So much to blog about, so little time…

New type of interchange. Later this month, the Virginia Department of Transportation will open a new “diverging diamond interchange” at the Zions Crossroads exit of Interstate 64. VDOT chose this configuration (see simulation above) in preference to a cloverleaf interchange because it economizes on land. The diverging diamond interchange, adopted first in France, is relatively new to the United States. This is only the sixth one built in this country. (Hat tip: Larry Gross.)

The incredible disappearing traffic congestion. Ever since Elizabeth River Crossings instituted tolls on the Downtown and Midtown tunnels in Hampton Roads, traffic dropped 22% last week compared to pre-toll levels and, miracle of miracles, congestion has evaporated. For the moment, peak tolls are $1 one way. The traffic backup often delayed commuters a half hour. Is $2 in tolls worth saving an hour stalled in traffic? For most people, it probably is.

Green power. Dominion Virginia Power reports that 20,000 customers have signed up for a program that allows them to buy additional increments of “green” power for the equivalent of $2 per 154 kilowatt-hours. Dominion has nearly 2.4 million customers. In other words, about one customer out of 120 believes enough in renewable energy to put their money where their mouth is. This voluntary program is far preferable to a mandatory Renewable Portfolio Standard.


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22 responses to “Bacon Bits”

  1. It’s fascinating reading the comments in the PilotOnline on the tolls verses congestion issue.

    I expected virtually unanimous hate and discontent.. but surprise! about 1/2 of the correspondents are HAPPY to see the folks who don’t want to pay the tolls – leave!

    apparently about 20% of the traffic did not have a true “necessity” to use the tunnel… and once a price was put on it – they found other things to keep busy with.

  2. oh.. and a question – will these increased prices cause unemployment from reduced demand?


    1. indeed!

      Virginians seem to hate tolls and roundabouts. I’m betting this is going to be added to the list… !

  3. I can understand hating tolls because you see that money going out of your pocket but remember, we are paying “tolls” for every road you drive on … the difference is the time it is taken from your wallet. This is why the design decisions made are critical.

    What I want to see is an engineer showing me how this “double diamond” intersection is better. What are the hazard points ? How does it flow? Does VA have accurate models? Most of their roundabout models show they fail, well any intersection fails if you put enough cars on it. Show me, engineers, please. I actually drove the one in Lexington, and in spite of being a Virginian, I survived! 🙂

    1. re: tolls – because the gas tax does not generate enough and the higher the gas taxes the more people get more efficient cars. the gas tax is pretty much dead as a sustainable source of construction funds… just generates enough for maintenance so new roads that are needed have no source of construction money unless tolled.

      we all pay gas taxes – true enough – but it’s not enough and if you increase it, people economize so they can’t really raise it.

      re: diverging diamond – Google or Wiki it and they have pros and cons and it’s not suitable for some kinds of situations but it’s works well for others except the cross-over pattern is unfamiliar to most drivers who are going to initially think they are driving on the wrong side of the road.

      On the mainline interstate – it removes the situation where traffic headed for the off ramp is conflicting with traffic that just got on the on ramp, it works more like a standard diamond.

  4. DJRippert Avatar

    “Is $2 in tolls worth saving an hour stalled in traffic? For most people, it probably is.”.

    Most people in Virginia pay nothing to avoid being stuck in traffic.

    As Republicans in Virginia fight against using more of the plentiful river of state taxes to build free roads they dig themselves ever deeper into a hole. The tolls are erected in the most populous areas which frustrate the citizens of those areas who know that 99% of driving trips in Virginia are un-tolled.

    Last election, Cuccinelli got 38% of the vote in Henrico County. That was just 2% better than he did in Fairfax County. Cuccinelli won in Virginia Beach but lost in Chesapeake, Norfolk and Portsmouth.

    If the Republicans insist on being “the party of rural Virginia” they are doomed to irrelevance.

    The fact that they can’t understand this is somewhat frightening and very sad.

