THIRD WORLD DC:Grandiose Schemes & Regressive Taxes for VA

November 30, 1998

THIRD WORLD DC:Grandiose Schemes & Regressive Taxes for VA’s Dulles Corridor

Originally published in issue 34 of Tollroads Newsletter, which came out in Dec 1998.


Subjects:MIS perversion by transit exclusion highway option

Facilities:Dulles Toll Road Dulles Corridor

Agencies:VDOT Virginia Department of Rail

Locations:VA northern VA

Raytheon proposes construction of a fleet of some 58 custom-designed double-sided platform level loading articulated buses that have automatic guided ‘precision docking’ system at stations, and lots of other bells and whistles. And that’s just as a stopgap! No sooner is a contract for the super self-docking Dulles Corridor buses signed than Raytheon proposes to begin work on design of a replacement rail system. The super-bus system would be obsoleted within 5 or 6 years, to be replaced by a branch line of the heavy rail Metro system.

You might think someone would at some point ask: Where do air travelers to Dulles airport and others in the corridor come from and where do they go? The answer is likely to be that the majority of them do NOT go downtown DC where the Metrorail goes, that they go all over the metro area. There is a thriving business in shared ride minivans, and many hundreds of cabs that travel the expanse of the region to and from the airports, and cost taxpayers zip. And of course vast parking lots and parking decks under construction. But a real origin destination study wouldn’t fit our corridor design.

If this Washington area were a practical place instead of one that seems to bring out the most grandiose and impractical of ideas, then someone might also ask: Is it likely that air travelers on their way to city hotels or offices with luggage will use a Metrorail system that has the world’s longest escalators, escalators that are broken down about 20% of the time. A scheme to replace the old escalators was recently abandoned after $20m had been spent when it was discovered that the new escalators had a somewhat worse downtime record than the old ones they were


Raytheon touts the Bus Rapid Transit project based on what it calls a “groundswell of public support” and also the “recent passage of the Transportation and Efficiency Act for the 21st Century.” The “groundswell of support” for new transit has escaped this follower of local transport issues, and I suspect it is as much a figment of the imagination of Raytheon’s proposal writers as the Transportation and Efficiency Act...they invoke. ISTEA had the word ‘efficiency’ in it but not TEA21. Guys, get with it! The Washington buzzword now is Equity. Efficiency was the 80s buzzword. Also efficiency is not a word that it is advisable to use within a hundred miles of any proposal to breed a bunch of little brothers of the lumbering mobile-lounges that Dulles Airport uses to ferry passengers between the main terminal and midfield concourses. (WARNING visitors to TRB: allow an extra 30 mins for the 200 yard lounge trip from luggage check-in to midfield terminals at Dulles.)

KPMG Peat-Marwick

KPMG Peat-Marwick did the only serious study of alternatives for the Dulles Corridor back in 1990, and this strongly recommended express buses in as a Transp Systems Management (TSM) option. The next best option it found was express bus in a 2-lane reversible central HOV facility. They summarized their findings by saying these express bus/HOV systems could operate “at a fraction” of the cost of rail (pii). None of the rail or fancier fixed guideway ideas long touted by the cost-unconscious enthusiasts even came near being cost-effective, Marwick said. If more capacity were needed Marwick’s bus/HOV proposal made sense – use of the central 31' for a 2-lane reversible with a system of T-ramp connections to park-&-rides alongside the road, such ramps also having the advantage that vans, cabs, carpoolers and indeed buses could filter in to the central express facility from the suburbs. Marwick’s idea also was that the T-ramps would allow users of the express lane facility to peel off at different points and use other roads to provide door to door service.

Marwick’s proposal would work even better with variable pricing to generate some revenue from SOV buy-in, but they wrote before the HOT lanes idea had been floated by Pete Fielding and Bob Poole in CA.

Raytheon’s new clod-head hightech scheme by contrast manages to combine the worst of road and of rail – the relatively high driver costs of buses and their having to enter and exit other traffic, with the inflexibility and purely line-haul characteristics of rail. Its super-buses trapped in their central median will be unable to offer any of the door-to-door service of regular bus or van and will simply act as a shuttle back and forth down the corridor to the Metrorail at West Falls Church. Passengers wanting to use the super-buses will be required to walk from park-&-ride lots or from shuttle buses on long pedestrian bridges to the central median stations and then ride escalators to platforms.

Rep Charles Wolf the local congressman is one lonely guy who is skeptical about grandiose rail plans and he sensibly wrote into the TEA21 legislation the requirement that an initial scheme for the Dulles Corridor be designed around buses to test the transit market. However the rail-enthusiasts in FTA and VDOT don’t want a real test of bus. They insist that bus be regarded from the outset as a stop-gap, so they want a design which locks out any flexible or adaptive use of rubber tired vehicles. The detail of the Raytheon proposal neatly panders to that fanaticism for rail — the Lionel complex — and to the bureaucratic scheming to get around the intent of a mere legislator like Wolf.


Raytheon may have felt that to have any chance of getting work with VA Dept of Rail etc they had to follow the recommendations of a rail-biased “Dulles Corridor Transp Study” done for VA Rail/FTA by Parsons Brinck (PB) mid-97. The PB study is perfunctory in dismissing express bus on the grounds that (1) current widening of the roads from the then 10-lanes (3/2/2/3) to 14-lanes (4/3/3/4) will be quite insufficient to avert increasing congestion, that (2) rail will attract many more patrons that bus and (3) it is immutable policy anyway that the remaining 31' (9.5m) in the center should be used for rail transit. The PB report uses politicized projections, for example that District (DC) employment and population will grow (22% and 8%) when this would require a sharp reversal of chronic decline. It projects overall Dulles Corridor employment growth from 145k in 1990 to 324k in 2020 or 123% and households as growing from 64k to 154k 138%. There are some more problems here:

(1) sloppy computational errors (see Trip Growth Reston/Herndon below)

(2) fantastic trip numbers for Loudoun Co (3) an assumption that all Dulles area/Maryland traffic will forever be forced to use only the Wash Beltway (I-495) and that there can’t be any new upstream crossing of the Potomac so that circumferential and radial trips must be combined in the Dulles Corridor in as far as I-495, and

(4) that use of road pricing is unthinkable. Grubby commercial stuff?

