Posts about Roads
M-83, also known as Midcounty Highway Extended, is an environmental calamity that will cost hundreds of millions. Yet Montgomery County continues to pursue its construction. Will county leaders consider a transit alternative to a new highway?
When Montgomery County planners put M-83 on the master plan of highways in the early 1960s, the county's population was 340,000. DC's streetcars had recently gone away. And highways were the future of transportation. Today, the county population is one million, DC is about to bring back the streetcar, and highway removal is common. But M-83, the county's zombie highway, is still around.
This Thursday, the Planning Board will review alternatives for the proposed highway between Gaithersburg and Clarksburg. But planning staff recommends that they ask the Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) to study a transit alternative as well, and remove the alternative with the most property takings.
Highway laid out according to 1960s standards
Midcounty Highway was supposed to be an 8.7-mile, limited access, four to six lane highway east of Route 355, connecting the planned corridor cities of Gaithersburg, Germantown, and Clarksburg. The county has built the southern end, a 3-mile divided highway between Shady Grove Road and Montgomery Village Avenue in Gaithersburg. And developers recently built the northern end, called Snowden Farm Parkway, in Clarksburg.
The Planning Board last reviewed the remaining middle part of M-83 in 1992, but for over a decade, not much happened due to a lack of money. In 2003, MCDOT began to study building the rest of M-83 along the master plan route. But that route dates from before the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), when planners thought it was a good idea to put highways in stream valleys.
So the Army Corps of Engineers, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) got involved. And MCDOT had to follow NEPA's requirement to identify alternatives and evaluate the environmental effects.
In May 2013, MCDOT issued its draft report on the environmental effects. The Army Corps of Engineers and MDE then held a public hearing in August about MCDOT's application for a permit to build M-83. They have yet to publish their findings.
Planning staff recommend studying a transit alternative
But this week, the Planning Board will nonetheless review the master plan route and its alternatives. In a report issued last week, planning staff say that MCDOT should evaluate a transit alternative, including the planned bus rapid transit (BRT) route along 355, and that MCDOT's transportation systems management/transportation demand management (TSM/TDM) alternative should also include BRT along 355.
Their analysis suggests that the area can meet its transportation needs through 2040 without M-83. They also note that the 355 BRT corridor would have the second-highest daily ridership of the 10 proposed transit corridors in the Countywide Transit Corridors Functional Master Plan.
MCDOT says they didn't look at a transit alternative because Montgomery County has not adopted any plans for BRT. They also did not consider transit in their TSM/TDM alternative, even though TSM/TDM usually includes transit.
The staff report's recommendation will please M-83's opponents, including Transit Alternatives to Mid-County Highway Extended (TAME) and the Action Committee for Transit, who have been calling for years for MCDOT to study a transit alternative.
County planners also recommend asking MCDOT to eliminate the alternative route through Goshen, which would involve widening existing two- and four-lane roads. The Planning Board already recommended eliminating the route in 1992. Some community groups have strongly opposed this alternative in favor of the master plan route so that M-83 wouldn't go through their neighborhoods. If the threat from this alternative route goes away, some of the support for M-83 along the master plan route will probably go away as well.
MCDOT's report underestimates environmental and property impacts
In addition, the staff report points out problems with MCDOT's evaluation of environmental effects. For example, MCDOT reports that if M-83 isn't built, 16 intersections will exceed traffic congestion standards. But the staff report notes that at least 6 of these intersections are south of M-83 and would also exceed the standard under all of the alternative routes, including the master plan route.
Similarly, MCDOT's traffic modeling estimates a 55% reduction in travel time for the master plan route and a 37% reduction for Alternative 5, compared to not doing anything at all. (Alternative 5 proposes widening Route 355 and adding service roads.) The staff report notes that the 37% reduction represents a trip that is 3 minutes shorter.
The staff report also points out that MCDOT used a roadway width of less than 150 feet to estimate how many properties each alternative route would disturb or displace. However, 150 feet is the standard roadway width in the current county road code. In addition, MCDOT did not estimate how many properties stormwater management and noise abatement measures might affect. Thus, MCDOT's estimates of the number of affected properties are probably too low.
