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Moran: I know we can't lay more asphalt, but DC should

Here is the audio of Congressman Jim Moran's appearance on WTOP on Friday, where he complained about DC not being willing to widen the 14th Street bridge and 14th Street itself.

Photo by wyfurasko.

First, starting at 38:03, Moran spends considerable time criticizing the BRAC policy, which will take thousands of defense workers out of perfectly functional office buildings near Metro and relocate them to defense bases like Ft. Belvoir, where there is virtually no transit and the roads can't handle all of the workers driving. Moran is trying to get DOD to help pay for road improvements, but more than that he'd like to persuade them to reverse the policy of moving everyone and keep jobs near Metro. Good for him.

At 47:20, the discussion turns to HOT lanes and Arlington's recent lawsuit against VDOT and FHWA. Moran says of the lanes:

On paper, they make sense, but I can understand Arlington's concern it's going to lead to more congestion. The easier you make it for people to drive the less likely they are to find alternative public trans and ultimately we don't have enough land to lay more asphalt. We have got to put our priority on public transit. That's where the money needs to be, that's where the policy planning needs to be directed.

I'm sympathetic to what Arlington is doing but I think the state is ultimately going to prevail. ... We are not putting enough money into public transit which is where it should be going.

That's a good sentiment. Building more freeway lanes just drives more sprawl and more auto-dependent commuting. Meanwhile, there are plenty of underutilized Metro stations in Fairfax County and lots of development potential on the future Silver Line. Virginia needs to steer its growth there instead of paving the rest of Arlington.

But while Moran seems to understand that more paving isn't the answer in principle, he doesn't connect the dots to actual policies. He continues:

As much as the state of Virginia will put into expanding access to the DC bridges, DC is not cooperating. So you get to those bridges and you're going to have just as much of a backup. A lot of the problem is you need extra lanes on the 14th Street bridge and on some of these other bridges ... And 14th Street needs to be widened.

If DC would listen, they could get some revenue that would go into their transportation needs, because they can get some of the money that you get from these HOT lanes. People pay extra to be able to use HOT lanes, to be able to drive by themselves. And of course that goes against all of our policy, but it's a compromise, just like the lottery is a compromise way to pay for education. This is a compromise way to pay for transportation. But once they get to DC it stops. What DC should do is to widen 14th street bridge, widen 14th street and get some of the revenue that's coming from these HOT lanes. We've suggested it time and again and they just won't listen or let alone act on it.

Widen 14th how? Image
from Google Maps.
First off, Moran is buying the HOT lane boosters' arguments that these lanes will generate piles of money for Virginia to spend on public transportation. There's no evidence that is the case. HOT lane projects that add more lanes don't even pay for the cost of their own construction. As far as we can tell from Maryland SHA's estimates on 270, the HOT lane tolls might not even pay for the cost of running the tollbooths.

We won't know for sure how good or bad an economic deal the HOT lanes are until the Beltway lanes open. But based on other cities' experience, even if the HOT lane generates a lot of money, that will at best just cover the cost of building the lanes in the first place. Widening a freeway to create HOT lanes isn't a way to use one profitable but perhaps undesirable activity (like the lottery) to pay for something else (like education). It's either just a way to make building more lanes a little cheaper, or just a way to sell more lanes to gullible politicians.

Finally, as we discussed yesterday, there's no room for more lanes on 14th Street. 14th Street travels between large buildings (see right). What could Moran possibly be talking about?

What does make sense is allocating the existing lanes more efficiently. As BeyondDC pointed out, there are studies underway about building dedicated bus lanes from the 14th Street bridge up to the K Street transitway. 14th Street is seven lanes for most of that stretch. Even one bus-only lane in the peak direction would move a lot more people.

Tolling some or all of the existing lanes is also an option, and one that really would generate a lot of revenue without billions in costs. Of course, if DC proposed doing that, many Virginia leaders would be decrying a backdoor commuter tax, even though it's not far from the plan Moran thinks DC isn't listening to.

