Tag Archives: 95

“Arlington says maybe to new HOT lanes plan”

December 14 at 12:28 PM | Washington Post

Those things that look like pizza boxes record toll information as drivers pass under the gantries on the 95 and 495 express lanes. (Robert Thomson/The Washington Post)

The Arlington County Board is one of the big reasons the 95 Express Lanes stop just north of the Capital Beltway rather than continuing up I-395 to the Potomac River. The board’s response to the original plan for the high-occupancy toll lanes was a lawsuit.

On Tuesday night, the 2016 version of the board voted 5-0 to give qualified support to the Virginia government’s plan to replace today’s High Occupancy Vehicle lanes in the middle of I-395 with HOT lanes, creating the northern extension of the HOT lanes.

What changed? The new plan, first presented by the Virginia Department of Transportation about one year ago, creates no new interchanges along the eight miles of the extension and has a limited effect on the existing ones. (The Eads Street interchange near the Pentagon will get some work to improve traffic flow, which it very much needs.) Another very important change in plan is to guarantee spending on programs that will let commuters leave their cars behind for trips in the I-395 corridor. Those programs haven’t been selected yet, but they’re likely to focus on carpooling, commuter bus trips and filling in gaps along biking and walking routes.

Both those factors are likely to lessen the traffic impact on county residents, but despite the board’s limited endorsement on Tuesday night, board members and community leaders along the I-395 corridor remain concerned and watchful.

Board member Jay Fisette, who introduced the supportive motion on the project, described the state of things:

“This is going to happen,” he said of the HOT lanes project. “It’s going to start construction next year.”

But his qualified support was based on the evolution of the plan: “When this proposal first came through, this was a very different project. This is a far better project.”

The process of developing the new project has been less confrontational and more cooperative. “There’s been collaboration between the state and the county,” Fisette said.

The board’s vote represents a significant change in thinking about the HOT lanes, but it wasn’t a legal hurdle the project had to overcome. The board wanted to get its resolution — both the supportive parts and the caveats — into the record as final decisions are made on the project. The state plans to begin construction in 2017 and open the express lanes in 2019.

The concerns voiced by board members and community leaders are natural on any big highway project that has a regional impact.

“Let’s be frank,” board member Christian Dorsey said. “The primary beneficiaries of all this are likely to live outside of Arlington,” a reference to long-distance commuters who travel from far suburbs to jobs at the Pentagon, Crystal City and the District — “whereas the primary impacts will be felt in Arlington.” People who live in the corridor are concerned about increases in traffic to and from the HOT lanes and the prospect of sound wall construction along the highway’s border.

“We just want to know that VDOT is on board to help us through it,” Dorsey said of the local concerns.

In consultation with their own transportation department, the board members amended the draft resolution that endorsed the concept of the HOT lanes extension. Among other things, the final resolution approved by the entire board asked that “VDOT move forward with an expanded traffic analysis to fully understand the impacts to arterial streets at signalized intersections at least one half mile beyond each interchange footprint, and commit to mitigation of those impacts in consultation with Arlington County.”

The HOT lanes project will convert the two HOV lanes of I-395 to three HOT lanes. Drivers who meet the HOV3 requirement can get a free ride in the HOT lanes if they have an E-ZPass Flex set to “HOV.” Other drivers will have to pay a toll collected electronically through a regular E-ZPass transponder. The toll will vary depending on traffic conditions. It’s the same tolling system drivers experience today on the 95 Express Lanes and the 495 Express Lanes on the Capital Beltway.

<Full Story>

“The Final Word” – Infrastructure Investor

 

New York aerial 411

After three years covering the US infrastructure market, our Senior Reporter takes stock of the progress made and lessons learned in her last Week in Review

KALLIOPE GOURNTIS | PUBLISHED: 25 AUGUST 2016

Watching a classic 1980s movie featuring the streets of New York, I was reminded of an old joke: “You know you’ve crossed the state line into New York by the potholes in the road.” I also realised that the state of New York highways hasn’t changed much – certainly not for the better – in these last 30 years. The same can certainly be said of the city’s subway system as well as Penn Station – one of the busiest commuter hubs in the country, where dumpsters are strategically lined up on rainy days to catch the water seeping through the ceiling. 

