James Davenport Transportion (Past, Present and Future)


What to do about Route 28? Not all Solutions may be so Expensive

What do you think when you hear about snarling traffic in the DC Metropolitan area? Well, the Capital Beltway comes to mind, I-66, I-95, I-270. During our commutes every day, there are non-stop reports of delays and crashes further exacerbating those delays and bottling up the region’s highways. Recently a new face to the region’s traffic woes came up front and center. Yes, I am talking about Route 28.  A recent article described how various changes may have led to Route 28 moving into the spotlight and how significant the congestion challenges are on Route 28, from one end to the other.

Officials estimate that the entire Route 28 corridor from Fauquier County to Loudoun County will take an estimated $1 billion in proposed improvements. And while these improvements are necessary, it is imperative that transportation officials and decision makers along the corridor also consider strategies and policies to reduce travel demand, or to redistribute this demand in time or in location. Yes, I am talking about Transportation Development Management (TDM).

Credit: Virginia Department of Transportation

To get a better perspective of the Route 28 corridor, I will refer to our old friend Wikipedia. State Route 28 is a “primary state highway that traverses the counties of Loudoun, Fairfax, Prince William, and Fauquier in the U.S. state of Virginia. It is a major artery through Northern Virginia, particularly the portions within western Fairfax County and eastern Loudoun County, where most of the route is a 6-lane freeway.” You do get a good sense of how the corridor changes as it runs west to east through the farms and rural section of Fauquier County and Prince William County, then the suburban parts of Prince William County and the denser commercial areas of Manassas and Manassas Park. Then you travel through Fairfax and Loudoun Counties, where the road is a six-lane divided highway, and you see quite a few businesses and corporate headquarters along that section of the corridor. That also includes the Air and Space museum and Dulles Airport. The road has as many personalities as Sybil.

There is no denying the severity of congestion on this road, and that can be the case no matter where you are along the road. Kudos to the recently elected Delegate Danica Roem who made Route 28 a major issue in her campaign for the 13th House of Delegates District in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Her district covers the city of Manassas Park and a portion of northern Prince William County.  It’s about time that congestion on Route 28 rises to the top of transportation challenges in the region. Prince William, Fairfax, and Loudoun Counties have worked to address the congestion challenges on Route 28 with various improvement projects. But movement is slow and very expensive.

What low cost approaches can be implemented to help address these issues? Can we afford future major improvement on the road? Are transit improvements such as BRT and or light rail viable?

Credit: WTOP.com

The thinking is that any answer to relieve congestion along this corridor will cost a lot of money. Unfortunately, studies have shown that the density is not at a level to warrant any type of major investment in transit such as BRT or light rail. I have read that Delegate Roem is looking at alternatives to traffic lights and removing them in sections where possible. That won’t be easy given the number of businesses along Route 28 in the vicinity Manassas Park and northern Prince William County. The article referenced a study that narrowed down options to improve Route 28 moving from Manassas, Manassas Park and Prince William County to the Fairfax County line at Bull Run. These options include widening of the facility and three bypass possibilities around the Route 28 corridor in that area. All the options have their own cost and Right-of-Way challenges. Many difficult decisions will have to be made and it is going to take a lot of time, a lot of resources, and a lot of debate. And that debate could lead to heated squabbling.

How did we get into this predicament in the first place? Were there unwise development decisions made in the past, a case of growth with very little planning or forethought? Land along the corridor was cheap at one time so residential development popped up all over the place; and as a result, the only way to get around anywhere was by automobile. Maybe that was the case, but communities have a right to grow and develop as they see fit. It is unfortunate that the error of one’s ways may not even be felt until way down the road. Though, there are folks who will tell you congestion on Route 28 has been an issue for up to 30 years.

One encouraging development is the proliferation of TDM strategies. Simply put, TDM addresses traffic congestion at the demand side rather than the supply or infrastructure side. It generally involves working with local employers to develop alternative ways for their employees to commute to work. This may involve setting up a van or bus pool, encouraging carpooling, tele-commuting, offering flex-time work days and workweek options, etc. There are multiple options.

Residents living near the vicinity of I-66 will see quite a bit of these approaches during the construction phase of I-66, especially outside the beltway. VDOT and DRPT are working with transit agencies and local governments along the corridor to devise approaches to provide options for commuters to get to work during the construction phase of the I-66 improvements. This is referred to as the Transportation Management Plan (TMP). I encourage those of you who live along the I-66 corridor to check out what your options may be during this period. Please peruse the Transform I-66 website.

Many TDM projects are already in place throughout the Washington region. In reviewing the Transportation Planning Board Commuter Connections program webpage, I came across a table of “Ongoing Local Jurisdictional Demand Management Strategies” that was put together for 2016 Congestion Management Process Technical Report. The table listed 104 projects across the region. Again, this was from 2016 so there will probably be more programs when the table is updated for 2018.

Many of these projects are in Prince William County/ Potomac Rappahannock Transportation Commission (PRTC), Fairfax and Loudoun Counties. These programs, along with state, regional, and Transportation Management Association (TMA) strategies, will go a long way to help address congestion along the Route 28 corridor. The challenge would be the promotion of these strategies and developing ways to further encourage commuters to use these programs rather than driving solo to work. TDM can be cost effective in reducing SOV and as a result, reducing congestion. This may sound like a no-brainer but for TDM strategies to be successful, commuters must use the services, provided by the strategies, and use them continuously.

Credit: Commons Wikimedia.org

Local governments and transit agencies should continue working with their state, regional, and TMA entities to expand TDM and make it a viable option to reduce congestion along the region’s roadways, especially along Route 28. State and regional long-range transportation plans that provide a road-map (pun intended) for transportation projects 20 to 40 years in the future are including TDM projects. The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority recently updated its long-range plan, TransAction, and it includes 12 TDM projects out of the 352 projects in total. While that may not seem like a lot, this is the first time any TDM projects have been included in TransAction. And if you include non-motorized and ITS/ICM projects, that is 22% of all the projects in the current TransAction plan.

Having worked in a County Transportation Department for three years, I know how costly and long-term many transportation projects are, whether it’s a road widening, converting an intersection to an interchange, or a new Bus Rapid Transit. Though the necessity of these projects is obvious, the politics can derail it or even take it off the table for further discussion. I have seen how effective TDM projects can be, sometimes inadvertently. In 2015, the pope planned a visit in late September to the DC area. Hardly any traffic issues or congestion incidents occurred on that day. People simply stayed home and worked. When Metro shut down its entire operation one weekday a few years ago, for necessary repairs, there were hardly any traffic issues. I had to drive into the District from Prince William County for a meeting on that day. It took me only about 35 minutes – quicker than usual.

I know those scenarios are unusual and transportation agencies can't implement a "everyone stay home" strategy as a viable approach to reduce congestion in the region. But TDM programs contain effective strategies and they should be a part of any agency's toolbox to reduce congestion. And that includes for Route 28.

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  1. Nice summary James. I like the TDM angle.

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