The 395 "HOV lanes" were originally bus-only lanes. Virginia needs simply to start charging for cars on those lanes and/or increase the HOV requirement to ensure that the lanes move efficiently, then connect them to bus-only or congestion priced lanes on 14th Street. Maybe Moran is the one who could benefit from some listening.

Update: I added a few words to clarify that the HOT lane projects which don't pay for themselves are the ones that involve adding new HOT lanes, as opposed to changing existing lanes to HOT lanes. HOT lanes don't raise enough to widen existing freeways. One California project made money, but that involved adding HOT lanes onto land that had been set aside from the start for the lanes. Other projects that converted existing lanes have made money as well, as Froggie pointed out. Neither is the case here.

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. 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 two children in Dupont Circle. 


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I wonder if Moran will threaten to try to withhold transportation funding for legitimate DC projects unless the city also widens the bridge. That would be outrageous--- but it's possible.

by Monumentality on Aug 25, 2009 11:28 am • linkreport

Widening 14th street wouldnÂ’t be that bad; there are only three landmarked buildings. Maybe that and sawing off 30 feet of the Holocaust Memorial would stir up some NIMBYs, but they just hate good things.

by цarьchitect on Aug 25, 2009 11:36 am • linkreport

Perhaps Rep. Moran assumed that downtown sidewalks are just for show and should be replaced with more lanes. After all, how many of his constituents actually use sidewalks?

by Monumentality on Aug 25, 2009 11:44 am • linkreport

Moran is as corrupt a politician as anyone in the business. See all the sweet loan deals he got back in the day when voting on the new bankruptcy laws. He is clearly not that smart either. HOT lanes will not improve the district he represents.

by NikolasM on Aug 25, 2009 11:55 am • linkreport

Moran's key comment: "This is a compromise way to pay for transportation."

And this is because of unwillingness at multiple levels of government (not to mention consumers) to raise the gas tax or other transportation-based taxes.

Meanwhile, David, regarding your comment here: "First off, Moran is buying the HOT lane boosters' arguments that these lanes will generate piles of money for Virginia to spend on public transportation. There's no evidence that is the case.".

I'd like to provide an example to refute: I-394 in Minneapolis, MN (and soon to include I-35W). Though, to be fair, this was tolling of already-existing HOV lanes and did not include any new construction (at least on I-394...the under-construction I-35W lanes are funded via other means).

by Froggie on Aug 25, 2009 12:02 pm • linkreport

I have a civil engineer friend in MI where we grew up and he was talking about M-DOT meetings when sprawl was at its worst a few years ago. He said the state would absolutely not build more lanes on certain freeways outside the city because the state wouldn't be able to maintain the additional lanes and the demand they would induce. He called them intentional pinch points. I think its a good idea. Hot lanes are crap and we would all be better off with better transit instead.

by dano on Aug 25, 2009 12:59 pm • linkreport

Sound like more 'designed to fail' transportation advocacy in the tradition of the 1963-64 North Central Freeway study that deviated from JFK's sensible 1962 North Central Freeway proposal to hug today's Red Line, with the 1963-64 report with longer routes deviating from the rr with faf far greater displacements.

I would say the same thing with dogma against highways in the grounds that they encourage sprawl- which could be turned against commuter rail extensions to train stations with parking.

by Douglas Willinger on Aug 25, 2009 1:01 pm • linkreport

Interesting that Michigan has those intentional pinch points, given the history of widening Woodward Avenue through Detroit and scraping the facades off of some beautiful churches in the process.

Pics are about halfway down the page.