As for the cost of building M-83, MCDOT estimates for the build alternatives range from $41 million for the TSM/TDM alternative to $357 million for the master plan route. But these estimates are probably too low as well.
According to the staff report, MCDOT's estimates of environmental impacts do not account for stormwater management and the effects of retaining walls. For example, the master plan route would require a retaining wall 400 feet long along Great Seneca Creek, most of which would be in the flood plain within 20-30 feet of the stream channel.
Along Whetstone Run, the master plan route would have to be built on fill, with a retaining wall next to the stream channel. And while the smaller stream reaches may not have delineated flood plains, they have wetlands that function much like flood plains.
What's more, much of the master plan route goes through parkland, including Great Seneca Creek Park and the North Germantown Greenway Stream Valley Park. According to the staff report, the master plan route would have "calamitous" effects on 3 of the largest biodiversity areas in the county, far beyond the official limits of disturbance. And the staff report recommends mitigating impacts on parkland through a combination of trails, environmental projects, and replacement of parkland with land of equal or greater value.
So how much would it cost to build M-83, including parkland mitigation and the environmental requirements of building across streams and along stream valleys? Presumably more than MCDOT estimates.
For now, asking MCDOT to evaluate a transit alternative is a good idea, and so is repeating the Planning Board's 20-year-old request to remove the alternative route through Goshen. But ultimately, it's time for Montgomery County to say no at last to this environment-destroying, obsolete, expensive highway.
Perhaps in the early 1960s, transportation meant moving cars, and the environment was supposed to make way for progress. But it's 2013. Shouldn't we know better by now?
The Planning Board will review the alternatives for Midcounty Highway in Silver Spring on Thursday, November 21, beginning at 6 pm. If you want the Planning Board review to include your thoughts about this project, you can send written comments by e-mail through Wednesday.
Montgomery County residents say the proposed Midcounty Highway between Gaithersburg and Clarksburg costs too much, cuts through sensitive park and agricultural land, and won't solve the area's traffic challenges. But will the county decide to build it anyway?
Midcounty Highway Extended, or M83, first showed up in area master plans in the 1960s. If built as planned, it would be a 6-lane controlled-access highway parallel to Route 355 on the east side of I-270. Montgomery County would pay for the project completely, presumably to avoid complying with stringent federal environmental regulations.
Former County Executive Doug Duncan revived the project several years ago, and the Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) continues to push the highway forward today. MCDOT just completed an Environmental Effects Review earlier this year and will seek support from the County Council and County Executive Ike Leggett later this year to include the project in next year's budget.
Last night, the Maryland Department of the Environment and the Army Corps of Engineers held a public hearing at Seneca Valley High School in Germantown regarding whether they should grant a joint permit to impact wetlands and streams in the highway's path. Dozens of highway opponents from the Transit Alternatives to the Midcounty Highway Extended (TAME) Coalition, many of whom have fought the project for years, turned out in force to testify against the project. There were other voices in the crowd as well, in particular a contingent opposing the alternative through their neighborhood, but supporting the highway if it went through someone else's backyard.
MCDOT originally evaluated 11 alternatives, and has since narrowed the field down to just 6, including a no-build option. Alternatives 4, 8, and 9 are the most controversial and involve the most new pavement and right-of-way through environmentally sensitive areas and existing neighborhoods. They also happen to be MCDOT's preferred alternatives. MCDOT estimates that Alternative 9 would cost $350 million to build, though local activists say it could be double that.
Alternative 2, the cheapest option, would make improvements to Route 355 and use transportation demand management (TDM) to give travelers other ways to get around, while alternative 5 involves widening it. MCDOT did not look at any transit alternatives. Their report contains a footnote saying that the community requested a transit alternative, but says that the county's Bus Rapid Transit plan is still too nascent to be considered.
MCDOT contends that new construction would impact only 0.9 acres of wetlands because they propose building bridges over and through wetland areas. Yet it is clear that the construction process to build those bridges will require filling in parts of the wetland areas and compacting their soils, which are key for filtration and other ecosystem functions. Over the long term, more pavement over wetlands means more polluted stormwater runoff into waterways already under threat from other development, such as Ten Mile Creek.
