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TPB's "aspiration" means HOT lanes, more pollution

Today, the Transportation Planning Board will hear a plan scenario for a major expansion of highway lanes outside the Beltway, coupled with road pricing, BRT, and some concentration of development in "activity centers."

The plan scenario tries to bring evaluates the possibility of bringing road pricing, a controversial yet valuable idea, to the Washington region. Variably-priced lanes coupled with transit alternatives make roads work more efficiently while also giving people options to get around without driving or paying the tolls.

New Bus Rapid Transit would run on the new lanes and use special dedicated ramps to access stations, making them act somewhat like rail in that vehicles would make few stops and run between them fairly quickly. It would most resemble the Metro lines that are currently on or near freeways, since these stations would be close to the freeway and therefore more like park and ride lots with potential for development rather than serving commercial corridors as underground Metro lines do.


Proposed network of Bus Rapid Transit service on priced lanes.

Unlike some early versions, it even includes options for pricing 500 miles of existing capacity in DC and on parkways instead of adding lanes. There's no room to expand the freeways in DC or the parkways, which are already far more freeway-like than they were intended. Pricing this existing capacity is a good idea that will nevertheless be very politically controversial, and the study team, including TPB staff and the Brookings Metropolitan Policy research, is taking on a tough but worthy task in advocating for that element. a related grant to TPB and Brookings Metropolitan Policy Research will evaluate the potential for public support for some kind of tolling.


Proposed network of priced lanes. Roads in black add new capacity, while roads in green and red price existing capacity.

But the plan scenario falls short in its largest component: 650 miles of new lanes on virtually every non-NPS freeway outside DC. If new lanes have to be added, it makes sense to price those lanes. But regardless, more lanes means more sprawl unless suburban and rural counties, especially Frederick, Howard, Prince George's, Loudoun and Prince William, downzone most of their land to prevent the replacement of farms and forests far from the core with more cookie-cutter houses.

Like it or not, the lack of roadway capacity is currently the brake on sprawl. In the ideal world, zoning would check sprawl instead and there would be plenty of infrastructure money. In that scenario, there wouldn't be much harm in building roads and also rails to adequate capacity for everyone. But that's not the case. Little is stopping outer counties from approving new suburban subdivisions. The difficulty of getting to jobs provides an incentive to live closer to the core, making it more likely infill development projects will get built to accommodate residents near work.

The report also buries the price tag of this plan scenario: $51 billion. That's because even priced lanes can't come close to recouping construction costs. The plan scenario simply assumes that the revenue from lanes will cover the costs of maintaining the proposed BRT service. That's cheaper than running buses not subsidized by tolls, but still represents a huge investment of funds in roadway capacity.

Oddly, this scenario was dubbed the "Aspirations Scenario." It's disappointing if this is the best aspiration TPB staff have for the region. Michael Eichler, who worked on the report, explained that the title, "aspirations scenario," is TPB jargon for a scenario that goes beyond the standard Constrained Long-Range Plan, and doesn't necessarily represent a value judgment.

What about the aspiration, for example, to alleviate the Rosslyn bottleneck and increase overall capacity on the Metrorail system? $51 billion could do a lot for Metro capacity. The report admits that This scenario will also increase greenhouse gas emissions and overall VMT:

More road capacity and priced lanes mean that more people can drive longer and faster, which resulted in more driving and longer trips. ... The provision of priced lanes extending into the outer suburbs and beyond make longer trips more convenient, which has the potential to encourage people to live further out, far from work sites. ...

High increases of 5% or higher are produced by the full scenario for NOx and PM2.5 precursor NOx. Higher VMT and much higher speeds than the baseline cause this increase in pollution. Similarly, increases in CO2 occur for this reason. [The] inability to model speeds higher than 65 mph (which constitute 19% of total scenario VMT) largely underestimates CO2 emissions because CO2 emissions rates rise rapidly as speeds beyond 65 mph increase.

The numbers also look rosier than they might because the report is actually conflating two, fairly independent scenarios: One which would concentrate more development in "activity centers," the other which creates this network of lanes. While the BRT network does make denser activity centers somewhat more feasible, the mode share shift is slight, and TPB ought to be studying the value of just focusing development and connecting centers with buses that don't require new lanes.

Meanwhile, TPB is not pushing its A better vision for the future would be TPB's "What Would It Take?" scenario that identified the necessary steps to actually meet greenhouse gas targets. That scenario met criticism from representatives from outer suburbs who felt that they simply did not have the will to do what "it takes."

Clearly, TPB is The study's authors seem to be trying to take a realpolitik approach here and come up with something it thinks it can sell they think local jurisdictions can support. Outer jurisdictions get the lane expansions they want, but also agree to the concentration of development they know they should do but might have trouble selling. DC and to a lesser extent Arlington get to avoid huge new capacity increases and use pricing to move commuters more efficiently on existing roadways, something outer jurisdictions might otherwise oppose. And at least new lanes are priced instead of free, and that money funds some transit expansion.

Added: According to Eichler, each jurisdiction participated in choosing the components in their jurisdiction; DC preferred tolling existing capacity to new capacity, while outer jurisdictions preferred new lanes.

However, this is also preemptively abandoning most better solutions. Unfortunately, this is the common approach the Achilles heel of the TPB: because individual jurisdictions have so much control over their own elements, each jurisdiction essentially gets what they want for themselves, almost as if there weren't planning at all. Meanwhile, the overall region and environment suffers.

In fact, the base scenario calls for new capacity everywhere, and then only switches to pricing DC and NPS roads as an alternative. Why can't pricing all existing roads be the base scenario, and then add new capacity here and there only as options? Or, better yet, why can't the "What Would It Take" recommendations be the base scenario, with something closer to this one as the alternatives?

The TPB should study the development concentration, or what they call "land use sensitivity" separately, and also look at the potential for pricing existing capacity on all roadways. Maybe politically, it would get hammered into something that combines some new capacity and some not. But TPB has a scenario to actually meet greenhouse goals while still growing the region, yet it's not even seriously trying to make it feasible. That abdicates the role of making tough choices our regional planning organization ought to embrace.

Update: Michael Eichler, a former TPB planner who worked on the study, explained that this study was not a "plan" people are pushing in the way that the article assumed. Rather, it's just a "scenario" to illustrate a potential future driven by various constraints in the TPB process. Nevertheless, there are many who would like to bring this scenario about, so it's important to discuss the drawbacks of this approach and, when possible, steer the TPB's work toward scenarios that present promising possibilities.

David Alpert is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Greater Greater Washington and Greater Greater Education. 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 loves the area which is, in many ways, greater than those others, and wants to see it become even greater. 

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As a DC resident, I don't see any benefit to this plan. In some very rare situations, it might offer me a faster trip to Walter Reed or Ivy City, but that's about it.

by tom veil on Sep 15, 2010 11:43 am • linkreport

The question to the TPB seems to be this: Is there or is there not a trade-off, when making investments intended to change land use patterns, between promoting activity centers and promoting sprawl? If so, doesn't investing in both simultaneously waste tons of money?

It doesn't make sense to (a) make a huge investment in the Silver Line with stations all over Tysons, Reston, Herndon and Dulles intended to change land use patterns, and at the same time (b) make a huge investment in roads north, west and south of these communities that will undermine those hoped-for land use changes. Interestingly, the report doesn't really mention the Silver Line at all.

by Ken Archer on Sep 15, 2010 12:04 pm • linkreport

Just want to mention what I've mentioned before, that if they want "choice riders" using BRT, they really have to come up with a new name for it that doesn't have the word "bus" in it.

Danged thing runs on guideways with catenary power, it's a lot different from a bus. Sure it has rubber tires, but the Montreal subway has rubber tires and nobody calls that bus rapid transit.

I hate that the word "bus" turns people off but man it sure does.

by neff on Sep 15, 2010 12:11 pm • linkreport

Tolling Chain Bridge?

by Chain_Br on Sep 15, 2010 12:11 pm • linkreport

There is a lot in the linked report.

One request: is it possible to separate out the maps so you don't download the entire report?

Has there been a single example of a successful variable priced lane is the US? I smell the whiff of consultants here. And I find it ironic Arlington is fighting so hard about the HOT/HOV lanes on 395 and yet proposing them in this report. Thanks Zimmie for your leadership.

The "BRT" seems to me very similar to what the long-distance buses we have now. I'd like to see WMATA get into that business -- how many WMATA buses even use the highways.

