If You Can’t Drive, Try Flying

Here’s a cost that doesn’t get cranked into the usual calculations of traffic congestion: First responders are increasingly using helicopters to get patients to the hospital quickly. Reports Ari Cetron with The Connection Newspapers:

The number of helicopter trips made by Aircare Medevac has more than doubled in just one year. In 2005, the company’s four helicopters in Northern Virginia (based in Manassas, Leesburg, Fredericksburg and Winchester) made 606 trips to Inova Fairfax Hospital. So far in 2006, the same four helicopters have made 1,250 trips.

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25 responses to “If You Can’t Drive, Try Flying”

  1. A big part of the problem comes from “creative solutions” to transport that spend huge amounts of money with very little road increase. The population has doubled but roads have increased 3%. Instead we get things like HOV lanes, Metro, light rail, metered entrance ramps, blablabla.

    Look at 95/395 with the mixed use center portion. Look at the huge cost of the raised flyovers for exit at the Mixing Bowl. Look at all the wasted space with entrance/exit ramps on each side. Look at the time, that the road carries no traffic. It would be better to just pave the whole thing over. You could add 4 lanes to each side of the highway.

    What is needed is very simple. More blacktop and lanes on major arteries.

  2. That was the basic idea behind my ultra short haul airline idea. With the increasing traffic congestion flights as short as two hundred miles become increasingly possible.

    Last week, a tractor trailer crossed the mdian on Rte 66 and slammed head on into another one in front of the farm. The impact was so great that it rattled the dishes here at the house, almost a quarter mile distant.

    The work done by the Marshall rescue squad was magnificent. In a matter of minutes they arrived and set up klieg lights to work on the scene. Within forty minutes they had extracted two people from the wreckage and flown them out.

    Workers will still clearing out pieces of the wreckage at 4:00 the next afternoon. No one was killed in this horrific accident, but judging from the scene it was both a miracle and a result of ecellent work on the part of the rescue squad and the flight crews.

    Congratultaions for a job well done.

    It turns out that the place the truck crossed the median was the only place that could have happened where it was both narrow and level. Any place else along that stretch the lanes would have been separated by either a deep drainage ditch or by trees and a berm.

  3. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Let’s set aside for the purposes of discussion – the air quality limitations…

    and let’s get on to, in theory, agree that more roads are indeed the answer.

    where would you put these new roads?

    how much would they likely cost ( a simple ballpark number)

    (You could start at the MWCOG/TPB website…which lists all the roads they’d like to see built in the
    next 20 years, then you could wander over to the NoVa Transportation Alliance website to pick up the
    roads they want built..) .. then wander over to the Reason Foundation website to get their road recommendations.

    How would they be paid for? I think a conservative number would be 100 Billion… and we have maybe 1.5 million licensed drivers in NoVa, probably another 1.5 million in Md/DC … do some math… to get the per capita cost

    If my math is correct.. it’s about 30K per licensed driver.

    right now, “ballpark” average driver in a 20mpg vehicle… pays around $300 bucks a year in gasoline taxes…

    Let’s get some preliminary data on the table …

    put some beef behind that rhetoric…

  4. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    Recent accounts suggest that building large new roads, expanding existing ones or constructing transit infrastructure may be unaffordable in some areas, including NoVA. The Fluor plans to construct HOT lanes on the D.C. Beltway are falling apart because of cost increases. If Fluor cannot afford to do this, why would we think that the Commonwealth can?

    Similarly, I’ve blogged the recent “hinting” by supporters of the Silver Line that the existing $4 B price tag is too low and that real estate taxes may need to be increased to pay for construction costs. Is that project, which does not improve traffic congestion, affordable?

    Why should everyone dig deeper and deeper to continue the same old approach that hasn’t worked?

    Perhaps, with the Democrats back in control of the Senate, Senator Byrd will again be able to snatch more federal jobs for West Virginia from the D.C. Metro area. That might actually be a cost-effective solution.

    It’s not just tree-huggers that don’t support the road and rail-building gang!

  5. “Perhaps, with the Democrats back in control of the Senate, Senator Byrd will again be able to snatch more federal jobs for West Virginia from the D.C. Metro area. That might actually be a cost-effective solution.”

    As crazy at it sounds this may not be a bad idea.

    If it is going to continue to cost so much money to build all of the infrastructe to support all of the new jobs perhpas moving them to another place is not such a bad idea for eveyone involved.

    West Virginia, Mississippi, Louisiana, etc., would LOVE to have some of these jobs.

    As a side note, if the cost of doing business in the DC Metro area becomes such that it doesn’t make sence to open/start/expand your business then they will eventually go someplace else anyway.

