Posts about VDOT
The east end of Columbia Pike in Arlington already looks quite different after the 70-year-old Navy Annex was torn down last year, but it may change even more under a proposed 3-way land swap between Arlington County, the Department of Defense, and the Commonwealth of Virginia.
The swap envisions realigning Columbia Pike, removing the old Southgate Road, building a new Southgate Road, and completely reworking the Columbia Pike-Washington Boulevard interchange.
Arlington National Cemetery is running out of land for additional burials. That is largely driving this deal, which will give the cemetery more contiguous land, but it also means beneficial changes for the transportation network.
While the exact parcels have not been fully identified, the swap will likely mostly resemble the map above. The cemetery will get the green area, consisting of old Navy Annex land, the former Southgate Road and former Columbia Pike, South Joyce Street, and portions of the Columbia Pike-Washington Boulevard cloverleaf interchange.
The yellow area will go to Arlington for a proposed Freedmen's Village museum and other public uses. The blue area is DoD property that used to house a gas station and the purple is part of the current cloverleaf.
Columbia Pike gets straightened out and rebuilt. The new portion of Columbia Pike would include 4 general-purpose lanes and a sidewalk on the south side. A 10-foot sidepath on the north side would connect with a similar sidepath planned for this section of Columbia Pike.
The cloverleaf with Route 27 would become a more compact diamond interchange. A new Southgate Road would connect Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall to Columbia Pike by a shorter route than the road today.
An earlier land swap proposal was authorized in 2008 which would not have realigned the Pike. It would have simply swapped the county's Southgate Road right-of-way for a similarly-sized piece of the Navy Annex, but it was tabled in 2012.
Arlington and the federal government signed a new memorandum of understanding in 2013, and authority to make the swap recently appeared in the proposed Department of Defense appropriations bill.
Reader Nacim encountered a strange pedestrian tunnel in Alexandria, under the railroad tracks near the Eisenhower Avenue Metro station.
I had to walk to a strip mall in Alexandria to take care of some bureaucratic errands. Google told me this was the most direct path.According to contributor Chris Slatt, the tunnel is indeed a real pedestrian passage, currently maintained by the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT). Slatt says the tunnel was supposed to be decommissioned when VDOT rebuilt Telegraph Road. This project included a new sidewalk over the train tracks that also provides a path for pedestrians.
I was skeptical of it so only took that route on my way back (went from King St at first) and here's what the inside looks like.
I wasn't trespassing or anything; you can tell that the entrances on either side make it look at least like an "official" passage. The sidewalks on either side are well maintained and don't peter out before this tunnel, and there are well-built stairs leading to it. As you can see from the Google map links, this tunnel is the most direct route to cross the railroad tracks.
Admittedly, it was kind of cool navigating those platforms.
But VDOT has apparently changed its mind or hasn't gotten around to closing it yet, because the tunnel is still open. It's not always the best or most attractive option when walking (nor is it easy to navigate if you have a disability).
It is still a good shortcut that requires fewer at-grade crossings for many people compared to Telegraph Road. Jonathon Krall, another contributor and a member of Alexandria's Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, contacted VDOT to ask whether the agency has decided to keep it open or when it will go away. So far we haven't received a response.
Virginia legislators are considering a bill that would repair preserve nearly 300 miles of unpaved roads in western Loudoun County. While it may not seem relevant to the state's urban areas, it would make the state consider more than cars in assessing the needs of a street.
HB 416, sponsored by Delegate Randy Minchew (R-Leesburg), requires the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) to maintain Loudoun's unpaved road network, many of which date to before the Civil War. The roads are narrow and some feature old stone walls or are steeply banked. But some are still heavily used and have become badly rutted, frustrating residents who otherwise prefer unpaved roads.
If passed, it means VDOT would have to consider more than just the movement of cars when assessing the needs of these roads. Notably, the bill also asks that VDOT maintain the roads as is "whenever practicable," rather than paving, straightening, or widening the road.
Unpaved roads in Loudoun County.
In this case, the bill is aimed at keeping roads that already demand careful driving the way they are. But the unpaved road network also adds to the value of rural communities. People enjoy the aesthetics of the road and don't want to give that up in exchange for pavement and a slightly faster commute.
