Meet the New Bottleneck, Same as the Old Bottleneck

Controversy is brewing over a $75.6 million project that would expand westbound Interstate 66 in Arlington from two lanes to three over a 10-mile stretch. The main foe of the project: Arlington County.

As Eric M. Weiss reports for the Washington Post, project supporters say the roadway has become a regional chokepoint. Widening the road would improve traffic for commuters heading west in the evening, as well as reverse commuters heading for the Dulles corridor in the morning. But Arlington County leaders, who have opposed widening the Interstate inside the Beltway since it opened in 1982, argue that the project would simply replace existing chokepoints with others — at great expense.

Says Chris Zimmerman, a member of the Arlington County board of supervisors: “We’ve called for years for a multi-modal study to see what alternatives would be most effective in improving mobility in the I-66 corridor. All of that is being bypassed.”

I don’t know the particulars of Interstate 66, so I can’t comment on it. But the project reminds me of the clamor to build the Third Crossing in Hampton Roads. That crossing would tie into the existing Monitor-Merrimac bridge-tunnel just before it touches ashore in Newport News. The traffic from the two bridges then would funnel onto Interstate 64, which is already so congested that traffic routinely backs up for miles. From what I can tell, all the multi-billion dollar Third Crossing would do is move the chokepoint from the two existing bridge-tunnels to a point a few miles west on I-64.

Traffic projects must be evaluated in the context of the larger transportation system. When spot improvements can eliminate a bottleneck and restore free-flowing traffic, they may warrant funding. But when projects simply shift the location of bottlenecks from one location to another, they would seem to be an utter waste of money.

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40 responses to “Meet the New Bottleneck, Same as the Old Bottleneck”

  1. A lot of Arlington neighborhoods butt right up against the highway on I-66, and Metro runs down the middle in parts. I would imagine any widening would involve some significant displacement of people. The entire interstate between the beltway and DC is already HOV only during rush hour, and it still backs up. I doubt a single lane would make any noticeable difference.

  2. nova_middle_man Avatar

    Classic Nimbyisim

    “The project is troubling to Prince William leaders such as board Chairman Corey A. Stewart (R), who said he worries that the project will encourage more commuter traffic from areas south of the county that will slow traffic for everyone.”

    Are you serious??? What do you think these commuters are doing currently. Also, the extra lane will help Prince William residents greatly.

    Don’t even get me started on Arlington

    The I-66 widening will NOT impede any bike trails or take any property along the roadway

    Heading on I-66 west almost 24/7 it always slows at the same exact spots regardless of rush hour, Friday night or anytime during the weekend these improvements will be greatly appreciated. (As an aside who in their right mind builds a 4 lane expressway anyway oh thats right that was done for NIMBYISIM again)

    Oh and as far as the environment and pollution are concerned. There is more pollution created with all of the cars sitting still in the current bottlenecks. Adding a third sliplane will improve traffic flow, pollution and air quality.


    Jim does bring up an interesting issue overall

    My main questions are What is going to happen at the 14th street bridge when the HOT lanes will have to drop from 3 to 2. Adding even more headache to an existing bottleneck

    For I-66 the added throughput will propably add problems to I-66 From Vienna to the Route 50 split and cause further backups onto I-495 to Tysons Corner.

    I still support the two proposals however.

    P.S. If Prince William and Arlington don’t want the money Fairfax will gladly take it to jumpstart the HOT lane proposal on 495, bring metro to Chantilly and expand I-66 to 5 lanes each way from the intersetion at the beltway to at least the Route 50 split and maybe to Chantilly as well. This issue has me fired up enough that I might actually take off work and try to attend the meeting on the 16th

  3. nova_middle_man Avatar

    For more info see here for I-66

    Between these two proposals, the silver line, and the transformation of Tysons corner there is a huge opportunity for progress or costly mistakes that will affect my generation (20s) for decades to come

  4. Groveton Avatar

    Warning! Nova_Middle_Man on the rampage! Starting to approach emotional level of … Groveton.

    Nova_Middle_Man is right. There was room to make I-66 four lanes in each direction from Day 1. I lived in Arlington in 1982 when it opened. It made moving around Northern Virginia much easier, faster and better. However, two lanes in each direction was inadequate before that section of I-66 even opened.

    I suppose I can understand Arlington County’s point since it represents more traffic going through their county with a fair share of that traffic neither originating nor terminating in Arlington. However, we are all Americans and we all have to do our share to help the economy grow so we can support our growing population. In addition, the road is built. Expanding it isn’t that big a deal.

    The Prince William County position baffles me. Somehow adding road capacity will make things worse for the residents of PW. Well, hell’s bells – let shut down the whole road and really make things good for the citizens of PW!