Impacts of each proposed M83 alignment. MCDOT's favored alignments are in dark grey. TAME prefers alignments 2, 5 and the no-build option. Data from MCDOT's executive study and traffic projections.
In addition to water quality impacts, opponents pointed out a litany of other impacts from Alternatives 4, 8, and 9, including additional carbon emissions from induced traffic, impacts to the county's prized Agricultural Reserve, the loss of parkland, the division of neighborhoods, the taking of homes and local businesses, and more.
Local activists also questioned whether M83, if built, would even provide the traffic relief that transportation officials say it would provide. Indeed, MCDOT's own projections show more traffic-jammed intersections if it builds any of M83's more costly alignments.
For the $350 million it costs to build M83, Montgomery County could build Alternative 2 and 20-45 miles of the proposed bus rapid transit plan, if you use the federal average cost per mile to build BRT. This would enable a high quality transit connection and a viable alternative to driving between Clarksburg, Gaithersburg, and points south. But this alternative has never been evaluated.
Looking at the chart above, it's easy to do the math. The county's favored alignments destroy the most acreage of parkland, farmland, and wetlands, take the most property from local businesses and residences, cost the most, and still have more failing intersections than the cheapest, lowest impact alternatives.
Later this year, the issue will go before the County Council, and then to the County Executive, who will both have a chance to weigh in on whether to include funds to continue the project in next year's budget. It remains to be seen whether the County leaders will continue their progressive planning tradition by investing scarce local dollars in transit and smart growth, or whether they sink hundreds of millions into a 1960's-era sprawl highway. If they check their math, the choice should be simple.
The Maryland Department of the Environment and Army Corps of Engineers will accept written comments until August 21. If you'd like to see Montgomery County consider real alternatives to Midcounty Highway, you can contact them using this form.
Which roads do you refer to by their names, and which by state or US highway numbers? This question came up while we were editing some posts in recent days.
MD-355 changes names several times along its route, from Wisconsin Avenue to Rockville Pike to Hungerford Drive to North/South Frederick Road/Avenue to Urbana Pike to North Market Street (did I miss any)? Though most people I know who live in Montgomery County still talk about Wisconsin Avenue in Bethesda, or say they're headed to Rockville Pike for stores.
What do you call the main roads in Tysons? Are they Route 7 and 123 or Leesburg Pike and Chain Bridge Road?
Let's put aside freeways for a moment, which people almost always (but not totally always) refer to with numbers. What about major roads that serve through traffic while also having businesses and homes?
I've never heard someone talk about Route 1 instead of Rhode Island Avenue in the District, but it's usually Route 1 and not Baltimore Avenue in College Park, right? Some people refer to Richmond Highway and some to Route 1 in southern Fairfax. What about in Old Town Alexandria?
Greater Greater Wife, who grew up in Montgomery County, speaks of Georgia Avenue, Norbeck Road, Veirs Mill Road, Connecticut Avenue, University Boulevard, Old Georgetown Road, River Road, and so on rather than MD-97, MD-28, MD-596, MD-185, MD-193, MD-187, and MD-190. I've driven them all many times and still had to look up most of those numbers.
I have heard more references to MD-410, perhaps because it isn't always East-West Highway between New Carrollton and Bethesda. But MD-193 is Greenbelt Road east of about the railroad tracks in College Park and then has other names as it winds through Prince George's County.
Is it Arlington Boulevard or US-50? King Street or VA-236? Glebe Road or VA-120? Columbia Pike or VA-244?
Often, people seem to use the number more when talking about places they're mostly passing through, and the name for places they're going to. Rockville Pike is not just a road, but an assemblage of shopping centers that you go to on purpose. Columbia Pike (the Virginia one) is a corridor of neighborhoods, whereas Route 50 more bypasses neighborhoods and moves commuters. It's Colesville Road in downtown Silver Spring, a destination, and becomes Route 29 somewhere north.
If this is right, maybe Tysons' main roads will gradually evolve from Routes 7 and 123 to Leesburg Pike and Chain Bridge Road as Tysons becomes more of a walkable place.