    We already have some of the worst traffic in the nation as well as a very high cost of living….jobs leaving may not be as far off as everyone thinks.

  6. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    If Fairfax is really thinking of funding the Silver Line with county-wide property taxes .. I’d be amazed.

    I’d almost think that if voters are going to stand by and let this happen – they deserve it.

    re: jobs…

    I think around 70K new jobs a year in the Wash Metro Area – and you can bet that most all of them are related to the Fed Government…

    I think several of us are to the point of wondering out loud is all these jobs is such a good deal except for the guys that develop land, sell houses and things that go into houses… furniture .. cars.. etc

    When I hear the “Club for Growth” – I sometimes wonder how much “growth” in the economy is not new net jobs but rather jobs associated with delivering goods and services to increased population growth.

    I think it is important to understand the distinction because the 70K net new jobs… often brings.. a spouse of the new job holder.. and some with kids.. and they need… a place to live… schools, libraries, roads, etc – i.e. infrastructure… and the company with the new jobs is not contributing very much towards that infrastructure need and if the locality – like Fairfax… does not collect adequate proffers to pay for the infrastructure..

    … what happens..is a competition between how to pay for the infrastructure… vs not dealing with paying and upgrading it.. but just letting the level of services (quality of life) degrade…

    So… back to why Fairfax and NoVa would want those jobs in the first place… and what I come up with … is that those jobs… brings wealth-creating opportunities to those who have access to enough capital to create businesses that can take advantage of the “growth”.

    The new jobs clearly don’t bring a “growth” of infrastructure.. a higher level-of-service or a higher quality of life so no benefit to the average guy/gal.. already living here.. and worrying about what their property tax bill is going to look like for the next go-a-around.

    It WILL be interesting.. to see.. if this submerged issue.. ever gains “legs” with the general public.

    It hasn’t so far. People are either clueless… or don’t see it as the issue. No shortage of folks who want to “stop” growth… but never really stop to think that people are coming here (growth) for those jobs…

    people don’t move to the Wash Metro area for it’s ambiance … I don’t think.

  7. I’ll say it again. If air quality issues are the stop sign for grwth in an area then we can no more build more housing than we can more roads.

    We will have to go someplace else.

    Indeed, a recent editorial in the WashPo suggested exactly that. Because Loudoun County had rejected the growth initiative, maybe we have maxed out, and the only solution is more of what BRAC proposes.

    Indeed, on a recent trip into town I noticed two new office high rises going up in the Fair Oaks area: well beyond the reach of Metro. On a recent trip to Winchester I saw two giant cranes erecetd jsut north of Front Royal. There is nothing in that area that would suggest that a thirty story crane is required for any ordinary construction. Prince william has doezens of industrial and office sites under construction.

    Now that Loudoun has said NO, we will definitely have to go someplace else.

    Where will it be?

    $100 billion for new roads is patently nuts. As Bacon
    on has noted such estimates are base on history that cannot be repeated: we are not going to add women to the workforce again, etc.
    Nova has neither the room nor the funds, nor the air qulity conditions that will allow $100 billion in new roads.

    Then, in today’s WashPo there was an article urging consservatives to support more subsidies for Metro.

    The usual reasons were given. Even those who never ride metro benefit. Metro has created huge property value gains, even for those who are not located near metro.

    All of those arguments could equally be mad in favor of roadways, but instead the same arguments are twisted in such a way as to oppose roadways.

    One argument or the other has to be wrong, or else they are equally right.

    When we have the liberal MSM applauding restrictions on growth, and when we have conservative think tanks proposing expanded subsidies, then what, exactly, have we come to?

    If WashPo (and TMT) are right, and we have maxed out with respect to growth and transportation, then what?

    If the only way we can continue to grow the Metro Area is with increased subsidies, as today’s lettter suggested, what does that tell us?

    Maybe the whole idea is not worth pursuing, and we should look elsewhere in order to create new places.

    Call it sprawl if you like. We just turned down 33,000 homes in Loudoun: homes for close to a million people.

    Where will they go?

  8. “Call it sprawl if you like. We just turned down 33,000 homes in Loudoun: homes for close to a million people…..Where will they go?”

    How do you figure that 1 million people will fit into 33,000 new homes…..1,000,000 / 33,000 = 30.30 people per house?

    In regards to that specific project, I think the BOS realized that it was a lopsided equation that did not work in their favor…..they made the right decision for the taxpayers of Loudoun County.

    If I were a developer and I was looking to do something on the scale of Dulles South, I would seriously consider courting big employers that will bring jobs to the county.