    There are three stages to solving our transportation problems:

    1. More transit capacity – including more road capacity at known chokepoints like I-66 in Arlington County. Short term.

    2. Taxation, regulation and government incentives to encourage / require tele-commuting (sometimes from home, sometimes from regional offices of large corproations / agencies). Mid term.

    3. Changing human settlement patterns. Long term.

  5. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Name the top 3 projects that will reduce regional congestion in NoVa and by how much.

    Now, name the next 7 so we have the top 10 projects for reducing regional congestion in rank order.

    If you cannot answer this question then why I-66? Why not a new bridge crossing the Potomac? Why not the Western Transportation Corridor? Why not region-wide congestion pricing? What not Bus Rapid Transit in Arlington?

    The problem … as I see it – is a mindless mindset in terms of what exactly is expected from $75 million dollars … FIRST…

    THEN.. is it a reasonable and cost-effective investment that will actually have a beneficial effect on NoVa Regional Congestion.

    The mindset .. seems to be … “build something…. build anything no matter the cost because … it’s bound to help .. and it’s way overdue.”

    Let’s pretend for a moment that we do know what exactly the benefit of the new lane might be – and because we know that – we know how much of the problem “will be solved” and we ALSO know that not all of it will be resolved either

    Then what?

    what is the next step?

    Did we just charbroil $75 million for giggles and grins?

    I admit it is complicated but I think we’re doing nothing but waste money if we cannot effectively model congestion such that we can .. intelligently… produce a rank list of needed improvements.

    One of the top ten might be some new ramp somewhere .. or it might mean timing the lights on some stretch of road.. or it might be building a connector or a flyover… or HORRORs .. implementing congestion pricing on the two lane part of I-66.

    Instead .. the advocacy seems to be as simple as saying: ” gee, there’s room for another lane on I-66 where it is only 2 lanes – we gotta fix that problem”.

  6. Jim Wamsley Avatar
    Jim Wamsley

    Transaction2030 listed the top projects. They listed the projects that reduce VMT but they didn’t provide numbers for rank ordering. Here is my version of the top 10.

    Light rail (VA 7 corridor) construct Tysons Corner to Baileys Crossroads/Skyline

    VA 7100 (Fairfax County Parkway) construct (fill in gaps) Monument Drive to Lee Chapel Road

    I-66/US 29/US 50 CORRIDOR
    Metrorail (I-66 corridor) construct Vienna to Centreville
    VRE Service Extension construct Manassas to Haymarket
    Express bus service implement I-66 Corridor

    Metrorail Circumferential construct Dunn Loring to Bethesda (Red Line)
    King Street to Branch Avenue (Yellow Line)
    Corridor Wide Express bus Implement I-495/I-95-Woodrow Wilson Br. To American Legion Br.

    I-95/I-395/US 1 CORRIDOR
    CC-PY Transitway construct Crystal City to Potomac Yard
    Metrorail Extension Springfield to Fort Belvoir

    Light rail (Columbia Pike corridor) construct Baileys Crossroads/Skyline to Pentagon

  7. Anonymous Avatar

    As someone who makes the reverse commute out of South Arlington, the western lane is a project whose time has come and would principally benefit Arlington’s own citizens.

    The highway currently runs two lanes west to the Fairfax line where it quickly expands to 3 lanes, restoring flow. From there it splits into I-66 and 267, which together ultimately provide 6 lanes (8 if you count the airport lanes) of traffic, all of which flow beautifully heading west in the morning. Hustling folks out of Arlington is not an exercising in moving the bottleneck.

    With all the extra time in the car, I’ve made study of this journey over my years. The county’s obstinancy has cost me an average of 24 minutes a day between Glebe and Sycamore, a distance of just a few miles. The cost of 100 hours a year of idling my engine is non trivial, both in hydrocarbons and carbon footprint.

    The westbound lane can be added without any widening of the highway’s footprint. Insofar as it may increase traffic on I-66, it will do so by reducing traffic on other Arlington alternates like Washington Blvd, US 50 and the GW Parkway, all roads used frequently by savvy I-66 users. Why the Arlington County Council chooses to punish its own citizens (including those citizens residing on Washington Blvd, the de facto 3rd lane of I-66) is beyond me.

  8. nova_middle_man Avatar

    Our friend Jim W is a transit guy

    here are my top three outside of the two already mentioned

    Remember the golden triangle

    Tysons, Dulles, Manassas

    1. HOT Lanes on I-495 from Springfield into and (hopefully connecting) into Maryland and/or Metro connecting Dunn Loring with the Red Line

    2. I-66 add a fifth lane from Centreville to the Beltway and/or extend orange line from Vienna to Chantilly.

    3. Complete interchanges on 28 and/or Add a lane on Fairfax County Parkway between I-66 and Reston and/or have BRT on 28 and Fairfax County Parkway.