“22-lanes needed”

Other places in the country such as California and Texas where these kinds of 2020 projections show a “need” for 18-lanes or 24-lanes or somesuch gargantuan highway, it is now standard practice to look at a dual-dual roadway arrangement with at least the inner roadways priced and managed (see TRnl#16 Jun97 p1, TRnl#18 Aug97 p12, TR#25 Mar98 p1 on LBJ, Katy and I-15 San D plans). You look in classic commuter tidal flow situations like the Dulles corridor at making some lanes reversible and perhaps you make use of a moved barrier. The thinking then is that you can manage some of the roadway for greater efficiency. You can reconfigure road capacity (supply) between am and pm, and use a variable toll to spread the peak (demand). All this stuff has completely passed by Washington DC it seems from a reading of the PB study. The same firm which so boldly recommended pricing for US101 Sonoma Co CA (TRnl#28 Jun98 p1) in the Bay area has not a word to say in the 1997 study about the possibility of using a time variable toll, or a reconfigurable roadway, in the Dulles Corridor, and it gives no consideration to the Marwick study scheme for T-ramp connections to a central busway/HOV.

Pricing and rearranging the roadway to gain greater efficiency in the Dulles corridor should not in fact require very large steps. A dual-dual roadway is already in place (by now 4/2/2/4) in which the outer 2x4 lanes are the VDOT Dulles Toll Road (DTR). The inner roadways 2x2, with space to go to 2x3 lanes, is the Wash Airports Authority’s Dulles Airport Access Road (DAAR). And there’s another (9.5m) 31' between barriers in the center called a transit reservation. There’s surface space the length of the corridor from the Beltway to the Airport for 16-lanes of road and the existing pavement suggests a 4/3/2/3/4 arrangement. Extra slivers of adjoining land might be needed for extra ramps at interchanges, but that’s all the right-of-way problem there is. More efficient configurations than a fixed 4/3/2/3/4 lanes might be gotten with continuous pavement between roadways and use of moveable barrier.

Pricing should be no big deal politically since nearly 100k tolls are already collected daily from the commuters in the corridor on the DTR (the 2x4-lanes). With electronic tolling the rates can simply be varied according to congestion levels, as successfully demonstrated by 91X and I-15 in CA, to improve utilization of the roadway and to keep traffic moving. They could even have some lanes a flat rate ‘take-your-chances’ toll, others variably priced and ‘guaranteed express.’

A similar but separate variable pricing regime could be used on the inside 2x2-lane airport access road, perhaps to avert, or at least defer the need to go to 2x3-lanes. And to finance such improvements. Ah come down to earth! This is Wilson Bridge country, where they propose the world’s most expensive untolled bridge ever ($1.6b) also the world’s widest bridge, and a draw bridge at that, and where work is under way in blithe disregard of laws that say financing should be in place first (The only firm commitment is the Feds $900m, and there are no state commitments, or toll plans.)

Highway Tolls at Tysons

A progressive conversion of the DTR tolling to electronic highway-speed operations at the mainline plaza near Tysons might have merited a mention in the PB report if it had occurred to its authors that it was safe to look at ways of getting more throughput via the existing pavement. Not a word about that in their study either. Anything which contributed to a more efficient use of existing roadway assets might have detracted from their case for the $1.4b heavy rail, one has to guess, and therefore was taboo. This after all was a study funded by the Federal Transit Admin, so I suppose you shouldn’t expect any serious look at promoting roadway efficiency.

A spokesman for the Wash Airports recently proposed (WASH POST 11/28) tax-financing for not only the $1.4 billion rail line in the central 31' of the Corridor and its undiscussable nine-digit annual losses, but also for two new free bridges over the Potomac. Talk about trying to build your way out of congestion with fantasy plans, for at present it is the rather firm position of both Montgomery Co and of the state of Maryland that no new Potomac bridge should be built to northern VA. Not one, and these Dulles Airport guys say: “We MUST build two new bridges”! Meanwhile we get behind superbuses and a rail line posited on gussied-up traffic projections assuming no new bridges.

The airport people say they need a new regional transp tax yielding $800m/yr to finance and operate the “improvements” needed in the Dulles corridor - all because they don’t want to price the traffic in that corridor, or to consider any way of using existing assets efficiently. They want to tax the lower income people of NE and SE DC and Prince George’s Co so that the high income people of Loudoun and Fairfax Co and travelers to Dulles airport don’t have to pay market rate tolls, and so the existing corridor with space for 16-lanes doesn’t have to be managed for efficient utilization. Beg, beg, tax, tax and beg and tax some more, I guess that’s just the decadent Washington way.

These are the people qualified to instruct the rest of the country, and the world, on planning? (Contacts Fatemeh Allahdoust Dulles Corridor Task Force VDOT 703 383 2224, Frank Wolf Rep VA 202 225 5136, Robert Iotti Raytheon 703 284 5546, James Ryan PB 202 783 0241, Jeffrey Bruggeman Marwick 703 442 0030)

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