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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Congestion: Silver Bullets vs. Band Aids

Congestion: Silver Bullets vs. Band Aids

According to national studies, the area that I live in (Fairfax County, Virginia) has the most congested traffic in the nation. I’ve lived here more than 35 years and my wife has lived here her entire life. There’s no doubt about it, traffic continues to get worse each year and since highway construction is virtually nonexistent, and the population keeps growing, it will undoubtedly get worse.

While I believe that road congestion could be solved if we applied all the gasoline tax dollars to the problem (instead of using it for non-related purposes), I’m also realistic enough to know that is not going to happen in the current political climate. I do believe, however, much could be done with an absolute minimum expenditure of tax dollars to ameliorate the situation.

I’m talking here about band aids, not silver bullets. As I grow older, I have come to believe in band aids. Silver bullets usually miss the mark, so why not focus on applying a number of band aids which may not solve the problem, but will certainly make driving easier. Truthfully, my hat’s off to the folks who work on highways and roads in Fairfax County. They are constantly making small improvements like extending access lanes and lengthening turn lanes that have a very positive effect on driving.

But, as I have traveled across the US, I have seen other cities come up with unique innovations that have greatly helped their congestion. Here are just a few concepts that I have seen work successfully.
Toll Roads. An old, but good idea providing the public is assured the toll will immediately come off the road once the capital cost of construction is retired. Otherwise, confidence in the integrity and honesty of politicians will continue to deteriorate and much needed roads will go un-constructed.

Elimination of Access Lanes. This is something that California has already done. It adds extra lanes for travel with no construction required.

Reversible Lanes. For more than 40 years they have used reversible lanes in the Seattle area and for many years in other West Coast jurisdictions. Again, the cost is minimal, but the benefit to commuters can be huge.

HOV or Commuter Lanes. Limit all HOV or commuter lanes to two passengers. It’s simply not practical to insist on more than two people in a car. When such a requirement exists the highway is always underutilized.

No Slow Down Toll Lanes. In Atlanta, Denver and Houston, cars with proximity passes can continue through the toll area on wide lanes that do not require any reduction in speed.
Millions of tons of air pollution could be eliminated from our skies and our lungs by building highways that get rid of the stop-and-go congestion that is the cause of nitrous pollution. Nitrous pollutants are released solely when automobiles accelerate. The construction of toll roads, with the mandatory removal of the toll upon pay-off of the capital cost, would restore public confidence in the politicians and it would go far to clean our air, reduce our stress level, and get us to and from work faster and more safely, while reducing our dependence on foreign oil.

My only concern is this: Do the politicians really care?

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