Ban the HOV Lane, Build a 200-Foot Bridge

Our old friend Philip Shucet, former commissioner of the Virginia Department of Transportation, has resurfaced with some ideas about transportation funding priorities in Hampton Roads. Shucet, who is now the chief development officer for the Dragas Companies in Virginia Beach, was asked to submit his thoughts to a group of Hampton Roads lawmakers looking for solutions to the region’s transportation needs. (See the Virginian-Pilot story here, and read Shucet’s statement here.)

Shucet defends funding the controversial Third Crossing on the grounds that it is an economic engine for the Hampton Roads region and the state, and he endorses a quick start on the mid-town tunnel between Norfolk and Portsmouth. But most interesting were a couple of outside-the-box proposals:

  • Remove the HOV lane on Interstate 264. “Based on the most recent data I have seen,” he writes, “use of the HOV lanes varies from less than 3% to a maximum of 7% of the vehicles on I-264 during the peak periods. … Somewhere between 3% and 7% of the traffic is using some 20% of the capacity.” Allowing anyone to use those restricted lanes is quick, easy way to add capacity to I-264.
  • Build a 200-foot bridge instead of a bridge tunnel. Instead of adding two lanes to the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel, as some have suggested, consider building a four-lane bridge tall enough for U.S. Navy vessels to pass under. A four-lane bridge would offer twice the added capacity, possibly at a lower total life-cycle cost. Writes Shucet, who adds that many aspects of this idea need a closer look, “I believe a bridge 200 feet above the main channel could be constructed without the deck violating the clear zone requirement for aircraft.”

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  1. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    seems like I heard somewhere that bridges are not acceptable because the US Navy is concerned that a collapsed bridge could seriously impede access for the bigger ships in the fleet…

    if true.. sounds like a way to get the Feds to pay for the tunnel…

  2. Anonymous Avatar
    Anonymous

    Actually, after Shucet’s talk the point was made that the Navy did approve a bridge over the channel it uses in San Diego, because the span is composed of watertight compartments which will float if they ever fall to the water. There the issue is also earthquakes, of course. A tug boat pushes them away and the channel is clear. The uprights are designed to fall outward if they are ever toppled. The bridge idea Shucet discussed yesterday was pretty interesting.

    I continue to be amazed at the opposition to the Third Crossing. How it gets paid for is obviously a fair topic for debate. But the projections on container traffic through the port make it imperative that there be new routes away from the inner city to move them to 64 and 460 and 58.

  3. The Logician Avatar
    The Logician

    Adding capacity to I-64 at the HRBT crossing is going to be essential on a long enough time line, as anyone who’s tried to get to the beach on a summer Saturday can attest. The region has not yet reached it’s maximum density, and the problem’s only going to get worse.

    Part of the problem is the commuter mentality; living on one side of the water while working on the other. But try and cross it any Saturday between Memorial Day and Labor Day, and even without commuters, it’s impossible (locals know how to time it during tourist season).

    A Hampton-Norfolk crossing needs to incorporate an option for mass transit (a second lower deck on a bridge would accommodate this quite efficiently), even if light rail in HR is not imminent. Adding reversible lanes to flex with rush hour / tourist peaks (a la the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels in NYC) is another option they should be considering.

    But the real (overlooked) fight is going to come at the bottlenecks in Phoebus and Willoughby Spit, where the two lane portion of 64 will consequently need to be expanded to four lanes, and quite a few homes and business will see the words “Eminent Domain” a lot more frequently than they’d like.

    All that being said, it’d be nice to see VDOT (and any local commission that gets resurrected out of the ashes of the last regional authority) put a little time and money towards the planning and design now, so we can move that much quicker as public demand grows in a few years.

  4. Anonymous Avatar
    Anonymous

    Perhaps a 200 foot elevation is not only the solution for the 3rd HR crossing, but also for the Silver Line through Tysons Corner. Get that puppy way up in the sky>

    TMT

  5. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    The Fed MPO law has a simple concept:

    do whatever planning you want – but at the end of the day – don’t plan anything that you have not identified secure funding for.

    In other words – do REAL planning and stop engaging in wish-list blather that primarily serves to engender a chaotic political process…

    and the localities simple don’t like this rule…

    they rail against it…

    they keep talking about what they “need” verses what they can actually pay for – or to put it more bluntly – what they are willing to commit to in taxation or tolling.

    I don’t have a problem with thinking “big” or “creatively” as Schucet advocated but Mr. Shuchet, more than anyone else, knows what happens when wish lists are used for transportation planning….

    There is another thread about modeling regional traffic.

