.

by asffa on Dec 17, 2013 1:33 pm • linkreport

Transit between Tysons and White Flint isn't a bad idea, but I see no reason for a dedicated lane from Montgomery Mall to Grosvenor or even Old Georgetown/355 @ White Flint. There is a bus that runs from Grosvenor to Montgomery Mall. There are riders, but not that many. Even if there might be more demand at rush hour for workers to get there, during the day there is virtually no demand, nor a lot of traffic to contend with. I suppose, if this meant adding a lane to accommodate the bus, I wouldn't have any objection beyond the cost involved, but taking away existing lanes would be disastrous and pointless.

I have no opinion on running buses on the shoulder, except to note that shoulders serve an important role providing haven for cars in trouble. The idea ought to be to make traffic better, not worse.

Ultimately, there needs to be an additional crossing, for rail transit at least. The one thing that gets lost in the discussion is the need to have some redundancy. If the Legion Bridge was ever damaged and closed for repairs, the region would be in crisis.

by Fischy (Ed F.) on Dec 17, 2013 1:34 pm • linkreport

"Then allow HOV vehicles in the shoulder lanes as well. This way the lanes will get enough use to justify the cost."

That would be possible, I suppose, presumably at no incremental cost.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 17, 2013 1:35 pm • linkreport

Falls Church - Most people in MontCo allowed to telecommute (take conference calls, work on laptop on the bus, presuming bus has good wi-fi) rather than have to bus or drive to Tysons would gladly prefer to stay home.
But if you think that employers care to keep it 9-5 to make ivory tower transit plans effective, you'd be wrong, as proven by previous bus design failures that weren't about meeting bus rider needs.
Again, Falls Church - if you commute to Montgomery County, you may have good plans. But it has to do with what your employer would tolerate as well.

by asffa on Dec 17, 2013 1:39 pm • linkreport

@Jasper
Just extend the Purple Line to Tysons already.
Agreed, but I cannot wait to hear the aristocrats in McLean complaining about the criminals taking the purple line from Bethesda into their haven community.

by Richard on Dec 17, 2013 1:43 pm • linkreport

@ asffa

Just reporting what was said. My biggest concern is shrinking the lanes from 12 to 11 feet wide.

HOT lanes are a choice and still allow for free use with a HOV-qualifying number of commuters. So a lower-income driver who runs a car pool should be able to drive free with HOT lanes. If the lower-income driver is an SOV, he/she is no worse off tomorrow than today and actually has an additional choice. An SOV cannot drive legally in the HOV lanes and is left to the general purpose lanes. With HOT lanes, the driver can elect to pay the toll or stay in the general purpose lanes. So under existing policies, I don't see how HOT lanes hurts lower income drivers. Am I missing something?

by tmt on Dec 17, 2013 1:46 pm • linkreport

So, if only 4% of Montgomery County workers commute from Fairfax County, and a similar percentage do the opposite, where are all of the other people on the American Legion bridge coming from/going to? The percentage listed seems very small given the volume of traffic using the bridge.

by Nick on Dec 17, 2013 1:49 pm • linkreport

Screw the bridge. Extend the Purple line beyond Bethesda. NIMBYs would fight hard (AKA make this nigh impossible) but you get McLean and the CIA HQ served by mass transit.

https://mapsengine.google.com/map/edit?mid=z4VwWq_PV8ls.kinBWGY4FZmc

by NikolasM on Dec 17, 2013 1:51 pm • linkreport

nick

Total fairfax county workers includes people going short distances within fairfax county (say from Fairfax Corners to fairfax govt center) folks going across FFX on rte 28, on FFX county parkway (in both directions) folks coming on I95, I66, DTR, Rte 7, etc, etc.

4% of the entire county work force coming in on one bridge, is actually pretty massive.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 17, 2013 1:53 pm • linkreport

Note well.

You can't extend the purple line yet - its not finished.

I continue to think that it will be hard to sell Fairfax, exp northern FFX, on the Purple line until the Silver Line has been in operation for some time, and the Purple line in Md is at least close to completion.