And the focus on highways is suspect. As I've said before, at least in Virginia the problem isn't highways -- it is your secondary roads. Turns out "traffic planner" aren't very good at their jobs and don't understand where people are driving.

by charlie on Sep 15, 2010 12:17 pm • linkreport

There are three ways we ration things as a society, by price, by lottery, and by queu. Price is economically the best of the three to allocate scarce resources, such as roadway space, but is generally intolerable to the majority, and thus is the last tried. Lottery seems unfair to the losers, so we primarily default to queu, everyone gets to wait the same amount of time. However, queu is the least efficient of the three because it primarily leads to overuse for whatever it is you are trying to ration.

It seems TPB is trying to solve this by adding more capacity, but there is no question, as David points out, that without more comprehensive pricing or land use limitations, we'll be back to gridlock in no time.

The smartest thing to do would be price roadways first, then see if you can manage the demand with existing capacity. However, that is going to be an intolerable solution for those who have to pay, so instead they'll try to compel us to waste billions in added capacity, only throwing in limited pricing to get DC/Arl to go along, and then you can bet that the outer counties will continue to work to erode or eliminate the pricing over time.

by Wil on Sep 15, 2010 12:20 pm • linkreport

As far as I can read from these plans, Virginia and Maryland get a bunch of new roads, and DC has to pay for it with tolls on existing roads.

Am I somehow mistaken here, or is the reality somewhat less insidious?

by andrew on Sep 15, 2010 12:20 pm • linkreport

This was a "what if/scenario" study, not a plan. Please change the post to reflect this.

by Michael on Sep 15, 2010 12:23 pm • linkreport

Pricing existing lanes is not a good idea -- priced lanes will only work if they take the form of additional lanes added to existing roads. Blocking off one lane as a priced lane will increase traffic in the non-priced lane, and will force traffic onto secondary roads (i.e., your neighborhood).

by OX4 on Sep 15, 2010 12:23 pm • linkreport

Oh, and it looks like they want to charge tolls on New York Ave. Good luck with that.

by andrew on Sep 15, 2010 12:23 pm • linkreport

Can I ask a dumb question (or two, I guess)? Who do the TPB report to, or more specifically, which of our representatives do we contact regarding the choices made?

by Michael Oland on Sep 15, 2010 12:28 pm • linkreport

@ Michael Oland:

http://www.mwcog.org/committee/committee/members.asp?COMMITTEE_ID=15

by Michael on Sep 15, 2010 12:33 pm • linkreport

"Price is economically the best of the three to allocate scarce resource"

You would think that going into Year 2 of a Global Financial Crisis, neo-liberals would at least try to understand that pricing isn't perfect.

Pricing depends on information. Information is never complete. And the joys of variable pricing means it will change every hour.

As I said before, is there a single successful variable pricing road in the US? In the world?

by charlie on Sep 15, 2010 12:37 pm • linkreport

What do the dashes mean in the BRT map, I assume that it's a "BRT" bus running on local streets (thus the dark blue one is obviously running on 16th Street NW). How is that going to work? I ride the S buses on 16th Street and "rapid" is not a term I'd use for them, and it's not the local stops that slow them down, it's traffic.

The dashed lines should be new Metrorail alignments.

by Steve S on Sep 15, 2010 12:39 pm • linkreport

What is the point of BRT lines that run parallel with Metro? West of the city the light blue and light green paths are largely duplication of what people can do using Metro once the Silver line is up and running. Wouldn't it make more sense to run the lines through areas that are not already well served by transit downtown?

by OddNumber on Sep 15, 2010 1:07 pm • linkreport

Right now, Virginia is building HOT lanes on the Beltway and intends to run express buses on those lanes between the Springfield-Franconia VRE/Metro station and Tysons Corner (part of the Brown line on the p.29 map). Before anyone starts spending $50B (or even starts looking for that sort of money) to create a massive version of what Virginia is now building, it would make sense to wait and watch what happens with the system now being built: what actual ridership develops on these buses, what actual revenue accrues from the tolls.

Reports can talk all they like about BRT, but what we'll actually get on these routes is what will be deployed on the Springfield-Tysons route.

A few months ago, I said that the regions transit agencies should get rails onto the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge's "transit lanes" fairly quickly, or someone would be proposing to use them for HOT lanes. I didn't think the proposal would come before the project is even finished.

by jim on Sep 15, 2010 1:08 pm • linkreport

The Aspirations scenario was generated in large part by TPB staff with part-time guidance from TPB members. Whatever you think of it, its the biggest transit vision since metro was conceived in the 60s. Alpert's suggestion that the "What Would it Take" scenario might make a better point of departure for discussion is very good, and not inconsistent with looking critically at this and other scenarios (5 others I believe, dating back to 2001)to inform regional debate about our region's transportation future. Let the debate rage - we need a new vision. Incremental TIPs and the CLRP will only give us more of the same...

by larry m on Sep 15, 2010 1:19 pm • linkreport

@ OddNumber; I agree that looks strange but getting 10-15% of orange line riders onto a bus -- which during rush hour on 66 might be a better option than rail -- could help everyone. Imagine an express from Rosslyn to Ballston, or Rosslyn to WFC.

by charlie on Sep 15, 2010 1:21 pm • linkreport

Just to raise a point about jurisdictional equity: under this proposal every bridge between Virginia and the District will be tolled -- you won't be able to drive from Virginia into the District without paying a toll -- and all the bridges across the Anacostia, too. None of the arterials between Montgomery County and the District will be.

by jim on Sep 15, 2010 1:29 pm • linkreport

Michael: I've changed "plan" to "scenario."

by David Alpert on Sep 15, 2010 1:30 pm • linkreport

Who are these morons? Has either the Council of Governments or the Transportation Planning Board ever heard of Congress? The Federal government has prohibited tolls in D.C. for decades and I see no reason why they would approve such a plan now. Perhaps "aspirational" is another word for "delusional"?

by Adam L on Sep 15, 2010 1:31 pm • linkreport

To sort of elaborate on Jim's comment, as someone who lives in DC and visits Virginia regularly (friends, family, work*, etc.), how the heck am I supposed to get to Virginia without paying a toll every time? Currently, I'd need to cut over to Mass Ave, take it up to Wisconsin, head through Friendship Heights or Bethesda, and then hop on the Beltway. I don't see how that helps traffic any.

* - (I Metro to work 85% of the time)
And yes, I could and would certainly pay some of the times, I don't mind paying for roads - but this becomes a tax on *leaving* the city. The problem isn't that there are some tolls, or even multiple tolls. The problem is that they're *all* tolls, effectively. DTR is a great example of how it should be done: pay if you want to zip down the toll road.. If not, be prepared for the stoplights and traffic of 7. There's an alternative.

by J on Sep 15, 2010 1:47 pm • linkreport

I'm reading this report as a dual zone congestion charge with BRT tossed in to keep the transit geeks happy.

by charlie on Sep 15, 2010 1:50 pm • linkreport

I've now replaced the links from the images themselves to now go to larger versions of the images so you don't have to download the whole PDF.

by David Alpert on Sep 15, 2010 1:53 pm • linkreport

@Adam re Who are these morons?

What was tolled and not tolled was decided by the state DOT representatives who attended the task force overseeing this study. DDOT insisted that no new lanes were constructed and that all freeways and river crossings were tolled, and they even added in some arterials to connect things up.

VDOT and MDOT were insistent that NO existing lanes were tolled in the scenario, so they weren't.

I speak with authority on this, since I was one of the original study team members and my name is even on the title page of the report. I feel I can speak freely about this since I no longer work for COG/TPB.

David makes a lot of assumptions in his post that I haven't bothered correcting, but I'd be glad to clear things up for the group if you guys really want to know the purpose of this study, how the scenario came about, and why it ended up the way it did.

Got questions about it? Fire away.

by Michael on Sep 15, 2010 2:19 pm • linkreport

I'm curious why the revenue from tolls is dedicated to BRT. Why not to transit generally? Virginia toll revenue to be disbursed by the NVTA, for example. If NoVa wants BRT, then by all means, use it for BRT. If NoVa would prefer, say, a streetcar or three, why not use it for that?

One other point. My understanding is you can't impose tolls on existing interstates. How did the study team intend to get round this?

by jim on Sep 15, 2010 2:25 pm • linkreport

DDOT's insistence (and perhaps even MWCOG's consideration of the scenario) is hingent on one huge thing: Federal law changing so that tolls can be charged on existing "free" Interstates. As it applies to our region, existing Federal law would only allow tolls on existing HOV lanes or new construction...existing "free" general purpose lanes would have to remain free. I'm not 100% on the following (there's some ambiguity in the code language), but I believe tolls can also be added to major bridges that see improvement. So at a stretch, we could add tolls to American Legion, T.R., 14th St, 11th St, and Wilson bridges, but as far as the Interstate system is concerned, that'd be it.

