An alternative vision for the future of the region's transportation system being studied by the Transportation Planning Board would give travelers new options for avoiding traffic back-ups, slow expected growth in congestion and travel delay at peak hours, and provide new revenue for much-needed improvements in high-demand travel corridors.
The TPB's "CLRP Aspirations" Scenario calls for implementing a network of new toll lanes and bus rapid transit on the region's highways and concentrating future housing and job growth near current and planned transit stations.
If implemented, these initiatives could go a long way in helping to accommodate the 1.5 million new residents and 1.2 million new jobs expected in metropolitan Washington by 2040.
The scenario's core feature -- a 1,650-mile network of tolled express lanes on the region's highways and major arterial routes -- would give solo drivers and those who choose "high-occupancy" alternatives like carpools and buses the option to by-pass congestion and enjoy more reliable travel times.
Tolls in the lanes would be higher during peak traffic periods and lower at other times in order to maintain free-flowing traffic conditions in the lanes throughout the day.
About 150 lane-miles of the toll network in the scenario have already been built (the Intercounty Connector in Maryland), are currently under construction (on the Capital Beltway in Virginia), or were included in the 2010 update to the region's constrained long-range transportation plan, or CLRP.
In a "streamlined" version of the scenario designed to reduce new construction costs, approximately 650 of the remaining 1,500 lane-miles (or 43%) would require new construction, while the rest would be converted from existing high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) or general-purpose travel lanes.
Solo drivers who choose to use the lanes would pay the full toll by themselves, while those in carpools -- which make more efficient use of the region's limited roadway space -- would either save significantly on tolls by sharing the cost with fellow riders, or in some jurisdictions benefit from exemptions for HOVs.
Another component of the scenario is a 500-mile network of bus rapid transit (or BRT) that would also travel on the tolled lanes, making it easier for more people to take advantage of congestion-free travel. The BRT system would connect the region's housing and job centers with a type of transit service approaching the speed, frequency, and reliability of rail transit.
The BRT network would also provide much-needed transit service in the region's outer suburbs, areas where rail transit isn't likely to be a financially-viable option anytime soon.
Finally, in order to significantly increase the number of people for whom such transit alternatives would be a convenient option, the scenario calls for concentrating up to 50% of the region's future housing and job growth in mixed-use activity centers near existing and planned rail and BRT stations.
Together, these three mutually-supportive transportation and land-use initiatives would, under the streamlined version of the scenario, benefit the region by cutting anticipated increases in peak-hour travel delay for drivers from 20% under the current long-range plan to just 4% under the new scenario.
Plus, travelers would have new options for avoiding traffic back-ups altogether, whether by paying to drive alone in congestion-free toll lanes, taking advantage of a convenient and reliable system of BRT, or walking or bicycling to nearby destinations within activity centers.
And the TPB's analysis of the streamlined version of the scenario estimates that the costs of constructing the network of toll lanes and purchasing and operating a new fleet of nearly 400 BRT vehicles could be paid for through toll revenues and transit fare collections.
In a region struggling with worsening congestion and growing transportation funding shortfalls, the TPB's "CLRP Aspirations" Scenario offers an alternative vision for the future that addresses some of the Washington region's most pressing concerns.
By implementing a network of toll lanes and new bus-rapid transit, and by concentrating future growth near transit stations, the region and its residents could enjoy new travel options, slowed growth in congestion-related travel delays, and new revenue streams for much-needed road and transit improvements. Together, these outcomes make it easier to imagine 1.5 million more people traveling around metropolitan Washington in 2040.