    If they are going to donate land for a University why can’t they donate some land for a corporate headquarters or a high-tech manufacturing facility that will employ a few hundred people? Multiply this a few times over and you could do a lot to reduce the burden on the taxpayer from all of the new housing that is going to be built.

    In other words, Economic Development doesn’t and shouldn’t be a function performed only by the government….developers could get in the game and offer incentives to companies in the form of land/facilities which will create jobs. This could/should make their projects look better to skeptical BOS and local governments afraid of the “bedroom community” label.

  9. You are right. I’m ashamed. I was thinking 3 people per house and multiplied wrong.

    So the argument is only 100 thousand people, or 4.9% of the number of pwoplw we think will come to the area in the next 20 years.

    If that is a lopsided equation, then what will make it right?

    The questin is the same. Where will they go?

  10. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    Gold_H2O – I think that your proposal would work if and only if Loudoun County were permitted to retain a portion of the income taxes generated by the workers from the new businesses. At least in Fairfax County, all of the added commercial development has not brought a lick of real estate tax relief for ordinary residents. Indeed, the percentage of total real estate taxes generated from commercial real estate has fallen for six or seven straight years and is down to around 17.3%. The typical Fairfax County homeowner’s real estate taxes are up 80-90% over that same period. Granted the value of homes are up substantially, but few people’s incomes have matched the increases in tax bills.

    Unless one is employed in the constuction, real estate or related industries, development — be it residential or commercial — doesn’t pay for itself, at least in Fairfax County. It’s great news for Tim Kaine. His treasury is overflowing. And the Commonwealth generally has benefited. But for those of us who have to live with the impacts of development, it’s a nightmare! I suspect that my neighbors in Loudoun County are starting to feel the same.

  11. Indeed, the percentage of total real estate taxes generated from “..commercial real estate has fallen for six or seven straight years and is down to around 17.3%. The typical Fairfax County homeowner’s real estate taxes are up 80-90% over that same period. Granted the value of homes are up substantially, but few people’s incomes have matched the increases in tax bills….”

    I don’t think the problem can be stated more eloquently. I also think it only applies to Fairfax county or other overpopulated places.

    The question is, How do we balance this fact with the facts that relate to more sprawl?

    All I can say is that I pray for the day whn I can agree with TMT unequivocally.

  12. Back to the topic of this string.

    I found ten years ago that there was an economic argument to be made for flying vs driving the sme distance, if the distance was greater than 150 miles, and if the geography (water or mountasins) or congestion contributed to the equation.

    Now we see people routinely commuting 50 miles. As a result, I now see new investors who have found my old business plan, who are asking for an update.

    The geography will probably not change much, but the congestion is continually playing in to my hand.

    I wonder. Among those environmentalists who think that congestion is good, how many of them suspected that they would make flying economically and environmentally acceptable?

  13. Think about it.

    Where those trucks collided, the nearest hospital was 25 minutes away. The neraest mjor hospital with real trauma facilitiws was 40 minutes away, by land.

    By air, it might be 15 minutes. It seems like a reaonable expense to me. Im sure it does to those who were transported.

    The Marshall rescue squad is all out of proprtion to the community it serves. It is mainly a volunteer and a blue collar organization. Recently, they hand built a major addition to their station, cinderblock by cinder block.

    I doubt they got any recognition or support from the county other than voluntary contributions, or routine support for hours served.

    Then, they populated that new garage facility with major new crash trucks and other equipment. I do not know, but I suspect that equipmen and the effort to man it was at least partly funded by general funds.

    Whatever it was, it wasn’t enough.

    The efforts of the Marshall Rescue squad far exceed the amount of community, county, and individual support they receive.

    All of the people they rescued were from out of state.

    Does anyone here seriously suggest that we should have a strict user pays policy?

    I was on a ski slope in Colorado when the ski lift failed and killed several people an injured dozens. I would agree that the lift operator was ultimately responsible. But who pays in the meantime?

    The helicopters that evacuated dozens of people off the mountain that day were not available by accident.

  14. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    Fairfax County’s helicopters are regularly used by federal, state and other local governments. The County does, however, make a considerable effort to obtain reimbursement for those governments. The last time I checked a few years ago, most of the money was being collected.

    So long as local taxpayers are being held harmless financially, why not let the County continue its air force?

  15. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    The helicopters were … are … invertible in part because of transport time and in part because of increased knowledge about the concept of the “golden hour”.

    It does not matter how many roads you have – what matters is what happens when that ambulance hits a bottleneck/backup and that’s the fundamental logic with respect to transporting by air.