Non-Interstate freeways can of course become tolled, but the only routes inside the Beltway that'd be applicable to are Kenilworth Ave and 50 coming from New Carrollton.

by Froggie on Sep 15, 2010 2:44 pm • linkreport

@jim

They can toll existing interstates because this is a scenario study, not a plan. It's a strawman argument to aid in the strategic planning process. It's basically a giant "what if" kind of hypothetical.

And in this scenario, all of the revenue is dedicated to BRT because this isn't really about BRT - BRT here is just buses operating on the free-flowing, variably priced toll lanes. Also, the revenues projected from the tolls only cover 96% of the costs for the new lanes themselves - so there isn't any extra revenue, anyway.

by Alex B. on Sep 15, 2010 2:44 pm • linkreport

If only that map were for metrorail...

Sounds ridiculous but look at what they are doing in Madrid, not far off of this:
http://prs.metromadrid.es/metro/mapametrofull.asp?lang=en

by staypuftman on Sep 15, 2010 2:46 pm • linkreport

Larry M and Michael of the 2:19 comment are both authorities on this. Take their comments seriously.

by BeyondDC on Sep 15, 2010 3:00 pm • linkreport

It looks like Prince George's County is underserved by this scenario. Of course, there are three Metro lines and like fifteen stops already in the county, but better connections between them would be desirable. Or to Laurel, which is already a major activity center along Route 1.

With most of our jobs on the west side of the region, it's obvious that any transportation planning should be in conjunction with a study of what it'll take to get more stuff in Prince George's.

by dan reed! on Sep 15, 2010 4:56 pm • linkreport

^
They did an earlier scenario study focused on exactly that. Here is a link (see page 11).

by BeyondDC on Sep 15, 2010 5:02 pm • linkreport

charlie: re: "traffic planner"...

'Planning' really is a misnomer. 'Planners' in the L'Enfant or Daniel Burnham sense don't exist. What you mean by "traffic planner" should really be labeled something that approximates "coordinating, scheduling, consensus-aiming, politics-avoiding, transportation-aware bureaucrat."

Society just hasn't yet come up with an appropriate term, so we're stuck using the old term.

I think your idea of "what their job is" probably has little to do with what their bosses tell them "their job is," and what they do on a daily basis to earn a paycheck.

But you are absolutely right about not understanding where people are driving. Origin and Destination studies aren't a popular tool, possibly due to the complexity and inability to collect the requisite data.

by Dave on Sep 15, 2010 5:26 pm • linkreport

@David Alpert: The plan scenario tries to bring road pricing, a controversial yet valuable political idea, to the Washington region. Variably-priced lanes coupled with transit alternatives make roads work more efficiently while also giving people options to get around without driving or paying the tolls.

I think it's an open question whether variable pricing makes roads work more efficiently, in the true meaning of the word (delivering maximum utility to users). Economically, it can go either way. If all consumers had perfect information, and also all had the same utility of money, then it would probably work. But, in the real world, some people have more money than others, so the utility of each marginal dollar is generally lower. So people who are wealthier can buy up the scarce resource even though they may derive less benefit from it than people who would benefit more but don't have the money.

No one, to my knowledge, has attempted to seriously address this issue.

Meanwhile, there is definitely the potential for variable pricing to drive cost-conscious users elsewhere, thus increasing congestion on "free" routes. This can happen even if pricing is only applied to "new" lanes. So it may be a win for some people (rich people like me who can afford to drive anywhere---I'd gladly pay $100k/year for the right to drive freely anywhere I want to go with no congestion) and a net loss for other people.

Unlike a business, government action needs to consider social utility of its actions to the entire public, not just the people who can pay the most.

I definitely think there are opportunities in variable pricing, but it shouldn't be portrayed as an unalloyed good, or a panacea, the way that "free trade" sometimes is (with many of the same flaws).

by David desJardins on Sep 15, 2010 5:47 pm • linkreport

@Dave-

Spot on with the last paragraph... and unfortunately my opinion is you're not terribly far off with the preceding paragraphs, either.

While there are some mechanisms that can be done, ever-degrading survey qualities (especially this year's rather lacking Census) have further reduced what can be done. It's expensive to take good surveys or do O-D studies, hence attempts to piggy-back off other surveys addressing a variety of subjects... which ultimately dilute & generalise the data a bit too much.

by Bossi on Sep 15, 2010 5:49 pm • linkreport

P.S. I'm also reminded of Warren Buffett's comment, that the best way to improve public schools would be to outlaw private schools and assign rich people's kids at random to public schools. You'd see a lot more political support for making the schools better, in that case! Similarly, a legitimate concern is that if we build express roads for the wealthy, what political support will there be for roads for everyone else? When we live in a country where so much of the power rests in the hands of wealthy interests (not just wealthy individuals, but also corporate interests, the unions that worked hard to defeat Fenty, etc. etc.), you've got to think about the indirect consequences of how you structure government action, on how those decisions affect people with power and what they will do in response, and not just the abstract good if you had a government that would act primarily in the public interest.

by David desJardins on Sep 15, 2010 5:51 pm • linkreport

@ dan reed!

PG County does have 3 lines going through it but there is a big problem. There all close together.

Some of the stations on the Blue and Orange lines are closer together than the next station on their lines.

For example to Cheverly and Capitol Hgts they are closer to each other than Cheverly is to Landover. The distance between Deanwood, Capitol Hgts, Minnesota Ave & Benning Road are all really walking distance if it wasn't for the huge drop in elevation.

The Blue and Orange lines are a waste of money due to their alignments being sometimes less than a half mile apart after they split.

The Green line should have went down Indian Head Hwy and the Blue where the Green Line is now and the Orange line more in between where the current Orange & Blue lines are.

by kk on Sep 15, 2010 6:50 pm • linkreport

David, I think this post was extremely sloppy. You ignored several main points of the scenario--particularly, like Michael said, that it is in no way a plan or even a proposal--it's a piece of analytical work to determine what the potential effects of aggressive land use changes, transit, and ONE TYPE of pricing scheme have on travel demand.

read the report. read the findings. the point is to *inform* policy--the report doesn't even sort of advocate implementing this as is--it's far too high level.

And lastly, while this is called an aspiration--it's still a scenario. It was meant to test ideas that the board has been talking about for years. The results are mixed--with different people finding different aspects favorable. As is the case with any study or plan.

by anonymous on Sep 15, 2010 8:04 pm • linkreport

I want to add to my comment above to reiterate that the study doesn't advocate for anything. It presents findings to a series of model tests.
You unfortunately missed all of the positive findings.
which thankfully the board did not miss.
luckily they are the ones who make decisions and they can use the study as further evidence of the power of smart growth and the careful planning that must be done with pricing to ensure that regional goals are met.
It's unfortunate that understanding of the process at TPB was not included in your post.

by anonymous on Sep 15, 2010 8:09 pm • linkreport

I don't completely understand the map -- where's the existing Vienna Metro Station on the proposed map?

And why isn't the connector that goes around D.C. passing through Vienna?

by Vienna on Sep 15, 2010 8:34 pm • linkreport

Well.. it helps to understand why people commute to exurban jurisdictions and no.. restricting zoning won't stop it because people will just buy bigger parcels which are "by right".

People drive to the exurbs because they get married and have kids and cannot find a 3-bedroom home in a subdivision for less than 800K in NoVa.

When you figure out how to convince them to NOT raise a family in a conventional SFD - you might make some inroads.

Second - understand the difference between vacant land that used to be farmed but can no longer be done economically - and real farms. Vacant land that used to be farms cost people taxes that they cannot afford to pay and so they sell the land to those who can afford to pay taxes - NoVa commuters willing to buy a 10 or 20 acre "by-right" parcel if restricted zoning drives them to do that.

But I'm most amused by the number of folks who are apparently not aware that HOT lanes on the beltway are a done deal and they are moving dirt right now.

Even if you take the exurban commuting out of the equation - the simple reality is that NoVa will continue to grow and people will continue to drive their cars - and yet the gas tax has not increased in 25 years and there are few places anyhow to really add NET regional road capacity.

In other words, you might be able to build "connecting" surface streets if you are willing to pay higher taxes locally because VDOT is tapped out... the 25-year old gas tax generates only enough money for maintenance and operations - not new construction.