"In 1935-1936, Woodward was substantially widened just north of downtown Detroit, and nearly every building on the east side of the street between downtown and Forest Avenue was torn down; many of the churches in this TR were required to rebuild their facades. In the 1950s and 60s, most of the rest of the early homes in the area were torn down.[2]"

by Alex B. on Aug 25, 2009 1:15 pm • linkreport

Yet when it came to move or demolish a single Roman Catholic Church on South Capitol Street, all of the planning organizations go mute and allow the RCC to kill NCPC's proposed South Capitol Mall- speaking volumes about what runs the show.

by Douglas Willinger on Aug 25, 2009 1:23 pm • linkreport

The problem with the 14th St bridges actually can be found on the VA side of the river. The approach lanes and (lack of) merge lanes is what causes the back-ups, not the amount of traffic that 14th itself can handle.

by metronic on Aug 25, 2009 1:30 pm • linkreport

"After all, how many of his constituents actually use sidewalks? "

? Seriously? Broad paintbrush you're using there. Looked at a map of VA-08? Been to Arlington or Alexandria? 9% of Alexandrians commute to work on foot or by bike--second in the region only to DC which is 15%. 27% of Alexandrians by transit, to DC's 35%. Are the numbers lower? Yes. But they don't reflect the favorite dichotomy "DC residents are green living new urbanists who haven't used an internal combustion engine or a drop of petroleum since the last millenium and all those backwards folks waaaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyy out in those wretched suburbs are sprawl loving, gas guzzling sedentary living dinosaurs" that is so popular these days.

Moran's district does extend beyond Arlington and Alexandria, sure, but really...from these numbers, it appears that DC still has a 50% car commute (stones and glass houses and all) and there's something to catching more flies with honey and/or knowing more about the people you have the knee-jerk "criticize" reaction to based on their zip code before you actually criticize.

by Catherine on Aug 25, 2009 1:32 pm • linkreport

Yes, Catherine, you prove my point! The numbers are lower and probably far lower considering that Arlington and Alexandria aren't the only parts of his district. How many people are walking in Reston? On the toll road? In Falls Church? In Franconia? In the mixing bowl? With a few notable exceptions, pedestrians are a mere afterthought in much of VA-08.

Secondly, some of us don't appreciate being lectured by Congressmen who want us to spend our money to degrade our downtown to benefit people who don't live here and don't pay commuter taxes either.

by Monumentality on Aug 25, 2009 1:48 pm • linkreport

Yup yup, Doug, it's the Popish Idolators keeping us from building 36 billion underground freeway lanes through the middle of the District! That would totally have solved all of our problems, including having a population.

by J.D. Hammond on Aug 25, 2009 1:59 pm • linkreport

You deny the influence of particular interests that own property along a route? (while making up numbers that are as senseless as your general premise).

I suppose that Chevy Chase Country Club is likewise blameless if it were owned by the Vatican?

by Douglas Willinger on Aug 25, 2009 2:01 pm • linkreport

Wow Douglas, you really DO find a way to turn just about any post possible into a crusade against DC for killing I-95 through the city.

Let it go, man.

by Reza on Aug 25, 2009 2:02 pm • linkreport

Was not I-395 once I-95?

by Douglas Willinger on Aug 25, 2009 2:03 pm • linkreport

Was not Robert E. Howard just calling to get his diction back?

by J.D. Hammond on Aug 25, 2009 2:07 pm • linkreport

Seriously, I know I'm not going to change your mind, Doug, because you're a crank, as surely as MPC is a troll. The fact that your "solution" for DC's transportation issues will work as splendidly as they have in San Diego and Houston and Los Angeles and pretty much everywhere they've ever been tried will go flying over your head because your solution is different, beautiful and true in a way that the Papists and other evildoers will never understand.

I was going to provide New York as another example, but even Robert Moses didn't get everything he wanted, which keeps your ideological purity intact. But you've still managed to derail this conversation from what Jim Moran actually said, so good job!

by J.D. Hammond on Aug 25, 2009 2:10 pm • linkreport

JD- just ignore the facts and label your opponent a crank. That's really "so good" of you.

