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Public Meeting Hosted on BW Parkway Expansion Study

The FHA's study predicts that added lanes wouldn't improve congestion.

On Thursday night, the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) hosted the third public meeting on its feasibility study for widening the Baltimore-Washington Parkway by one lane in both directions.

This study was mandated by an earmark in an appropriations bill by Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger, who represents parts of Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Harford counties, and a small part of Baltimore city.

The FHA presentation was led by Lewis Grimm, the planning team leader, who explained that the parameters of the earmark only allowed a study of adding lanes to the parkway, and that the study did not therefore consider other possible means of improving transportation along the Baltimore-Washington corridor. 

A key finding of the initial feasibility study was that even after adding lanes, the overall level of traffic congestion on the parkway was not expected to improve.  The widened road would of course carry more traffic, but congestion levels were predicted to be about the same as today.

People often wonder why road expansions don’t seem to reduce congestion for long. In some cases, it is because bigger roads spur additional development.

However, there are also simpler explanations that boil down to basic economics.  When roads are free (no tolls), the only “costs” for using them are gas and congestion costs (time delays). People make basic decisions about where to live relative to their jobs based on potential gas costs, transit costs and travel times.

When free roads are expanded, more people will use them. They will switch from other roads or from transit to use the new capacity. They may decide they can afford to live farther from their jobs, since there is additional road space.

After a few years, however, a new congestion equilibrium will be achieved, usually with about the same delays as before, as people balance the adjusted costs of gas, transit fees and time losses. Free transport resources are almost always used to capacity, at least in densely populated areas.

To their credit, the FHA feasibility study seemed to factor in these effects, and their presentation candidly listed many other citizen and stakeholder objections to a widened parkway.

It was a very different presentation than the meeting I attended last year on the Maryland Department of Transportation’s (MDOT’s) proposed CSX truck facility in the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center. In that case, I felt like the MDOT presentations and studies were very one-sided, exaggerating the proposal’s supposed benefits while completely ignoring the offsetting costs or downsides.

In comparison, I appreciated the much more balanced and thoughtful approach that the FHA employed for the Parkway study. We’ll see for sure when the final report is released.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

tcmitssr February 21, 2012 at 06:35 PM
I think the reality is that we are a car and road society and will remain so. "Build it and they will come," is likely what will occur but, practically speaking, if we don't build it then it is even more likely that increased congestion will occur in the future. Would you rather have 1/3 longer a commute time with 2 lanes in 10 years or the same commute time but with 3 lanes (including the new one) instead? I favor expansion.
Jeff Lemieux February 21, 2012 at 06:41 PM
The study indicated that in the long run at least, commute times would be the same regardless of the extra capacity. FHA said that there were several citizen comments in the process about how to relieve bottlenecks at certain specific points along the roadway. But the impression their study gave was that roadway was expected to have the same rush hour speeds regardless. We'll see what the final report says.
Ben Fischler February 22, 2012 at 12:05 PM
Just curious, "tcmitssr" if you came out to this meeting and listened to what was said there? The study team provided a good summary of their work and, as Jeff has said, they determined that adding lanes to the parkway will not lead to reduced congestion on the parkway. This is due to their projections of 30% to 40% growth in population and jobs in the study corridor. Several people who attended the meeting provided thoughful comments about the need to examine the entire Baltimore-Washington corridor and a wider range of transportion solutions. The reality is that a 20th-century view that "we are a car and road society and will remain so" just will not help us thrive in the 21st century.
tcmitssr February 22, 2012 at 04:34 PM
Ben, I never said congestion would be reduced. I said if we don't expand to three lanes, commuting times will be expanded as more drivers use the same two lanes. Adding the third lane, despite increased use, will do more to keeping the commuting times close to what they already are, rather than extending them further. As for being a "car and road society and will remain so," it is IMHO the reality we have and will have so "thriving in the 21st Century," will have to accommodate for it. If you now work in downtown DC and take the subway to work, Metro now costs you very close to what you would pay for a parking space downtown on a monthly contract. There's little benefit to using Metro. You save a few bucks but wind up spending as much time commuting, in most cases, than if you drove. You also have to fight for a seat, put up with trains and a subway/bus system that doesn't work very well, frequently is slowed down for repairs, not to mention dealing with blasting headphones, people eating, the potential for crime etc. In other words, all of the things that Metro is not showing a great deal of concern. Given the choice, I, and many people....slowly becoming most people again, are forgoing Metro and driving solo to work and parking our cars most days.
Donald James February 22, 2012 at 05:57 PM
So why spend money widening if congestion is not going to be reduced? You may as well put money into something that is a true people mover and not just an automobile mover. The state needs to get real with increasing access to ways that people get to job centers. I work in Columbia and I have noticed a significant number of people now traveling to Ft. Meade due to the BRAC alignment. Widening roads and trying to put in new roads will not always work because that takes space to do, which we don't have. It's also a waste if congestion will not truly be relieved. The state needs to expand MARC and Metro access to these employment centers. If you think people are just going to opt for driving in single cars as opposed to metro because of the price....just think about if all those people who actually take the train were to all just stop at the same time and drive in single occupant cars. It would be a disaster. Thank God for Metro or we would be a vast wasteland of roads and traffic just like Atlanta.
tcmitssr February 23, 2012 at 06:34 PM
Donald, in theory I can agree with you. However, Metro is a disaster along with being an embarrassment to our region. As I speak with people who have the option of using it or driving, I'm finding an overwhelming number of people are finished using it and returning to their cars because of the: daily costs, filth, Metro gridlock, safety, etc. Someone who is a "Green-type" person recently said to me "For four dollars more, I can drive myself to work in DC at my own pace, not transfer trains and not deal with the filth as well as a growing number of unsavory individuals more representative of the NYC subway. My commute times are almost the same either way but I don't have to put up with everything that is wrong with Metro." Now, that's a Green saying that, not me. I've used Metro maybe a half dozen times in the past year and I've regretted each instance. I'll stick to my car and pay the little extra required. I think that's the trend, not the exception. Our populace would best be served by road expansion than throwing more money into an inefficient and growingly impracticable Metro system.
Donald James February 23, 2012 at 07:23 PM
I disagree....Metro definitely has it's problems but our region wouldn't be anything like it is without it. I don't know why people think Metro should be paved with gold. If you have any place with limited space and you are squeezing millions of people into these spaces, you will have some level of filth. But I guarantee you that if you take those millions of people off those trains and put them on the road there will be nothing but chaos. Perhaps if metro had a dedicated funding mechanism, alot of problems would be addressed more quickly. Metro is an aging system that is going to show wear and tear and as more people are attracted to this area, there will be a certain level of "unsavory" individuals, but those same individuals also walk the streets. I don't have the option to use Metro anymore as I work in Columbia. But when I worked in Reston and then was able to find a job in Rosslyn, VA you don't know the kind of stress that being able to use metro relieved. I was no longer walking into work irritated dealing with the crazy traffic. I would happily take Metro again if I had the choice. The amount of wear and tear on my car, and the price of gas is enough to get me to switch. We have some of the worst traffic in the country, having only one mode of transportation will never fix that, but add to the problem. Road expansion is a waste of money and just will increase sprawl.

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