Maryland is in the same boat. The ICC will be a toll road and it cost 100 million dollars a mile because land in the METRO area is not cheap. A typical 4-lane rural interstate, by comparison is about 20-40 million a mile.

So.. if NoVa/MD is going to grow and there are not going to be more roads - what should be done?

The TPB folks have decided that the answer is the "manage" the number of cars on the road - by charging them - and adjusting the charge according to how congested the roads are.

The more congested, the higher the toll - until it drives enough people to do something different than drive a car SOLO at the busy times..OR they are willing to pay a toll to drive solo at rush hour.

My view here is that we need to address the simple realities of the issue - because - it's easy to call the planners "idiots" until you put yourself in their shoes and someone gives YOU the job of figuring out options.

(I a not a planner by the way - just an interested person following the issues....)

I think we have to leave the moral and values issues on the side on this. If someone wants to drive a car SOLO at rush hour.. that is their right... but doing so does have consequences and the more folks who do it - as the region continues to grow - the consequences of doing that increase, get harsher... to the point where the roads will simply become totally unreliable.

Rush hour trips will start to see one and two hour delays over simple incidents.. on a regular basis...

and the alternative to this is ... almost as bad.. congestion pricing...

are there any other reasonable alternatives?

by LarryG on Sep 15, 2010 8:57 pm • linkreport

Good comments LarryG. As one who would have loved to live closer in but couldn't find affordable housing near a Metro stop for my family, a lot of folks in D.C. don't understand why some of us live in the suburbs.

by Vienna on Sep 15, 2010 9:06 pm • linkreport

Pardon me as I'm still learning details about the Silver Line, but maybe someone can give me the answer as to why there are 4 stops tightly clustered around Tysons Corner?

That seems excessive. Looking at them on a map, they seem more tightly packed than Ballston is to Virginia Square is to Clarendon is to Courthouse. And I know folks can walk from Ballston to Virginia Square or Virginia Square to Clarendon, etc., etc.

Why the 4 stations at Tyson's instead of just 2?

Seems that 4 stations are a waste of initial up-front expenditures, as well as introduce delays for folks in the future riding the Silver Line?

by Jonathan on Sep 15, 2010 9:07 pm • linkreport

@LarryG: I think we have to leave the moral and values issues on the side on this.

Well, we do have to face that this way of life isn't just expensive, it's destroying the environment. That's not just a moral issue, it's also an economic issue, because the purely economic cost of climate change is going to be extremely high.

are there any other reasonable alternatives?

I would say telecommuting, and moving more jobs to places where people can live rather than having them drive a hour back and forth.

by David desJardins on Sep 15, 2010 9:19 pm • linkreport

well ...global warming is a worldwide issue... that won't be solved by what happens in Washington - in isolation.

I'm not dismissing it - only saying that it's a much bigger context than regional HOT Lanes.

As far as alternatives - don't they have to be ones that people willingly choose?

That's what's behind the HOT Lanes.

It's up to each individual to figure out what they want to do - different.. carpool, transit, telecommute, move, etc... or a combination ...

what the planners are trying to accomplish is to PRESERVE as much basic transportation utility that they can by taking actions that will manage the congestion - to keep the remaining utility from essentially being destroyed - i.e. made unreliable and undependable.

What else should the planners do? That's was my real question about reasonable alternatives.

What are the reasonable alternatives for the folks making decisions about the regions transportation network - other than HOT Lanes?

by LarryG on Sep 15, 2010 9:31 pm • linkreport

@LarryG: well ...global warming is a worldwide issue... that won't be solved by what happens in Washington - in isolation.

Nevertheless, it also won't be solved if every individual community doesn't do their part. Everyone has to decarbonize their economies, and that can't be done if we build infrastructure that lasts 50 or 100 years and is designed around the proposition that people will commute over long distances.

I'm open to a variety of possible approaches (and we will need many), but this seems like it has to be a nonstarter, because the consequences are unacceptable, both morally and economically.

by David desJardins on Sep 15, 2010 9:44 pm • linkreport

sorry.. I don't think that's going to happen in the short term in the Wash Metro Area.

What's on the table right now is HOT Lanes.

What else - on that same scale .. is a viable alternative to HOT lanes in dealing with the Washington area congestion?

Some day - perhaps sooner than later.. we'll get on the bigger issue that you're alluding to .. but I don't it's responsive to the current timeline.

by LarryG on Sep 15, 2010 9:50 pm • linkreport

I'm going for the record of longest GGW comment here, I think. Again, I spent over 2 years working on this project. As an environmentalist, smart-growth advocate and urbanist, I am saddened by the blogosphere's misunderstanding of what we were trying to accomplish here.

As I stated earlier, I'd answer any questions I could. Read on for my replies to comments and queries stated in previous comments. And no, I don't normally have enough free time to do stuff like this.

The question to the TPB seems to be this: Is there or is there not a trade-off, when making investments intended to change land use patterns, between promoting activity centers and promoting sprawl? If so, doesn't investing in both simultaneously waste tons of money?

The idea here is that the tolled facilities will put a cap on sprawl. Yes, it will permit some exurban development, but it will be limited by willingness to pay.

Interestingly, the report doesn't really mention the Silver Line at all.

The silver line is in the CLRP and was part of the baseline. There was no need to mention it, because for the purposes of the study, it was a done deal.

Has there been a single example of a successful variable priced lane is the US?

SR-91 in California. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/91_Express_Lanes Any entry level urban planning student knows about this project.

I smell the whiff of consultants here.

This study was performed by TPB staff, under the guidance of the TPB Scenario Study Task Force, with very limited consultant support.

The "BRT" seems to me very similar to what the long-distance buses we have now.

The BRT network in the scenario was coded as dedicated-ROW transit, with distinct routes and stops. Not just the commuter bus services we currently have. Each distinct color on the map is a separate route, with stops and transfers where indicated. The BRT was coded with an average speed of 50 MPH on freeway/HOT lanes and 15 MPH on urban arterials. This was coded as a regional fixed-route transit network, not a random collection of express buses.

I'd like to see WMATA get into that business -- how many WMATA buses even use the highways.

This isn't very relevant to the topic, but Metro does operate buses on I-395 and US-50, using the HOV infrastructure currently in place there. Fairfax Connector took over the routes along I-66, and RideOn has routes on the I-270 HOV lanes.

BRT on 16th street, tolling existing freeways, etc.

Again, this was a "what if" scenario. "What if" we could run BRT on arterials? "What if" we could toll existing lanes or facilities?

I'm reading this report as a dual zone congestion charge with BRT tossed in to keep the transit geeks happy.

This is a follow-on study to a variable pricing study that came out a few years back. The variable pricing study didn't do a lot with transit: it simply enhanced the existing bus transit that could operate on the toll lanes. This study created a regional BRT network that used the toll lanes as dedicated ROW. To consider it transit-lipstick on a tolling-pig is downplaying the emphasis that the study team put on high quality transit from the start.

BRT here is just buses operating on the free-flowing, variably priced toll lanes.

No, it's not. It's basically fixed-route BRT with dedicated stops, ramps and all the works. If it were simply buses on managed lanes, we couldn't get the assumed average 50 MPH speed.

Also, the revenues projected from the tolls only cover 96% of the costs for the new lanes themselves - so there isn't any extra revenue, anyway.

I left COG/TPB staff after the analysis was done but before this report was published. The 96% number comes from the previous study, not the Aspirations Scenario. The Aspirations Scenario suggested that a large number of interchanges be removed from the previous study, greatly reducing the price. The idea was to add dedicated ramps only in activity centers, to promote their growth, and turn other interchanges into slip ramps. I guess they failed to perform a full costing exercise on the full scenario, which I believe would have resulted in excess revenue (with DC and parkway tolled existing lanes subsidizing the rest of the network) that have gone to paying for the BRT network. It's unfortunate that this part of the scenario wasn't completed, but I guess that's what I get for leaving before the job was 100% complete.

It looks like Prince George's County is underserved by this scenario.

The scenario was based on providing access to existing and proposed activity centers. It's unfortunate, but yes, Prince George's doesn't have than many regional activity centers. Through task force input, we created two new activity centers in the county, Westphalia and National Harbor, that hadn't been part of the COG/TPB activity center listing before. County staff worked with the study team to shift jobs and households into these activity centers. But the task force recommended that we maintain jurisdictional totals: no jurisdiction would gain or lose jobs or households because of the land use scenario, they'd just get shifted within the counties.