This supports Loudoun County's policy as well, since officials want most of development to go to the eastern half of the county closer to Dulles Airport, allowing the rest to remain rural. It also helps the county support its growing agritourism industry.
Recreational cyclists appreciate the gravel roads as well. "Gravel Grinders" are cycling enthusiasts who like riding on unpaved roads. Blogger DKEG has a self-made map of many of Loudoun's unpaved roads that any cyclist in the DC area could enjoy.
The proposed new standards are a tacit acknowledgement that people in rural and more car-dependent areas also appreciate calmer streets, and that wider or faster isn't always better. Communities can make drivers more mindful of their surroundings by narrowing or removing lanes, but in this case the roads are already narrow. It's great that Virginia and Loudoun County want to keep it that way.
As Virginia's legislative session continues, House Republicans are still trying to take local planning authority from Northern Virginia cities and counties. Two bicycle safety bills have moved forward. And Hampton Roads may get a regional transportation authority of its own.
Bike bills seek to prevent "dooring"
Two bicycle safety bills have passed the Senate and are heading to the House of Delegates, including a bill that would require three feet of clearance when passing a cyclist. Another bill, Senate Bill 225, codifies that a car driver or passenger must ensure that the road is clear before opening their car door into traffic. And the House of Delegates passed HB 82, which specified that non-motorized transportation was included in the law that prohibits drivers following too closely.
However, two road safety bills that would have clarified a driver's duties to pedestrians in crosswalks were defeated in the House.
Delegates rewrite bill stripping Northern Virginia's ability to plan for itself
In our last update, we talked about HB 2, which would reduce Northern Virginia's ability to plan its own transportation projects. It's been significantly rewritten to put transit projects on more equal footing with roads and highways.
It will allow the state to evaluate projects on economic development, safety, accessibility, and environmental quality in addition to congestion relief, which would have been the only factor under the previous bill.
Meanwhile, HB 426, from Chantilly Republican Jim LeMunyon, has been tabled. It called for a "study" of transportation options on I-66 that only included more lanes for cars. It's unlikely that it will come up again this year.
But Delegate LeMunyon did get a House Bill 793 out of committee. That bill would have VDOT recommend specific transportation projects to the groups that plan these projects in Northern Virginia. Bills like this want to ensure that there's always someone advocating for highway projects that local governments may have already said they are not interested in. And this one violates the spirit of last year's transportation bill, which allowed Northern Virginia counties to plan for more public transportation solutions to congestion rather than pursuing a strategy that only focuses on newer and wider roads.
Another bill that we covered and is aimed at pushing a transportation solution that local counties may not want is House Bill 1244 from Delegate Tom Rust (R-Herndon), which would study and likely advocate for another highway crossing of the Potomac River as part of the Outer Beltway. It's been referred to the appropriations committee.
And HB 957, which would delay giving the state more control over VRE's executive board, passed the House. The bill initially called for repeal but this delay means that repeal can be considered again next year.
Good news for red-light cameras, Hampton Roads
The Hampton Roads area may soon be getting a local transportation planning authority similar to the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority with HB 1253, which has moved out of committee. This may be a benefit to Northern Virginia since such a group could bolster the argument that transportation decisions can be answered effectively by local governments.
Meanwhile, House Bill 973, which would have repealed localities' authority to install red light cameras, has been defeated.
We'll keep you updated on what happens to these bills.
Over the next two weeks, you can learn about plans for transit on I-66 and for meters on the Mall, speak up on WMATA's budget and the DC zoning update, and see a play with us in Arlington.
Come see Clybourne Park with us: Join us to go see Clybourne Park, an award-winning play about gentrification in Chicago, this Sunday, February 9. We'll have an open discussion with the show's director, the cast, and some GGW contributors after the show.
The show begins at 2:30 pm at the Thomas Jefferson Community Center, located at 125 South Old Glebe Road in Arlington. The theater is about a mile from the Ballston and Virginia Square Metro stations and accessible by Metrobus routes 10B, 23A, 23C, and 4A, or ART route 41. Purchase tickets here.