    Note there should be careful studying done along each main corridor to see if adding lanes, BRT, or metro/heavy rail is the most cost effective.

    I have always thought the 4.5 Billion and climbing!!! Silver line is a waste and would be better served by BRT or possibly adding a lane to Route 7 instead

  9. Jim Wamsley Avatar
    Jim Wamsley

    I prefer Multimodal.

    When your goal is reduction in congestion, you have to reduce the VMT. In Northern Virginia, adding capacity adds trips. The planners call it induced demand. Reducing VMT reduces congestion. I looked for the full moons in the Transaction2030 project list and added Metros rail from King Street to Branch Avenue which will serve National Harbor and rerouted the Blue line service to Fort Belvoir. If the demand isn’t high enough to support transit, I support highways. In Northern Virginia lack of demand is not the problem.

  10. rodger provo Avatar
    rodger provo

    Jim Wamsley’s posting is a good model for all of Virginia.

    We need new rail, light rail and street car systems.

    Those systems need to be linked to new transit oriented developments to absorb new growth, thus fewer vehicle trips on our highway.

    We need more rail capacity out of Hampton Roads to move freight.

    We need new transit systems in Hampton Roads, Richmond, Charlottesville and Roanoke.

    Our state needs new passenger rail
    service cross state and new rail
    service to move freight along the
    I-81 and I-95 corridors.

  11. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I think the responses to my question prove my point.

    If you ask different folks for a rank-order list – you will get different lists.

    We never establish a criteria for effectiveness so as to rank the projects.

    Even if you are a road-centric person – your list is based more on your own experiences rather than whether among say 10 projects – which one has the most bang for the buck for reducing regional congestion.

    Instead.. we look at individual roads that are maxed out at rush hour.

    So .. there’s not even a good process for ranking roads ONLY much less doing what JW is which is looking at multi-modal configurations which, by the way is the same comment that Chris Zimmerman of Alexandria gave as his reason for not supporting the 3rd lane on I-66.

    Roads along will not solve urban congestion… we know that … and yet .. we seem to persist that we need to build “one more” just so we can make this one road less crowded – without ever considering where all of that increased traffic would end up at ….

    folks.. we have computers now days.. they do all sorts of marvelous things.. like model complex things.. like transportation networks…

    not perfect by any means but a whole heck of a lot better that taking a vote … for best roads.

  12. nova_middle_man Avatar


    The debate between roads and mass transit will not be solved anytime soon

    The best answer in most cases is BRT. Metro and Roads are usually underutilized outside of rush periods which is not cost effective. Buses allow increased capacity during rush periods at the lowest cost.

    The problem is for whatever reason there is a stigma with buses that they are for lower class or some junk like that and people wont ride on them.


    There are some areas that truely do need more capacity

    I-66 from DC to the Route 50 split and I-95 from DC to Fredricksburg have frequent congestion and traffic issues outside of rush hour. For these two areas additional capacity actually makes sense.

    There is already mass transit on most of I-66 so the only option is more roadway with perhaps extending the orange line to Chantilly. For I-95 metro extension might make sense for part of it but it would be too expensive for the whole route. VRE has its own issues with not being cost effective and having to compete with CSX and heat.

    I strongly support the I-66 spot improvement and the 95/395 HOT lane proposal.

  13. nova_middle_man Avatar


    I just reread my comment and I came off kind of pompous :-p

    I totally agree with your main premis.

    It is a mystery hw most transportation projects are chosen and I totally agree that the technology available should be able to model the whole entire transportation network and show where money can be spend most effectively and how new throughput will impact the rest of the transportation network

  14. Jim Wamsley Avatar
    Jim Wamsley

    I-66 spot improvement will not increase capacity. VDOT admits this in their CLRP submission. It’s on the COG web site as a pdf.

    22. Is this a capacity-increasing project on a limited access highway or other arterial highway of a functional class higher than minor arterial? _Yes; X No

  15. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    “I suppose I can understand Arlington County’s point since it represents more traffic going through their county with a fair share of that traffic neither originating nor terminating in Arlington. “

    That might have been true when 66 was built. But now we know that more people than ever are commuting OUT of Arlington to work. Many of them use 66 westbound. How can we now say that 66 does not benefit Arlington?

  16. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    “The planners call it induced demand.”

    Induced demand was a 1960’s theory that has been partially discounted by modern studies. The idea continues to hold on in spite of evidence to the contrary.

  17. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    Changing modes adds, on average, 25 minutes to a trip. This is why most people hate multimodal transport.

