NoVa’s Shift to Smaller-Scale Road Projects

Eric Weiss with the Washington Post previews the coming shift in funding from mega-projects like the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and the Interstate 95/495 mixing bowl to spot road improvements designed to ameliorate local congestion.

Under The Comprehensive Transportation Funding and Reform Act of 2007, Northern Virginia stands to gain $400 million a year in new revenue. Instead of funding the mega-projects still on the books, such as the Rail to Dulles heavy rail project and HOT lanes on Northern Virginia interstates, which have other sources of funding, the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority is expected to spend its money on smaller projects. Writes Weiss:

Transportation analysts say the biggest impact can be made on projects such as the widening of the Fairfax County Parkway from Route 123 to the Dulles Toll Road and raising the parkway to go over Monument Drive and Fair Lakes Parkway, two of the most traffic-choked intersections in the region. Other possible fixes include lengthening the left-turn lane at routes 123 and 50/29 in Fairfax City, upgrading the intersection of Braddock Road and Route 29 and re-timing traffic lights throughout the region.

“We haven’t, for the last decade, had a reasonable secondary-road program for Northern Virginia, and this money is a huge plus in addressing a problem that has many, many sides,” said Pierce R. Homer, Virginia’s transportation secretary.

I opposed the tax increases on the grounds that much of the money will be wasted without fundamental change to land use and governance systems. But things could be worse. From a strategic perspective, the shift in priorities makes sense. Smaller projects often offer a higher Return on Investment, as measured by congestion mitigated per dollar spent, than the high-profile projects. They’re less likely to encounter delays and cost overruns, too.

Also, it’s encouraging to see that NoVa planners are looking to improve the efficiency of the existing road network — as opposed, say, to building new roads into the countryside and extending the pattern of scattered, disconnected, low-density development deeper into the countryside. Please note that “re-timing traffic lights throughout the region,” an alternative to laying more asphalt, is under consideration.

It’s not much, but you have to take comfort where you can.

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3 responses to “NoVa’s Shift to Smaller-Scale Road Projects”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    Hopefully as the NVTA organization develops and matures they will have some very robust Return on Investment models and formulas to determine what is the best bang for the buck


  2. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Here’s an interesting story:

    “Calif. drivers avoid freeway nightmare

    Commuters turned to public transit, alternative routes or just stayed home Monday as highway crews cleared melted asphalt and steel from a major freeway interchange shut down by a fiery gasoline tanker crash.

    An expected nightmarish morning traffic jam never materialized despite Sunday’s collapse of a heavily used overpass


    Monday’s commute was easier than people expected.

    “It was the lightest commute I’ve had in 10 years,” … The normally 40-minute drive took about 20 minutes, he said.”

    Clarissa Horowitz, 35, said she had an easy drive from Berkeley.

    “There was no backup whatsoever. I think everyone got scared away,”

    There are probably lots of reasons why and many folks probably took extrordinary one-day measures and then have to drop back to some daily regime

    .. but I think the relevant issue is that… given the proper “incentive”, folks will avoid gridlock….


    We’ve had incidents like this in NoVA also where they were going to do work on Springfield and Wilson Bridge and predicted chaos.. and it never happened…

    re: Mega Projects – yes.. if you build it… for a whole bunch of bucks.. that could easily use up even penny of Regional Money… they WILL COME.

    But what happens if you DON’T build mega projects and instead do simple things like insuring good connector roads, left turn lanes, traffic signal timing, ramp optimizations, etc?

    No only are they less expensive but in terms of the time it takes for approvals and reviews, upgrades to existing roads is much, much quicker than brand new infrastructure.

    Scott York of Loudoun made an interesting and revealing comment once the GA actually gave funding authority to the NVTA… something along the lines of “now we actually will have to do something”.


    But we also have Mr. Chase at the NVTA – a die-hard believer of mega projects.. I believe.

    Let’s hope that the NVTA “gets it” and the first step in my mind is to use a prioritization and budgetting process similiar to the TPB MPO constrained funding approach.

  3. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    It works for me. More smaller scale projects going to more smaller scale places. Put the money into roads that work for the people that use them instead of into controversy, lawsuits, and overengineered complexity.

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