Category Archives: Alt Transportation

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Options on I-66: Toll lanes, extending Metro discussed at meeting


VIENNA, Va. – At the first of two public meetings to update commuters on I-66, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) told drivers about options such as adding general-purpose lanes, adding toll lanes and transit options such as extending Metro, VRE or light rail.

Late last year, 19 companies responded to a VDOT request for information on how to ease congestion on I-66, and each touted the benefits that toll lanes would bring to the corridor from the Beltway out to Haymarket.

The 495 Express Lanes were the first major experiment in Northern Virginia into the toll-lanes concept, with more such lanes opening in early 2015 on I-95 between Stafford and Alexandria.

“Whether we have managed (toll) lanes has not been determined. We have 10 concepts (rail and road) and we will look at all of them. We realize not one concept in and of itself will be the answer. It has to be a combination of many modes of transportation,” says Rene’e Hamilton, Deputy District Administrator for VDOT in Northern Virginia.

But she admitted that she thinks the 495 Express Lanes have been a success at offering drivers and bus riders a convenient and predictable option to avoid traffic for a fee.

“When the I-95 Express Lanes come onboard, we’ll start to see a network of managed lane projects that connect together. Will I-66 complement that? We don’t know at this time, but that will be figured into our study. As we look into each option, the connections between these interstates will be taken into consideration,” Hamilton says.

Fairfax County Supervisor Pat Herrity is a strong supporter of toll lanes to I-66.

“An express-lanes concept is absolutely what we need on I-66. It provides a corridor for express bus and other mass transit. It maintains free carpooling and it offers congestion relief,” he says.

“It offers guaranteed speeds. If you don’t want to pay the toll and get to work, you’ll still get less-congested roads in the regular lanes too. So we’re not forcing people to pay the toll. The average person gets that choice every day.”

But drivers coming out to the public meeting weren’t sold on the toll lanes as a solution.

“It puts people who cannot afford the lanes at a disadvantage,” says Leigh Kennedy, who commutes from Fairfax to Falls Church. “People with higher-paying jobs get to avoid the traffic and other people don’t. I think that’s an unfair system.”

Other drivers worry tolls on I-66 will constantly go up, like on the Dulles Toll Road or the Dulles Greenway.

“Let’s face it — once toll lanes are there, they can always finds ways to raise it, making the tolls higher and higher, and give whatever reason they want,” says Judy Perich, citing the Dulles Toll Road drivers paying for Phase II of the Silver Line.

She’s also worried drivers would avoid the toll lanes, similar to how drivers avoid the Dulles Greenway. Del. David Ramadan sued the owners of the Greenway to get the tolls lowered, but lost the first round of the fight on Wednesday. The decision over Greenway tolls will likely head to the Virginia Supreme Court later this year.

On I-66, most commuters seemed to agree that better mass transit options, such as extending Metro’s Orange Line, would have a huge effect on traffic.

“If they made it really convenient for [commuters] to park out in Gainesville or Manassas, then people, rather than putting up with the traffic, they would get on public transportation,” says Jim Lynch.

He suggests the crunch of people coming from Gainesville and Manassas to Vienna, Dunn Loring and East/West Falls Church could be eased if with Metro extends west. While the Silver Line will take away some of the volume from the Orange Line, riders who live along I-66 will likely stay put.

“When somebody says ‘go into D.C.,’ I cringe because of I-66 traffic. I think the Orange Line was meant to go out west. They have the roadway set up there. I would go [to D.C.] a lot more often if I had Metro as an option,” says Perich.

“Either extension of Metro, some type of light-rail or bus rapid transit, ideally Metro would be preferably, but any improvements would help,” says Kennedy.

Others think certain spot improvements would make huge improvements and save lots of money.

“The one critical bridge that needs to be replaced is the 123 overpass at I-66. It’s the only 1960s-era still left in this region. If that were totally replaced, it would solve a critical problem we have with traffic in the morning and afternoons,” says Doug Francis, of Vienna.

He says there are too many accidents after the Vienna Metro station and bottlenecks are too common and could be fixed with a new bridge.

VDOT hopes to narrow down the list of options and begin a more specific study before the end of 2014. It hopes to get bids in 2015 and move quickly towards construction shortly thereafter, which could take at least 18 months.