    This week I observed a large Hispanic family travelling on Metro. Adding up the fares they paid it occured to me that they would have been better off driving, for that trip.

  18. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    “When your goal is reduction in congestion, you have to reduce the VMT.”

    Reducing congestion has absolutely nothing to do with reducing congestion. Reducing congestion mean reducing the VMT that occurs in a congested area. Those are two different things. There are plenty of studies to suggest that suburban and rural residents drive only slightly more than urban residents, but endure far less congestion.

  19. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    “there’s not even a good process for ranking roads ONLY much less doing what JW is which is looking at multi-modal configurations “

    “we have computers now days.. they do all sorts of marvelous things.. like model complex things.. like transportation networks…”

    Even the best models we have available today are full of shortcomings. Even worse, they may have political biases built in.

    We do not yet have models that can adequately simulate complex transportation networks, let alone simulate changes in transportation networks and land use over time, combined with changes in economic realities, and changes in personal behavior.

  20. nova_middle_man Avatar

    Jim Bacon et all,

    Looks like Dr. Gridlock from Washington Post might be a good long term ally. He seems to get it more often than not

  21. nova_middle_man Avatar

    Jim W

    keep reading on the document

    20. Do traffic congestion conditions necessitate the proposed project? X Yes; _ No
    21. If so, describe those conditions: X Recurring congestion; _ Non-site specific congestion;
    _ Frequent incident-related, non-recurring congestion; _ Other
    22. Is this a capacity-increasing project on a limited access highway or other arterial highway of a
    functional class higher than minor arterial? _Yes; X No
    23. If yes, does this project require a Congestion Management Documentation form under the given
    criteria (see Call for Projects document)? _Yes; X No
    24. If not, please identify the criteria that exempt the project here:
    _ The number of lane-miles added to the highway system by the project totals less than 1 lane-mile
    X The project is an intersection reconstruction or other traffic engineering improvement, including
    replacement of an at-grade intersection with an interchange
    _ The project will not allow motor vehicles, such as a bicycle or pedestrian facility
    _ The project consists of preliminary studies or engineering only, and is not funded for construction
    _ The project received NEPA approval on or before April 6, 1992
    _ The project was already under construction on or before September 30, 1997, or construction funds
    were already committed in the FY98-03 TIP.
    _ The construction costs for the project are less than $5 million.

    From 20-21 its a good project

    22 isn’t checked because it fits a critieria in 24

  22. nova_middle_man Avatar

    Althought the doubleedged sword is since they get to use the loophole in 24 to bypass question 22. There will be no congestion study (23) required

  23. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “I-66 from DC to the Route 50 split and I-95 from DC to Fredricksburg have frequent congestion and traffic issues outside of rush hour. For these two areas additional capacity actually makes sense.”

    VDOT puts out for every road something called AADT. I can produce a link if asked.

    AADT is basically an hour-by-hour count of traffic on a given road.

    If you can visualize how this looks graphically – it would be a bell curve histogram.

    Roads that have a sharp peak and very low shoulders are classic peak-hour critters.

    But roads that have “fat” histograms are showing roads where there is less and less difference between rush hour counts and normal traffic.

    I-95 from NoVa to Fredericksburg and south to Richmond is starting to look like this.

    I’m not familiar enough with I-66 but we could go get the numbers.

    So … if the problem is not a peak hour problem but rather a chronic all-day problem AND EPA is not going to let you add capacity if it ADDS net air pollution – what next?

    I think this is where NoVa is going with this …. in the longer run.

    More road capacity region-wide is what it will take to reduce region-wide congestion and I don’t think that is truly in the cards.

    As stated by several – we agree – dealing with some bottlenecks (which may be costly), SOME connectors, SOME Metro expansion and (I Hope) BRT that complements Metro in such a manner that it is reliable in terms of time and available in enough places.

    BRT Express buses between existing commuter lots and existing METRO would seem to be something worth shooting for.

    oh.. and I did not see any pompous statements… 🙂

  24. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    “More road capacity region-wide is what it will take to reduce region-wide congestion and I don’t think that is truly in the cards.”

    More road capacity region wide is one way to reduce region wide congestion. But I agree it isn’t in the cards.

    We need to think of some other solution.

    Maybe some of us could go use some of that unused road capacity in Farmville.

  25. nova_middle_man Avatar

    The ultimate solution is what all of us have been saying for years now :-p

    telecommuting, flex schedules, more places or is it….

    The free market is starting to work

    Businesses are choosing to locate in different areas, people are choosing to live elsewhere because of the high cost of housing

    When the government intervenes we are rewarding bad behavior

    By having affordable housing initatives it masks the true “problem” of an overinflated housing market and just bumps up the affordable housing threshold.

