Washington/Baltimore Regional Traffic Congestion

In November 2005, I attended the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board (TPB) sponsored a forum titled "What if the Washington Region Grew Differently?" I was amazed to learn that, other than the recently constructed Inter-County Connector, there were no new major highways planned for the Washington area or additional bridges planned for crossing the Potomac River.  These plan limitations were  obvious despite the TPB's forecasts of an expected 30% population growth in the Washington metropolitan region by the year 2030.   There was much discussion of transit improvements and HOT toll lanes for existing highway corridors, but no recognition of the fact that Washington and Baltimore have no bypass highways planned for interstate coastal through traffic similar to the I-295 bypass around Richmond and Petersburg that has already existed for the past 40+years.  Simple short-term transit solutions such as the regional express bus system now operating in the Denver Metropolitan area were not even considered.  Instead, High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes for the Beltway and other major highways are have been constructed to speed the wealthy along their way (i.e., "Lexus Lanes") with everyone else either paying the extortionate tolls or sharing the increasingly congested adjacent roadway lanes.

Rather than resort to extremely expensive rail transit or exclusionary road user solutions, there are short term low-cost express commuter bus alternatives that could and should be implemented within the next five years to alleviate traffic congestion and reduce the economic and social costs arising therefrom.  Dedicated bus and HOV lanes such as the Corridor Cities plan should be constructed or expanded along major thoroughfares to speed bus and HOV commuters to and from their places of employment.  Firms in major employment centers should sponsor employer-subsidized express bus service to bring employees to their work sites from specially designated suburban and outer suburban commuter parking lots.  A computerized point-to-point origin/destination data base should be developed for each major employment center to identify the numbers and locations of employees’ residences and identify convenient parking areas where they could board express commuter buses for getting to work.   Similarly, a dedicated express bus only (and emergency vehicle) restricted traffic bridge should be constructed across the Potomac River at Seneca to provide only emergency vehicle and express bus service between major employment centers on both sides of the river as well as also provide express bus service to and from Dulles Airport. The road network to Seneca already exists on the Maryland side of the river and would need to be minimally upgraded to handle the increased bus traffic.

A word of caution, however, must be mentioned about the danger of exceeding the capacity of Metro's red line by overbuilding high rise commercial and residential structures that would depend mostly upon the red line for movement of their occupants. The recent approval of Marriott's relocation to downtown Bethesda and the proposed construction of a thirty story office building there when there are over 10 million square feet of vacant office space elsewhere in Montgomery County is inexcusable. Both it and the current competition to have Amazon's new headquarters complex with an estimated 50,000 new employees also located on the already overloaded red line a few miles from Bethesda is sheer madness.   The passenger movement capacity of the trains must be evaluated as well as the ground access and parking availability in the vicinity of the Metro stations.  These evaluations must become an integral part of the zoning and permit approval processes.
Without the added capacity of an elevated busway or monorail train line parallel to the red line between Bethesda and Rockville above route 355, attempting to transport the 60,000 or more Marriott. NIH, Walter Reed, and Amazon employees as well as the thousands of commuting through passengers using only the red line to and from downtown D. C. is highly likely to cause severe congestion and delays.   Planning for extensions at both ends of Metro's red line to Olney and Germantown and acquisition of land for future Metro stations also should be undertaken without further delay.

In the longer term, planning should begin immediately for a limited access express regional Eastern bypass highway that would begin at I-95 North of Washington and follow the existing Laurel-Bowie road corridor to U. S. 50 and from there parallel U. S. 301 to the Potomac River.  It would continue to parallel to U. S. Route 301 through Northern Virginia until it connects with the I-295 Bypass North of Richmond.   Entrance and exits should be permitted only at U. S. 50, Maryland Route 5, and U.S. Route 17 in Virginia to prevent the highway from being overloaded by commuter traffic.  A post and beam bridging scheme with a specially designed roadway runoff collection and wastewater treatment system for protecting the Paxtuxent Wildlife Refuge along its route must be incorporated into the project.

The Washington/Baltimore region also desperately needs a restricted access bypass highway to route through traffic from the Northeast toward the South.  It should start at I-95 a few miles South of the Susquehanna River bridge and run westward in an arc toward the Monocacy River South of Westminster. It would then turn southward East of Frederick before crossing the Potomac River into Virginia near the Point of Rocks bridge. From there it should run South on the West side of Leesburg and follow the U. S. 15 and U. S. 17 corridor southward until rejoining I- 95 South of Fredricksburg.  Entrances and exits should be permitted only at I-83 and I-70 in Maryland and I-66 and U. S. 17 in Virginia to prevent commuter traffic from overloading the roadway.  It would carry through interstate traffic around the Baltimore/Washington region similar to Interstate Highways 278 and 287 in New Jersey.  These highways are segments of an outer "Beltway" running in an arc through central and Northern New Jersey from the Verrazano Narrows Bridge over the Hudson River south of New York City into New York state connecting with the Tappan Zee Bridge over the Hudson River North of the city. 

Finally, recognition should be made that there are no rest rooms in the Metro stations or along the Beltways and major access highways either in the Baltimore or Washington Metro areas.  With frequent hours-long delays from major traffic accidents, weather disruptions, etc, it is inhuman to subject travelers on the region's highways or rail transit systems to the anguish of not having these facilities available when they are urgently needed.  Many more highway rest areas need to be established around the Beltways and along the region's interstate highways along with portable toilets being placed every quarter mile elsewhere along these highways for emergency use only during major traffic backups.  Similarly, until rest room facilities could be designed and built into the Metro stations, portable toilet facilities such as those used at construction sites for patron use should be placed at the ends of the platforms in every Metro station. The Metro riders' fare cards could be charged a dollar for each use by mounting fare card readers or coin locks for patron access on the entrance doors of these facilities.

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