During a trip to the mall during the holidays, I sat in a long line of cars waiting to enter Tyson?s Corner Mall. After circling the each floor of a parking garage, I reached the top level, only to realize that there were no more parking spaces. I figured the rush was simply due to the holidays and that it would die down in a few weeks. However, it didn?t. Even subfreezing temperatures and snow couldn?t keep hordes of shoppers from backing up the exits from 495 to the mall.
Northern Virginia, as we all are aware, has a traffic problem. While Metro and local governments are taking steps to try to minimize the problem, these are only short-term solutions. While construction of the Metro will ease traffic concerns and provide jobs by investing in infrastructure in a time of unemployment, Metro?s cost-cutting will hold negative long-term consequences. The addition of above ground Metro tracks and HOT (High Occupancy Toll) Lanes will only serve to defer the problem.
The public and local governments need to recognize the importance of mass transit, which reduces traffic on highways. Expanding Metro, not high occupancy lanes, is the most effective solution.
The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has begun construction of HOT lanes in Virginia. Similar to the High Occupancy Vehicles (HOV) lanes, automobiles carrying more three or more passengers, buses and carpools will have free access to the lanes. Vehicles with fewer than three members can chose to pay a toll in order to gain access. The lanes provide drivers with an alternative route if they’re willing to pay the price.
While the HOT lanes will open up new roads for cars temporarily, they are not a solution. It won?t be long before even the HOT lanes begin to slow down at rush hour. Will VDOT have to make a new set of High Occupancy lanes to combat this issue again?
In the long term, Metro is seeking to expand the line to Tyson?s Corner, which would connect one of the largest shopping districts in the area to local communities. With the Metro, people in Washington D.C. and Maryland could shop at Tyson?s without placing excess traffic on the roads for local commuters. The problem, however, is that developers want to turn Tyson?s Corner into an independent city and having the Metro run above ground is a physical barrier.
Metro?s $40 million budget gap is the reasoning behind the less expensive plan to keep Metro above ground. The current plans only defer the problem until a further time. Metro and local governments need to start planning for the long term by increasing the number of underground Metro stations. Even with the expansion, the onus remains on the public to utilize public transportation and reduce the traffic problem.