    Maybe instead of fixing I-66 we should stop building in Tysons Corner and put the next office building in Farmville instead

    The problem with this is that you need an educated workforce to support the business. If southside and southwest could improve the education of their workforce more businesses would move to the region

    So the ultimate solution IMHO is fixing the education system.

  26. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “The free market is starting to work”


    but an example…

    Telecommuting – exercised as an option by a company as an explicit business strategy that benefits their bottom line – whether it be money, competitiveness or attracting talent – is not the same as that company agreeing to “help out” the congestion situation.

    That gets perceived as a “cost of doing business”.

    That’s why I feel that government actions to “encourage” behaviors is not near as quick or effective nor permanent if at the end of the day – folks can still choose to drive SUVs SOLO at rush hour without direct economic consequences.

    Instead, if it costs a commuter say … $30 a day to commute to a job – there WILL be a conversation between the employee and the employer with regard to compensation… and terms of employment, et al.

    Both employee and employer will then find a solution that mutally benefits them and reduces their costs – both time and money – as it should be for any business decision.

    And the $30 multiplied by as many people and their employers who deem a timely and reliable trip whenever they need to take it – as worth the money

    – will produce exactly the required funds to improve, maintain, and add new – infrastructure to provide them with the service they pay for.

    And keep in mind – that the market does not produce only folks who will pay and only folks who will not pay. The decision will vary according to circumstances that are driven by time and money choices.

    Tolls and Congestion pricing is not about penalizing people. It’s about charging what it takes to provide them with a reliable service that meets their needs – and the decision about how much to pay for your needs is YOUR decision.

  27. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    This week, Time magazine had a section on global warming, including 51 things you can do to make a difference.

    Perusing the list makes you realize how schizophrenic we are about this, but there were several items worth noting.

    Item 41 had to do with car pooling and noted that Washington State now supplies incentives to busineses that encourage their employee to adopt habits that were less auto intensive.

    This is what I regard as not penalizing people. Tolls and congestion pricing are penalties. They DO NOT charge what it takes to provide a reliable service: they charge what it takes to exclude some people from getting the service that exists, with no expecttion that more service will ever be delivered.

    If you want to have a certain good, or a certain service, then you should be willing to pay for it, and not simply force others to forgo what it is you do not want. The article listed a number of other incentives for green behavior as well.

    Item 13 was about letting employees work close to home. It cited a study of Seattle’s fire department which found that only 4% of firefighters worked at the station closest to their home, and some were commuting 145 miles – each way! After working with Key Bank the professor was able to rduce commutes of bank employee by 69% and yet, still, only 20% of employees worked at the branch closest to their home. Maybe co- locating isn’t going to be easy or effective.

    Five of the Items dealt with carbon taxes, one way or another. There was considerable talka about cap and trade vs straight taxation, voluntary carbon credits, and rich vs poor countries.

    Fifteen of the Items had to do with simple conservation or recycling: things I thought everybody did, like turn off the lights and computer, insulate the water heater, use the clothes line, recycle the newspaper, use fluorescent bulbs, buy energy star appliances.

    Four of the items required considerabley more planning: install geothermal heatpump, build a green house, design for passive.

    Four required doing with less, dithc the McMansion (since someone else will want it, I don’t see the savings) move to a small apartment in a high rise (save on gas and electricity, but pay exhorbitant rent) give up your leafy home and linve in a concrete cube. Do with out steak (Cows emit methane). Do without a necktie (save on air conditioning.) Flush the toilets with water from the sink. (Yuk.)

    Five suggested growing something, biomass for fuel, support your local farmer, plant bamboo, buy from the local vineyard or brewery, grow compost, plant a tree. (Did you know that trees have a net warming effect in the U.S.?)

    Several items suggested moving: either jobs or homes, but this is where it gets schizophrenic. One item suggests moving to a highrise, another suggests opening the windows and using cross ventilation. One suggests buying hybrids, another taking the bus. Some claim that cities and highrises use much less energy, that New York as the densest northern city uses less energy than chcago and San Francisco in rank order of density.

    I think that is hogwash.

    “The land ‘consumed’ by urban regions is typically at least an order of magnitude greater than that contained within the usual political boundaries or the associated built-up area. However brilliant its economic star, every city is an entropic black hole drawing on the concentrated material resources and low-entropy production of a vast and scattered hinterland many times the size of the city itself.” – William Rees.

    But there was a footnote on the bottom of one page which struck me. It defined “Embodied Energy”, as the total of water fuel and other resources consumed by a product during its lifecycle. I would expand that such that product also means or includes persons.