Still, this isn't an absolute; Veirs Mill Road is not that much of a destination, or at least I've rarely gone somewhere on Veirs Mill versus using it as a conduit to or from Rockville.
When do you use names, and when do you use numbers?
For years, leaders in Northern Virginia have been asking Richmond to let Northern Virginia raise its own money to spend on its own transportation priorities. They are finally getting the chance.
When the Virginia General Assembly passed a broad new transportation funding bill earlier this year, it included a section letting Northern Virginia raise and allocate hundreds of millions per year. Those new taxes began rolling in on July 1, with the beginning of Virginia fiscal year 2014.
On Wednesday night, the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) officially approved its first set of projects. The authority allocated about $210 million, split roughly evenly between transit and roads.
The largest projects include the Silver Line's Innovation Center Metro station, new VRE railcars, and widenings along Route 28.
NVTA also approved a bond validation lawsuit that will preemptively ask Virginia courts to rule on NVTA's legality. That process should take 6-9 months, and NVTA will have to wait until it's over to actually start spending money. Taking the issue to court now means NVTA won't have to spend years fending off other court challenges.
The project list is below. For more details, see the project description sheets on NVTA's website.
|Transit and multimodal projects|
|Innovation Center Metro station||$41||Fairfax Co.|
|VRE Lorton station 2nd platform||$7.9||Fairfax Co.|
|WMATA Orange Line traction power upgrades for 8-car trains||$5||Regional|
|Potomac Yard Metro station environmental study||$2||Alexandria|
|Crystal City multimodal center bus bays||$1.5||Arlington|
|VRE Gainesville extension planning||$1.5||Regional|
|VRE Alexandria station pedestrian tunnel & platform improvements||$1.3||Alexandria|
|Herndon Metro station access improvements (road, bus, bike/ped)||$1.1||Fairfax Co.|
|Leesburg park and ride||$1||Loudoun|
|Loudoun County Transit buses||$0.9||Loudoun|
|Route 7 Tysons-to-Alexandria transit alternatives analysis (phase 2)||$0.8||Regional|
|Falls Church pedestrian access to transit||$0.7||Falls Church|
|Duke Street transit signal priority||$0.7||Alexandria|
|PRTC bus||$0.6||Prince William|
|Alexandria bus shelters & real-time information||$0.5||Alexandria|
|Van Buren pedestrian bridge||$0.3||Falls Church|
|Falls Church bus shelters||$0.2||Falls Church|
|Rt 28 - Linton Hall to Fitzwater Dr||$28||Prince William|
|Rt 28 - Dulles to Rt 50||$20||Fairfax Co.|
|Belmont Ridge Road north of Dulles Greenway||$20||Loudoun|
|Columbia Pike multimodal improvements (roadway, sidewalk, utilities)||$12||Arlington|
|Rt 28 - McLearen to Dulles||$11.1||Fairfax Co.|
|Rt 28 - Loudoun "hot spots"||$6.4||Loudoun|
|Chain Bridge Road widening||$5||Fairfax City|
|Boundary Channel Dr interchange||$4.3||Arlington|
|Rt 1 - Featherstone Rd to Mary's Way||$3||Prince William|
|Edwards Ferry Rd interchange||$1||Loudoun|
|Herndon Parkway intersection with Van Buren St||$0.5||Fairfax Co.|
|Herndon Parkway intersection with Sterling Rd||$0.5||Fairfax Co.|
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
On the surface, the Bi-County Parkway/Outer Beltway controversy is about transportation. But it's not. It's about growth: where should it be in Virginia? The farms of Loudoun, Prince William, and Fauquier? Or along future Silver Line stations, and closer to the core? Some people stand to benefit from more outward growth, but not most residents of our region.
The Washington Post's Jonathan O'Connell confirms what many suspected, even though it sounded a bit like a conspiracy theory: People with large land holdings along the Bi-County Parkway route, who stand to benefit personally from building more houses there, are pouring substantial cash into lobbying efforts and campaign donations for the road.