VDOT will hold one more meeting next Wednesday evening at the Wyndham Garden Hotel at 10800 Vandor Ln. in Manassas.

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D.C. area’s longer-than-average commutes could be taking a greater toll on women

Adeyinka Ogunlegan remembers sitting at a red light on Georgia Avenue when the text-message alert came through. Her main route home to Laurel was blocked because of emergency utility repairs.

In an instant, her run-of-the-mill commute, a drive she does daily, generally without incident, turned into a logistical nightmare.

Her son, who is now 4, was waiting to be picked up at preschool, and her daughter, now 3, from the babysitter’s. The clock was ticking, traffic was crawling, and she still had at least 20 miles to go. She knew instinctively that a trip that normally takes her about an hour would take far more time unless she came up with a plan.

“I was like: ‘Oh my God. Oh my God,’ ” she recalled. “There was no bailout. It wasn’t pretty.”

Ogunlegan took a deep breath to keep herself from panicking. As her car idled, she could feel her blood pressure escalating. She checked Google Maps in hopes of finding a way out of the traffic jam. Ahead, she spied a few cars turning off onto side streets and decided to take a chance. She managed to navigate her way through side streets (thank you, GPS) to New Hampshire Avenue and from there to the Intercounty Connector, on which — for a fee — she sped to Laurel, arriving at her son’s school with a minute to spare.

Washington Post poll of area residents this past summer found that women and men who drive average a roughly 30-minute commute. But for about one in six women — about one-third of whom have children at home — that sometimes harrowing daily commute is getting longer. While D.C. area drivers are seeing less congestion on local roads, they still spend seven more minutes commuting each day than the average American, according to the Census Bureau.

Those lengthy rides could have implications for women’s health and stress levels, particularly because their commutes often include stops other than home and work. A growing body of research shows that when it comes to commute stress, women feel the impact more than men.

In a 2010 study, researchers in Britain found that women reported having higher stress levels related to commuting than men did — even if they had shorter commutes.

“The theory was that it was a question of flexibility in time use,” said Jennifer Roberts, a professor of economics at the University of Sheffield. For women, “there were more deadlines for where they had to be. It was not just an issue of, ‘I have to be at my desk at 9.’ It was, ‘I have to get my kids to child care. I have to pick up the dry cleaning.’ ”

Roberts and her colleagues found the impact was particularly acute for women with preschool-age children. Researchers found the psychological effect on them was four times as great as for men with children of the same age.

Add a longer commute into the equation and it could be even worse for women, Roberts said.

Rori Pollak, executive director at Little Beginnings Child Development Center, has seen more than her share of harried moms and dads flying through the doors of the Arlington County day care.

“Most are very apologetic,” she said. “The hardest part is really for the child if they’re the last one here.”

Like many day-care centers, Little Beginnings charges a fee for late pickups. Parents who are one to 15 minutes late pay $20, and the fee escalates from there. Those who have more than four late pickups within a certain time frame face possible dismissal from the center. But Pollak rarely has to enforce the rule.

Pollak said she and her staff understand the stresses and work closely with parents to ease the anxiety. For example, center officials encourage parents to have backup plans in the event of emergencies.

Independent travel behavior analyst Nancy McGuckin said women may find commuting more stressful because they tend to do more than just travel to and from work. They make additional stops — at the market, at day care, at the dry cleaner — a phenomenon known as “trip chaining.” Men, by contrast, are more likely to drive straight from work to home.

In her research, McGuckin, who has worked as a consultant to the Department of Transportation, found a difference in men and women’s attitudes about commuting.
“The commute for men is a moment of respite in the day, where they can sit and listen to the radio,” she said. “But I think, for women, it’s simply another tense, mind-racing trap because you should be somewhere or have just a few minutes to get to day care before you get charged.”

And despite women’s advances in the workplace and as wage earners, that dynamic has not necessarily changed.

“Though we see some changes in the younger generation, women still do the majority of housework and child care,” said McGuckin, who has examined the effects of commuting on men and women. “Commutes women do are more often populated with stops. And they’re more likely to do pickup in the afternoon.”

Federal statistics illustrate the disparity. Among households with two working parents who commute, women make more than half — 63.3 percent— of the trips for drop-off and/or pickup.

Ogunlegan, a lawyer at a Rockville-based public-affairs firm, is one of those women. The family has one car, and her husband takes a commuter bus and Metro to his job at the Commerce Department in downtown D.C., which means she is responsible for both drop-offs and pickups.