So people who are wealthier can buy up the scarce resource even though they may derive less benefit from it than people who would benefit more but don't have the money.

The experience with the SR-91 in california has shown that they are indeed not "lexus lanes." It comes down to personal, real-time decisions. Pay a toll or pay a late fee at day care? Pay a toll or miss out on serving two extra customers (for contractors, plumbers, etc.)? Research on this LA-area roadway has illustrated that a wide variety of users of different income groups use the lanes, and that individuals tend to use them perhaps once per week, when their time is at a premium.

So it may be a win for some people (rich people like me who can afford to drive anywhere---I'd gladly pay $100k/year for the right to drive freely anywhere I want to go with no congestion) and a net loss for other people.

By tolling new lane miles, everyone is better off than the "no build" scenario, since traffic volumes will only get worse over time. Providing new capacity, but pricing it to keep it freely flowing, is the only sensible way to make things better than the status quo for everyone w/o completely inducing sprawl or making things worse (financially) for people than they are now. Under this scenario, there are no losers (except maybe the environment).

I don't completely understand the map -- where's the existing Vienna Metro Station on the proposed map? And why isn't the connector that goes around D.C. passing through Vienna?

The existing Metrorail system is in the background of the map, greyed out. If the new network doesn't interact with an existing station, it's not displayed or labeled. The beltway HOT lanes BRT route stops at Dunn Loring instead of Vienna, since it's closer.

What are the reasonable alternatives for the folks making decisions about the regions transportation network - other than HOT Lanes?

That's the point. We can dream about new subway lines and streetcars everywhere, but in our current cash-strapped situation, we simply can't realistically think about major infrastructure projects. This study was aimed to answer the question, "with the tools we have now, what can we do?" The answer, obviously is, "not much." I appreciate the commenter who stated that the post was sloppy. We learned a lot from this exercise, which was the point. And honestly, it took a lot of arm-twisting on the part of TPB staff to get higher-ups to even agree to the comprehensive BRT network and the rules-based land-use scenario. Simply that we were able to put these land use and transit maps into the model to run should be considered a success. yes, the system is broke, and this study is the attempts of the people on the inside who are trying to change it, fix it, and save our region and our planet. I'd like to think that this blog would spend a bit more time understanding the purpose and context of a study like this before criticizing it.

by Michael on Sep 15, 2010 11:15 pm • linkreport

@Michael: By tolling new lane miles, everyone is better off than the "no build" scenario, since traffic volumes will only get worse over time.

That's mostly true if you ignore the environmental consequences (which really dwarf everything else). But why are we comparing anything to no-build? If we're going to build some amount of new road infrastructure, the sensible comparison is to compare toll-funded infrastructure to the same amount of traditional tax-funded infrastructure. And, in that comparison, the former is generally better for wealthy people and the latter generally better for poor people.

by David desJardins on Sep 15, 2010 11:50 pm • linkreport

@David desJardins

You're missing the point, there is NOT MORE "traditional tax-funded infrastructure." That money is all going to maintaining the current system. W/o a raise in the gas tax, there are no new lane miles. None.

by Michael on Sep 15, 2010 11:54 pm • linkreport

@Michael: The experience with the SR-91 in california has shown that they are indeed not "lexus lanes."

Again, even if that's true (and I have read some different studies), the fact that you can build variable-pricing toll lanes in one place with decent results doesn't mean they will necessarily have those results everywhere. A lot depends on what other alternatives people have.

by David desJardins on Sep 15, 2010 11:55 pm • linkreport

@Michael: You're missing the point, there is NOT MORE "traditional tax-funded infrastructure." That money is all going to maintaining the current system. W/o a raise in the gas tax, there are no new lane miles. None.

Well, since I think that's mostly good (adding more lane miles just accelerates our environmental catastrophe which is worse than any of the other issues), I'm not going to cry too much about it. But, if you want more lane miles, then convince people to raise taxes to pay for it. If they aren't willing to pay the cost, then maybe they don't actually want those lanes.

by David desJardins on Sep 15, 2010 11:57 pm • linkreport

@ David desJardins

Again, point missed. If we're going to build new lane miles, wouldn't it make sense for the people who actually use them to pay for them? Why should some guy filling his lawn mower with gas have to help pay for new roads? The user-pays model is the most economically efficient. The traditional method of road funding you so fondly speak of is why were in the current mess in the first place: underpriced goods get overused.

The reality of the current situation, like it or not, is that few new lanes will get built without innovative, user-funded financing schemes. I don't necessarily want new lanes either, but if we can manage them and run BRT on them, and use them as a middle ground between non new lanes at all and lots more new free lanes, I say let's strike the bargain. Otherwise, we're stuck with what we have, which is a big mess, only getting worse.

by Michael on Sep 16, 2010 12:09 am • linkreport

http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post.cgi?id=4102

Follow the money. The Beltway HOT lanes contractors have devised a complicated mechanism to get on the public dole, and they want to make dozens of more contracts just like that one.

The HOT lanes/BRT proposals in their current incarnation are not about a transportation solution (otherwise, we'd just congestion price the existing roadways, perhaps moderately expand them, and use the leftover funds to build real public transit system...).

by stevek_fairfax on Sep 16, 2010 12:10 am • linkreport

@Michael: Again, point missed. If we're going to build new lane miles, wouldn't it make sense for the people who actually use them to pay for them?

No, in general, it wouldn't make sense. There might be some particular situations where it's justifiable, but in most cases, for most of the public, it's a bad idea.

I've explained why I think that, well enough. You don't have to agree with me. But it doesn't mean I'm "missing your point". It means I think you're wrong.

Your analysis seems to suggest that, if it were feasible, we'd all be better off if all roads were toll roads. Is that what you actually think?

If the other people involved in producing the report share your excessive faith in market-based solutions, that explains quite a bit.

by David desJardins on Sep 16, 2010 12:13 am • linkreport

there are two different things going on with the tolls.

The first is to use tolls to manage congestion.

That's it. Not to stop sprawl or reduce global warming or warm your baby's milk.

The second part is - that an analysis of how much toll that will be charged - has indicated that not only will it be sufficient to pay for the extra HOT Lanes but enough money will be left over to pay for transit.

Those who are saying that the excess money is "not enough" for transit investments therefore HOT Lanes will be a failure are simply - again - not understanding the fundamental precept of HOT Lanes as a congestion management strategy.

The "extra" money is a "plus" perhaps but not the reason why you'd build them or not.

Funding transit is up to the people in NoVa to decide if they want to pay for transit.

You could do this at the farebox or you could have each jurisdiction raise property taxes and dedicate a certain amount towards transit or you could have a referenda, etc.

In other words - transit and mobility infrastructure is a regional question to be decided by the folks who live in the region and their leaders.

The fundamental purpose of HOT Lanes - here and in other places is modest - to attempt to manage congestion when you are out of space and money to build more roads.

This is not really rocket science.

it's a simply idea - really.

Conflating other issues of sprawl, global warming and what kind of transit you want or can afford (or not) - has little to do with the HOT Lane concept in and of itself.

Imagine that you are a leader in the region - trying to do your duty with regard to transportation - and you read this bog trying to see what the public wants and as a leader what you could do - what would be worth your efforts.

What would you see?

Well.. you'd see a lot of a lack of understand about the real purpose of HOT Lanes and how some folks will link totally unrelated things to the primary purpose.

The money from HOT Lanes does not belong to the transit advocates folks. The planners and leaders agreed to devote the monies that were possible to transit.

that does not translate to "if we don't get the other things we want - we're opposed to HOT Lanes".

by LarryG on Sep 16, 2010 6:22 am • linkreport

The other thing is that HOT Lanes will actually help reduce sprawl - because it will become more costly to commute.

It will help reduce solo car driving by motivating people to take carpools, buses, and rail - thus increasing the use of and demand for transit.

And from what I have seen - it will reduce pollution or do no worse than keep it level although Arlington is contesting that conclusion (for the I-95 HOT Lanes but not the beltway HOT Lanes) and suing to require a more detailed air analysis - primarily because they fear that allowing solo cars to pay tolls will result in increased cars ending on up Arlington's surface streets.

This potentially could have impacts on the way that HOT Lanes operate if the number of toll-paying solo cars are effectively capped - either by draconian tolls or just denied access when capacity is reached.

but as far as I know - the time for debating whether or not the beltway HOT Lanes should be built - is long gone.

The decision was made and construction is ongoing as we speak.

It's a done deal.