O'Connell pulls back the curtain on the 2030 Group, an organization that appeared in 2010 with the stated goal of encouraging "regional cooperation." Cooperation is great, but 2030's version seems to mean getting all officials to cooperate on a certain, predetermined agenda of speeding up outward growth as well as infill.
The group's founder, Bob Buchanan, started the group largely because he owned 400 acres in Loudoun County but people didn't want to build there. O'Connell writes:
The family trade was home building when Buchanan returned from the Navy as a young man. He became a master of site development, the business of acquiring large tracts of land, securing the necessary zoning and transportation improvements, and readying lots for other developers to turn into subdivisions, office parks or shopping centers. ...Buchanan also tells O'Connell that he's changing with the times, being more concerned about the environment, and building multi-family housing and mixed-use instead of just houses. And Arcola is mixed-use, with townhouses, offices, retail, hotels, and more.
One of his largest deals, made a decade ago, was a 400-acre property at the intersection of Route 50, Route 606 and the Loudoun County Parkway. At that time, Loudoun housing market was seeing double-digit annual price increases. It was one of the most profitable places in the country to build new houses.
Buchanan Partners planned to turn the grassy, partially wooded site into Arcola Center, with 2 million square feet of commercial space, more than 1,000 homes and 800,000 square feet of retail around a main street anchored by a Target and other big chains.
After the housing bust, construction of exurban subdivisions froze, and the prospects for projects like Arcola dimmed. Land values and housing prices in Loudoun collapsed.
If you're going to build in a greenfield site at the edge of the region, there is better design and worse design. But even the best greenfield town center without transit will generate more car trips compared to the same growth in the core or near Metro.
As the real estate maxim goes, "location, location, location." If the demand to live southwest of Dulles Airport is weak while prices around Metro are rising higher and higher, that tells you something.
For a developer who doesn't already own 400 acres southwest of Dulles, it tells you to try to build more housing at Metro stations and in the core. Buchanan, instead, concluded he should lobby the state to spend a billion or so to entice people to live around his 400 acres.
With development stagnant, Buchanan looked to local public officials for solutions but saw none forthcoming, he said. Frustrated, he enlisted like-minded partners to form the 2030 Group. ... In a three-year period, according to the group's tax forms, the 2030 Group spent more than $520,000 to finance research at George Mason University and the University of Maryland.2030 hired PR firm Dewey Square Partners to promote its activities and fairly soon after released a list of transportation priorities. Longtime Virginia Outer Beltway advocate Bob Chase and Maryland outer highway advocate Rich Parsons interviewed a group of secret, unnamed "experts" to create a list that ironically matched Chase's and Parsons' existing preferences.
Buchanan said critics who worry about 2030's influence should be more concerned about how the region will handle expected growth, given its political divisions. Not building new roads, he argues, is not going to stop people from wanting to live and work in the Washington area; it will just add to the already acute traffic congestion.
"The development is coming because people are moving here and they want to live here," he said.People are moving here. And while some want to live in all parts of the region and all housing types, the greatest demand is for new and existing walkable neighborhoods near transit.
If Buchanan really wants the region to invest where people are moving and where they want to live, he wouldn't push for an Outer Beltway segment that goes past his 400 acres; he and 2030 would push for, say, a light rail line from Tysons to Merrifield to Annandale to Alexandria, through many places already near transit, already with many roads, and where there's ample demand for new housing.
People want transit-oriented development. The region needs to build more. There isn't enough now. To have TOD, you need transit. Therefore, to build what people want, we need regional transportation dollars to go into that transit, not the Bi-County Parkway.
If a shrinking number of people want to fly in and out of an airport, is the solution to spend a billion dollars to build a road there? Or is the better approach to build infrastructure where people do want to go?
The former doesn't seem to make a lot of sense, but that's exactly what we're hearing from the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) and Virginia officials about the proposed Bi-County Parkway from Prince William County to the airport.