    I would add this – that part of that modeling process should include a toll analysis – to determine what level of tolls would be needed – at what levels to pay for the infrastructure.

    As it has been stated, a lot of beach traffic is out-of-region traffic – why not let those folks help be part of the solution?

    If it turns out that tolls cannot be raised high enough to pay for the facilities then they need to think about:

    1. – supplementing with taxes to make up the difference

    2. – consider charging region-wide tolls – as a way to generate funding for new facilities.

    The point of modeling and toll projection analysis is to move on to deciding what can be reasonably paid for and what cannot – and to stop engaging in wish list blather.

    When it comes to transportation issues – there is a a distinct line between leadership and fecklessness and the proof is in what comes out of these folks mouths…

  6. Darrell -- Chesapeake Avatar
    Darrell — Chesapeake

    What do they need modeling for? The pols have already figured out that tolls alone won’t build their dream list. That’s why 3202 came into being, along with tolling everything that moves.

    And as everyone has seen in the past, once the taxes have been implemented, the rates increase to meet the dreams without citizen interference. Then taxes and supporting bonds are never retired, they are transferred to other unrelated uses.

    Which is why HR is in the quandry it is. The people don’t trust the pollies, so they don’t approve any new tax because they have been screwed in the past. What begins as a limited effort to build transportation ends up as a neverending obligation to the general fund. One doesn’t need a model to predict past abuses.

  7. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Models can be truth models to confirm needs and to marginalize political priorities.

    But roads are perceived to be economic engines also – so an elected official in one jurisdiction is not going to doom his own jurisdiction to economic harm at the hands of an adjacent jurisdiction.

    I think this issue transcends the Dillon Rule because even Home Rule jurisdictions… fight it out over who gets what economic development and whether or not such development can be attracted by newer/better roads.

    So. for example, if you have two adjacent jurisdictions and some businesses is looking for a site and access is an important consideration… you can see how this plays out..

    I note that a religious organization down in HR/TW wants to build a project and they want a new interchange.. and the Feds won’t give it to them because of the impact that it will have on existing traffic.

    If THAT decision were put in the hands of the locality.. guess what would happen?

    So.. interstate interchange decisions ARE based on MODELING… of traffic…

    whereas.. non-interstate decisions are often made by local officials who, truth be known, don’t care what it does to traffic…

    To this point, VDOT normally stays out of such decisions…

    but all of this goes back to whether local officials are held responsible and accountable for the transportation consequences of their land-use decisions.

    The required use of models for Primary roads and major arterials done the same way that FHWA does with regard to interchanges would, in my view, would allow citizens to be able to play a bigger role in such decision-making.

    when the REQUIRED modeling is done and the results are available to the public.. and they show bad stuff.. then the public can demand that local officials produce a plan that actually deals with the traffic impacts.

  8. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I might have left the impression that I did not recognize the difference between transportation improvements associated with specific development and using regional models to help produce an optimized list of projects that would be demonstrated by modeling to be effective – as opposed to the political process not particularly oriented to data and evidence.

    Mostly, the regional network consists of limited-access roads and in the case of HR/TW, the real “choke-points” are the waterways much like Seattle or some other cities that straddle multiple waterways.

    so..unlike a place like Washington.. where you might be able to add a lane to deal with congestion.. it won’t work in a place like HR/TW because adding a lane means building a bridge or a tunnel… at a cost 100 times or more than adding a lane…last time I checked bridges and tunnels START at $100 a foot.

    For instance, it cost 75 million dollars to expand the 3750 foot Coleman Bridge; the option of “adding a lane” did not exist.

    But another thing I find interesting is the claim that even if all the projects in the current HR MPO are built that they won’t relieve congestion.

    I’ve never ever heard such a claim for NoVa… most folks, in fact, would think you’d been smoking something if they promoted a list of projects as one that would solve congestion. 🙂

    but I’d also ask – would anyone think that the level of congestion would be the same no matter whether the facilities were tolled or not?

    So.. I would think you’d not only need a good model to help determine the projects but you’d need to be able to run scenarios for tolling… static and congestion-priced.

    All of this goes back to the HR/TW region and how much responsibility they want to take for the specification of the projects and how to pay for those projects.

    Discussing projects separate from funding is not productive.

    I just get the overwhelming feeling that the discussion is about how much of a tax increase the leaders can get away with -and then looking at how much those tax increases will generate and then what projects to build from the money.

    This will not lead to effective, much less, cost-effective solutions.

    What it will lead to is more infrastructure -and a need for even more with even less available funding….

    I think that HR/TW absolutely must include tolling in their planning scenarios if for no other reason to see what the congestion levels would be if you did have tolling and if those congestion levels were significantly different from not tolling.