The I-95 HOT Lanes are not. They have been delayed by the lawsuit - and by the inability to secure adequate financing since the economy has plummeted.

And again - I do not think the HOT Lanes has anything at all to do with what is done or not done about METRO or other regional transit - with the exception of BRT use of the HOT Lanes - themselves.

Perhaps there are other facts involved that I've not seen ... fill me in.....

by LarryG on Sep 16, 2010 6:46 am • linkreport

The other thing is that HOT Lanes will actually help reduce sprawl - because it will become more costly to commute and the farther you commute - you more expensive it will become. That ought to have some effect on longer-distance commuting (i.e. living closer to where you work), carpooling, buses, rail, transit, etc.

In fact, I can't think of a better way to penalize driving and at the same time raise money for transit - which in the bigger scheme of things - ought to at the least trim the ever rising levels of pollution.

what's not to like?

by LarryG on Sep 16, 2010 7:15 am • linkreport

@MIchael; welcome to the wonderful world where we can tear up two years of work in five minutes. Amazing, isn't it? Although, to be fair, this was a complex report, David's summary was not his best, and I"l be honest, I gave up on page 20 of the real report.

Like many tolling advocates, I think you are underestimating the gas tax. Is it unpopular - yes. Is it unfair - no - I've never heard of someone filling up their lawn motor curse out the feds. What I do hear of lot of is complaints that gax tax money is being used for transit and biking, and that is a separate issue.

But just looking at the money, you site the CA lexus lanes. Last time I read about them, the private company sold out because they were a failure. If, under public ownership they are thriving that is great. But the geography is very different in LA, as are the commute patterns. I think we'll see that with the beltway toll lanes, which should be a colossal failure.

I'm glad to hear this was done by COG staff, and not consultants. But I'm sorry, this does seem more about building up a future consensus about tolling rather than a serious proposal.

by charlie on Sep 16, 2010 9:10 am • linkreport

the gas tax has not increased in over 20 years in most states and poll after poll shows about an 80% opposition to it.

3 cents of the Fed Gas tax goes to transit. The rest goes to non-transit...usually roads.

but none of this really addresses the fact that more roads and more road capacity in places like Washington are not physically possible or feasible anyhow.

You have a built-out network and growth, including the preferential use of solo autos - is increasing.

how do you want to preserve basic mobility in the region?

The planners took this path.

It's a long way from nirvana and there is much to dislike about it and yes... gaining consensus is not their strong point...

but again.. what are the feasible alternatives that planners should have included in their considered options?

I see a lot of disagreement here but I don't see a whole lot of viable alternatives being proffered.

How do we reach a consensus in that kind of environment?

by LarryG on Sep 16, 2010 9:18 am • linkreport

@charlie

But I'm sorry, this does seem more about building up a future consensus about tolling rather than a serious proposal.

It's not meant to be a serious proposal, it's a scenario planning study. The whole point is to be a big 'what if' exercise, where the results can then provide direction for future policy efforts.

From FHWA:

http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/planning/scenplan/index.htm

Scenario planning is an analytical tool that can help transportation professionals prepare for what lies ahead. Scenario planning provides a framework for developing a shared vision for the future by analyzing various forces (e.g., health, transportation, economic, environmental, land use, etc.) that affect growth. Scenario planning, which can be done at the statewide level or for metropolitan regions, tests various future alternatives that meet state and community needs.

by Alex B. on Sep 16, 2010 9:21 am • linkreport

@AlexB; sorry, my lobbying background may require me to see everything as a nail.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Overton_window

You see scenario planning, I see a public policy effort to build up support for tolling on federal parkways and highways. Not to mention the VA-DC bridges.

by charlie on Sep 16, 2010 9:28 am • linkreport

I'm not saying you're wrong, Charlie. Scenario planning is a tool used to inform strategic decisions. Take that as you will.

But that still doesn't make this a 'serious proposal.' It is not an implementable plan, nor does it even have the detail to be one - because that's not what it's supposed to do.

by Alex B. on Sep 16, 2010 9:32 am • linkreport

@charlie

I'm almost out of stuff to say about this. But first, I find it funny that you called me (more or less) a tolling advocate. Personally, I prefer the gas tax. It's simple, it's been in place for decades, it's easily enforcable, and there is some relationship between use of roads and the tax paid. (Much more than funding roads with sales taxes, but less than tolls.)

Not a tolling advocate, I'm a realist. Raising the gas tax will require a MAJOR shift in the thinking of modern Americans. We are a bunch of entitled brats who want everything for free. Until that changes, our current administrations are looking for public/private partnerships as the ONLY way to move forward, and that requires profit for the private partners, and that means tolls.

by Michael on Sep 16, 2010 10:09 am • linkreport

I'm at the same place that Michael is. Just pragmatic. So far - all the potential answers to funding transportation lead to opposition from the folks that want it. They don't want gas taxes, sales taxes, property taxes or tolls.

they want "free".

by LarryG on Sep 16, 2010 10:13 am • linkreport

@ Michael; I have to disagree with you on the optics of the gas tax; I don't think it is impossible or even unlikely. Northern Virginia was willing to raise a gas tax on itself. You forget there is a local, state and federal aspect to the "gas tax" so you're talking about three levels of play.

And in terms of public-private partnerships, which have been popular for the last 10 years, that was primarily a finance question. Private companies could raise capital and buy assets because they had a lower cost of capital. That won't be the case for the next 10 years, and tolling may not make sense for a public entity. Tolling seems to be 75% about funding and 25% about demand management, and the demand people usually overstate their case.

by charlie on Sep 16, 2010 10:17 am • linkreport

@charlie:

One of the biggest motivations for PPPs is that the private entity can depreciate their assets over time and use that as tax write-offs. There is no similar concept for public agencies to do so.

by Michael on Sep 16, 2010 10:22 am • linkreport

"We are a bunch of entitled brats who want everything for free."

Truer words have never been spoken, especially when it comes to transportation.

Michael mentioned the CA 91 express lanes, but they are not the only "successful" examples. Something more along the lines of what MWCOG is considering would be the HO/T lanes on I-394, and more recently I-35W South, in Minneapolis. To be fair, the I-394 lane was conversion of an existing HOV lane and not a brand new lane (which is what I-35W is), but providing a variably tolled lane, free for carpoolers and buses, with revenues going to support express bus service in the corridor, sounds very much like what MWCOG is considering with this scenario.

by Froggie on Sep 16, 2010 10:28 am • linkreport

@ Michael; ... because public entities don't pay taxes.

Which leads to the point that private companies are investing in these to

1) structure them as partnerships that participate in tax write offs -- and why is this a good thing?

2) Securitize the revenue streams and bundle them into other instruments, which are then used to hedge other (bad) investments

3) municipal bonds are mostly sold to individual investors, the demand for long terms bonds is institutional, and that mismatch is what creates the opportunity for private finance.

by charlie on Sep 16, 2010 10:38 am • linkreport

@charlie: I never said it was a good thing... Especially when it devolves into transit agencies selling their rail cars to private companies who then rent then back. Remember that fiasco?

by Michael on Sep 16, 2010 10:40 am • linkreport

@Michael; yep! I really wonder how much a dedicated gas tax is a curse. Better to take it in a general revenue and spend it as general revenue -- otherwise your get some very distorting projects because you have to divide it up among 50 states. And transit agencies that demand tax dollar but then sell tax breaks to others.

I'd rather see a federal gas tax turned into the "Build America Bonds" or something similar, which might be the start of a compromise position

by charlie on Sep 16, 2010 10:47 am • linkreport

One final note from me on this: David, thanks for your updates to the post. I'm curious, though, whether you actually believe anyone would really want the scenario to be implemented as it was developed? I don't know whether I'd want this scenario to come to light, even with all the regional transit. The success of the scenario is its illustration that our current tools are inadequate. And its failure is that it wasn't aspirational enough, exploring a future that really makes no one happy.

by Michael on Sep 16, 2010 10:48 am • linkreport

@charlie

We already have bonds that people can buy if they want to loan the government money.

The problem isn't that the gas tax doesn't work - it works great. The problem is that it hasn't been raised in 20+ years so the money that comes from it isn't enough to pay for the projects we need. The gas tax is a great idea - a user fee. If you use the roads more, you pay more into the system. Building infrastructure shouldn't rely on the charity of people to buy your "Build America" bonds.

