Three Innovative Approaches to Transportation Infrastructure
February 3, 2017|Stanford Turner
Transportation issues in the National Capital region have recently been the topic of positive conversation in the industry. Even the most notorious target of the news – the region’s subway system (affectionately referred to as the Metro) – has received positive press, following praise that it operated well during two stressful and high-ridership days. The Capital region is home to myriad innovative transportation technologies, practices, and policies that can provide real lessons for projects around the country.
These developments and their policy implications were the subject of rigorous discussion during a panel session at Eno’s recent Capital Convergence conference. The event highlighted local projects like Virginia’s I-95 and I-495 express toll lanes that use thousands of sensors and cameras, and feature electronic dynamic tolling to provide drivers with real-time alternatives during congestion. DC has initiated a pilot project focusing on reducing downtown congestion with dynamic pricing for parking. Maryland recently released a $100 Million Request for Proposal (RFP) for reducing congestion on I-270 that utilizes a “progressive design-build process” to provide tremendous flexibility to bidders on how they might solve that problem. DC, along with Metro, is piloting bus-rapid-transit (BRT) corridors and enhanced payment systems for increased efficiency for bus service.
From a policy perspective, there are three approaches that other officials should replicate:
Focus on system-wide mobility, rather than individual pieces of infrastructure
For it to function well, the Washington-area economy requires all parts of its transportation to work together. New projects in the region take that same approach – they consider how one action can affect and work with other parts of the system. For instance, Metro riders’ increased demand for more information has launched new applications that provide a wealth of system wide information to users. DDOT is using its parking pilot to balance demand on the transit and roadway network, and at the same time developed a larger application, RideDC, to provide information for all options when planning a trip. Similarly, Virginia’s variable pricing provides drivers with information on the entire toll road system in order to foster better route planning. Overall, empowering users to make informed decisions will help to reduce the stress placed on the existing system and may help alleviate congestion throughout the region.
Optimize existing assets rather than expanding them
As more information becomes available, either through existing sources or new, agencies have an unprecedented opportunity to become better managers of public assets (parking spaces, roads, sidewalks, etc.). Theoretically, access to more and better information on how their resources are used could boost the ability of agencies to manage these resources. For example, the I-270 RFP in Maryland demonstrates how the contracting method can be a useful way to identify alternative and potentially more efficient and cost-effective solutions instead of resorting to the default method of adding another lane.
Flexible pricing is one of the biggest innovations in transportation
Projects like the electronic variable tolling and dynamic pricing for parking spots are changing the way agencies manage infrastructure. This coincides with dynamically-priced ride hailing services, where companies like Uber and Lyft adjust their prices to match demand. The concept of dynamic pricing has been around for a long time, as have parking meters, toll roads and taxis. But now technology has enabled efficient and accurate pricing of these services. With a shift to variable pricing, agencies are better able to manage their resources and demand.
While these projects illustrate different paths for innovation in transportation, together they serve as shining examples of how the area is championing new methods and approaches. The National Capital region continues to be a leader, focusing on mobility throughout the entire system, operating existing resources more effectively, and using innovation to improve transportation options for all of its residents.