Talk about parking meters on the Mall: The National Park Service has plans to help fund a new Circulator bus route by adding parking meters to free parking on the National Mall. On February 11, NPS will hold a public meeting to discuss the parking meter proposal at the NPS National Capital Region Headquarters Cafeteria, at 1100 Ohio Drive SW beginning at 6 pm.
See the future of White Flint: Montgomery County wants to transform Rockville Pike from a suburban strip to a new downtown. Hear how the county's working with property owners, local businesses, and residents to make it happen during a lunch talk with Lindsay Hoffman, executive director of community organization Friends of White Flint.
The event is this Wednesday, February 5 from 12:30 to 1:30 pm at the National Building Museum, 401 F Street NW. The talk is free, but you need to register.
Last chance to speak out on DC's zoning update: The last round of public hearings on a rewrite of DC's 50-year-old zoning code begin this Saturday, February 8 and continue throughout the week. Interested in testifying? Attend the meeting for your ward and speak your mind. The hearings are first come, first served, so be sure to sign up early. The Coalition for Smarter Growth has a guide for signing up here.
The ward-by-ward schedule is below:
- Wards 1 & 2: Thursday, February 13 at 6:00 pm, DC Housing Finance Authority building, 815 Florida Avenue NW.
- Wards 3 & 4: Tuesday, February 11 at 6:00 pm, Wilson High School Auditorium, 3950 Chesapeake Street NW.
- Wards 5 & 6: Saturday, February 8 at 9:00 am, Dunbar High School Auditorium, 101 N Street NW.
- Wards 7 & 8: Wednesday February 12th at 6:00 pm, Dept. of Employment Services, 4058 Minnesota Avenue NE.
The schedule of remaining hearings is below. All meetings begin at 6 pm with an information session, followed by the hearing at 6:30 pm:
- Monday, February 3: Matthews Memorial Baptist Church, 2616 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE in DC, two blocks from Anacostia (Green Line).
- Tuesday, February 4: Montgomery County Executive Office Building, 101 Monroe Street in Rockville, two blocks from Rockville (Red Line).
- Wednesday, February 5: Arlington Central Library, 1015 North Quincy Street in Arlington, three blocks from Virginia Square (Orange Line).
- Thursday, February 6: Metro headquarters, 600 5th Street NW in DC, two blocks from Gallery Place-Chinatown (Red, Green, and Yellow lines).
Improve transit options on I-66: The Virginia Department of Transportation is exploring options to improve transit on I-66 in Fairfax and Prince William counties. They will be holding a public meeting to talk about the results of their recent environmental impact study and share ideas and suggestions for transit improvements. The second and final meeting is
tomorrow, February 4 Wednesday, February 5 at 6:30 pm. It will be held at the Wyndham Garden Hotel, at 10800 Vandor Lane in Manassas.
As the Virginia legislative session continues, lawmakers in Richmond have agreed to remove the hybrid car tax, and successfully defeated an attempt to take away Northern Virginia's ability to plan and fund its own transportation projects. But several destructive bills, including one that could force the state to widen I-66 in Arlington, are still on the table.
Hybrid car tax poised for repeal
Several lawmakers introduced bills to repeal a tax on the sale of hybrid cars, which the state passed last year. One such bill has now passed both houses and Governor Terry McAuliffe says he will sign it.
The original bill's justification was to make sure that hybrid car owners who use less gas, and thus pay less in gas taxes, still contribute to maintaining state roads. But its critics contend that the $64 tax is an inefficient way to make up for the lost revenue and unfairly punished hybrid drivers who are helping the environment by using less gas.
Attempts to limit Northern Virginia's choices narrow
Legislators have tabled several bills that sought to restrict the power of the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA), which selects and funds transportation projects in that area. Instead, Republicans want Richmond to decide what gets built there, especially if it involves widening and building new highways.
Meanwhile, House Bill 658, sponsored by David LaRock (R-Sterling), would limit "transit, rail, and public transportation" to get at most 25% of Northern Virgnia's transportation funds. Not only is that an arbitrary standard, but it ignores how transit is already moving people and reducing highway congestion.