As a result, she has carefully calibrated her 50-mile daily drive. Mornings can be hectic, but it’s the drive home that is the real stressor.

“It can be crazy,” Ogunlegan said about her commute, which includes two drop-offs, at the babysitter’s and at school, before she heads to her office. “It’s just this juggling act that you have to manage.”

She knows that if she does not leave work at 5 p.m. on the dot, she risks missing the 6:15 p.m. pickup deadline at her son’s preschool. She’s had a couple of late pickups — including one when she was in such a rush, she couldn’t remember if she had even closed her car door. Center officials were understanding, but even so, she does not like to be late. She knows her son’s teachers have children, too.


“You feel bad,” she said. “You just don’t want to be that parent.”

Some women said that, when they are able, they’ve tried to make adjustments to their schedules and to the places they choose to work to ensure they can be close to where their kids are. But even then, they know they are just one snowstorm or traffic tie-up away from a late pickup.

Susan Burkinshaw, a comptroller who lives in Germantown, has turned down higher-paying jobs in the District and Virginia so she can work within a 10-mile radius of her children’s schools and avoid the frantic last-minute scramble that comes with traffic delays.

For Kellie Reynolds, a mother of two from Gaithersburg, pickup always felt stressful, particularly when her children were younger.

“I never wanted to pick them up late,” said Reynolds, who works for the Federal Drug Administration. “It wasn’t the [late fee]. It was thinking about how bad the kids would feel if it was closing time and I wasn’t there.”

For years, Reynolds handled afternoon pickup and shuttled the kids to doctor appointments and practices because she had a more flexible work schedule than her husband, who worked in Frederick, Md. But after he took a job in Rockville, she became the one with the longer drive. As a result, he is able to pitch in more often, easing some of the stress.

Some women also acknowledge that they may put more pressure on themselves.

“I think it’s just the way our brains are wired. [We’re] always planning our next event — the laundry, calling about the doctor’s appointment,” said Bridget Dunn, a mother of two from Alexandria. “I don’t know that men do the same thing. We get hung up on these kinds of things because we’re sort of the conductor. I think the stress lies in that.”

Scott Clement contributed to this report.

Dale Drive station will be built at same time as Purple Line, officials say

Maryland transit officials say they will build a Purple Line station at Wayne Avenue and Dale Drive in Silver Spring when the 16-mile light-rail line is built between Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

Maryland Transit Administration officials previously said they would design the Purple Line to allow for a future station at Dale Drive but wouldn’t build it until there was community consensus for it, as the Montgomery County Council had requested.

Some residents had opposed the station, saying they were concerned it would bring commercial and higher-density residential development to the neighborhood east of downtown Silver Spring. Those who favored it said a station would help residents reach the Silver Spring Metrorail station more easily.

Michael Madden, the MTA’s manager for Purple Line planning, said Tuesday that planners recently decided to build the station with the rest of the line because community support for it has grown. After releasing the project’s final environmental impacts study, he said, the state received 16 comments, including a petition signed by 203 people, favoring a Dale Drive station. The state received four comments from those opposed, he said.

A $2.2-billion Purple Line does not have full construction funding. State officials are pursuing federal aid, as well as private funding. Construction would begin in 2015 at the earliest, with the line opening in 2020, officials said.

A station at Dale Drive is projected to serve about 960 Purple Line passengers daily in 2040, Madden said. It would be the second lowest-ridership station along the 16-mile line. The lowest-ridership station, in Long Branch, would have an estimated 890 daily passengers in 2040, he said.

Even so, Madden said, a Dale Drive station would serve that community by helping people reach the Metrorail system more easily. Its costs were already included in the project’s overall $2.2-billion cost estimate, Madden said.

“We always assumed we’d build it,” Madden said. “The only question was when.”

Madden said the County Council has said it has no intention of increasing zoning densities around a Dale Drive station.

Jean Cavanaugh, who lives in the area, said she and some other residents are still concerned that those intentions could change in light of the county’s overall approach to concentrating new development around transit stations. She said the state has done no survey or other study to scientifically measure community sentiment about a Dale Drive station.

“The very fact that they’re putting a transit station in a neighborhood leads one to think the neighborhood will become more dense,” Cavanaugh said.