While these examples are specific to the Empire State, they could just as easily apply to other parts of the country. Last week, Fitch issued a note warning that “US transit woes will continue until funding is clear”. The ratings agency went on to say: “Maintenance problems that halted two of the US’s largest transit systems will likely spread to other systems unless funding needs are addressed and adequately managed,” adding that long-term planning will help manage maintenance and capital requirements. The two systems are Washington DC’s metro and Philadelphia’s transit system.

What has changed since the 1980s are public finances that are more constrained and public-private partnerships being increasingly used to deliver infrastructure projects. When I joined Infrastructure Investor in May 2013, one of the comments that I heard repeatedly was what an exciting time this was to be covering US infrastructure, with investors and developers alike waiting for P3s to take off. Over the past three years, we’ve regularly reported on the progress – or lack of – in the US market. As my tenure at the magazine comes to a close, I believe the two most important obstacles that need to be overcome, and which are in fact related, are politics and education.

Back in 2013, Infrastructure Investor recognised Virginia as the leader in the US P3 market. At the time, Virginia had an impressively robust pipeline of projects and since then has successfully delivered a number of them, including the I-495 and I-95 express lanes. Today, Virginia, in our opinion, is a leader not for the projects it has lined up, but for the reforms Governor Terry McAuliffe and his administration have put in place.

Virginia’s governor along with the Commonwealth Transportation Board and the state’s department of transportation have established criteria based on actual needs in determining which projects take priority and ensuring that the list isn’t subject to change depending on who’s in office.

The redevelopment of New York’s LaGuardia Airport, which at $4.1 billion is currently the largest P3 in the US, is an excellent example of why depoliticising infrastructure is so important. Starting in 2011 when the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey issued a Request for Information, procurement has taken five years to complete. But as recently as last April, the project’s fate seemed uncertain when the Port Authority’s board members representing New Jersey threatened to withhold their approval unless the agency’s New York representatives agreed to a bus terminal estimated to cost between $10 billion and $15 billion.

Politics have also played a role in North Carolina’s I-77 project, which the state legislature tried to cancel months after construction had already begun. The attempt, which ultimately failed, was misguided not only because it would cost the state more to cancel it than to proceed, but also because it sought to “terminate the agreement for tolling I-77”, a completely inaccurate claim since I-77 is not being tolled. And this is where education comes in. If the public knows and understands how P3s work, there will be no room for useless political posturing.

While the US P3 market has not progressed as quickly as many would have liked or hoped, it will continue to evolve and mature and attract investors’ interest and capital. But how it progresses and at what pace will make all the difference in ensuring that the country stays competitive and that its residents have the infrastructure they deserve.

Write to the author at kalliope.g@peimedia.com

“New state transportation program approved, paving way for Rappahannock River Crossing”

Posted: Tuesday, June 14, 2016 3:00 pm

After the Commonwealth Transportation Board voted on the measure Tuesday in Richmond, state Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne took a moment to say the group had just taken part in “a very historic vote,” creating “for the first time … objective measures” to determine which projects are funded.

Also Tuesday, the CTB approved funding for a pavement and bridge program that will pay for major rehabilitation work on the Chatham Bridge.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe spoke to the CTB on Monday about the prioritization program, also known as HB2, and the importance of a strong transportation network.

Transportation is a “key element” in the state’s economy and the new prioritization program will help get the right projects funded, the governor said.

The program “takes the politics out of it,” he said. “It’s data driven. It’s done by metrics.”

He also lauded the planned expansion of electronic toll lanes on Interstate 66 as well as the extension of the Interstate 95 express lanes merge choke point in Garrisonville, which “has caused a tremendous amount of problems.” <Full story>

“95 Express Lanes mark first anniversary” – Washington Post

December 30, 2015 / Robert Thomson

Tolling began one year ago Tuesday on 95 Express Lanes, yet their full impact on the D.C. region’s transportation system isn’t apparent yet.