And keep pretending there is no such thing as the extra politically influential, particularly with the owners of certain properties along a route.

by Douglas Willinger on Aug 25, 2009 2:14 pm • linkreport

"Finally, as we discussed yesterday, there's no room for more lanes on 14th Street."

Think outside of the box, Double Decker 14th! Us too can have our very own Alaskan Viaduct.

by RJ on Aug 25, 2009 2:15 pm • linkreport

Wow. I bring up a historical example of a major US street being widened at the expense of some gorgeous architecture (the churches and the religous institutions on Woodward are just the more prominent places - the other buildings were just bulldozed outright), and it sets off this whole thing.

Sorry, everyone. My bad.

by Alex B. on Aug 25, 2009 2:15 pm • linkreport

Doug, quick question. Did your rejection of the Alexandria Orb (which I like, btw) start your quest to resurrect I-95 through the city, or were they independent separate events?

by NikolasM on Aug 25, 2009 2:21 pm • linkreport

It's true, Alex! But if only those churches were Catholic none of this would have happened.

Oh wait.

by J.D. Hammond on Aug 25, 2009 2:22 pm • linkreport

I wouldn't put a toll on the 95/395 HOV lanes or increase the requirement or anything like that. Slugging is a very good thing in terms of congestion, environmental impact, etc., and making it harder to do that is definitely not the answer.

by Tim on Aug 25, 2009 2:25 pm • linkreport


I have been writing about DC I-95 since 1996 or 1997.

I invented the Orb in 1998 and actively promoted it 1998-early 2002.

by Douglas Willinger on Aug 25, 2009 2:26 pm • linkreport


All I'm trying to say is that implying that once you cross the mighty Potomac people suddenly turn into balls of lethargy and go all Los Angeles style and drive a quarter mile to get to the nearest Starbucks is not correct, productive or nice.

I've never actually been to Reston so I can't comment on its walkability, but Falls Church is a very walkable area with a pretty busy commercial center--lots of people walking (and Falls Church has a walk score of 100). Franconia is, as far as I can tell, pretty much a mall and I don't know much about it beyond that. And of course no one walks along the toll roads, 66, the mixing bowl and such. But that doesn't mean that they don't use sidewalks in their own communities. Life outside the District boundaries does actually have life that is not focused or based on the District so it's not always about getting back and forth between home and DC.

I certainly see the disparity and plenty of room for criticism (all around), I'm just not a fan of sweeping generalizations. And this particular sweeping generalization took two of the most walkable (and bikeable--Arlington is the only DC-area municipality including DC to get a Silver ranking from the League of American Bicyclists) communities in the country and swept them up into "places where people don't ever use a sidewalk".

by Catherine on Aug 25, 2009 2:28 pm • linkreport

JD- where does it say that either of these RCC churches were shaved, moved or demolished?

by Douglas Willinger on Aug 25, 2009 2:29 pm • linkreport

Doug: in the article Alex B. linked to.

Incidentally, you haven't responded to my criticism of Los Angeles, San Diego or Houston. A policy of freeway building and widening directly through their downtowns hasn't led to terribly effective results.

by J.D. Hammond on Aug 25, 2009 2:35 pm • linkreport

I've had real trouble enunciating why HOT lanes bother me. I just don't feel that we should have separate highway systems for the rich and poor. There's a class of lawyers, stockbrokers, doctors and (obviously) lawmakers for whom no toll will be too high to cause inconvenience, and these roads will become their exclusive domain. Once they've got their own system they'll care even less about ours. And keep in mind that these are costs they'll just pass on to everyone else anyway.

by mark on Aug 25, 2009 2:35 pm • linkreport

I just looked at this more recently posted link; Woodward Avenue Baptist Church is the only one listed as demolished.

Where does that or the two earlier posts say anything about any RCC church that was either shaved, moved or demolished?

I have spent time in San Diego and found driving far easier then in DC.

LA IIRC actually has relatively little in freeway miles per area and is way more spread out.

I am not familiar with Houston.