    If we don’t figure out what this means and how to manage it, nothing else we do in terms of sustainability will matter very much.

  28. Jim Wamsley Avatar
    Jim Wamsley

    It’s not what you know; it’s what you know that ain’t so that creates problems.

    “Some claim that cities and highrises use much less energy, that New York as the densest northern city uses less energy than Chicago and San Francisco in rank order of density.

    I think that is hogwash.”

  29. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “Washington State now supplies incentives to busineses that encourage their employee to adopt habits that were less auto intensive.”

    Ray – who is Washington State?

    Don’t you mean the taxpayers of Washington State?

    Why would you advocate taking money away from people who have already made a personal decision to conserve – and then give that money to others as “incentives”?

    Do you not consider this a “penalty” on those who have chosen to do what is needed without being bribed by other taxpayers money?

  30. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    ” Tolls and congestion pricing are penalties. They DO NOT charge what it takes to provide a reliable service: they charge what it takes to exclude some people from getting the service that exists, with no expecttion that more service will ever be delivered.”

    Then I presume you favor one price for everyone for electricity also and you view extra charges for higher consumption as a dastardly “scheme” to force people not to use excessive electricity!

    Would you force Exxon to sell gas at one low fixed price because to let the price “float” according to demand is really a sneaky scheme to force people to use less or pay more?

    What part of “free market” do you not agree with?

    Do you feel that if government is providing a service that they should be prohibited from doing so on a true free-market basis because you suspect that in doing so their motivation really is to punish people?

    If so – let’s turn the roads over to private enterprise and let them operate just like Exxon does.

  31. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde


    I’ve sen the stats for New York vs Chicago vs SF, and I admit it looks pretty compelling. But, considering the source, I’ll have to wait until I find more impartial data. I’ll gladly admit being wrong when I see the evidence.

    I do know there are other opinions that say cities are huge energy and resource sinks that export many of their problems. My own modest research in EIA say that there is little difference in energy consumption between rural and urban homes, taking income into account.

    If living in New York is what it takes to save on energy, then I’m not sure it is worth it, considering the rents.


    If I spend more on electricity, then I get more electricity. I don’t exclude someone else from getting it. Congestion fees are just the opposite.

    If the power company does not invest sufficiently and runs out of power, then I don’t get any and I don’t pay for it. With roads and congestion fees, it is just the opposite.

    I do not advocate taking money away from people who have already made a personal decision to conserve – and then give that money to others as “incentives” and I have said as much regarding “land use” taxes. Here is a situation where the advocates of land use taxes freely admit that the extra money is being used to subsidize others.

    But, if Wshington state offers incentives, what is to prevent those who are already reducing auto usage from signing up and getting their share of the pie? How are they being penalized?


    At one time we had privately owned roads and that system was such a failure that we did away with it. Sure, auction off the streets to the highest bidder. The state will make a bundle and their worries are over, tight? What happens when the owner decides his street would be better off as housing, a parking lot, or skateboard park?

    At one time the rule was that you had to contribute two weeks per year to raod work, and ring your own horse and tools. What would that be worth in today’s dollars? $3000, maybe?


    The government is not Exxon or Dominion. If I’m not mistaken, Exxon and Dominion offer lower prices for their best customers, and so does VRE.

    It seems perfectly clear to me, and I don’t understand why this is so hard. If you want a particular good or service (behavior) then you should be willing to pay for it. In the case of government ervices we all pay and we all benefit. In both government and private services you study your budget and decide how much, and which, service you wish to buy.

    (However, no one is arguing that private enterprise isn’t more efficient – at what it does. One reason it is more efficient is that private enterprise has the option of going out of business. Many of the businesses it has gotten out of (like roads) fall to the government, so private enterprise is more efficient due to cherry picking.)

    But, charging other people to prevent a behavior you disapprove of is something altogether different. It is ethically and economically flawed, and also (not surprisingly) politically popular. You get to demonize the “bad” guy and tax the guy behind the tree.

    It is ethically flawed because it purports to provide a benefit for all at the cost of a few. It promises to provide something that you don’t pay for: to then try to use the free market as a cover is a baldfaced lie. It is economically flawed because it casues an articial “bump” in the economic system. Those dollars will try to flow downhill to where they can buy more for less. It is why the idea that we can raise highway dollars by punishing bad drivers is a joke.

    On the other hand, just because some people dislike some activities doesn’t mean that they are not still valuable, like logging. In that case the activity will continue but at an artificially higher price, and those costs will be distributed throughout the economy: in other words we all end up paying anyway, but we’ve got political cover. This is the case with the current transportation bill.