    1. well.. they pay nothing (other than fuel taxes) .. AND THEY DO get stuck in traffic.

      the revenues to build more major free roads in urbanized areas where costs for new location roads can be 5 times as much as non-urbanized road costs are not there but more important – they will not solve the congestion.

      you literally cannot build your way out of congestion in urbanized areas and that’s why they’ve gone to tolls – as much or more so – to manage congestion as to build new infrastructure.

      And while some folks do hate the tolls – others – once they realize that tolls buys them a less congested, more reliable trip – they like them.

      you should read the comments about the new tolls on the tunnels in Norfolk. Some people are saying that for the first time in decades – they are seeing less congestion and they like it – and that’s before the second tunnel in built – using the tolls. There was no way the State was going to have the funds to add a tunnel without going into debt and diverting revenues to pay back the debt.

      tolls stretch your dollars. It frees up money to build roads where tolls are not feasible so you get two roads – instead of one.

      The Northeast has had tolls for decades.. it’s part of life up that way.

      and people do’t take trips unless they do have a need to do it.

      there’s a paradox to the ” if you tax something you’ll get less of it”.

      if you have a fuel tax, people not only perceive roads to be free but they think the money to build them is unlimited – not finite – so they always want more no matter the funding realities.
      If you have a tighter nexus – a quid-pro-quo – a true user fee each time you use something – (like METRO or other pay as you use services) – the higher the toll – the less congestion.

      that’s the entire premise of the HOT lanes. They can guarantee a reliable trip by adjusting the tolls and they’re finding out that people highly value the reliable trip idea as much as they do less congestion.

      for all the folks who talk about minimum wage and the free market … tolls are free market … you use – you pay.. there is no endless all-you-can eat buffet.

  5. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    A few thousand Dominion signing up for green power is NOT a workable Renewable Portfolio Standard. It is pointless window dressing but then, hey, fits your Libertarian criteria, doesn’t it and plays right up to Big Energy.

    1. why is Dominion charging a different rate depending on how the power is generated in the first place?

      None other than the Wall Street Journal has reported that utility companies like Dominion ARE worried about the future – AND they are trying to get State legislatures to “protect” them from SOLAR technology that they realize, ultimately will transform their industry and fundamentally change their business model:

      “The death-spiral thesis runs thusly. Subsidies and falling technology costs are making distributed solar power—panels on roofs, essentially—cost-competitive with retail electricity prices in places like the southwestern U.S. As more people switch to solar, utilities sell less electricity to those customers, especially as they often have the right to sell surplus power from their panels back to the utility.

      The result: Utilities must spread their high fixed costs for things like repairing the grid over fewer kilowatt-hours, making solar power.

      The result: Utilities must spread their high fixed costs for things like repairing the grid over fewer kilowatt-hours, making solar power even more competitive and pushing more people to adopt it in a vicious circle.”

      Not so much in Va right now as Arizona perhaps but since all states rely on other states for supplemental power when they have units down – everyone is effected – and over time – SOLAR will inevitable become like computer technology – where prices have come down so fast and so far that everyone will be using it for supplemental power – to reduce their electric bills.

      you can see this already in the advent of solar sidewalk lights and solar blinking school signs… even the USGS uses solar to get data from remote river levels sites.

      Like the auto fuel tax issue with more fuel efficient cars – paying less than their share of the highway costs – we’re going to see more and more people using not only SOLAR but computer-controlled devices that will save power..

      The power companies KNOW THIS – that not this year, not next year, but gradually over the coming decade – just like with fuel-efficient cars – their current pricing scheme is going to fail.

      And I predict that at some point, utilities like Dominion will seek the ability to charge more at peak hour since peak hour requires them to build additional facilities – with money they won’t have as more people start to use newer technologies – beyond just SOLAR – to cut back on their use and bills.

      In the end – each person – just like we do right now with water/sewer – will have to pay two fees.

      One will be the hook-up fee which in the case of water/sewer amounts to thousands of dollars to “hook-up” to pay for their share of the infrastructure needed to serve their home and then on their monthly fee -an itemized bill for the “grid” no matter how much electricity you use.

