AAA’s Lon An­der­son re­views the good, the bad and the ugly of D.C. com­mut­ing

The Washington Post Sunday - - COMMUTER - ROBERT THOM­SON Dr. Grid­lock also ap­pears Thurs­day in Lo­cal Liv­ing. Com­ments and ques­tions are welcome and may be used in a col­umn, along with the writer’s name and home com­mu­nity. Write Dr. Grid­lock at TheWash­ing­ton Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C

In Septem­ber 1994, we pub­lished a “Dear Dr. Grid­lock” let­ter from a Mont­gomery County res­i­dent who was on a new com­mute to Fair Oaks in western Fair­fax County.

He had a com­plaint: “There’s only one place for us to cross the Po­tomac River. No won­der there’s so much con­ges­tion on the Belt­way and on that bridge . . . Whatwe need is a new­bridge cross­ing.”

The let­ter was signed “Lon An­der­son, Amer­i­can Au­to­mo­bile As­so­ci­a­tion.”

Af­ter al­most 21 years, he’s still ar­gu­ing for that bridge. But a new cross­ing is merely one of the scores of con­cerns, causes and com­plaints that An­der­son has pur­sued over two decades as an ad­vo­cate for theD.C. re­gion’s trav­el­ers.

An­der­son, who is re­tir­ing this sum­mer from AAAMid-At­lantic, joined me for an online chat. This is an edited tran­script drawn from the chat.

Q: You’ve seen many trans­porta­tion pro­grams come and go— and some­times come back again. Are there any pro­grams or projects that you think made a sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence for lo­cal trav­el­ers over the past cou­ple of decades?

An­der­son: Bad: The re­fusal, at all lev­els of gov­ern­ment, to re­spon­si­bly fund trans­porta­tion. Just a year or two be­fore I started in 1994, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment had in­creased fuel taxes, as did Mary­land, as part of a reg­u­lar ad­just­ment to meet the grow­ing costs of meet­ing the na­tion’s and re­gion’s needs.

Note­wor­thy was the fact that Vir­ginia did not, and its last fuel tax in­crease was in 1986. Af­ter that, nei­therMary­land nor Vir­ginia made any ad­just­ment un­til 2013, when the trans­porta­tion fund­ing in both states, for roads and transit, was lit­er­ally run­ning on fumes.

This has had a dev­as­tat­ing im­pact onMetro’s oper­a­tions and safety, on high­way con­ges­tion, on new­pro­jects, on bridges and roads— wit­ness the re­cent lim­it­ing of bus and truck traf­fic on the­Memo­rial Bridge be­cause of in­ad­e­quate fund­ing to main­tain it.

Dis­grace­ful, but the log­i­cal re­sult of two decades of in­ad­e­quate fund­ing.

Good: The use of pri­vate cap­i­tal via public-pri­vate part­ner­ships to get projects done in spite of lit­tle or no gov­ern­ment money. Vir­ginia is a na­tional leader in this, and the ex­press lanes on the Belt­way and I-95 are great ex­am­ples.

Bad: The con­tin­ued rise of parochial­ism in re­gional trans­porta­tion plan­ning. There is no one with any power who heads trans­porta­tion in our re­gion. Our re­gion’s Trans­porta­tion Plan­ning Board must get lists of projects from lo­cal ju­ris­dic­tions and then cob­ble to­gether a plan made from those lo­cal wish lists.

Who is do­ing what is good for the re­gion? Af­ter 20 years of search­ing, I have not found that per­son/en­tity.

Q: Look­ing across the en­tire D.C. re­gion, are com­muters bet­ter off— or worse off— than they were 20 years ago?

An­der­son: Whether com­muters are far­ing bet­ter or worse over the last two decades is re­ally a func­tion of where they are lo­cated. Over­all, if they com­mute in the Dis­trict or Mary­land, they are worse off, and bet­ter if in­North­ern Vir­ginia. It’s Vir­ginia that has added the big road and mass transit im­prove­ments in the last 20 years — and com­muter ex­pe­ri­ence re­flects that.

I have been re­fer­ring to Mary­land as Rip vanMary­land, en­gaged in long trans­porta­tion slum­ber, while Vir­ginia was

spend­ing some $15 bil­lion plus on sev­eral mega-projects that re­ally are mak­ing a dif­fer­ence.

Q: If the Trans­porta­tion Ge­nie granted you three wishes on be­half of com­muters, what would they be?

An­der­son: 1. To com­plete the late Trans­porta­tion Plan­ning Board di­rec­tor Ron Kirby’s vi­sion of ex­press lanes with an ex­press bus net­work on all of our ma­jor in­ter­states that would al­low our re­gion to have a huge and con­nected bus rapid transit net­work on all of our in­ter­states — all around the Belt­way and on all the ma­jor ar­ter­ies.

2. To build a new­bridge north of the Belt­way that would con­nect Gaithers­burg/ Ger­man­town with the Re­ston/ Dulles cor­ri­dor. This will ac­tu­ally re­lieve Belt­way traf­fic and the Amer­i­can Le­gion Bridge and give the Belt­way a fight­ing chance of op­er­at­ing in other than a to­tal grid­lock mode.

3. To see the needed mass transit built through­out our re­gion— and done prop­erly. Think of it: The Pur­ple Line done, and bus rapid transit op­er­at­ing around the Belt­way, out I-66, out I-270. Such a sys­tem re­ally would at­tract riders, get peo­ple out of the cars and thus make both roads and mass transit work bet­ter.

But the BRT sys­tem must not be built on the cheap, as Mont­gomery County is propos­ing — tak­ing gen­eral traf­fic lanes and con­vert­ing them to bus only. Ca­pac­ity must be added, not sub­tracted, when you suf­fer some of the worst con­ges­tion in the na­tion.

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