Meanwhile we need a, pardon, bridge solution.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 17, 2013 1:55 pm • linkreport

@AWalkerInTheCity
Exactly. If MoCo and FFX have 750,000 jobs each, 4% of those is 60,000.

by Richard on Dec 17, 2013 1:57 pm • linkreport

Nick, If the claim is only 4% of the traffic on the Legion Bridge at rush hour are people coming from MontCo to Fairfax Co, then somebody doing transit studies screwed up totally or did the test some day gov offices weren't open.
I can think of no other explanation.

by asffa on Dec 17, 2013 2:01 pm • linkreport

@NikolasM
I like the concept until you get your line into tysons. Why would the purple line duplicate the Silver Line service? I think planners might be more interested in having it swinging further north in Tysons(perhaps Jones Branch Rd) serving areas not severed by metro while hitting Mclean and Spring Hill Stations.

Either that or have it swing south to get to vienna or dunn loring.

by Richard on Dec 17, 2013 2:03 pm • linkreport

It could certainly swing south. I've considered that in other versions. I was more focused with this one on getting it across and into Tyson's.

by NikolasM on Dec 17, 2013 2:06 pm • linkreport

"Nick, If the claim is only 4% of the traffic on the Legion Bridge at rush hour are people coming from MontCo to Fairfax Co, then somebody doing transit studies screwed up totally or did the test some day gov offices weren't open"

thats NOT what was stated. It was stated that 4% of the work force in each county was from the other county. The denominator is total employees in Fairfax, total employees in MoCo. NOT total traffic on the bridge.

Total employment in Fairfax is MUCH larger than total usage of the bridge.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 17, 2013 2:09 pm • linkreport

I'm not familiar with the previous attempts but I always thought a commuter type route between Bethesda/NIH and Tysons would make sense. Basically an express all the way between and four to five stops on each end. If you rolled it out along other major improvements like the Purple Line it might get more attention.

by BTA on Dec 17, 2013 2:11 pm • linkreport

re lane widths

http://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/geometric/pubs/mitigationstrategies/chapter3/3_lanewidth.htm

the above discusses the acceptabity of 11 foot lanes on non access controlled highways. However it seems clear that the driving factor is speed. At current poor peak LOS, 11 ft lanes would be quite adequate. The problem would be off peak, with free flowing traffic at or above the posted limit of 55MPH. One alternative, I suppose would be to reduce the posted limit on the ALB below 55 MPH. I presume that would require special permission from the FHWA, and would probably be met with skepticism by both VDOT and SHA.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 17, 2013 2:16 pm • linkreport

Might want to clarify that the Beltway shoulder lanes are on the left side, so they line up with the HOT lanes.

In Metro's models of a Beltway rail line, the part with the highest ridership was from Tysons south, then across the Legion bridge, then Bethesda-Silver Spring. So, it might be interesting to model this as a BRT service from Merrifield, Annandale, or Burke, or in combination with a Route 7 transitway, with tie-ins to MoCo BRT.

@JDC: that's just one part of the 2040 plan. Adding more core capacity also permits line extensions in the suburbs.

by Payton Chung on Dec 17, 2013 2:20 pm • linkreport

note also

I expect if the old bus service were to be implemented today it would get higher ridership, simply because employment and residential density near the stops in MoCo and in Tysons is greater in 2013 that it was in 2003.

However conditions should be even more favorable within the next two years, as those numbers continue to grow, and as FCDOT completes several projects to ease walkability within Tysons.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 17, 2013 2:22 pm • linkreport

Payton

There already are FFX Connector buses from Braddock Rd, Burke and Springfield, to Tysons using the HOT lanes. It might make sense to continue the same vehicles into MoCo, to provide a one seat ride to those not originating or terminating their trips in Tysons.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 17, 2013 2:24 pm • linkreport

Also don't something like 50,000 arrive/depart from Dulles every day. A metro ride from White Flint to Dulles would be like 90 minutes. Maybe you could combine a commuter service with air passenger service. You could use more commuter routes during peak and shift to more airport service off peak.

by BTA on Dec 17, 2013 2:27 pm • linkreport

E-Z Pass transponders are not free. Each state that uses them has their own rules and fees. Many states have monthly fees. Most states do not have "Flex" transponders.

by selxic on Dec 17, 2013 2:50 pm • linkreport

The BRT line should connect Rockville and Tysons with a BRT stop next to the Montgomery Mall. Express Lanes should be extended to the I-270.

https://www.google.com/maps/ms?msid=207994879598287792047.0004ea299584afa518f45&msa=0

by mcs on Dec 17, 2013 2:53 pm • linkreport

Is this a good time to review why there's no crossing between the American Legion Bridge and Point of Rocks?