    Do the 3rd crossing. Make it a toll facility. Force the port trucks to use the toll lanes.

    Do the new tunnels.. toll them and make the tolls higher at rush hour.

    Let the tourists pay full tolls on weekends.

    I think HR/TW has a clear choice.

    Spend the next 20 years arguing about what to do – or .. get on with it.

    Get the same company that did the Tolling Study for NoVA and do one for HR/TW – as a start – to find out how much money would be generated by tolling…

  9. Darrell -- Chesapeake Avatar
    Darrell — Chesapeake

    http://www.hrpdc.org/Documents/Transportation/2008/Final%20Hampton%20Roads%20Cert.%20ReportCombined.pdf

    Obviously you don’t understand our issue with the local governments.

  10. Anonymous Avatar
    Anonymous

    “would anyone think that the level of congestion would be the same no matter whether the facilities were tolled or not?”

    Of course not. Now, would anyone think the level of economic activity would be the same whether facilities were tolled or not?

    RH

  11. Anonymous Avatar
    Anonymous

    “Models can be truth models to confirm needs and to marginalize political priorities.”

    Really? Where is the Department of Truth?

    RH

  12. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: models that do traffic and models that do economic development.

    Do you believe and/or can produce studies that demonstrate that the CBBT or the New jersey Turnpike or Garden State Parkway or the Powhite Parkway – harm economic development?

  13. Anonymous Avatar
    Anonymous

    You believe that tolls work to modify demand. People travel for reasons that they believe are in their best interests. (Read profit, one way or another, even if it is just visiting ganma.)

    Those with low value business to conduct will avoid the tolls first. This will make it easier, and maybe more profitable for high value business to be conducted than it otherwise would be in that area .

    But, the low value business won’t be conducted, or it will be conducted someplace else (or possibly, some of it will be conducted at other times, as you point out). To the extent this happens it harms economic development. If it was profitable for low value businesses to conduct their business at other times of the day – they already had that opportunity. Now, it is their only opportunity.

    The high value business will still have the additional expense of tolls, and they will have to compete wth other high value businesses that locate to avoid tolls. Even those businesses outside of tolled areas will pay the price if they have to traverse tolled areas. That is the whole idea of getting “out of staters” to pay.

    If tolls are universal then they are a new tax, and the argument goes that taxes reduce economic activity. I don;t see how you can argue this one is any different.

    If tolls are not universal, then they create pockets of reduced activity, which may be compensated for with activity someplace else: call it increased sprawl if you like. If that is the case, then you may be right, there is no overall harm to economic development.

    But, if that is the case then tolls worked their magic by moving economic activity and the associated traffic someplace else. We need to ask ourselves if tolls are the most economic way to achieve that result.

    RH

  14. Anonymous Avatar
    Anonymous

    Think of all the wind turbines you could hang on the side of a 200 ft bridge. Not in the way of the main channel, ov course, but….

  15. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “people travel for reasons that they believe are in their best interests. (Read profit, one way or another, even if it is just visiting ganma.)”

    your ideas of what is “profit” is bizarre… since when is visiting Grama considered a “profit”?

    using your ideas.. anyone who has any reason to travel will enjoy a “profit” and if he/she is made to pay the actual cost of that trip, then it has the effect of causing them an economic loss.

    an economic loss for being charged the actual costs that you would incur for visiting grandma?

    geeze.. … I have to say that I am relieved to not have someone labeled RH put in charge of the Ministry of Finance.

    similarly you apparently think it is up to someone else besides the person to decide if their business is high value or low value (using a very complicated computation done of course at the Ministry of Finance).

    Why not let each person decide what the cost/benefit ratio is for their own activities based on how much those things cost and whether or not it is “worth” it to them?

    I think it is downright ludicrous that you’d make me pay a tax to ensure that someone else can drive at rush hour to buy a lottery ticket.. on the premise that if you do not tax me and instead make him pay a toll that we are causing him economic harm…

    what are you smoking boy?

  16. Anonymous Avatar
    Anonymous

    your ideas of what is “profit” is bizarre… since when is visiting Grama considered a “profit”?

    Not at all. We invest in social interactions for many reasons. Some of them are not monetized, but that doesn’t mean they don’t profit us. (Besides, maybe we need to keep on Granmas good side.)

    There are many non-economic uses for profit, including to be of service or benefit, that is a profit to others.

    You just want to tax people out of visiting granma, admit it, you old curmudgeon. Either that, or you are so sold on your own sales pitch for tolls, otherwise as screwing a few for everyone, that you cannot see that there might be the tiniest bit of a downside.

    RH

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