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Highways

The Takeaway

A Mission to Make America's Truckers Healthy

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Long-haul truckers have a higher rate of obesity than any other occupation, but Siphiwe Baleka is on a mission to change all that.

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The Takeaway

DEA Spies on Millions of Drivers Across U.S.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The DEA is running a domestic intelligence-gathering program. If you drive in populated areas, your movements have very likely been tracked.

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Slate Culture Gabfest

Culture Gabfest Extra: Little Trip to the Big Dig

Monday, December 08, 2014

Julia Turner and her dad, Robert, take Dana Stevens and Stephen Metcalf on a tour of Boston and its infamous mega-construction project, the Big Dig.

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The Leonard Lopate Show

How Highways Changed America

Friday, August 15, 2014

Find out how the U.S. highway system was created and how it changed the country by connecting small towns and cities from coast to coast.

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Transportation Nation

Proposal to Raise Gas Tax Has Allies Outside Congress

Thursday, December 05, 2013

WAMU

The federal gasoline tax, last raised in 1993 to 18 cents per gallon, would increase five cents per year over three years and have future increases tied to inflation, under legislation proposed Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR). With the Highway Trust Fund set to go broke in ten months, the congressman called on leaders of both parties and the Obama administration to raise the tax to replenish the pot of money that pays for rail and road improvements.

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Transportation Nation

New Highway Along Beltway is Road Less Traveled

Thursday, October 24, 2013

WAMU

The 495 Express Lanes in Northern Virginia—14 miles of EZ Pass-only toll lanes where HOV-3 vehicles ride free—are still struggling to attract drivers nearly one year after opening. Traffic volume on the new highway is below expectations, according to information reported to the Australian Securities Exchange.

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Transportation Nation

Meet the Little Known Board Making Big Virginia Transportation Decisions

Monday, August 26, 2013

WAMU

In Virginia, a major transportation project goes nowhere unless it receives the support of the Commonwealth Transportation Board. This influential, 17-member panel picks the winners from the state’s long wish list of road improvement projects. Yet, few of the members are known to the general public, and most do not have transportation or urban planning backgrounds. Most of these key transportation decision makers come from the real estate or banking sectors. 

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Transportation Nation

The Ramp Stays: Virginia Neighbors Give Up, Accept Highway Route

Friday, August 23, 2013

WAMU

A coalition of homeowners groups representing 75,000 residents in Alexandria and Fairfax County is giving up its fight to delay the construction of a highway ramp. It's a case of not-in-my-backyard opposition over air pollution drowned out by a massive road project. 

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Transportation Nation

That Infrastructure Advocacy App Has 10,000 Users Already

Monday, August 12, 2013

WAMU

A smartphone app that part soap box for complaining about traffic and part infrastructure advocacy has generated 1,700 letters to Congress after two weeks on the market. 

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Transportation Nation

Virginia Prepares Public Push to Win Local Support for New Highway

Friday, August 02, 2013

WAMU

Virginia officials are taking a more personal approach in the state's attempt to sell a proposed highway to the locals. Now, in the face of ferocious opposition, the Virginia Department of Transportation is preparing to meet with county officials to present the state's vision of what the Bi-County Parkway would be.

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Transportation Nation

Maryland's New Transportation Secretary Views Transit as a Priority

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

WAMU

After a year having no transportation secretary, Maryland has finally appointed one: James T. Smith, a 71-year old former judge.

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Transportation Nation

Ed Rendell on The State of U.S. Infrastructure 80 Years After the P.W.A.