My impression has always been that it was a combination of wealthy home owners in Great Falls, combined with Montgomery County not wanting to become a bedroom community to Fairfax. Thoughts?

by Rich 'n Alexandria on Dec 17, 2013 3:06 pm • linkreport

That and the parks/uniqe geography that make up the actual Great Falls. The Potomac gorge is pretty unique for this part of the country which is why its already been well preserved.

by drumz on Dec 17, 2013 3:11 pm • linkreport

@Rich 'n Alexandria
My impression has always been that it was a combination of wealthy home owners in Great Falls, combined with Montgomery County not wanting to become a bedroom community to Fairfax. Thoughts?

It's mostly rich folks in Potomac. There use to be plans to link I-370 with VA but folks in Potomac fought to have it struck from the master plan before they would allow the ICC. The funny thing is, without a crossing connecting the ICC with Sterling and Dulles, the ICC is useless.

by Richard on Dec 17, 2013 3:16 pm • linkreport

Given that most of the traffic on the ALB is going to Tysons or other places on the beltway, that much of the rest is originating in parts of MD for which the ALB is the most direct route, and that Fairfax County wants to increase density in Tysons more than in locations further out, its not clear that theres much justification for a new bridge upstream of ALB - certainly if Md can't see their way to helping finance a new larger ALB, its hard to see how an upstream bridge makes sense. Except to grow employment in Loudoun, and the homeowners in LoCo near the river are no more eager than those in great falls or potomac for a bridge, AFAICT.

We will have express buses on ALB before we have the purple line extended, but we will have the purple line extended before we have an upstream bridge, IMO.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 17, 2013 3:23 pm • linkreport

True, and if you can provide transit options for those in Bethesda and White Flint then that frees up space for the person living in Gaithersburg or Damascus.

by drumz on Dec 17, 2013 3:31 pm • linkreport

"We will have express buses on ALB before we have the purple line extended, but we will have the purple line extended before we have an upstream bridge, IMO."

Pretty good prediction. There is very strong opposition in Great Falls to any such bridge. And I think both VA and MD would like to find a way to get express bus service between Bethesda and Tysons. IMO, it would be valuable.

There is also a proposal to extend the HOT lanes on 495 closer to the ALB during rush periods by using the left shoulders. So far, there doesn't seem to be a lot of opposition to that proposal, but the ALB remains the bottleneck.

by tmt on Dec 17, 2013 3:35 pm • linkreport

The relatively dispersed residential patterns on each side of the bridge make success of transit difficult even though there areas of concentrated employment in Tyson's and Bethesda. Perhaps White Flint would be a better source of commuters as it fills up with more high rises.

Also, the discussion here misses another possible routing----I work in MoCo and my Virginia co-workers come from Alexandria and Arlington, not Fairfax. They use the parkway as do people who come from Capitol Hill (use Google maps and you'll see that it's the recommended route).

by Rich on Dec 17, 2013 3:35 pm • linkreport

@ Richard: I cannot wait to hear the aristocrats in McLean complaining about the criminals taking the purple line from Bethesda into their haven community.

What, defense contractors complaining about medical contractors? No way,

by Jasper on Dec 17, 2013 3:37 pm • linkreport

This post is extremely narrow minded speaking on just office workers what about other types of workers. There are people that work at every single mall in this area and take transit.

I myself worked at a mall about three years ago Tysons Corner to be exact and took bus there every day.

by kk on Dec 17, 2013 5:57 pm • linkreport

Well it's in part about options that would reduce traffic that would let people take the bus who were driving. That would benefit everybody.

by drumz on Dec 17, 2013 5:58 pm • linkreport

One thing I remember about the Smartmover Metrobus service; the routes were confusing to understand. The service seemed to suffer from WMATA's need to have several confusing routes vs. one or two easy to understand routes. As mentioned before, the fact that it was rush hour only service probably did not help either.