The Post explored the question in the July 14 Metro article "Could a Pr. William-Loudoun road revive Dulles?" The basic issue is that people seem more eager to fly in and out of Reagan National Airport than Dulles. Congress recently added exemptions to Reagan's perimeter rule that has allowed airlines to add more long-distance flights, helping to spur a 5 percent increase of passenger traffic last year. Meanwhile, Dulles saw 2 percent growth in international traffic, but domestic traffic dropped 8 percent.
Virginia road lobbyist Bob Chase claims that the only "balanced" funding for transportation is to give almost all of it to roads, primarily because most people drive. But he overlooks a simple fact: most people drive because we have under-invested in other modes for a long time. That's no reason to keep it up.
Washington Post columnist Robert McCartney called last week for "a balanced approach" to traffic congestion, including transit investments and smart growth as well as new road construction (though he mostly seemed to want more highways).
Chase, who heads the Outer Beltway advocacy group the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, followed up with an action alert entitled "A balance of modes?" attacking regional transportation proprities for being about half roads and half transit, or not road-heavy enough for him.
According to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments most recent household survey, 81% of daily trips are made by auto, 9% by walking or bicycle, and 6% by public transit. (In Northern Virginia auto trip percentages are slightly higher; transit slightly less.)This is a nonsensical and nonserious argument for two reasons. First, the road network is mainly fine outside rush periods, and most of the car trips happen on less congested local roads. For commuting, which is when the traffic is worst, the transit percentage is far, far higher.
The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority's proposed $206.8 million pay-as-you-go and bond list for FY 2014 regional funds features 12 highway projects totaling $108.8 million and 22 transit projects totaling $98 million. Proportionally, that's 52.6% for highways and 47.3% for transit.
Distribution of Regional Transportation Funds Should Reflect a Closer Relationship to The Distribution of Users and Beneficiaries That Are Footing the Bill. [Annoying Capitalization In Original]
But what we spend on transportation, except for repairs (which are important) really should have nothing to do with the current mode share percentages.
Let's imagine we are in an alternate reality where we never built Metro. Very few people ride transit because there is very little of it. Does that mean in this alternate world the case for building transit is weaker? Why? Maybe it's stronger because we would be even further behind than we are today.
Or when we first built Metro, fewer people rode transit, so by Chase's logic, that makes it a bad idea to have done it then?
Any investment in new transportation is not that much about current people. Current people will keep using the current lanes, trains, etc. We can make them a little better, but any investment in a place that's got high demand will attract new users to fill up slack capacity.
New transportation infrastructure is primarily about new people. Build a road somewhere and people will move to places where that road accommodates their commute. Build a transit line and people will move to the areas around the stations if the line goes where they need to go.
A region's preexisting mode share matters little. If you want more driving and traffic and car dependent housing build more roads. If you want more transit riding and TOD build transit.
Chase wants to see Virginia develop another tier of detached house suburbs beyond the existing ones. That's his right to believe that but he should be honest about it. He's also misguided.
While our existing suburban neighborhoods are an important part of the housing mix, since new market demand is mostly for walkable urban places, what we need to do is build transportation infrastructure that feeds that kind of growth for the future, like a street grid in Tysons, new transit lines, and better sidewalks and bike facilities everywhere.
We underinvested in transit compared to other developed nations (though more than many other US cities) for a long time. That's a reason to work harder to catch up, not throw up our hands and assume that the future has to look like the past.
DC, Maryland, and Virginia have proposed their latest series of changes to a regional transportation plan. It's amusing to look at the list: DC's new projects are all about reconfiguring roadways to be less like highways, while Virginia's are all about adding or widening highways.
This is part of an annual process where the states and DC update lists of what projects they want to do in coming years. The regional Transportation Planning Board has to ensure that the lists, which form the Constrained Long-Range Plan, fit with expected local and federal revenue, and juggles assumptions until staff can at least claim that all the new roads won't make our air quality too bad.
DC is adding 6 new projects, to construct bus lanes on I Street, make New Jersey Avenue 2-way, add a bike trail, and reduce the number of general travel lanes on 4 streets. Those projects will cost about $20.5 million altogether.
The DC changes also include the median on Pennsylvania Avenue east of the river and 2 cycle tracks which have already happened but weren't in the TPB's plan yet.