Monday, July 08, 2013

The Hechinger Report

The Lincoln Tunnel and Triborough Bridge in New York City, the Grand Coulee Dam in Washington state, and the Overseas Highway connecting Key West to mainland Florida are all products of the New Deal’s Public Works Administration, which went into effect 80 years ago today. The Takeaway spoke with Ed Rendell is the former governor of Pennsylvania and the founder and co-chair of Building America’s Future

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The Takeaway

The State of U.S. Infrastructure 80 Years After the Public Works Administration

Monday, July 08, 2013

The Public Works Administrations was the driving force of America’s biggest construction effort to that date. 80 years later, the American Society of Civil Engineers gives the United States a D+ grade on infrastructure and 1 in 9 bridges are structurally deficient. Ed Rendell is the former governor of Pennsylvania and the founder and co-chair of Building America’s Future, which advocates for infrastructure spending. He believes that the United States has delayed investing in infrastructure long enough.

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Transportation Nation

Developers, Environmentalists Battle Over New Highway in D.C. Suburbs

Sunday, July 07, 2013

WAMU

As the McDonnell administration’s plan to build a major north-south highway in Northern Virginia has morphed into the most contentious transportation issue in the region, its opponents – who disparagingly label the proposed road an “outer beltway” – have leveled the charge that the Bi-County Parkway is being rammed through the approval process by and for the benefit of real estate developers.

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Transportation Nation

How Roads Are (Un)Made: The Unraveling of a Deal to Build an "Outer Beltway" in D.C. Suburbs

Thursday, June 20, 2013

WAMU

Building a grand new road in a crowded metropolitan area requires as much diplomatic acumen as engineering ingenuity. So a plan to add a so-called outer beltway in the Washington, D.C. area could unravel over opposition to the closing of different, smaller local road. It may sound confusing, but this is how roads are built. 

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Transportation Nation

D.C.'s Outer Beltway Plan Draws Ferocious Opposition, as Business Leaders Cry For More Lanes

Friday, May 31, 2013

WAMU

A plan to add roadways to the D.C. suburbs is drawing fierce opposition. The so called "outer beltway" project stole the show at a recent public meeting, hinting at the ferocity of resistance in store for the plan to build a 45-mile, north-south corridor in the western suburbs of Washington. 

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Transportation Nation

GOP Opposition to Virginia Highway Plan Continues to Grow

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

WAMU

Another Virginia congressman is adding his voice to Republicans questioning the McDonnell’s administration’s plan to construct a major north-south highway in Northern Virginia, a parkway running west of Dulles International Airport and Manassas Battlefield that critics call an “outer beltway.”

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Transportation Nation

'Outer Beltway' in D.C. Suburbs Meets Opposition From Residents, Lawmakers

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

WAMU

A proposed highway that would skirt a Civil War battlefield is raising hackles in Virginia.

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Transportation Nation

Should Virginia Build Another Highway? Study for "Outer Beltway" Released

Thursday, April 25, 2013

WAMU

Plans for a major highway in Northern Virginia are taking shape. Officials say the billion-dollar road would spur growth, but opponents say that premise is flawed.

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Transportation Nation

Why Tolls Will Be Waived On One Virginia Highway This Weekend

Friday, April 05, 2013

A dynamic tolling system is set to open on a new section of the Beltway later this year.

495, shown last year while under construction

Nearly five months after opening, the operators of the 495 Express Lanes are struggling to attract motorists to their congestion-free toll road in a region mired in some of the worst traffic congestion in the country.

Transurban, the construction conglomerate that put up $1.5 billion to build the 14-mile, EZ Pass-only corridor on the Beltway between the I-95 interchange and Dulles Toll Road, will let motorists use the highway free this weekend in a bid to win more converts.

“It takes a lot of time for drivers in the area to adapt to new driving behaviors. A lot of us are kind of stuck on autopilot on our commutes. That trend might continue for a while, too,” said Transurban spokesman Michael McGurk.

Light use of HOT lanes raises questions

McGurk says some drivers are confused about the new highway’s many entry and exit points. Opening the Express Lanes for free rides this weekend will let motorists familiarize themselves with the road, he said.

