Monday, August 06, 2012
(Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) Ten years after construction began with the dredging of the Potomac River, the $2.5 billion Woodrow Wilson Bridge improvement project opened to motorists on Monday morning in what has been one of the most congested commuting corridors in the country. The daily clogged three lanes mess of cars is over.
“We had backups of three, four, five miles on a regular basis. It’s a soul-killing experience to be sitting there day after day,” said spokesman John Undelan of the Virginia Department of Transportation.
The stretch of highway is now five lanes in each direction on I-495 Capital Beltway from the Telegraph Road interchange across the Wilson Bridge into Maryland. The bridge, improved with two new spans, is also five lanes each way, ending what had been a terrible bottleneck. The bridge used to have only three lanes in each direction.
“The Beltway is Washington’s main street. This is how we get around, and this had been a constriction for more than a decade,” Undeland said.
Transit and environmental advocates say the improvements are a missed opportunity. Once-promising plans to use the bridge’s two center lanes for rail transit never came to fruition, despite investments to stabilize the bridge to handle the weight of rail cars.
“It’s another example of our short-sighted transportation policy,” said Josh Tulkin, the state director of the Sierra Club Maryland chapter. “We need long-term investments in rail or we will be expanding freeways lane by lane well into the future.”
Weekend drivers will have to wait a few more weeks for the full benefit of the project, as there will be single-lane closures on two to three weekends for paving and striping.
Wednesday, July 25, 2012
(Matt McCleskey, Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) The trucking industry is urging Virginia to abandon its plan to charge tolls on Interstate 95, launching a campaign called "Say NO to I-95 Tolls."
The goal of the anti-toll initiative, according to the Associated Press, is to get the Virginia Department of Transportation to drop a proposed plan to put tollbooths on I-95 in Sussex County. The toll would be $4 for passenger vehicles and $12 for tractor-trailers.
The effort includes a website, an online petition and a Facebook page and is organized by the National Association of Truck Stop Operators, the American Trucking Association, and the Virginia Trucking Association.
The Federal Highway Administration gave its preliminary approval last fall to let VDOT start a pilot toll program on I-95 to raise money for expanding highway capacity and for transportation improvements.
The only toll facility proposed so far is the Sussex County site.
Listen to the audio of this story at WAMU, or follow @WAMU885 for Washington, D.C. updates.
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
(Washington, DC - Jonathan Wilson, WAMU) Millions of Americans are hitting the highways for the Thanksgiving holiday, and on the East Coast, many motorists hoping to get anywhere hop on I-95.
Overlooking some of the busiest traffic in the region -- if not the nation -- is a landmark, one whose creators hope may give drivers a little peace even if the traffic threatens their sanity.
Instead of looming over drivers from its hillside perch, it simply seems to be watching. But Father Michael Murray says it's unmistakable.
"It is a visual, even if people don’t know the history or the significance of it, or the background behind it. Anyone who travels this part of the interstate network with any frequency knows exactly where this is," he says.
Murray, the Superior of the Oblates of Saint Francis de Sales, is referring to the 12-foot statue of the Virgin Mary that faces northbound traffic on I-95 in Childs, Maryland. Black letters mounted on a low brick wall beneath the statue proclaim her "Our Lady of the Highways."
Most people who pass the statue have no idea who the Oblates of Saint Francis de Sales – a Catholic, apostolic order, dedicated to education – are. Father Murray says that’s okay.
"Friends of mine – like in Northern Virginia and D.C. – they say, now where is that again?" Murray says. "And I say if you’re driving on I-95, just before you hit the last exit in Maryland -- and they usually stop me and say, 'Oh, is it the place with the statue?' And I say, 'Said same.'"
But the statue that’s become such a recognizable landmark isn’t the first to sit on this hillside. Brother John Dochkus remembers the original erected in 1971.
"It was five feet tall, made of cement, and it did not hold up very well in the Maryland winters with the rain and the weather," he says.
The motivation behind the shrine's construction occurred three years earlier, in October of 1968.