    Even if there were NO bottlenecks/backups – 20 minutes of transport time for someone clinging to life is no longer considered acceptable or unavoidable.

    The pro-roaders reliably grasp at certain issues that have a high public-attention factor to advance an agenda of building more roads. It “works” for members of the public who don’t suffer from attacks of thoughtful reasoning.

    re: air quality – I’d recommend that those who doubt that the rules will be enforced by asking questions like “what will we do with more people” or implying that because of the rules we can’t have more people…

    .. spend a few minutes reading the MWCOG/TPB words on this… give it at least as much time as reading the Reason Foundation website… you know.. just to get a more rounded perspective….and all that rot.

    If folks want to know why Transit has such a big following – it’s in part, because of the air quality issue.

    The theory is … that as road conditions get more and more congested – that people will look to alternatives if those alternatives exist.

    Those who support transit in the context of air quality – don’t see it as a subsidized mode but rather a mode that will allow the reason to grow while staying within the air quality caps.

    The same is true of HOV and Congestion Pricing. They are not aiming to provide capacity for more cars (as growth continues). Instead, they are shooting to move MORE PEOPLE via vehicles that carry more people.

    In other words – discourage the use of high polluting SOV cars at rush hour – rather than continuing to build more roads that will encourage more SOV travel at rush hour.

    This is why I recommend.. spending a few minutes UNDERSTANDING …HOW the air quality regs are going to be implemented as the region continues to grow.

    and the point is not whether or not one agrees with it… it’s that they understand that it IS going to happen and to reconcile attitudes that are not not recognizing likely outcomes.

  16. Anonymous Avatar

    “It is commonly assumed that electric trains carry the greatest potential to reduce air pollution. After all, electric trains move large numbers of people and have no exhaust pipes.

    This assumption, however, usually is made without accounting for the source of the electricity that powers the train. And more than half of the nation’s electricity is derived from coal, making coal-fired generation one of the leading sources of air pollution in the United States. When power plant emissions are counted, most of the assumed air quality benefits of rail vanish.

    Moreover, planners and air quality regulators appear to be ignoring the environmental impact of electricity generation in evaluating transit projects, creating the false impression that electric rail projects do not contribute to regional pollution problems.”


  17. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “When power plant emissions are counted, most of the assumed air quality benefits of rail vanish.”

    It wouldn’t matter if power plant pollution was twice as bad as autos… the relevant point is the word “region” when you talk about the Washington Metro REGION – because it is on THAT basis that air quality is measured and it is on THAT basis that the cap governs.

    The pollution from transit is not contained within the Regional boundaries and it results in a net reduction of pollution within the regional boundaries.

    The other fallacy being promoted is that power plants are dirtier than automobiles which is simply not true on a per capita basis.

    Power plants DO generate mercury whereas autos do not and that is an issue but in terms of the kinds of pollution that impacts urban areas like Washington – if you converted ALL of your cars to plug-in hybrid vehicles – the total net pollution from electricity would be LESS than an all-gasoline car fleet.

    I’m not advocating the concept of offsite pollution “trading” but I think if this is the reality of how determinations are being made with respect to Washington Metro Air Quality – then the issue is within that context if you’re truly interested in the why and how behind the regs .. and more germane.. how those regs are implemented.

    Now.. if someone wants to get into the concept of whether offsite trading of pollution is “correct” then I’d agree it’s an issue but it has little to do with what is directly affecting decisions…in the mean time.

  18. E M Risse Avatar

    Jim’s original post was about a hidden cost of congestion that is reflected in insurance rates, hospital bills, federal income taxes and many other places.

    Flying is not a solution for urban mobility. See our column “The Skycar Myth” 15 November 2004 at db4.dev.baconsrebellion.com

    Flying for urban mobility is the Sao Paulo solution, the last resort of the super rich. See our column “Regional Rigor Mortis” 6 June 2005 at the same address.

    Just take a deep breath and repeat the following:

    There is no solution to urban transport congestion that does not involve Fundamental Change in human settlement patterns.


  19. E M Risse Avatar

    Oh Yes,

    Those functional settlement patterns optomize the use of electronic communications suggested by Jim W and they minimize the use of all vehicles electric, hydrogen, disel or what ever.

    It is elementary that travel by shared vehicle is more effecient than by private vehicle.

    As Jim W suggests, charge the true total cost of mobility and watch citizens jump on the PRT, train, bus and, most importantly on the shoe leather.

    With functional settlement patterns all these modes work well and the better the pattern, the less there is a need to resort to any vehicle.


  20. “It is elementary that travel by shared vehicle is more effecient than by private vehicle.”

