We have a colossal traffic and public transportation problem that requires a colossal response.
- The Washington Metropolitan area suffers some of the worst traffic congestion in the country;
- Traffic congestion causes economic loss by reducing productivity;
- Traffic congestion causes significant air pollution;
- Most of the local traffic congestion experienced on Massachusetts Avenue, River Road, and the Clara Barton Highway is caused by drivers coming out of Virginia or off of Interstate 495;
- The Metrorail system is overburdened, underfunded, and underused; and
- Any remediation of air pollution and traffic congestion must have as its primary goal the reduction of vehicle traffic on the Beltway, Interstate 495.
A massive investment must be made in the WMATA Metrorail system to create a suburban outer underground line that links the subway stations that edge Interstate 495. Rail travel circumnavigating the District of Columbia will link the high-growth suburban regions that sprang to life in the 1990s (after the Metrorail, with its DC-centric focus, had been completed), take a significant number of cars off of 495, shorten commute times for existing Metrorail customers (by eliminating unnecessary travel into the heart of the District of Columbia as the price to pay for reaching a suburban station), and significantly reduce the traverse of commuters through local neighborhoods.
New technology will make such a project far less expensive than it might have been in the past -- and certainly less expensive, time-consuming, and disruptive than the construction of the original Metrorail subway tunnels in the 1970s. Specifically, the construction of the Chunnel between England and France and, more recently, the Crossrail project in London brought forth "tunnel boring machines" that bore through the earth, convey the dislodged debris, and brace the support structure all at the same time. This not only reduces costs but significantly speeds tunnel construction.
Yes, such construction might require an investment that approaches the expenditure on Boston's "Big Dig." Yet, like the intractable traffic problem that justified that public works project, the District of Columbia's multi-layered transportation failure also demands a massive public infrastructure investment.
The fair question to ask is "what do we do about traffic congestion in the meantime?" or "should we go ahead with the construction of The Purple Line?" Joe urges the development/transportation community to go back to the drawing board. A thorough consideration of alternatives to the expensive, isolated, incompatible Purple Line should be provided consideration. Specifically, Maryland should explore the option being considered to move commuters in Austin, Texas and between Northern Virginia and Georgetown: high capacity gondola transit. The use of gondolas to move between Bethesda and College Park, preserving the green way below, providing transportation at a fraction of the expense of The Purple Line, and minimizing the ecological impact of such an intrusive rail line should be given thorough consideration.