The problem is that people have been sold a bill of goods, starting with Reagan, that we can have programs and infrastructure and all this stuff and we don't have to pay for it. So raising any kind of tax is a complete anathema to any politician.

by MLD on Sep 16, 2010 11:31 am • linkreport

@LarryG: Well.. you'd see a lot of a lack of understand about the real purpose of HOT Lanes and how some folks will link totally unrelated things to the primary purpose.

Come on. When we're deciding whether or not to do something, we should consider all of the effects and consequences and alternatives, not only those factors that you want considered. Would building a large network of toll roads (somewhat) reduce congestion? Probably. Does that mean that it is necessarily a good idea? No. There are a lot of reasons it might not be good public policy even if it achieves that narrow goal. There's no reason people can't engage in that discussion, and it doesn't imply a "lack of understanding" of your "purpose".

by David desJardins on Sep 16, 2010 11:35 am • linkreport

@ MLD; you are missing the point about municipal bonds and individual investors -- the mismatch is the market. And if you spend general revenue (like the stimulus) on roads, the transit people get all bitchy.

I agree with you on the gas tax, and the raises we are talking about are minimal. There is some point that increasing CAFE requirements will reduce the amount of gas sold, if you look at the EIA numbers you can see how much gasoline is NOT being sold right now. Push that forward 20 years and perhaps the gas tax is not workable when CAFE requires us to have 60MPG cars.

by charlie on Sep 16, 2010 11:36 am • linkreport

@david - re: " Come on. When we're deciding whether or not to do something, we should consider all of the effects and consequences and alternatives, not only those factors that you want considered. "

not true! I think the discussion is what is needed and I've specifically asked for other alternatives to be presented.

there is no question that tolls can be used to manage congestion though.

there is also no question that Northern Va localities already have the ability to levy an additional income tax if the proceeds go to transportation but it requires referenda approval and has never been presented. Are you so sure that it would be approved? I'm not.

The gas tax is not allowed at the local/regional level. They've been trying to get that approval but no luck.

Want so more info about the gas tax (and other potential regional taxes and their revenues( for Nova? Look here:

http://www.nvta.org/content.asp?contentid=1188

this is the KIND of INFO that is lacking in the discussions and people argue from ... well.. from ignorance... they don't know.

you may notice that a one penny NoVa gas tax generates about 10 million a year. Can you appreciate how much money that is NOT when it comes to transportation costs?

If order for NoVa to generate 100 million a year (which is what ONE MILE of the ICC cost) - you'd have to:

1. - get permission from the General Assembly and they'd likely require a regional referenda

2. - put a 10 cent additional tax per gallon

check out the other funding options.. they're interesting.

You may also notice that 1% tax on gasoline (which automatically indexes - a good thing) will bring in 3 times as much 28 million. That would.. indeed...amount to the equivalent of 3 cents a gallon.

But even if you brought this money in - you could not spend it on capacity-adding roadways because of your non-attainment status.

You could spent it on more HOV/HOT and/or bottleneck reductions, congestion mitigation or transit..

..that's assuming that you get permission from the GA AND from referenda.

.. sounds like a long, long shot to me... but I'll admit it IS an option.

I'm all in favor of the dialog and other alternatives.. I think it is healthy and I think it is what is needed if citizens are going to better understand and moves towards an informed consensus.

what's lacking right now is that most folks are pretty ignorant of the facts. I don't say that disparagingly but more along the lines that we are all ignorant - only on different subjects but when it comes to transportation - citizens are not very well informed of the facts - whereas the planners are painfully aware of them and the tough choices that are available.

by LarryG on Sep 16, 2010 12:32 pm • linkreport

But even if you brought this money in - you could not spend it on capacity-adding roadways because of your non-attainment status.

Not true. The "non-attainment" status has not stopped capacity-adding from occurring in the region. Nor would the tax options you present be applicable unless Federal funding was added to the mix.

by Froggie on Sep 16, 2010 12:36 pm • linkreport

@froggie:

" The Washington, DC Metropolitan area is a “serious” non-attainment area for ozone, and a moderate non-attainment area for carbon monoxide. "

http://www.fta.dot.gov/publications/reports/reports_to_congress/planning_environment_3190.html

" SOVCAP (Single Occupancy Vehicle Capacity Adding Project) – a transportation project which significantly increases the carrying capacity of a roadway. This includes new facilities (a new roadway or bypass, a new interchange, ramps that add missing moves at a previously incomplete interchange, an access road, new bridge, or new connector) or the addition of new, general-purpose lanes to an existing facility. Exempt from this definition, and consequently exempt from CMP review, is any project that adds less than one lane-mile of general-purpose roadway. Also exempt are realignments which replace rather than supplement previous roadways for through traffic, turning lanes, acceleration/deceleration lanes, climbing lanes, bridge replacements, widening without adding new travel lanes, and facilities that are primarily for use by modes other than SOVs (such as bus lanes, HOV lanes, truck lanes, and bicycle and pedestrian facilities). In areas that are considered to be in non-attainment for air quality, a SOVCAP may not receive federal funding beyond the preliminary engineering phase unless consistency with the regional CMP has been demonstrated "

http://www.spcregion.org/trans_cong_gloss.shtml

but even if this were not true WHERE would you put new regional capacity-adding roads and how would you pay for them?

The ICC is the last major new road built in the area and it is costing 100 million a mile and will be tolled - and the toll will not be enough to pay for it so Maryland is raising the toll on other toll roads to subsidize it.

I've not seen a single "build more capacity-adding roads" in Washington from not a single advocacy group nor a plan for paying for it... where are those proposals?

by LarryG on Sep 16, 2010 12:48 pm • linkreport

@froggie: " Nor would the tax options you present be applicable unless Federal funding was added to the mix."

not sure what you mean by this... can you explain?

by LarryG on Sep 16, 2010 12:49 pm • linkreport

@LarryG: I think the discussion is what is needed and I've specifically asked for other alternatives to be presented.

I presented two better alternatives: encourage telecommuting, and move more jobs to where people live. And then you complained that we were "missing the point", and that "climate change" is "totally unrelated" to the question of building more (toll) roads. No, I'm sorry, it's as directly related as you can get.

Induced usage means you're always going to have congestion. Build more roads, you'll have more traffic, and congestion. Build fewer roads, you'll have less traffic, and congestion. The question isn't, congestion or no congestion. The question is, do we want policies that result in lots more people driving around destroying the environment.

by David desJardins on Sep 16, 2010 1:27 pm • linkreport

@Charlie; I agree that there may be a more optimal solution to having everyone ride the orange line. However, spending money to improve something that isn't necessarily broken is not ideal given limited resources. I think Baily's Crossroads would be a good candidate for BRT given the high density of of both residential and office space. I'm thinking rerouting the light blue to start to the south west of the beltway (Braddock Rd?) and run Baily's Crossroads would be a huge improvement over current traffic patterns.

by OddNumber on Sep 16, 2010 2:03 pm • linkreport

Can anyone tell me why there are no buses that go across the American Legion or Wilson Bridges?? If they installed highway bus depots on the beltway at Dunn Loring and Grosvenor and Eisenhower Ave/Branch Ave, I bet there would be a LOT of people that would take that mode of transit from VA to MD and vice versa. Anyone know why this can't be done??

by Matt Glazewski on Sep 16, 2010 2:13 pm • linkreport

Congestion pricing of highways is a good idea in general, and many people here have taken this concept in many thoughtful, creative directions.

The Beltway HOT Lanes were/are a REALLY, REALLY bad contract - corporate welfare at its finest.

If all the other proposed HOT lanes contracts are written the same way as the beltway one, we as taxpayers are in a heap of trouble.

by stevek_fairfax on Sep 17, 2010 3:35 am • linkreport

@stevek_fairfax - Can you give some specifics and compare to other HOT Lane contracts or is it some other aspect?

by LarryG on Sep 17, 2010 4:59 am • linkreport

@LarryG
I wrote a 3 part series on this website detailing the contract with links to it as well,
http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post.cgi?id=4041

http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post.cgi?id=4102

by stevek_fairfax on Sep 17, 2010 9:59 am • linkreport

@stevek - re: " This penalty doesn't apply if Fluor-Transurban makes a 12.98% profit, but the more drivers carpool, the less likely it is they will make that profit."

I assume you are aware that this is not a unique arrangement. For instance, Virginia has similar agreements with Dominion Power and other utilities.

It takes a billion+ to add new lanes. Virginia does not have the billion nor can they borrow it without affecting their AAA rating - right?

So.. the private sector is going to put together a proposal to attract investors - who are not likely to invest unless they get a reasonable return on their investment.

I don't think this is unusual for these kinds of projects.