This proposal could prevent good transit projects from happening. If the region wants to ramp up a major new Metrorail, light rail, streetcar, or bus rapid transit project and spend more in one year than another, this cap would severely limit that ability. Besides, Northern Virginia should be able to choose how much to spend on different transportation priorities as it sees fit.
Bill would rate transportation projects on "congestion reduction"
Meanwhile, the legislature is still debating HB 2, which would require that the state pick transportation projects based on how much they are "expected to provide the greatest congestion reduction relative to cost." This relies on defining congestion solely as how many cars can move through an area, which automatically puts public transit at a disadvantage.
By its very nature, transit doesn't involve moving cars, and often requires a higher initial investment than a road project of comparable size. This proposal also ignores the ancillary benefits of transit, like lower pollution and the ability to tie transportation to land use, which can reduce overall car trips and conserve land.
"Study" bills push wasteful highway projects
A few bills require the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) to conduct studies of highway projects their authors really want to see built. HB 426, by Jim LeMunyon (R-Chantilly) demands a study of adding extra lanes (that aren't subject to HOV restrictions) on I-66 inside the Beltway in Arlington and Falls Church.
The original bill would have forced the I-66 widening to be part of VDOT's capital plan. LeMunyon changed it to only require a study, which means that even if it passes, it wouldn't necessarily mean the project happens. However, once a study gets finished, it's a lot easier for a sympathetic future administration to turn it into reality, and gives project supporters something concrete to push for.
The language doesn't allow VDOT to consider any sort of transit alternative to widening the highway, even though there is a rapid transit option, the Orange Line, literally running down the middle. It already assumes that the only solution for I-66 is more lanes for cars. Besides, VDOT already studied widening I-66, and the results show that general purpose lanes are not effective, while HOV, managed toll lanes and express bus perform better.
Another bill, HB 1244 by Thomas Rust (R-Fairfax) would push forward on studies to build an Outer Beltway with new bridges over the Potomac outside the Beltway. This would stimulate more car-dependent sprawl on what is now rural land at the region's edge.
Maryland opposes the idea, in order to protect its rural land in Montgomery's Agricultural Reserve and Charles County in southern Maryland. It instead wants to add capacity, for transit or cars, on the American Legion Bridge between Potomac and McLean, and is widening the Route 301 Henry Nice Bridge south of Washington. Despite this, former Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton initiated a study about potential new bridge locations. HB 1244 would make VDOT take the results of that study and recommend specific options.
Things are still very busy in Richmond. We are seeing the effects of local debates regarding Northern Virginia's transportation future reverberate at the state capitol just as hotly as they were contested back home. Bills rise and fall very quickly in the Virginia legislature, and we will keep you up to date on what is happening.
A consortium of Virginia schools will soon start testing vehicles in Fairfax County that can talk to each other and their surroundings. But what will "connected vehicles" (CV) really mean for transportation and urbanism?
Researchers have attached tracking equipment to light poles and other roadside infrastructure in and around Merrifield, including stretches of I-66, Lee Highway, and Route 50. The roadside equipment will communicate with devices about the size of an E-ZPass installed in 12 "connected vehicles," including a bus, semi-truck, cars, and motorcycles.
The devices collect data such as acceleration, braking, and curve handling. Researchers hope that the new system will dramatically reduce highway crashes, increase fuel efficiency, and improve air quality.
"The intersection can say 'there is snow happening right here,'" explains Gabrielle Laskey of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. Conversely, if a connected car were to experience a loss of traction, it would relay that information to the roadside devices so authorities would know the precise location of hazardous conditions.
The research will focus on ways to improve both safety and mobility. "If we can detect initial braking, we can slow vehicles down and message the driver, saying something like 'Slow traffic ahead. Reduce speed to 45 mph' or 'Left lane closed ahead; merge right,'" said VDOT Spokesperson Cathy McGhee.
Study will involve area drivers and "regular" cars
The CV technology will go further than the Active Traffic Management System of overhead dynamic signs VDOT will soon install on I-66. The CV system "can give information directly to the driver and provide an additional level of information," said McGhee.