    Not necessarily so, and probably not so. If this was really true, everyone would car pool. Where the efficiency gets lost is in coordination, timing, and extra travel to get to the shared vehicle.

    There is no pattern that results in no vehicles.

  21. I never suggested that flying was an option for urban mobility. Only that it is a partial option in certains special circumstances. In that regard it is no different from Metro, or VRE.

    Even at today’s fuel prices a modern ten passenger airplane can carry 6 passengers 120 miles an hour at $0.75 cents per passenger mile, and turn a profit.

    Metro can’t do that.

    What we need to do is determine what works best and where, and leave it at that. There is no single answer that meets all of anybody’s needs or some of everybody’s needs.

  22. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “It is elementary that travel by shared vehicle is more effecient than by private vehicle.”

    I’d like to parse this a bit – in part because I think there may be apples and oranges…

    any car/vehicle is probably going to be more efficient in terms of energy use.

    So, yes a car with 3 people is going to be more efficient than 2 people

    But let me provide a counter example.

    A cab carrying predominately one person is probably not going to be any more efficient than a private vehicle carrying one person (though I’m not sure how to allocate the permanent driver PLUS the one passenger).

    A cap and a private auto are both dynamically dispatchable – meaning.. your access to one is usually when you need one.

    Further, your destination is direct – non-stop in terms of other intermediate destinations.

    A shared vehicle – if it is a flex-car AND they are fairly ubiquitous… would come close also.

    But I don’t think these kinds of “shared” vehicles are comparable to fixed-guideway, fixed-itinerary conventional mass transit – and perhaps that was not the claim … so if I’m down a rathole on this… say so.

    I think what of the important issues not adequately addressed is what Mobility means. It needs to be fully articulated with respect to it’s various constituent characteristics.

    I’m interested in this, in part, because mobility costs can vary quite a bit.

    For examples.. the same guy making the same auto trip but at different times of the day has very different “costs” and I think it’s pretty clear that if you had to go 20 miles during rush hour – that your chances of making that trip quicker on Metro than an auto are pretty high UNTIL you factor in the intermodal origin/destination links.

    And that really IS how average people make that calculation – just like they do with air travel. For instance, people don’t fly from DC to Charlottesville..usually… even though the air part of the trip would be much faster …

  23. Where would I put the additional roads? Right where the existing roads are. Take the Dulles access highway and get rid of the gawdawful middle “most expensive driveway in the world” (and get rid of the tolls at the same time) and just blacktop the damn thing over. Even leavind the center berm, you can add an extra 2 lanes (above the 2/2 that already exist from toll and untolled) on EACH side. That’s 6 lanes both ways, now. Not to mention the added efficiency from letting people use the center more fully. It would be frigging easy from an engineering standpoint. Just have to get past that tree-hugger mindset that loves tolls and a “Driveway from the 60’s”.

  24. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    What about the bridges/overpasses?

    I’ve thought of this too… next time you do that road.. look at the overpasses where their support “legs” are.

    and what happens when you get to the end of the tollway and have to get on other roads?

    how would you expand them?

    Expanding one road .. even if you can… doesn’t relieve regional congestion and in fact, what you end up with in most cases will be a slightly faster trip to a road that is maxed and you just moved WHERE you wait from one place to another.

    In order to relieve congestion EFFECTIVELY (as opposed to one road) – you’d have to have a plan for the Region.

    Where is that Plan? If you want to know what IS planned for the NEXT 30 years – take a little journey to


    The long-range plan must meet several federal requirements …. :

    * Financial Constraint
    * Air Quality

    Financial Analysis

    Federal law requires the long-range plan to be based on revenue sources that are “reasonably expected to be available.” .. estimated revenues of $109.8 billion equal the estimated costs of expanding, while adequately maintaining and operating, the highway and transit system in the region from 2007 through 2030.

    Air Quality

    The TPB must make sure that the projects in the plan and TIP, taken collectively, contribute to air quality improvement goals for the region. This is a requirement of the federal Clean Air Act. The primary air quality conformity assessment criterion includes comparison of mobile source emissions to emissions ceilings (called “mobile emissions budgets”) to volatile organic compounds (VOC), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and carbon monoxide (CO) established in the air quality plan for the region. The analysis of the plan indicates that mobile emissions are within currently required budgets for 2010, 2020, and 2030.

  25. I know about the bridges and the overpasses. They have to be modified. That’s part of the project. There is the engineering to do this. This is not a new problem.

    Get rid of the driveway and the thinking that goes behind it. More lanes is the solution. Hell of a lot cheaper then putting in light rail down the middle berm.

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