Back then, the interstate was just a few years old. In the early morning hours of October 2, there was a 17-car collision which killed three people. Oblates on this campus ran down to the highway to help. Brother Dochkus says poor visibility was likely to blame.
"This area, a fog used to settle over it, because a paper mill that was in the area. It used to change the temperature of the creek that runs through here, and it would form a fog," Dochkus recalls.
The memory of that day lives on with the statue. The Oblates replaced the original in 1986 with the 12- foot, Vermont carrara marble figure so many drivers recognize today.
Though that paper mill and the fog it spawned are now gone, Dochkus fears certain aspects of travel on the nation’s roads have gotten worse.
"We’ve lost a great civility towards each other in driving," he says. "If you don’t put your foot on that gas pedal in a nanosecond, someone’s yelling at you, someone’s honking their horn."
Father Murray says he hopes motorists driving past “Our Lady of the Highways” can cast a glance toward her and remember to be calm -- no matter how fast, or slow, the traffic is moving that day.
"You know, your hands are burning through the steering wheel, but maybe just looking at the statue of the Blessed Mother just reminds you, ‘Well, you know, as frustrating as this is, and as important as it was for me to get to where I hoped to go two hours ago – there’s a bigger picture,'" Murray says.
Brother Dochkus says you don’t have to be Catholic to get the message the statue is sending.
"It’s a reminder to be a bit more kind, a bit more humane, Christian – if that’s your belief," he says. "Whatever your belief is, to remind yourself within that belief to be a little kinder, a bit more civil and a bit more courteous on the road."
And let’s face it: on some days it seems like bringing just a little civility to the roads would take a miracle.
To hear the audio of this story, click here.
TN MOVING STORIES: Virginia Closer to Tolling I-95, BART Wants To Ban Repeat Offenders, and Happy Birthday, Capital Bikeshare
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Top stories on TN:
A new study says more pedestrians are hit by bicyclists than previously thought. (Link)
NYC reduced its carbon emissions in 2010. (Link)
Goodbye parking meter, hello Muni-Meter. (Link)
California lawmakers passed a bill that would give BART the authority to ban those who repeatedly break the law -- fare cheats, vandals or possibly protesters disrupting train service -- from entering its stations. (Contra Costa Times)
The Federal Highway Administration has given preliminary approval for Virginia to impose tolls on Interstate 95 to help fund transportation projects. (WAMU)
General Motors will help China develop electric vehicles -- but it wants to buy back majority control of a joint China - GM company. (Marketplace)
DC's Capital Bikeshare turns one today. (AP via WTOP)
The TSA fired 30 employees at Honolulu's airport for improperly screening luggage. (The Hill)
Chrysler and the UAW are close to a deal on a four-year labor contract. (Wall Street Journal)
Another aspect of the Port Authority of NY/NJ's bridge and tunnel toll hike: "peak" hours were extended. (The Star-Ledger)
Fast Company published a list of five transit technologies for a low-carbon economy.
Thursday, February 03, 2011
(Washington, D.C. - David Schultz, WAMU) Sean Connaughton, Virginia's Secretary of Transportation, announced this morning that the state is scaling back a project to add High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes to one of its most congested highways.
The state had planned to build HOT lanes along I-95, from far-exurban Stafford County all the way to the state line along the Potomac River. But the project ran into a snag when Arlington County sued the state in federal court. Arlington claimed the HOT lanes project unfairly received a federal environmental exemption in the waning days of the Bush administration, and also that it would violate the civil rights of the minority residents who live near the highway.
This morning, Connaughton announced a major change to the HOT lanes project: the lanes will still begin in Stafford County, but they will now terminate at the Beltway in Fairfax County, well before the Arlington County line.
Connaughton says, with congestion getting worse and worse on I-95 in Northern Virginia, and with a major traffic nightmare expected to crop up later this year when the Army moves thousands of its employees to a transit-inaccessible location near the highway, Virginia couldn't wait any longer to move forward with the HOT lanes project.
Check back in with WAMU News later today and tomorrow for more on this story.