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As the D.C. region looks to a future of job and population growth, the question that continues to vex planners is, how can we solve traffic congestion?
If, and it's a big if, the D.C. region changed land use policies to concentrate growth around transit centers, built high-occupancy toll lanes around the entire Beltway, and created a regionwide express bus system, traffic congestion would decrease significantly.
That's the gist of a study presented by Ron Kirby, the director of transportation planning at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.
"In aggregate, there would be a significant reduction in congestion, because you have new capacity for drivers who are willing to pay the tolls, and for buses and for HOV," Kirby says. "And one of the things that happens in this analysis is that HOV-3 jumps up significantly because there is a lot more network for them to use."
Recommendations and ideas that exist on paper are a long way from ever becoming reality, of course. Kirby says the entire Beltway would look like the 495 Express Lanes in Northern Virginia, where the new express toll lanes lie parallel to the non-tolled lanes. Such a plan would require rebuilding the American Legion Bridge.
It also relies on the willingness of motorists to pay tolls. The study's bottom line is that if the region undertakes only one of these three scenarios, like just adopting new land use policies, traffic congestion would remain an obstacle to economic growth.