    Even incentives have their problems. We are incentivizing ethanol production with the result that tortilla and milk prices are climbing. Without ethanol, higher fuel prices would make tortillas and milk more expensive anyway.

    So, it doesn’t matter whether the market is free or not, it will still operate. The war on drugs proves it. Dressing up penalties in a free market suit is just intellectually dishonest.

    In the case of congestion fees we are simply trying to treat the symptoms and not the disease. Our planners and politicians have put together urban areas that cannot be supported by the infrastructure we have: not roads, not metro, not rail, and not even bike paths are immune from overcrowded, uncomfortable, and unsafe conditions. Having made a huge mistake, they now want to turn around and tell us it is our fault, that congestion fees will solve the problem when they won’t.

    They won’t increase capacity, or only a little, and there will still be just as many office seats to fill. Why is that so hard to see?

    If you want to fix the problem, go after the root cause.

  32. nova_middle_man Avatar


    Just to be clear the root cause is trying to squeeze too many people/business into an area correct?

    The solution is more places then

    However isn’t this then just a recipe for more lower desnity sprawl across a wider area?

    This is an oversimplification but I am curious to here your response

  33. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    I am unwilling to agree that lower density over a wider area necessarilly means sprawl, with all that connotes.

    Let’s start with the idea that at some point the utility of higher density is outweighed by its drawbacks. Buildings and infrastructure get increasingly complex and more expensive. Despite our best efforts it becomes noisy, dirty, polluted, and worse. It lacks the open space and natural beauty we need to connect ourselves to the planet.

    We can disagree on what that level is, but it is surely somewhere.

    So, yes, below that level we will have some kind of lower density. And at that lower density we will require more space, or more places, especially if we plan on more people.

    I don’t agree tht necesarily amounts to sprawl. Sprawl implies we are using the space badly, but is there some reason we cannot use more space and use it well? Certainly, the starting argument implies that we can use less space and still use it badly.

    Admittedly, our ability to screw up is unlimited, and there is only one optimum condition, so the odds are against us.

    Somewhere, I have seen a chart that shows how much more land various cities have used, how much of it is due to more people and how much is due to higher per capita use of land. In New York, surprisingly, 100% of the increase in land use is due to higher percapita use of land. In Atlanta 64% of the increase is due to higher population and the rest to higher per capita use of land. But it says nothing about the quality of that use, in either case.

    Then there is the problem of gross density and spot density vs average density. It seems to me that we can probably stand higher density if it comes in smaller doses.

    Suppose you live in the midle of what you call the golden triangle, in Chantilly or Oakton. You can equally go to Tysons, Reston, Dulles, Manassas, or Fair Lakes. When Annandale/Springfield is rebuilt those will be accessible, too, sort of.

    But what if we had built all those places at high density by rebuilding Anacostia?

    So, you can make an argument that more places gives more people more opportunities with less travel. Economists that have studied polycentric cities find they are more economically powerful.

    I think it is that simple. We have reached the point where more size and more density doesn’t make sense.

    But the alternative does not have to be sprawl, even if it means we use up some (currently) open space.

    I happen to be predisposed to think that a lot more small towns is the answer. Why give someone a huge bomb or terrorist target, with no place to evacuate to and no way to get there?? I think that referring to Reston as a town center is laughable. But that is just my background. The best optimum mix could be a lot different, whatever it is we should be aiming for beauty and happiness at least as much, and probably more, than we should be aiming for efficiency.

    Whatever it is, we are going to need a lot more new stuff to accommodfate the new people, like yoourself. Since new people and young people haven’t got the money, yet, it is going to have to come from someplace else. Hanging 100% of the costs of new stuff on the new people isn’t going to cut it.

    There are two alternative things we can do to attack the problem at hand. We can spend whatever it takes to get enough capacity to fill all those office seats in a reasonable amount of time every day. Peak capacity over a large area is expensive, but that is the cost of saving open space. (Peak capacity to serve the same number of people in a lot of smaller places is probably a whole lot cheaper.}

    Or, we can do nothing. Congestion is a terible waste, but at least it is egalitarian, and we all do have a “choice”. Under congestion pricing, that won’t be true, or at least some of us will have more choices than others.

  34. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: ” more places gives more people more opportunities with less travel. …polycentric cities ..are more economically powerful.”

    We have reached the point where more size and more density doesn’t make sense.”

    Rhetorical Question: This doesn’t make sense economically?

    where would/should such “more efficient” “places” come from? The Free Market or the Government?

    … or to put it another way, is it the job of government to design settlement patterns and “places” for people to live and work – on a grand Regional scale?

    This level of planning conjures up images of the USSR deciding where manufacturing plants would be built – along with the high-rise buildings to house the workers.

    We have a consistency dilemma here.

