Monday, December 12, 2005

You Call This a Transportation Plan?

Maryland and Washington DC plan to build a new express service roadway in a plan to reduce gridlock on the roads that only P.T. Barnum could have devised. Their grand scheme is to build roads that parallel virtually every major route in the DC area. Toll booths would be setup on the new roads with a system that monitors traffic on the existing routes. The toll rates would rise and fall based on traffic levels - to a rate approaching $1.00 per mile - in an attempt to regulate traffic flow. (Washington Post: A Future Free From Gridlock, For a Price).

Why does this grand scheme have Charlie on the MTA ringing through my head? Certainly, gridlock throughout all of our major cities must be addressed. The daily commute everywhere is getting increasingly worse. Highways in all major cities are incapable of handling today's traffic volume, let alone what we will face in ten years. Yet the best our transportation departments can come up with is to build more roads and charge exorbitant fares to force people to use them.

This is just another means of taxing the average worker who is already held hostage by an inadequate highway system. The concept might actually have merit if it were discretionary driving that was causing the gridlock, however that is simply not the case. The gridlock occurs during our rush hours because of people attempting to get to and from work. What this "plan" does is increase the cost of getting to work without actually improving the driving experience.

In one example cited, it could cost as much as $30 in tolls for a 56-mile commute. In the northeast, commutes of 60-90 miles are not uncommon. For the worker making an average $20 per hour but travelling 56 miles to his job will now work the first 90 minutes of his day just to pay for the travel expense. Who comes up with these ideas in the first place?

Is there a reason that we're not looking at a viable mass transit system to relieve the gridlock, at least for commuters? The keyword here is viable. Many cities have a mass transit system that is too slow, too infrequent, or terminates service too early for it to be a practical alternative. What is also needed desperately are express travel lanes on the highways that get you through, not to, a major city. The bypass routes that were built in the 1970s, (e.g. I-295 or I-495 in the Providence and Boston area) were intended to serve that purpose, however as the industrial belt grew these alternate routes became just as gridlocked as the major highway they were intended to bypass. What is needed is an express route through the cities without any city exits that will service people that live and work on opposite ends of a major city.

The implementation of a viable system is well over a decade away. Look at how long it took to commute the poorly conceived "Big Dig" project in Boston as an example of the amount of time it takes to do any large scale construction in or around a major city. The time to start planning and implementing the traffic solutions for 2020 is now. Please tell me you can come up with something better than the P.T. Barnum approach being implemented in Maryland and DC.


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