      Dominion and other utilities are going to the State legislators right now to seek changes that will provide additional protections for their business models.

      The thing about Libertarian types is that they profess to believe in the free-market but then they get all whatjucated when they are forced to pay their true share of costs. Their Libertarianism evaporates and degenerates into anti-govt and anti-corporation when they end up with the actual bill.

    2. DJRippert Avatar


      You are sure right about that! Even if you want to discount global climate change (which I don’t), the benefits of green technology in reducing / eliminating things like acid rain make it worth the effort.

      I think Jim is conflicted on environmental issues. On the one hand he really does believe in “user pays” to the greatest extent possible. On the other hand, his conservative heroes violate that premise over and over again. The stormwater runoff management approach for Fairfax County in general and the Beltway in particular is an engineering fiasco. There can be little doubt that the half-assed approach to stormwater management in Fairfax County harms the environment and the economy of places as far away as St Mary’s County, Maryland. Enter the EPA with a straightforward “user pays” idea – Fairfax County must stop trashing other people’s environments and livelihoods even if it means spending a lot of money to do so. Jim’s guy Cuccinelli says, “Oh no! That’s federal government over-reach.”. Really? The federal government has no business making Fairfax County and Virginia stop trashing the environment elsewhere in Virginia and down into Maryland?

      How was the EPA’s efforts anything but an example of demanding a “user pays” approach to stormwater?

      1. Fairfax County has been aggressive on storm water management and sanitary sewer improvements. In fact, the County is taking over maintenance of all HOA storm water facilities to keep them in compliance with federal regulations. This will cover as few as three homes sharing a common facility. The work will be funded from the 2 cents tax rate imposed on all real estate in the county. The County requires all rezonings to comply with all federal and state storm water regulations. The Tysons landowners will spend millions and millions to hold the first inch of rainwater on premises and let it percolate slowly into the ground. VDOT requires compliance with all federal regulations for any new road project. The County Department of Code Compliance investigates and takes enforcement action against any violator of storm water regs. Fairfax County will be discussing its storm water tax and projects on February 20, at 7:30 pm, Braddock Hall, Burke, VA with the Fairfax County Federation of Citizens Associations. Short of requiring every landowner’s property and every road to be retrofitted, I think it’s had to conclude Fairfax County is not doing a reasonably good job on storm water management.

        The City of Alexandria’s sanitary sewer system dumps raw sewerage into the Potomac River an average of 50 times per year. What has the EPA done about that? Nada.

        1. DJRippert Avatar

          If you think the storm water management system at Accotink Creek (the actual cause of the EPA suit) is acceptable then you have never seen it after the rain and you have failed to watch the videos I have posted of Accotink after the rain.

          As far as Alexandria – I have asked for references.

          In addition, Fairfax County is extremely liberal and reliably Democratic. I have a hard time believing that the EPA is picking on Fairfax and ignoring Alexandria because Fairfax is too conservative / Republican.

          1. My source for the Alexandria information is Shahram Mohsenin and Jeff Kent from Fairfax County at a McLean Citizens Association meeting last summer. They both handle sanitary sewer matters for the county. Fairfax County uses both its own facilities and those of other entities, including the City of Alexandria. So these gentlemen are well aware of what they speak. The EPA does not require complete retrofitting, but rather, better results over time. I believe the Alexandria system still combines storm water and sewerage, which helps explain the problems the system, which is very old, faces. I seem to recall they mentioned D.C. has the same problems. Some of the significantly higher sewer fees charged by Fairfax County go to capital improvements in the sanitary sewer systems used by Fairfax County residents and businesses.

            Fairfax County also has a program of storm water improvement projects that it funds, often in cooperation with other entities. Some of these are new projects, while others are retrofits. A list of currently pending and recently completed projects can be found at

            For Accotink Creek, there are ten projects in design and development stages and three completed. Only in the eyes of crazed environmentalists can this be viewed as doing nothing. So why hasn’t the Obama EPA sued Alexandria?

