Saturday, January 23, 2021
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Why An Outer Beltway Is A Bad Idea, Visualized

Paths through Washington, DCEric Fischer created this map of Washington, DC using Twitter data from August 2011:
Routing 30,000 randomly-chosen trips through the paths suggested by 10,000 randomly-chosen geotags. These are perhaps the most interesting routes between the endpoints of the trips, even if not necessarily the most likely.
Note that the routes go in & out of the city center, not around it. Makes you wonder who Gov. Bob McDonnell is really working for when he pushes terrible, incredibly expensive ideas like the Outer Beltway.

Bob McDonnell’s VDOT Serving Developers, Not Commuters

US 460 in Rural Dinwiddie County 2The Coalition for Smarter Growth warns Gov. Bob McDonnell's transportation plans will only add more cars from sprawling new developments to Virginia's existing traffic problems:
The state is borrowing $3 billion in state and federal funds on top of their normal annual spending for transportation, and we'll be paying this back for years. We should be setting smart priorities, but instead, VDOT is:
  • Reviving the controversial Outer Beltway through historic landscapes at Manassas Battlefield -- the first ten miles of which could cost $250 million to $475 million -- instead of focusing on fixing existing commuter routes in Northern Virginia.
  • Shifting $200 million in statewide money to a bypass in Charlottesville that won't fix major local traffic problems.
  • Giving $750 million of our tax dollars to subsidize a private toll road (Route 460) through empty farmland southeast of Richmond.
Meanwhile, when asked to help fund critical Tysons Corner transportation needs, the Examiner reports that "Virginia's Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton warned Fairfax to look elsewhere for cash."
It's not surprising Bob McDonnell's pandering to developers - he's gotten more than $5 million in campaign cash from developers, real estate & construction, by a wide margin his biggest source of private sector contributions. The Coalition for Smarter Growth has a 10-step transportation agenda for Northern Virginia - really radical stuff, like "Bring our local elected officials back to the table in transportation decision making."

Tell Gov. McDonnell to put our transportation dollars towards real solutions.

Drivers Oppose The Best Policy To Speed Their Commutes

DC, Friday afternoonStudies have shown that while people like to complain about traffic, most long-haul commuters don't do anything to change their drives. Today's Washington Post article is misleadingly headlined
Traffic science struggles to keep cars flowing on highways in D.C. and elsewhere - we know exactly how to keep traffic flowing, but drivers would rather pay less to sit in gridlock:
First, we don't hate spending time in our cars as much as we pretend to. How do I know? "Because building more roads doesn't improve traffic flow," says Chris Barrett, a Virginia Tech professor who constructs traffic modeling systems and was involved in the Los Alamos effort. "If you decrease the amount of time it takes to travel a certain distance to work, people just move farther away from their offices [for larger yards and cheaper housing, instead of staying put to reduce their commutes]. It changes behavior in a negative way."

Moreover, people have strongly resisted the best congestion-fighting tool that can be immediately implemented. Every traffic expert I spoke with pointed out the runaway success of London's congestion pricing system. Drivers who want to enter the heart of the city during busy times have to pay 10 pounds - about $16. The system has made a huge difference in reducing congestion, and the city is using the extra revenue to renovate the subway and add buses.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg tried to adopt a similar strategy in 2007, but the state government killed it. A congestion tax has never gotten anywhere in the D.C. area, which one recent survey found was first in the nation as measured by hours wasted stuck in traffic.

That's not a failure of science. That's a failure of political will. So instead of gridlock-busting congestion pricing that could be used to fix Metro, we get Gov. Bob McDonnell (R-VA) trying to make it look like he's doing something by pushing terrible ideas like the Outer Beltway and Charlottesville Bypass that will cost taxpayers enormous sums of money without easing traffic.

Annals of Terrible Ideas: An Outer Beltway

DC, Friday afternoonThere's been revived talk lately of building an Outer Beltway, a large highway with a radius about twice that of the existing Beltway. There are plenty of reasons it would be a terrible idea, starting with how ludicrously expensive it would be. If adding HOT Lanes to the Beltway cost $2 billion, how much would a whole new Outer Beltway cost?

But as David Alpert writes at, the main reason an Outer Beltway would be a boondoggle is that it simply wouldn't ease regional traffic congestion:

The mobility problems outside the beltway are primarily about getting to and from the core, plus the local trips tied up by inadequate local street connections. Yes, traffic is bad for many people, and that's something planners need to address instead of dismissing.

However, more beltways will only accommodate a small fraction of the trips involved. Most people will still drive toward or away from the job centers at or inside the beltway, in DC, Bethesda, Silver Spring, Tysons Corner, Arlington, and Alexandria. An Outer Beltway or three doesn't help with that at all.

That "or three" is no joke - road advocates NVTA envision no fewer than six Beltways (PDF).