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The Tentacle


March 25, 2008

You Canít Get There from Here

Farrell Keough

Recent articles on the Transportation Planning Board for the National Capital Region studies indicate that solutions to our road congestion are still very much in limbo. Ideas like Private Toll Roads, (HOT Lanes and such) may not offer the solutions people were hoping to see.

 

We are told that federal funding is not available and we must turn to the market place for one of the possible solutions. While market place solutions are often best, in this instance, that has proven to be disastrous.

 

Private roads are not a new phenomenon. The first American turnpike was authorized by a Virginia act in 1785. Numerous other private roads, generally referred to as turnpikes, have been built throughout this nation. The Baltimore and Fredericktown Turnpike was developed in 1807 and opened numerous communities to trade and communication.

 

Hence, these proposals for private roads are not new and predate the founding of this nation. But, the difference is in the funding. The Eisenhower Interstate Highway System came into being in 1956. This colossal endeavor was different than all previous nations’ attempts at connecting their people.

 

In fact, the Roman roads may have been one of the only other precursors to this venture. The Pax Romana, that period in Roman history known for peace through conquest, required such a road system to both enforce and create. Without a strong road system, nations fall. Without proper funding to continue such a system, nations fall. Without free travel of commerce and communication, nations fall.

 

We should stop here to review some of our other options. Road building is not the panacea which will stop all congestion. It is simply one of numerous undertakings being reviewed. Increased busing will also stem some of the difficulties on our roadways. One vehicle can carry many passengers, thus lessening the number of vehicles on our roadways.

 

This option is not available to all travelers. Those in sales or business that involves extensive travel could not generally rely on a bus system to fulfill their needs. Weather and waiting periods, as well as the need to transfer, also pose difficulties with this option. But, for many, this mode of transportation to and from work would suffice.

 

Mass transit systems – like the MARC trains or Metro – also provide a means of removing vehicles from our highways. Unfortunately, the Frederick County area has few options for this mode of travel.

 

Driving to places like Shady Grove, paying for parking, and meeting the schedule for service proves difficult for many in our area. Increasing the lines has a substantial cost, but over time the benefits “may” be worthwhile. This option will require years of study and review. We are not the only area looking for options such as this.

 

Another aspect being reviewed is the possibility of zoning specific areas to match business and transit stop requirements. In other words, if the jobs exist primarily in Baltimore, then residential building would be increased in this area.

 

Hence, those people who moved to areas like Frederick to escape the “big city” would have fewer options as the housing markets would be shifted to match the areas where the jobs exist. This effort carries many implications such as which states would accept this kind of oversight on their zoning, who would develop the areas for building, and numerous other constitutional issues. But, as a blue print, many in this field are looking to this modeling for potential solutions.

 

One of the reasons for my interest in this issue is my appointment to the Citizen’s Advisory Committee for the Transportation Planning Board for the National Capital Region. This opportunity came my way through a series of events including a meeting with the State Highway Administration which included a review of the many email conversations we had to force changes to MD 80.

 

From that, our own Commissioner Charles Jenkins sent out an email inviting many, many people to volunteer for this position. Considering this not only an honor but an opportunity to represent our area on these serious issues, I accepted and have thrown myself into the study and review of these possible options with fervor.

 

To that end, it is my hope you will email me with your own ideas, desires, and recommendations. These issues are very complex and having many options will benefit our possible solutions.

 

A number of papers, from The Washington Post to The Frederick News Post, have written about the current meeting of the Transportation Planning Board. Misquotes abounded.

 

For instance, Commissioner Jenkins noted that the trend was toward mass transit, not that his perspective is only in support of such an action. He has been a strong proponent of multiple options including further road building. And that brings us back to the topic of increased roads.

 

As noted by officials from Loudoun County, Virginia, two aspects to private road management are causing serious problems:

1) the increasing costs of using the Toll Roads is dissuading drivers from taking this option; and

2) this is causing increased congestion on other roads by drivers looking for ways to get around using the Dulles Green & Toll Ways.

 

This most recent report suggested possible graduated rates during times of higher congestion. These costs run from 50¢ per mile to possibly $4 per mile. These kinds of costs look to stop this option from even being considered.

 

When one considers who would afford and who would actually use these Toll Ways, it is very reasonable to interpolate that the usage would be so dramatically small that the endeavor is not worth pursing. In fact, Loudoun County is now very concerned about not only the increases in prices for the Dulles Green Way, but their inability to affect these dramatic increases. Again, a serious concern by Commissioner Jenkins about private ownership of these roadways.

 

If increased roads is our desire, we must influence our federal elected officials. The costs are phenomenal and cannot be underwritten by our local government.

 

While the market place is generally an excellent choice when looking to handle our needs, we have a federal government for good reason. One of which is interstate commerce and travel.

 

As previously stated, we have already paid for many of our existing roadways throughout this nation. We must continue to keep open to alternatives as well as fight to retain and improve upon what we have already established.

 

fkeough@hotmail.com



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