Monday, August 13, 2012

Toll Avoidance, Rt. 7 Traffic, and the Environment

Higher tolls are bad for one primary reason: they force all but the most wealthy drivers off the Toll Road. The result of this is that the alternate free roads see drastically increased congestion. How bad will the increased congestion be? We really don't know, because the people planning the Dulles Rail Project hid the data.

As with any major project, the federal government required an Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) showing what effect the project would have on the surrounding area. This was completed in 2004 and included an analysis of the transportation effects on other roads. This is the chart that the FEIS included:

OK, so there isn't any real traffic relief, but I thought you said they "hid the data", right? Correct. Look at that list again. Notice anything missing? How about Rt. 7, the only other road that follows the Dulles Toll Road/Dulles Greenway from Falls Church through Tyson's Corner, Reston, Herndon, Sterling, and Ashburn to Leesburg? Anyone from this area knows that Rt. 7 is the alternate route. Look at the map below to see this:

If people in Leesburg, Ashburn, Sterling, Herndon, or Reston want to get to Tyson's Corner or Washington, DC, and can't afford the additional $1,125/yr to commute when tolls double, they're going to take Rt. 7 or the little two-lane neighborhood roads. Rt. 7 is already super-congested and accident-prone with about 60,000 vehicles/day through Fairfax County from the Loudoun County line to I-495. Rt. 193 (Georgetown Pike) is a hilly, curvy, two-lane road that carries about 20,000 vehicles/day from Rt. 7 to I-495.

Estimates show that up to 50,000 cars/day will be forced off the toll road and onto the free roads. How much time will local residents and commuters waste sitting in traffic? How many more accidents will cause injuries and deaths? How much more pollution will there be from all those cars idling in traffic?

The 2004 FEIS didn't even consider Rt. 7, the only real alternate road with more than two lanes. The 2006 and 2012 Environmental Assessments (EA) didn't see fit to look into it either! This is an outrageous, blatant disregard for the federal law. We can't say why, since several days of phone calls and emails to the responsible parties have yielded no response. The only way to find answers and prevent the coming Tollmageddon is to force a new Environmental Assessment, with a proper analysis of the effects of higher tolls.

The Project FEIS's official excuse for not studying toll avoidance traffic on Rt. 7 is below, in response to an FEIS Comment from the City of Falls Church:

Traffic and Mitigation Measures Not Fully Addressed for the City of Falls ChurchPotential Impacts to City of Falls Church
Local Comment: I am pleased to provide the following "Impact Evaluation" for the referenced draft EIS report dated January 28, 2002 (including revised Section 8.0 dated March 15, 2002). This brief evaluation reviews this EIS report in consideration of possible impacts to the City of Falls Church, particularly the affected Metrorail stations and environs with the City of Falls Church. Based on my evaluation of this report (and revised Section 8.0 attachment), I offer the following observations and comments (presented in order by Section of the EIS report):

Section 6.1 -- Level of Service (LOS) analyses were conducted for selected highway links, but not Rt. 7. Why not? Again, it seems this important highway corridor within the study area should have been included. 
Response: Section 6.1. The links included in Table 6-1 were a sample of the important highway links in the project area. The table was not meant to be comprehensive of all heavily traveled links in the corridor. The links included in the table were selected based on their proximity to the BRT and Metrorail alignments, and were adjusted to be links most affected by implementation of the Build Alternatives. 
Final Environmental Impact Statement J-6-26 Dulles Corridor Rapid Transit Project

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