          2. DJR I would be interested in the videos. I have joined the Friends of Accotink but have not become active member as of yet.

    3. The alternative energy folks need to stop trying to lecture and guilt people into paying more for energy. They need to develop disruptive technology and suck the electric generation dollars from Dominion. Dominion needs to replace any monopolist officers with people who are scared to death of the alternative energy folks and develop their own disruptive technology.

  6. the other thing is that Smart Meters are needed for peak-hour pricing – as well as a Smarter Grid.. a component of a “self-healing” decentralized grid – and a way for the utilities to begin the evolution that they’ll undergo either as a planned process or as a rolling disaster we’re seeing with other industries like News and education and disruptive technology.

    One more prediction. We’re going to see a tremendous .. change.. as more and more doctors and medical providers adopt electronic records.

    As some point after enough of them have starting putting our records on electronic media – there is going to be the subsequent ability for a doctor you’re being referred to for a problem – that doctor will have the ability to get you COMPLETE Medical History – and use it to deliver better care to you and not the least – not unknowingly repeating tests and procedures that he does not know were done and does not have the results – so he orders them again.

    bottom line – the utilities are no m ore immune to disruptive technologies than other industries – the only thing different is the timeline.

    1. Isn’t there really two grids? Huge regional interconnections that are used for transmitting power from one section of the nation to another to meet demand. More local interconnections that serve various communities and neighborhoods?

      Electronic medical records do seem to have great potential to provide better services at lower costs, but there is a huge need for privacy and security protections. I can foresee criminals hacking records to skim insurance payments.

      1. re: electronic medical records and privacy.

        if you’re really worried about it – there could be a USB flash drive or even a chip embedded in you that contains the info and requires a PIN from you to access.

        but virtually every contact you have right now with government and private industry including your doctor and your insurance is electronic and available in the “cloud” – and in theory susceptible already.

        your tax returns for the last 5 years are online. most of the bills you pay for electricity, and other things are online.

        your drivers license info and social security info is online.

        the idea that of all the information that is already online – only your medical info would be seriously vulnerable is .. well.. it’s just not realistic.

        everything is online now.. and for everything that is online – there are good, bad, and indifferent approaches to protecting it.

        everytime you use a credit card or a debit card – it’s online. Your cell phone stuff is online.. your loyalty points for grocery stores is online… your education transcripts.. your pay stub.. virtually everything is online..

        it’s just not realistic to select out – one kind of data and believe it has different risks and protections than other data.

        In my opinion, of course.

        1. I wrote about medical information because Congress specially protected it with HIPAA.

          1. TMT – yes they did but it was about who you share you share your medical info with – whether it’s paper or electronic.

            Like everything else – the rules for sharing (or not) are not tied to just paper.

            it can include, for instance, faxes and telephone communications also.

            anything that is shared electronically now days has to be appropriately protected whether it’s your credit card info or your health insurance info, etc.

            we don’t not share because we’re don’t trust the internet.. or let’s put it this way.. the grid is vulnerable also in the same way – via the internet – but we don’t shut it down or not operate it via the internet – we work to protect it.

            excuses for not doing things via internet are not valid.. any more..

            but as I said – if that is a concern then put things on thumb drives but in order to do that you have to still have an inter-operable standard, for instance, the format of the various records has to be a standard if software is going to read it. Think of it as a microsoft word doc that needs microsoft word to read it. the same would be true of medical information – say lab test results.. you’d have to have a standard so that each Medical provider would have the software needed to read it. If it was an x-ray or other image .. it would have to be a standard so that each medical providers software could view it.

            there are ways to protect data online right now. standards for protecting it. while you hear of company and even govt systems (and electric grid companies) systems getting “hacked”, there are many others who already have appropriately protected it and have not been hacked.

            again – it goes back to what standards you are using to protect the data.

            one excellent way to protect it is with encryption – and only you have the unlock key… a PIN… so that even if someone gets the data – they can’t do anything with it.

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