If any service is reintroduced, it should be between one major destination on each side of the river with a simple and direct route. In Tysons, the Tysons Corner Metro Station comes to mind. In Bethesda, Bethesda Metro Station comes to mind.

by Transport. on Dec 17, 2013 7:03 pm • linkreport

I'm curious - How is the parking at Montgomery Mall in the morning? Can you leave your car there all day without it being towed? (I think another nail to the late SmartMove was Lakeforest hub didn't let cars stay there, but I'm not Gaithersburg area, so I'm not sure about that. That was long ago.)
For those hatching plans - see the whole board this time.
Much of Tysons Corner is not safely passable for walkers more than a couple blocks each way after being stopped on the needed side of the road - that's part of the difficulty. Fortunately, many of the buildings each are huge (generally tech) work complexes involving lots of people and grouped winding all along specific streets, so a frequently-stopping bus could bring many people around.
However, they have to consider people's employment - those still objecting to the thought that 9-5 is not a typical Tyson tech worker's day will fail to provide a ridership solution. Such thinking will again mean the ridership numbers are going to be very bad.

by asffa on Dec 17, 2013 7:19 pm • linkreport

Transport it wasn't complexity per se nor the number of routes that killed SmartMover, but that it didn't serve ridership.

by asffa on Dec 17, 2013 7:32 pm • linkreport

It doesn't make sense to build a commuter line to link the malls again. That miniscule traffic isn't the main contributor to the beltway congestion from the bridge to Silver Spring and Rockville. The traffic is simply outgrowing that curvy and hilly part of the beltway, and these curves and hills are especially problematic for the drivers who are just transiting through (not stopping in Mont. county) and who may be less familiar with that area.

How about a viaduct to siphon off the 20-30% of the traffic that is just transiting through, not exiting in Mont. county? It could be built as an upper level highway and be less curvy and hilly than the existing beltway.

by Chou on Dec 17, 2013 7:35 pm • linkreport

" I don't see how HOT lanes hurts lower income drivers. Am I missing something?

by tmt on Dec 17, 2013 1:46 pm •"

My take? Using taxpayer money to construct or develop lanes that will be used by the few who can afford the high tolls hurts lower income drivers in that their money supports the road work. If they're losing a lane, they're REALLY impacted, but they're also experiencing lost opportunity if it's just a potential general use lane that is dedicated to HOT use.

by Fischy (Ed F.) on Dec 17, 2013 10:32 pm • linkreport

On why there's no other bridge crossing -- I suppose that wealthy landowners would not want a new highway running through their property. However, my understanding is the real reason has to do with airport politics. Neither Virginia nor Maryland want to build a new crossing that would make it easier for their residents to use either Dulles or BWI. The airport authority in charge at BWI has been especially vehement in opposition.

by Fischy (Ed F.) on Dec 17, 2013 10:35 pm • linkreport

Tmt - there was a pedestrian bridge crossing at Great Falls - which is a National Park, btw, and one that feels "grand" where Greenbelt Park feels kind of boring.If you haven't been there recently or at all before - go- it's hikeable / walkable but with some steepness and kids love it, too.
The bridge got wiped out by hurricane Agnes in 1972. Few really feel inclined to replace it with more bridges.

by asffa on Dec 18, 2013 7:51 am • linkreport

Supposedly a lot of the traffic-slowing, confusing curviness of roads steered around Montgomery County was from the Mormons wanting everybody to have to go around and see their Temple.

by asffa on Dec 18, 2013 7:58 am • linkreport

I think folks need to assess the impact of the Silver Line before you start talking about new services. Metro needs to concentrate on improving existing service, not new money-losing routes. Service on the Red Line is terrible.

by Woody Brosnan on Dec 18, 2013 9:38 am • linkreport

@asffa
There was a pedestrian bridge across the Potomac at Great Falls prior to 1972? That's an interesting idea . . . I guess it would be up to the Park Service whether a new one was erected?

by Rich 'n Alexandria on Dec 18, 2013 11:04 am • linkreport

"My take? Using taxpayer money to construct or develop lanes that will be used by the few who can afford the high tolls hurts lower income drivers in that their money supports the road work. If they're losing a lane, they're REALLY impacted, but they're also experiencing lost opportunity if it's just a potential general use lane that is dedicated to HOT use."