Meanwhile, Virginia wants to widen 5 highways, build new ones through Manassas Battlefield and around Dulles Airport, and add highway ramps around Tysons Corner, for a total cost of $750 million to $1.4 billion depending on what they choose for Dulles. All of that money is for car capacity; there are no transit, pedestrian, or bicycle projects being added to Virginia's list this year.
Maryland isn't changing much this round; it's just moving some money from the Corridor Cities Transitway to the Purple Line.
Here is the list of new projects for the District of Columbia (not counting ones DC is adding which are already complete):
- I St. NW from 13th St. NW to Pennsylvania Ave. NW: Add peak period bus-only lanes
- New Jersey Ave. NW from H St. NW to N St. NW: Reconstruct from 4 lanes one-way to 2 lanes in each direction
- 17th St. NE/SE from Benning Rd. NE to Potomac Ave. NE: Reduce from 2 lanes to 1 lane southbound
- C St. NE from 16th St. NE to Oklahoma Ave. NE: Remove 1 of 2 travel lanes in each direction to calm traffic
- East Capitol St. from 40th St. to Southern Ave.: Implement pedestrian safety and traffic operations improvements and remove 1 of 3 travel lanes in each direction
- South Capitol St. from Firth Sterling Ave. SE to Southern Ave. SE: Design and construct a paved bicycle and pedestrian trail and reduce the number of lanes from 5 to 4
- Widen I-395, Shirley Memorial Highway, Southbound from Duke St. to Edsall Rd.
- Capital Beltway HOT Lanes: The segment of HOT Lanes between south of the George Washington Pkwy and
south of Old Dominion Dr. was planned to be 2 lanes wide. VDOT proposes to make this segment 4 lanes wide.
- Capital Beltway Ramps at Dulles Airport Access Highway and Dulles Toll Road: Construct a new ramp connecting the northbound general purpose lanes on I-495 to the inner lanes of westbound Dulles Airport Access Highway. Widen the ramp connecting eastbound Dulles Toll Road to the northbound general purpose lanes on I-495 from 1 to 2 lanes.
- Widen US 1, Jefferson Davis Highway from Lorton Rd. to Annapolis Way from 4 to 6 lanes.
- Widen VA 7, Leesburg Pike from I-495 to I-66 from 4 to 6 lanes.
- Construct 2-lane collector-distributor roads parallel to Dulles Toll Road between VA 684, Spring Hill Rd. and VA 828, Wiehle Ave.
- Dulles Toll Road Ramps in Tysons: Construct a ramp to and from the Dulles Toll Rd. to the new Boone Blvd. extension at Ashgrove Lane. Construct a ramp to and from the Dulles Toll Rd. to the new Greensboro Dr. extension at Tyco Rd.
- Dulles Greenway Ramp: Construct a new egress ramp from the Dulles Greenway to the planned Hawling Farm Blvd.
- "Improved access" to Dulles Airport: [4 alternatives, a no-build and 3 that involve new 4-lane limited access highways or widening US-50 and VA-606.]
- VA 28 Manassas Bypass: Study a proposed 4 to 6 lane bypass through Prince William and Fairfax Counties.
- Change in project cost of the Corridor Cities Transitway from $1.2 billion to $828 million
- Change in project cost of the Purple Line from $1.79 billion to $2.245 billion
Still, this gives something of a glimpse into what's on the minds of transportation planners in each jurisdiction right now. DC is spending some small dollars to reconstruct roads to better accommodate pedestrians, cyclists, and buses; Viginia is spending big dollars on new road capacity.
Each spring, the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) tries to fill thousands of potholes around the city. This year, I put them to the test by biking around DC and reporting and tracking as many potholes as I could find. Most got filled, though some better than others.
DDOT announced last month that the agency had filled nearly 4,000 potholes during its fifth annual Potholepalooza initiative, a marked increase from previous years. Officials say they dispatched multiple crews, including 3 "pothole killer" trucks each day to make repairs.
Using 311 Online, I submitted 80 pothole service requests for 236 potholes during Potholepalooza. That's nearly 10% of the 849 requests DDOT received. DDOT filled 177 of the potholes, or 75%. I was impressed with how quickly DDOT responded to me. In most cases, inspectors noted and sometimes filled the potholes I reported within 24 hours.
