The Question Nobody is Asking

In a press conference two weeks ago, Del. David Albo, R-Springfield, brushed up against the most important question of the entire Rail-to-Dulles debate, but he didn’t really pursue it: Could the $4 billion needed to build the Rail-to-Dulles extension of the Metro buy more congestion relief if it were spent differently?

What combination of congestion-priced HOT lane tolls, Bus Rapid Transit operations, intelligent transportation systems, telework incentives and other alternatives could be put into place for $4 billion? How much congestion could those alternatives mitigate? The Metro extension is projected to serve only 48,000 passengers along the entire route. An aggressive telework campaign could get more than 48,000 passengers off Northern Virginia roads for a fraction of that price!

Thinking even more outside the box, how far would a $4 billion investment go if it were combined with an intelligent re-thinking of Northern Virginia land use policies?

This question is fundamental, but the House leadership chose not to make it an issue. House Speaker Howell has accepted the goal of completing the Dulles-to-Rail extension, and he’s accepted the idea of dedicating revenue from the Dulles Toll Road to help pay for it. As I see it, his argument with Gov. Timothy M. Kaine isn’t so much how to spend that money, but who should control the spending.

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6 responses to “The Question Nobody is Asking”

  1. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    $4 billion dollars would build 400 lane miles of interstate at $10 million a mile and maybe twice that of two lane roads and streets.

    In 2002, on a typical weekday morning, more than 52,000 people in Virginia used the HOV lanes to the District and Arlington, while Metrorail carried 41,300 passengers and Virginia Railway Express carried 4,310 to the same destinations. On Shirley Highway in 2003, the two HOV lanes moved 29,400 people in 7,900 vehicles while the four regular lanes moved 21,300 people in 18,450 vehicles.

    And that is just the HOV lanes.

    Rethinking land use will transport exactly zero passengers. but if you supersize Faifax by 15% it will result in 2.5 million more VMT even if you assume that perfect land use planning will reduce auto use for those people by 20%.

  2. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    Ray: I think that the target is bigger than the jobs in Fairfax County. One should also consider jobs in D.C., Arlington, Alexandria, and probably, Montgomery County, MD — where the employees live in Fairfax County or beyond. Federal workers make a great target for telecommuting or teleworking. Lawyers too can bill clients so long as they have a computer, a phone and an Internet connection.

    Whether the correct number is 48,000, I don’t know. But we could something on the demand side as well as increase the supply side.

  3. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    Agreed, and that was a 2001 number, but someone posted here recently that the number of Jobs in Tyson’s was higher than the number of jobs in the District, and the ratio is changing outward, not inward.

    What should we be planning for?

    If we solve the commuting congestion entirely, that still leaves us with 80% of the driving “problem” that we need to address.

  4. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    Ray Hyde: Where did you get those numbers? Those kinds of figures are what moves us from anedotes and adjectives to analysis and answers. Is this an on-line source?

  5. Jim Wamsley Avatar
    Jim Wamsley

    When I looked, the Dulles Rail Projection was 71900 new passengers a day. It will also attract some passengers currently riding the Orange line. Predicting ridership and using ridership predictions is often like a Rorschach test. You find out more about the person citing them then the ridership on the transit line.

    FTA requires transit ridership estimates based on the current development, not what will come because of the transit line. If the region’s economy is growing, these estimates will be low. Ridership is determined by the alternatives. If parking is expensive, ridership will be high. If it is free, ridership will be low. Is land cheep or expensive? Parking lots are directly related to alternate uses.

    Congestion on highways, including the toll road, can be reduced by demand tolling. Where should the increased toll revenue go? To a subsidized rail line that expands the economy? To a corporation in Australia?

    Lots of reasons to let the economy of Northern Virginia wither. No reason to help the regions taxpayers.

  6. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    533,000 jobs came from the census report. The numbers on the HOV lanes came from

    Considering the source, you can tak it for what its worth, but I have no reason to doubt the veracity. For all its problems, Shirley Highway is one of the most successful commuter roads in the US.

    It was originally built as a defense highway, and ended at the Pentagon, I think. If that’s true it is another indication that maybe we shouldn’t blame commuters who seek far flung housing any more than we blame employers who create massive needs.

    Sorry, I generally attribute my sources, even if they are assailed as out of context or wrong. These were more or less public domain knowlege, so I got lazy.

    $10 million dollars a mile is what we are paying for the current work near Gainseville on Route 66, as I recall from a news story. Interchanges and major bridges are much more expensive: complexity is a huge cost driver.

    I have used a cost model called RCA-Price which can be used to estimate anything from circuit boards to aircraft carriers. The principle factor in the program is one called complexity. If you get that right, and you know the weight, you can price almost anything. The devilish thing is that even simple things are far more complex than we usually realize.

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