If the HOT lane tolls are high enough to pay for the new lanes, then the tax money of low income drivers is NOT being used for those lanes. In the case of the beltway HOT lanes there is a state contribution, but the return for that are several improvements (the I66/beltway interchange, the new (and generally improved) bridges over the beltway) that are not restricted to toll payers.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 18, 2013 11:15 am • linkreport

"Metro needs to concentrate on improving existing service, not new money-losing routes. Service on the Red Line is terrible. "

The subsidy for this service would be paid by FFX and MoCo (and/or by Md and Va) presumably, and would not have any impact on the Red Line.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 18, 2013 11:16 am • linkreport

Supposedly a lot of the traffic-slowing, confusing curviness of roads steered around Montgomery County was from the Mormons wanting everybody to have to go around and see their Temple.

This is an urban legend. The route/plan for the beltway was approved by the Feds in the mid 1950s. The Mormon Temple plot of land was purchased in the early 1960s.

by Falls Church on Dec 18, 2013 11:24 am • linkreport

In the case of the beltway HOT lanes there is a state contribution, but the return for that are several improvements (the I66/beltway interchange, the new (and generally improved) bridges over the beltway) that are not restricted to toll payers.

Don't forget to add that all lanes of the beltway were reconstructed down to the dirt as part of the project which is something that needed to be done anyway as the base layer had exceeded its 50 year lifespan. Many of the bridges that were replaced were also in need of costly repairs and deferred maintenance. Also, HOT lane users reduce traffic on general use lanes since they're not on those -- similar to how transit users reduce traffic.

HOT lanes were a great deal for VA taxpayers. Not so much for the contractor who paid for most it as it doesn't look like they'll get much of a return on their investment.

by Falls Church on Dec 18, 2013 11:33 am • linkreport

The Silver Line isnt going to be greatly useful for People going from Montgomery County to Tysons. It would involve a ~90 metro trip through Metro Center which would only add to congestion there. Decongestion via seperated blue is a good 20 years away at least.

by BTA on Dec 18, 2013 11:33 am • linkreport

I drive this commute daily, reverse commute.

People aren't commuting between Montgomery county and Fairfax so much as their commuting from Howard and Baltimore Counties and Frederick and Manasas and WV and beyond. A 5 minute look at google traffic during an average rush hour will support this statement.

The problem with reallocating 495 lanes to HOV status on the beltway between the i270 and VA HOV Sections is a purely political issue. Reallocating the #1 lane to HOV to connect the dislocated sections is literally a paint problem and would fix HOV which could be used for BRT and make HOV more valuable.

Driving on shoulders, building new bridges, tunnels, etc. are huge construction, environmental and safety problems.

I suggest the best solution is to deal with the former as it has the lowest impact on existing infrastructure and the lowest overall cost (purely political drama and maybe 5 miles of new white paint).

I also think Montgomery county is leaving money on the table by not charging for HOV access via smarttrip.

by Jim bob on Dec 18, 2013 12:11 pm • linkreport

@Falls Church: if the HOT lanes don't make enough money and use remains low, VA is on the hook to reimburse transurban-fluor for HOV (a potentially huge long term liability).

by Mike on Dec 18, 2013 2:41 pm • linkreport

Mike

They are on the hook to reimburse if the percent of HOV users is above a certain limit, not based on total usage. Because HOV vehicles pay no tolls.

From what I can see usage is steadily increasing. TUF will not do as well financially as they expected but I know of no evidence that the HOV usage provision will kick in.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 18, 2013 2:50 pm • linkreport

@AWalkerInTheCity: the subsidy kicks if two conditions aren't met: they have to make a minimum profit (that doesn't seem likely), and the HOV % has to remain below a certain threshold. Looking ahead, it seems far from impossible that improved transit options and changing views on the use of SOV could cause the HOV threshold to trigger. (I think it's in the neighborhood of 30% of total trips.)

by Mike on Dec 18, 2013 3:14 pm • linkreport

if views in fairfax and adjoining areas change that dramatically on use of SOV, I will break out the champagne. Vast amounts now expected to be spent on a variety of road improvements (including Tysons table 7) will not have to be spent. I would gladly see VDOT make the contractual payment to TUF in that case.

sadly, though, its not my impression that that is occuring. While there is growth in bike and ped share, and I guess some increase in transit share, my sense is that HOV share is stagnant or declining (though of course the growth of managed lanes should incent more).

