Nine major highway and rail improvements throughout metropolitan Washington and one ongoing program to facilitate better curbside commercial loading in the District of Columbia make up a list of ten key freight-related transportation improvements that are needed to better accommodate increasing truck and freight rail traffic in the region.
The list of "Ten Highlighted Freight Projects" was assembled in 2011 by the TPB's Freight Subcommittee, a group of regional stakeholders representing state and local departments of transportation and the rail, truck, and air freight industries. The list includes projects or programs in each of the region's three state-level jurisdictions, a mixture of rail and highway improvement projects, and a combination of specific, short-term projects and longer-term visions for major freight corridors.
Because freight traffic shares many of the region's roads and railways with passenger traffic, and because the Washington region's service-based economy relies so heavily on the efficient delivery of goods to retail outlets, offices, residences, and schools, the Transportation Planning Board established a freight planning program in 2007 dedicated to integrating freight issues into the regional transportation planning process. In 2008, the TPB established a Freight Subcommittee to address regional freight transportation concerns, and in 2010 and 2011 that committee worked to develop a set of highlighted improvements.
In terms of cost, the biggest short-term improvement on the list is reconstruction of the rail tunnel under Virginia Avenue SE in the District of Columbia to accommodate double-track, double-stack freight rail movements through the city.
Currently, freight trains carrying double-stacked cargo containers are unable to use the 100-year-old tunnel, while single-stack trains that can use the tunnel must often queue for long periods of time at either end while they wait to use the tunnel's single track. Trains queuing at the western end of the tunnel interfere with Amtrak and Virginia Railway Express (VRE) passenger traffic leaving from or approaching Union Station.
The $160 million project is one of CSX Corporation's many priorities in carrying out its National Gateway program, a $774 million effort to clear 61 obstacles or bottlenecks in six mid-Atlantic and Midwestern states in advance of a 2014 widening of the Panama Canal. The widening will allow ships capable of carrying twice as many cargo containers to reach East Coast ports like Baltimore and Norfolk, driving up demand for double-stack trains that can carry twice as many cargo containers to inland destinations.
Norfolk Southern, the other major freight rail operator in the Washington region, is pursuing a similar effort to increase capacity and efficiency on its major East Coast routes. One key local project in its $2.3 billion, 13-state Crescent Corridor program is expansion of a 5.8-mile rail link between Manassas and Balls Ford Road in Prince William County that will relieve a major chokepoint for freight traffic as well as Amtrak and VRE passenger trains.
A number of short- and long-term highway improvements are also on the region's list of highlighted freight-related transportation projects.
The key short-term improvement in Maryland is to increase capacity along a four-mile stretch of Interstate 70 in Frederick County. In Virginia, construction of a new exit ramp from eastbound Interstate 66 to northbound Interstate 495, which is currently underway, will relieve a major bottleneck for trucks at the interchange.
In both states, major long-term improvements to the Interstate 95 corridor were identified as important because they would relieve existing congestion and accommodate anticipated growth in truck traffic traveling through the region as well truck traffic serving needs within the region. The improvements to Interstate 95 in Maryland are projected to cost between $3 billion and $5 billion.
Finally, the list includes two efforts to better accommodate future increases in road-based freight traffic in the District of Columbia: one, a uniform commercial curbside loading zone program that would clearly designate areas for loading and unloading of commercial vehicles; and two, construction of a weigh station within the city limits to enforce size and weight standards along one or more of the District's high-volume truck routes. The curbside loading program would cost $300,000 a year, while construction of the weigh station would cost at least $8 million.
These ten short- and long-term improvements highlighted by the TPB's Freight Subcommittee are aimed at enhancing the movement of goods both through the region and to, from, and within it. The improvements are intended to make more efficient use of the roads and railways shared by freight traffic and millions of people in the Washington region every day.