Of the 59 potholes that weren't filled, most were on streets where I reported numerous potholes. It seemed DDOT picked and chose which ones to fill. In 2 places, on Ontario Street NW between Florida Avenue and Kalorama Road, and on Quebec Street NW next to Sidwell Friends, there were large groups of potholes that never got filled.
DDOT didn't fill small or out of the way potholes
I also noticed and reported several potholes directly around manhole covers, but none of those got repaired. DDOT also avoided making repairs to potholes near ongoing road construction (where a lot of other, non-pothole gashes and ruts were present) and generally neglected to fill the smaller holes I reported. I would often report 5-10 potholes on the same rutty block and find that only the larger ones had been filled.
I also reported a number of potholes on Maine Avenue, Benning Road, East Capitol Street and Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway, but DDOT representatives told me that they weren't under their jurisdiction, at least for repairing potholes.
The pothole fillers didn't repair all potholes in the same way. For most potholes, they used a hot, black asphalt mix, but about half of the potholes I saw also had an additional layer of gray gravel that seemed to form a stronger bond. Meanwhile, a good portion of those filled with just asphalt have already become potholes again.
Unfortunately, when DDOT uses gravel to strengthen a pothole repair, they routinely leave excess gravel on the road. The bike lanes on Calvert Street NW between Adams Morgan and Woodley Park have been littered with excess gravel for several months as a result of numerous pothole repairs, many of which I reported. This creates an entirely new hazard to bikers that may be worse than the original potholes.
These inconveniences suggest that the Potholepalooza program is designed more for motorists than for cyclists. Small ruts and loose gravel are scarcely concerns for a 4,000 pound car, but present dangerous obstacles to a cyclist.
I noticed that DDOT were more likely to fill potholes in the middle of the street than those on the side. I reported over 20 potholes on 17th Street NW, just south of Pennsylvania Avenue. 14 of these were in car lanes and 6 were near curbs, where only bikes would ride. DDOT filled 13 of the 14 car lane holes and just 2 of 6 roadside holes, despite all of them being very near one another.
This is a small sample, but I saw the trend repeated across the city. If a pothole was small or in a location where cars don't go, it was much more likely to stay a pothole.
Potholes got filled everywhere, but roads in affluent neighborhoods were worse
I wondered whether certain areas and neighborhoods would receive preferential treatment from service crews. Fortunately, this was not the case. After reporting at least a few potholes in every ward, but mostly in wards 1, 2, 3 and 5, I found no significant geographic differences in fill rates. DDOT filled roughly 3 out of every 4 potholes regardless of where they were.
However, I was surprised to find that some of the most affluent neighborhoods in Northwest DC seem to have the worst roads. Biking through areas like Petworth or Brookland, I seldom saw clusters of potholes and often went 15 minutes without seeing anything worth recording.
But I also found streets, like 34th Street in Cleveland Park or R Street in Georgetown, that looked like they'd been subjected to mortar practice. Downtown, 17th Street near Pennsylvania Avenue and N Street NW between 17th and 18th streets need serious help as well. These streets don't just need their potholes filled, they need to be repaved completely.
When I first announced my project, several commenters said that filling individual potholes was frivolous in the face of larger bicycle and road quality concerns. And they're right. Even if DC filled every pothole, there would still be many dangers for cyclists, like construction ditches, metal plates, or sewer grates. Filling potholes is inherently temporary, a series of Band-Aids on a chronically ill patient.
All that said, I did not bike around Washington for a month in search of potholes with any hope of seriously improving road conditions. I was more interested in the notion that an individual could make a small difference in the roads they used by reporting problems to the city. I wanted to see whether DDOT would really respond if I submitted hundreds of potholes. For the most part, they did.
It's easy to complain about bad roads, but as it turns out, it's almost as easy to report them. So the next time you're on your bike and you see a big hole, you should tell the city. If you're sick of a bumpy ride on a decaying street, you should report it. Odds are, DDOT might do something about it.
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