Although the CV roadside equipment is already in place in Merrifield, the connected vehicles are undergoing final road testing on the Virginia test track in Blacksburg. In January, those vehicles plus another 50 operated by VDOT will roll out on Merrifield highways.
In the spring, researchers will seek out drivers of an additional 200 "regular" vehicles through ads on Craigslist and in the Washington Post. Their cars will receive communication devices similar to test vehicles' which will notify drivers verbally or by tone through a GPS-sized display. Drivers who volunteer for the program will not need specialized driving skills. "We want to use na´ve participants and make these devices as useful and available as a cell phone," says Laskey.
Over the next couple of years, a consortium of research institutions consisting of Virginia Tech, the University of Virginia, and Morgan State University will conduct 19 separate CV research studies, about half of which will have components in the Merrifield test bed, at a projected cost of $14 million.
One study looks at road signs that can switch from "yield" to "stop," depending on conditions. Another examines how to dim or shut off roadway lighting when it is not needed. And a study in Baltimore involves the use of smart phones and looks at safety and congestion issues related to public transit, transit passengers, pedestrians, and bicyclists.
The new CV technology can also work in conjunction with some current safety systems which use video to "see" non-connected items, such as a pedestrian in a crosswalk, then alert the connected vehicle. The system helps connected vehicles operate on the roadways before a fully connected or automated roadway system exists.
How will CV influence our transportation network?
CV technology could change the way we use and design our streets. Since connected vehicles will alert drivers to imminent collisions, CV technology is expected to drop the crash rate at least by 50 percent, according Thomas Dingus, director of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, which is coordinating the public-private venture.
Connected vehicles will be able to safely travel much closer together than cars can today, vastly improving the efficiency of existing highway infrastructure. At the CV system's public debut on June 6, Governor McDonnell noted that the technology "could do as much to help alleviate congestion as the building or widening of new highways."
Researchers say CV technology could be in widespread use within five years, which Virginia and Maryland should keep in mind as they decide how to spend billions in new transportation funding. Cars traveling closer together will require less space, so road widenings might not be necessary. On already wide streets, the extra space could be used for bike lanes, sidewalks, or landscaping. Building smaller streets not only costs less, but it frees up room for buildings and open space, making communities more compact and preserving land.
If you'd like to learn more about connected vehicles, USDOT is holding a public meeting in Arlington from September 24 to 26. The agenda includes information about the CV safety program and the Intelligent Transportation Systems Strategic Plan for 2015 to 2019.
Why not let buses drive on highway shoulders to get around congestion? According to a regional task force, that can be done, and it does often work, but it's not quite as simple as putting a sign up and saying "let's do it".
With pressure mounting to stretch dollars and improve mobility, creative ideas like putting buses on shoulders are getting more attention. Maryland is considering the concept on I-270 and MD-5, and Virginia hopes to have a pilot project on I-66 in Arlington by 2014.
These would add to the handful of locations around the DC region where buses are already allowed to use the shoulder. The most notable example is the Dulles Access Highway inside the Beltway.
The main complicating issue is that highway shoulders are usually too narrow and not free enough from obstructions to immediately open them up to buses. Interstate highway standards call for 9-foot shoulders, but you need at least 10 feet for a bus, and really 11 feet is preferable. So a typical highway shoulder will have to be beefed up in order to be used as a bus lane.
That's a lot easier, and cheaper, than just about anything else you could do. But it's still a construction project that needs to be planned and funded.
Minneapolis has an extensive network of over 300 miles of shoulder bus lanes on highways. But it's taken them over 20 years to get there. They have a continuous program that adds a few miles each year. They started with the low-hanging fruit, and have worked up to more complicated stretches.
That's the idea behind Virginia's pilot project on I-66. At first, the section allowing buses will be short. It won't be a busway so much as a spot where buses can jump ahead of a queue of cars. But over time VDOT could lengthen the segment and provide a larger benefit.
For safety reasons, buses are usually only permitted to go 35 miles per hour when using shoulders. Still, that's enough to get by the worst congestion. If traffic is moving faster than that, buses just stay in the regular lanes.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
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