So far, the high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes are performing pretty much as billed. They provide a quicker and more reliable trip for toll payers and for carpoolers than do the regular lanes along 29 miles of Interstate 95 between the far southern suburbs of Stafford County and the spot just inside the Capital Beltway where they link with the I-395 High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes for the remaining eight miles to the D.C. line.

The vehicles most likely to be found in what are often derided as “Lexus Lanes” are Toyotas, Hondas and Fords. According to a study for Transurban, the company that operates the express lanes on I-95 as well as on the Capital Beltway, Lexus drivers account for 3 percent of the traffic.

[What we worried about when the express lanes opened]

A study done for Transurban in September by KRB Research found that 37 percent of the drivers in the 95 Express Lanes make $100,000 or more. Among the rest, 43 percent earn $50,000 to $100,000. (The $100,000 plus crowd is a bit more active on the 495 Express Lanes, where they represented 41 percent of drivers. The study said that nearly half of the HOT lanes drivers use both the Beltway and I-95 systems. The better-off drivers have the best representation in that group. According to the study, drivers who earn more than $100,000 account for 44 percent of the traffic using both sets of lanes.

The study also found that 34 percent of the weekday trips in the 95 Express Lanes are taken by drivers who qualify as HOV (mostly carpoolers). These are the drivers who get a free ride because they use the E-ZPass Flex with the switch flipped to the HOV setting.

Transurban officials cited traffic data from the Regional Integrated Transportation Information System to show the 95 Express Lanes providing a time savings for both the HOT lanes drivers and the regular traffic on I-95 in September compared with travel times a year earlier. While HOT lanes travel saves more time and is more consistent than travel in the regular lanes, Transurban said the data in the chart below shows drivers in the regular lanes of I-95 were better off than in the previous year.

Note that the chart shows travel times for the entire route where drivers can choose between the express lanes and the regular lanes. Some parts of the trip may be slower than others, and some days are clearly better than others.

And like so many other aspects of the HOT lanes system, the travel times are likely to evolve, as travel habits change and the infrastructure changes.

We’re years away from knowing whether housing patterns will change, because the 95 Express Lanes made it more convenient for commuters to live in the outer suburbs while working in Alexandria, the District, Arlington and parts of Fairfax County that include Tysons Corner. But changes in the express lanes network are likely to have a big impact, as well.

One of the biggest problems for I-95 drivers today is the southbound merge near Garrisonville Road where the express lanes and the regular lanes come together. At that spot, the HOT lanes are not working as planned. In the fall, Virginia transportation officials laid out a project to extend the HOT lanes two miles farther south to reduce some of that congestion, which affects drivers in all the lanes.

Meanwhile, the officials also unveiled a plan to extend the 95 Express Lanes north along I-395 to the D.C. line, replacing today’s HOV lanes with HOT lanes.

But the biggest plan of all is the one that would create HOT lanes on Interstate 66, both inside and outside the Beltway. When the system is completed around 2021, a driver willing to pay the toll could use the HOT lanes to get from a home near Woodbridge to a job along the I-66 corridor.

But if the state’s HOT lanes plans work as billed, the entire HOT lanes network will wind up with a much more robust system of carpooling and commuter buses than what we see today. Northern Virginia is far more likely to see its commuter bus network develop than it is to see any extension of Metrorail during the next decade or more.

Also, the creation of the express lanes network is key factor leading Northern Virginia to pursue discussions with Maryland about improving the Potomac River crossing at the American Legion Bridge and the Montgomery County side of the Beltway.

So the first anniversary of the 95 Express Lanes isn’t so much a time to assess toll rates or traffic volumes in what’s still just the start-up phase for this route. The anniversary is more of a reminder that Virginia has set the stage for a major transformation of the travel system in the D.C. suburbs.