Even if the state ends up paying a penalty which is unlikely, it's still a bargain because they not having to spend 10-20 times that much to add additional capacity.

If this was done as a VDOT project - it would require a tax increase on NoVa or Statewide (not going to happen).

VDOT did a toll project in Richmond called the Pocahontas Parkway and they missed the traffic projections so badly that the project almost went into default and would have hur the State's credit rating.

Right, wrong, or indifferent - VDOT made an agreement with Transurban to take over the project and they did and refinanced it for an 80 or 90 year payback.

DOTs like VDOT - don't have the financial expertise to properly analyze how much toll can be charged verses how many folks will use the road.

When VDOT and other DOTs estimate traffic for toll roads, they are usually way off - often coming up with double the estimates that private industry comes up with - in part - because private investors are much more particular about the risk factor and who takes a bath if the traffic projections are off.

Even with the private sector - it's more of an art than a science and is still maturing....

but ... I don't think the contract they signed - at least this particular aspect is that unusual. I doubt that private investors would have been attracted without it.

by LarryG on Sep 17, 2010 11:41 am • linkreport

I assume you are aware that this is not a unique arrangement. For instance, Virginia has similar agreements with Dominion Power and other utilities.

electrons=humans?

It takes a billion+ to add new lanes. Virginia does not have the billion nor can they borrow it without affecting their AAA rating - right?

VA borrowed more money than anyone else involved in the project.

So.. the private sector is going to put together a proposal to attract investors - who are not likely to invest unless they get a reasonable return on their investment.

so we as taxpayers are responsible for sweetheart deals so corporations make a profit? seems reasonable.

I don't think this is unusual for these kinds of projects.

yes, contracts like blackwater and haliburton (and now Fluer) happen all the time.

Even if the state ends up paying a penalty which is unlikely, it's still a bargain because they not having to spend 10-20 times that much to add additional capacity.

it is likely they will pay penalties - it is all but certain. state would have paid the same price to build it. the state pretty much did in fact pay to build it.

If this was done as a VDOT project - it would require a tax increase on NoVa or Statewide (not going to happen).

80% state and federally funded. we ARE paying a tax increase for it.

VDOT did a toll project in Richmond called the Pocahontas Parkway and they missed the traffic projections so badly that the project almost went into default and would have hur the State's credit rating.

proves my point - roads are not profitable to build. they are infrastructure loss leaders so that commerce may function.

Right, wrong, or indifferent - VDOT made an agreement with Transurban to take over the project and they did and refinanced it for an 80 or 90 year payback.

it was wrong.

DOTs like VDOT - don't have the financial expertise to properly analyze how much toll can be charged verses how many folks will use the road.

govt DOTS operate toll roads all over the country just fine.

by stevek_fairfax on Sep 18, 2010 8:55 am • linkreport


I assume you are aware that this is not a unique arrangement. For instance, Virginia has similar agreements with Dominion Power and other utilities.
electrons=humans?

perhaps... but who you going to vote out and who is "you"? that's not realistic is it?

It takes a billion+ to add new lanes. Virginia does not have the billion nor can they borrow it without affecting their AAA rating - right?

VA borrowed more money than anyone else involved in the project.

I'm not sure Va actually borrowed any money...

So.. the private sector is going to put together a proposal to attract investors - who are not likely to invest unless they get a reasonable return on their investment.

so we as taxpayers are responsible for sweetheart deals so corporations make a profit? seems reasonable.

depends on what you call "sweetheart" I guess... but this particular arrangement is not rare nor unusual and it's been policy in Va with regard to Dominion Power for decades and I don't see anyone voted out of office over it.

I don't think this is unusual for these kinds of projects.

yes, contracts like blackwater and haliburton (and now Fluer) happen all the time.

maybe... but comparing highways to foreign policy is a stretch.

did you complain when they take your gas tax and spend it on transit?

Even if the state ends up paying a penalty which is unlikely, it's still a bargain because they not having to spend 10-20 times that much to add additional capacity.

it is likely they will pay penalties - it is all but certain. state would have paid the same price to build it. the state pretty much did in fact pay to build it.

the "penalties" are only if they don't make their guaranteed profit - guy - just like Dominion. In both cases, the specifics of how they recover their investments are specified in the contract.

The State - simply does not have the financial resources or expertise to build it.

The State also has to contend with other major areas like Hampton Roads and their infrastructure - and likely will opt for public-private lanes in that case also.

Why not have NoVa do this? I'm sure the State would love for ya'll to take responsibility for your region.

If this was done as a VDOT project - it would require a tax increase on NoVa or Statewide (not going to happen).

80% state and federally funded. we ARE paying a tax increase for it.

much of it is LOANS from TIFIA - not free money.

VDOT did a toll project in Richmond called the Pocahontas Parkway and they missed the traffic projections so badly that the project almost went into default and would have hur the State's credit rating.

proves my point - roads are not profitable to build. they are infrastructure loss leaders so that commerce may function.

by definition - they are, as the TPB study said a "free good" but toll roads are the standard across the world now because the best user fee is the one where you pay for each trip - not one where you pay a tax and expect 10 times as much in return than you paid.

Right, wrong, or indifferent - VDOT made an agreement with Transurban to take over the project and they did and refinanced it for an 80 or 90 year payback.

it was wrong.

it's fairly common now days since 80% of the population is opposed to increases in gas taxes. you make your choices.

DOTs like VDOT - don't have the financial expertise to properly analyze how much toll can be charged verses how many folks will use the road.

govt DOTS operate toll roads all over the country just fine.

not true. The vast, vast majority are toll road authorities, not DOTs.

DOTs are notorious inefficient operators of toll roads.

VDOT still has toll booths on the Powhite Parkway while private toll roads are all electronic without toll booths, without state employees, etc.

The sentiment you express - (I think) is that somehow you think it would be better if the State built and operated a TOLL ROAD - as opposed (I think) to opposition to any kind of toll road.

I think that's an arguable point though my view is that govt will likely muck it up rather than do it better.

If you believe that NoVa via the MWCOG or TPB (the MPO) could operate a region-wide toll authority BETTER then why not advocate that approach to your elected?

The Fredericksburg MPO got permission from the state to put a toll road in it's region. I'm sure NoVa could ask for and receive a similar deal.

I think arguing FOR something is always easier anyhow than arguing AGAINST it.

by LarryG on Sep 18, 2010 9:34 am • linkreport

re: " infrastructure loss leaders so that commerce may function."

who pays? and how do you get them to pay if 80% are opposed to paying?

you said "elections".. I say "elections".

when 80% are opposed to an increase in gas tax - politicians don't fall on their swords....

so the next option is tolls....

as a region - NoVa can have a huge say in what happens.

The study from the TPB suggests region-wide toll roads.

If you support that but not the involvement of Fluor/Transurban and instead want a NoVa-operated toll road authority - I'm pretty sure the General Assembly will likely grant that - because it gets them off the hook for increasing taxes at the state level (and a majority of the GA is from rural localities who do not need roads like NoVa does - and do not want to pay for them either).

This is NoVa's problem and NoVa's responsibility. Blaming others is just irresponsible in my view.

Take responsibility for the traffic congestion that you and your fellow NoVa citizens generate. Do not expect someone else to come in and do it for you. When you do that - someone else will do it the way that suits them - not you.

You can do it your way but not by blaming others.

by LarryG on Sep 18, 2010 9:41 am • linkreport

@LarryG

The FLuor/Transurban contract was a bad one, and I think I outlined the reasons why pretty well in the article I wrote for GGW - not going to repeat them all again here. That's all I'm saying.

And yes, an elected or gov appointed "Northern VA Regional Toll Authority" (or better yet a Potomac Area Regional Toll Authority) would be a great first step.

by stevek_fairfax on Sep 18, 2010 11:42 am • linkreport

I won't argue the contract point but would ask for those who think it is bad to show it in comparison with ones they think are "good" that are similar - i.e. private not public.

If the complaint is that public is better than private - in general - that's definitely a subjective thing but I'd agree that there is validity to differing opinions.

NoVa seems to be more inclined to pay more money for roads and transit though I've never seen a poll. One that was taken in Hampton Roads showed a 2-1 preference for tolls over taxes ....fuel or sales..

The TPB is actively trying to gage public attitudes towards a region-wide toll network... if there is support for it but as a NoVa toll authority rather than private - one would hope that enough people weigh in on it and that TPB "gets it" and proceeds accordingly.

by LarryG on Sep 18, 2010 1:11 pm • linkreport

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