Of course a fully developed, walkable Tysons should lead to lower SOV share. But by the same token it will probably also increase the absolute number of SOVs on the beltway enough to be a net help to TU-F.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 18, 2013 3:22 pm • linkreport

@AWalkerInTheCity: we'll see. I'd be perfectly happy if my kids aren't writing checks to fluor in 50 years. BTW, have you noticed any changes in the area in the past 50 years?

by Mike on Dec 18, 2013 3:24 pm • linkreport

There have certainly been many changes over 50 years. There will likely be changes over the next 50. I would say the odds of BOTH there being too little SOV traffic to make the lanes profitable, AND there being over 30% transit/HOV mode share ON THE LANES (transit on say Gallows will not count) as being so close to zero as to be a minor cost.

One change over the last year - there are now sidewalks across the bridge over the beltway on Little River Turnpike, where there were none before. Thats a benefit to me as a pedestrian and cyclist. There is also a direct connection from the beltway outer loop (untolled) to the north bound HOV lanes on I395. Thats a benefit to me as a motorist.

I simply can't convince myself that the deal is a bad one.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 18, 2013 3:33 pm • linkreport

btw, currently 91% of vehicles using the lanes are SOVs, so HOV usage would have to triple for the payment to kick in. Also, IIUC its based on 30% of vehicles, not 30% of travelers, so a substantial increase in TRANSIT could take place with minimal effect on that number.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 18, 2013 3:46 pm • linkreport

Ideally, the HOT lanes in VA can be extended into MD and along I-270 to I-70 in Frederick. No one in Upcounty is holding their breath on CCT.

by CE on Dec 19, 2013 1:08 am • linkreport

HOT lanes from VA to Frederick are more feasible than the CCT, which has been in the works for decades? What a pathetic state of affairs.

by MLD on Dec 19, 2013 8:26 am • linkreport

Engineers … were planning to study the possibility of adding one more lane

If only one lane could be added, and that lane were a track instead of a highway lane, that might be sufficient for the Purple Line, to have a single-track river crossing with double track everywhere else.

by Steve Dunham on Dec 20, 2013 10:01 pm • linkreport

I think the question is a bit backwards. Current non-transit is a clusterf**, so why not try something else.

by SJE on Dec 22, 2013 1:25 pm • linkreport

2 localities...
Each OVER a million people.

1 (ONE!) road connecting them.
This is insane.
Build another bridge.

Transit is important, yes, but so is a basic level of capacity. Connect the ICC and Fairfax County Parkway, thus connecting Reston and Rockville.

Pursue HOV lanes on both bridges, but for crying out loud build another bridge.

by steve_occoquan on Dec 23, 2013 11:28 am • linkreport

Wealthy landowners on both sides oppose a bridge. And there are sensitive natural areas on the MD side (not VA: thank you Donald Trump). So why not a tunnel? Baltimore has 'em.

by Arthur on Dec 23, 2013 7:44 pm • linkreport

I agree 100% with Steve that a new bridge north of the ALB that connects the ICC and the Fairfax County Parkway is what's really needed. The bridge is at a standstill in both directions daily and there is no viable alternate route. I love the idea of BRT, using the shoulders and extending the purple line. However, I don't see any of these really making a dent in the traffic - short or long term. A new bridge to the north has been proposed for decades (and for good reason), why delay the inevitable? Build the bridge.

by dlerner on Dec 28, 2013 11:11 pm • linkreport

And once again, an upriver bridge will not necessarilly provide that much relief to the ALB, which is heavily people going to TYSONS. And Tysons is where most of FFX's growth will be. Adding capacity - in the form of managed lanes AND transit at the ALB (or in the case of transit, downriver from the ALB) seems to me to make more sense.

And adding MORE traffic to the FFX County Parkway? I'm not sure that's a good idea either.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 29, 2013 8:59 am • linkreport

Add a Comment

Name: (will be displayed on the comments page)

Email: (must be your real address, but will be kept private)

URL: (optional, will be displayed)

Your comment:

By submitting a comment, you agree to abide by our comment policy.
Notify me of followup comments via email. (You can also subscribe without commenting.)
Save my name and email address on this computer so I don't have to enter it next time, and so I don't have to answer the anti-spam map challenge question in the future.

or