MS. REBECCA SHEIR
After the break, we all know and love the first Beltway. But what if there were a second?
MR. DAVID SCHULTZ
Looking at this, what is your, sort of, initial reaction?
MR. STEWART SCHWARTZ
Thank God it didn't happen.
That and more in a minute on "Metro Connection," here on WAMU 88.5.
Hi everybody, I'm Rebecca Sheir and you're listening to Metro Connection. This week we've been talking about firsts but let's switch gears a little bit and talk about a second, possibly even a third. We'll explain just what we mean in our weekly transportation segment From A to B.
So we all know the Beltway, right? The interstate highway that surrounds D.C. and it's inner suburbs in Maryland and Virginia. But what if it wasn't The Beltway but instead, just A Beltway? As in one of several. As transportation reporter David Schultz tells us, that idea isn't quite as wacky as you might think.
This is what the Beltway sounds like. Now, imagine that multiplied by two? That's an audio illustration of what the D.C. region might look or, excuse me, sound like with a second Beltway. The idea of a second Beltway is sort of mythical now but back in the 1960s, it was a reality. An official map from back then shows the highways that regional planners thought would be finished by the year 2000.
A bright red line forms a concentric circle around the Beltway, the first Beltway that is. This red line goes around or in some cases directly through the towns of Mt. Vernon, Fairfax and Herndon in Virginia and then Rockville, Bowie and upper Marlboro in Maryland. This is a map from the '60s about what would -- highways that could be completed by the year 2000-ish. Looking at this, what is your, sort of, initial reaction?
Thank God, it didn't happen.
Stewart Schwartz is the executive director of the coalition for smarter growth. A local non-profit group opposed to sprawling development. Schwartz says, a second Beltway would've made our outer suburbs look very different than they do today.
You would see what typically follows highways. And especially at interchanges, this is development. And you would have hotels and gas stations and strip malls along these areas.
And Schwartz says, another Beltway would also suck the life out of the regions core.
The other thing that outer Beltways tend to do is siphon jobs and investment from older communities, from inner areas. You know, look at Detroit today, I mean, Detroit has sprawled itself to death.
The second Beltway does not exist, despite its presence on the 50-year-old maps of the future. Funding for the highway was just never there, especially not with the communities it would plow through, strongly vocally opposed. Still, not everyone thought it was a bad idea. In fact, there are still some folks out there who think a second Beltway could actually work.
MR. BOB CHASE
I'm Bob Chase. I'm President of the Northern Virginia transportation alliance.
Bob Chase leads a pro-business advocacy group that seeks to steer more funding to roads and highways in the commonwealth. Chase says, one look at the already existing Beltway shows why we need another one.
The reason the existing Beltway is so crowded is because we have not constructed alternatives and we were forcing an inordinate amount of traffic onto a very limited facility.
Chase says, the politicians that killed the second Beltway, did so in the name of slowing growth. But he says, that growth happened anyway. Now, there aren't enough roads to accommodate it.
Two-thirds of your population is outside the capital Beltway. And in the future, an even higher percentage is out there. And right now, there's no way to move people between Maryland and Virginia, other than the Beltway.
Chase doesn't just want a second Beltway thought, he thinks the region also needs a third. Yes, that's right, three Beltways. In fact, the regional planners of the '60s agreed with him. A third Beltway is also on their maps. It would've gone west of Dulles Airport and Loudoun County, then down passed the Manassas Battlefield and across the Potomac river into Charles County, Maryland. Beyond that, well, the planners didn't really get that far.
Today, the mere idea of a third Beltway is a political non-starter. It would enrage the regions transit advocates and environmentalists to say nothing of the homeowners who live near the proposed highway. And that, Chase says, is what's wrong with the modern day political process.
Inspirtation (sp?) policy is responding too much to small groups, small neighborhoods, small situations and ignoring the big picture and that's why we have the nation's worst congestion.
Right now, though, and off into the foreseeable future, we're stuck with the one Beltway we already have. But the idea of multiple concentric circles isn't just theoretical. After all, Baltimore has a Beltway, Atlanta has a Beltway, Houston actually has two. And Stewart Schwartz, the anti-sprawl advocate says he'll take D.C. over any of them.
We have been much more successful as a region because, A, we've protected our green space, B, because we've revived our city and, C, because we've tied it all to a transit system.
Perhaps it's just as well. Because once you build a third Beltway, you'd probably need to build another one and another one and then another one. And really, at that point, who can keep track? I'm David Schultz.
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