After opening in mid-November, the 495 Express Lanes lost money during its first six weeks in business. Operating costs exceeded toll revenues, but Transurban was not expecting to turn an immediate profit. In the long term, however, company officials have conceded they are not guaranteed to make money on their investment. Transurban’s next quarterly report is due at the end of April.

To opponents of the project, five months of relatively light traffic on Virginia’s new $2 billion road is enough to draw judgments. Vehicle miles traveled (VMT) has not recovered since the recession knocked millions out of work and more commuters are seeking alternatives to the automobile, according to Stewart Schwartz, the executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth.

“They miscalculated peoples' time value of money. They overestimated the potential demand for this road,” said Schwartz, who said the light use of the 495 Express Lanes should serve as a warning.

“We should not have rushed into signing a deal for hot lanes for the 95 corridor, and we certainly shouldn’t rush into any deal on I-66,” he said.

Transurban is counseling patience.

“We’re still in a ramp-up period. You’ve probably heard us say that since the beginning, too, but with a facility like this it’s a minimum six months to two years until the region falls into a regular pattern on how they’re going to use this facility,” McGurk said.

In its first six weeks of operations toll revenues climbed on the 495 Express Lanes from daily averages of $12,000 in the first week to $24,000 in the week prior to Christmas. Traffic in the same period increased from an average of 15,000 daily trips to 24,000, according to company records. Despite the increases, operating expenses still outstripped revenues.

It is possible that traffic is not bad enough outside of the morning and afternoon rush hours to push motorists over to the EZ Pass lanes on 495.

“It may also show that it takes only a minor intervention to remove enough cars from the main lanes to let them flow better,” said Schwartz, who said the 14-mile corridor is simply pushing the bottleneck further up the road.

Even Transurban’s McGurk says many customers who have been surveyed complain that once they reach the Express Lanes’ northern terminus at Rt. 267 (Dulles Toll Road), the same terrible traffic awaits them approaching the American Legion Bridge.

Express Lanes a litmus test for larger issues

The success or failure of the 495 Express Lanes will raise one of the region’s most pressing questions as it looks to a future of job and population growth: how best to move people and goods efficiently. Skeptics of highway expansions, even new facilities that charge tolls as a form of congestion pricing, say expanding transit is cheaper and more effective.

“An approach that gives people more options and reduces driving demand through transit and transit-oriented development may be the better long-term solution. But we’ve never had these DOTs give us a fair comparison between a transit-oriented investment future for our region and one where they create this massive network of HOT lanes,” said Schartz, who said a 2010 study by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments pegged the cost of a tolled network of 1,650-lane miles of regional highways at $50 billion.

Transportation experts say a form of congestion pricing, either tolled lanes or a vehicle miles traveled tax, may be part of a regional solution to congestion. The public, however, needs to be explained why.

“As long as the majority of system remains non-tolled and congested then you are not going to solve the problem,” said Joshua Schank, the president of the Eno Center for Transportation, a D.C.-based think tank.

“Highways in this region are drastically underpriced. People are not paying enough to maintain them and they certainly are not paying enough to pay for the cost of congestion. The American people have been sold a bill of goods because they have been told that roads are free. Roads cost money,” he added.

The 495 Express Lanes are dynamically-priced, meaning the tolls increase with demand for the lanes. The average toll per trip in the highway’s first six weeks of operations was $1.07, according to Transurban records. As motorists enter the lanes they see signs displaying how much it will cost to travel to certain exits, but no travel time estimates are displayed. “It is important to be very clear to drivers about the benefit of taking those new lanes, and I am not sure that has happened so far,” said Schank, who said it is too early to conclude if the Express Lanes are working as designed.

“It’s hard to know if it works by looking whether the lanes are making money. I don’t know if that is the right metric. It’s the right metric for Transurban, but it’s not necessarily the right metric from a public sector perspective,” he said. “The real metric is to what extent does it improve economic development and regional accessibility, and that’s a much harder analysis that takes some real research and time.”

Follow @MartinDiCaro on Twitter.

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