    We appear to want the government out of the business of what land can be used for and want the markeplace to decide the proper valuation and let property owners keep their “rights”.

    but then.. on the other hand – we want the government to dictate to businesses where they can or cannot locate …

    …. because…

    by letting land be developed by the free market – congestion has resulted…

    … oh my. time for another cup of coffee….


  35. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “But, charging other people to prevent a behavior you disapprove”

    They’re being charged for what it costs to not only to provide them with a quality good or a service but enough so that that good or service can be continued to be offered in the future even if demand rises – rather than having shortages or unreliable service or quality.

    The idea that someone can buy a Mercedes or a $50K SUV while others cannot – does not seem to concern near as much as whether the guy who could afford the Mercedes could .. also have the option of paying for better road level of service – i.e. less congestion.

    Is the idea that the free market’s ability modulate supply and demand is inherently “unfair” because some folks could not afford betters levels of service?

    How do you feel about those that can afford to hire helicopters to let them fly over the congestion to catch their plane at the airport?

    Do you think the government should provide this service to everyone so that those who could not afford it – can?

  36. Ray Hyde Avatar

    “more efficient” “places” come from? The Free Market or the Government?

    Well, they are apparently NOT going to come from the government. Government is resposible for actively attracting and bribing businesses to come and locate.

    In the beginning that may have been fine, but government didn’t know when to stop. But now we have legislation to limit growth to the urban developemt areas, meaning there will be no new areas, that the market might have created.

    I’m not advocating that we tell business where they can or can’t locate, and I don’t see why we should do that for housing either. That doesn’t mean that government cannot offer incentives someplace other than the places that are so full there is no hope of ever developing a transportation system that can serve them.

    In the end, the dilemma we face was fundamentally caused by government, not by a free market. It is exactly why people call for adequate public facilites laws now: to restrict government from screwing things up even worse.

    I agree there is a consistency dillemma, but I think it is because government treats individuals and businesses inconsistently: if we can resttrict where peole can build and live, then we can do the same for businesses. If not, then not.

  37. Ray Hyde Avatar

    “Is the idea that the free market’s ability modulate supply and demand is inherently “unfair” because some folks could not afford betters levels of service?”

    The government controls the roads, and the government does not operate in a free market, so your arguments are fundamentally unfair. I don’t think we seriously want to turn the roads over to free markets again.

    The guy in the mercedes who pays the congestion toll isn’t paying for or getting better service or more capacity: he is paying to exclude someone else. I don’t think we want an exclusionary government based on ability to pay.

    The guy who helicopters to the airport (or uses my proposed short haul airline) isn’t excluding anyone else, he is paying more for a better service.

    My airline model was essentially the same as the parking lot shuttle buses, except my parking lots were 50 to 200 miles away, where parking is typically free. In my model, if a guy flys to the airport and travels for a week, the difference in parking costs would cancel out the cost of the flight.

    But, pretty soon we are going to run out of runway capacity, and no one is lining up to propose new ones.

    No, I do not think the government should provide this service to everyone, but I don’t think the government should raise the price of runway slots in such a way to artificially exclude those who could otherwise afford the service.

    Do you think we should have express lines at DMV for those who pay a higher fee? How about express immigration for those that can afford higher fees? How about the rich buy faster access to the courts, and the poor have their cases continued indefinitely? How about we have two complete sets of user fees, one for the wealthy and one for everyone else. Shucks, make it three: wealthy, middle class, and poor. That ought to keep a few bureaucrats employed.

    Or, we could just tax the rich more (which is what this amounts to) and be done with it.

    In Kindergarten I was taught to get in line, take turns, and don’t push. We could extend that to don’t bribe the government to let you get in line first.

    I’m sorry Larry, this strikes me as insane. What we are doing is incentivizing the government: we are going to pay them MORE because they couldn’t figure out how to do their job right in the first place.

  38. nova_middle_man Avatar

    but the free market sill wins

    nobody is forcing anyone to stay in NoVa land so move out

    On a nation level most of the areas that have the best paying jobs are also the most expensive and congested areas

    humm i think there is a model for this oh yeah supply and demand :-p

    we need a better supply of workers in more areas to increase the case for business and remove some of the demand from the overcrowded areas.

    Although I don’t want to lose the tax base in Tysons Corner :-p

  39. Ray Hyde Avatar

    Well, yeah. They HAVE to pay more money to get people to live where it is more expensive and congested.

    Eventually, they become noncompetitive with companies from other areas.

    In this area, the workers have long since moved, and now places like the FBI are just catching up. The individual is more flexible and adaptable than any large organization, so the organization lag behind.

    It is why we should be incentivizing business, instead of diincentivizing individuals.

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