But I think that you are all aware with this:

by Douglas Willinger on Aug 25, 2009 2:41 pm • linkreport

I don't think that was an architecturally insignificant building.

I'm not sure what you're trying to suggest: should the church have gone under the wrecking ball along with the auto shops and sex clubs, or are you suggesting that the Holocaust Museum and the Bureau of Engraving should be rebuilt hundreds of feet away in either direction?

(If it's the latter, you do realize that would probably eliminate more street frontage than would be created on 14th, right?)

by J.D. Hammond on Aug 25, 2009 3:11 pm • linkreport

You think that St Vincent de Paul Church is NOT architecturally significant?

Read the July 22, 2006 article, it suggests moving that single church 250 feet to the east.

I have not favored disrupting the building line along 14th Street? Where did you read that I did?

by Douglas Willinger on Aug 25, 2009 3:16 pm • linkreport

Is it possible Jim Moran misspoke? When he said ".. And 14th Street needs to be widened." Maybe he meant only the bridge or the bridge area. It's actually more believable than that he thinks 14th needs to be widened. I mean it is being studied.

by David C on Aug 25, 2009 3:31 pm • linkreport

Get a brain, moran.

by RDurr on Aug 25, 2009 4:57 pm • linkreport

My experience is problems on the 14st bridge tend to be on the Virginia side. Too many merge lanes confusing drivers. I can see a case being made for turning the HOV bridge into a tolling bridge for congestion purposes.

by charlie on Aug 25, 2009 5:42 pm • linkreport

as surely as MPC is a troll.

I've reached celebrity status on here. My work is done.

by MPC on Aug 25, 2009 5:45 pm • linkreport

1. Congress would never allow DC to charge tolls.

2. DC already owns the 14th St. bridge; DC extends to the low lands on the VA side of the river. By right DC should get a part of the tolls.

by Tom Coumaris on Aug 25, 2009 6:43 pm • linkreport

The west approach to the bridge is in Virginia (since the Boundary Channel cuts back into the river just north of 395).

Charlie's hit upon what is probably the most likely scenario...converting the existing HOV lanes to toll. Only construction involved is with the overhead toll gantries.

Mark: experience elsewhere (mainly San Diego and Minneapolis) suggests that the wealthy actually constitute a minority of HOT lane toll recent study I read stated only 25% of toll payers, but I don't remember which city/facility and I can't find the report.

by Froggie on Aug 25, 2009 7:03 pm • linkreport

Tolls would be sensible for helping fund the new I-395 Bridge[s]-Tunneled SW Freeway - Tunneled I-395 extensions - with new development and parallel new WMATA line for the included Route 50/I-66 east New York Avenue corridor extension.

by Douglas Willinger on Aug 25, 2009 9:51 pm • linkreport

Tolls would be sensible for not destroying neighborhoods, too, Doug.

by J.D. Hammond on Aug 25, 2009 10:07 pm • linkreport

What neighborhoods? The new highways would almost entirely use existing corridors and be in box tunnels underground:

with parts in new multi-model tunnelways beneath a new linear park:

by Douglas Willinger on Aug 25, 2009 10:15 pm • linkreport

It's kind of alarming that you'd use the Big Dig as a model for anything, given its gargantuan cost overruns and already-degrading infrastructure.

by J.D. Hammond on Aug 31, 2009 1:08 am • linkreport

What's your point then- that we should have never built subways for trains because none ever ran over budget or had some design or build problems?

Definitely don't affix heavy ceiling panels with fasteners held with glue- nor suppose that doing so with say a mirror over a bed means we should not have ceilings.

by Douglas Willinger on Aug 31, 2009 1:29 am • linkreport

Do you really not know the difference between a train and a freeway, Doug?

by J.D. Hammond on Aug 31, 2009 1:34 am • linkreport

Your last response makes even less sense then usual.

by Douglas Willinger on Aug 31, 2009 1:25 pm • linkreport

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