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  • rickrise@earthlink.net
    You have been sent this message from rickrise@earthlink.net as a courtesy of washingtonpost.com Personal Message: Some sensible comments towards the end....
    Message 1 of 8 , May 3, 2004
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      You have been sent this message from rickrise@... as a courtesy of washingtonpost.com

      Personal Message:
      Some sensible comments towards the end....

      Express Toll Lanes Pique Maryland's Interest

      By Lyndsey Layton

      Maryland's Transportation Department plans to announce today that it is considering creating a statewide system of express toll lanes to speed traffic along some of the region's most congested highways.

      State Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan is adding proposals to build express toll lanes as part of highway expansion projects involving the Capital Beltway, Interstate 270, the Baltimore Beltway and I-95 between Baltimore and White Marsh.

      "The opportunity to drive on a congestion-free lane is well worth paying for," Flanagan said.

      Meanwhile, Virginia is pressing forward with proposals to build high-occupancy toll lanes on its side of the Capital Beltway as well as on I-95 and I-395.

      The two states are coordinating their plans, attempting to form a network of special lanes where motorists with extra cash but little time can bypass the daily jams that make this the third-most-congested region in the country, Flanagan said. "There's great interest on the part of both states to create this network," he said.

      Express toll lanes are special lanes added to highways that allow motorists to pay their way out of traffic jams. Motorists in an express toll lane pay a fee that is automatically deducted through an electronic reader as their car or truck moves along at highway speeds, similar to the way E-ZPass works.

      The price would change with the degree of congestion, so that a premium is charged when the rest of the roadway is especially crowded but the toll drops as the highway empties. On State Road 91 in Southern California, one of the earliest examples of this relatively new trend, express lane tolls range from $1 to $6.25, depending on the traffic in the adjoining free lanes.

      The Maryland Transportation Department plans to analyze the potential impact of toll lanes on all four highway projects before making a decision. The I-95 project north of Baltimore, the furthest along in development, could be completed with toll lanes by the end of the decade.

      Public opinion about toll lanes is shifting. The idea of "congestion pricing," or charging motorists for using limited road space, has been around since the 1960s. But public policymakers long thought it was political suicide to begin charging motorists for something they were used to getting for free, and the idea carries the unappealing label of "Lexus lanes."

      In the mid-1990s, toll lanes in California and Texas opened, and subsequent studies showed they were used by motorists of all income levels, usually when people needed to get somewhere in a hurry. They gained support among motorists who didn't use the lanes regularly but saw them as a way of diverting vehicles from the regular lanes.

      The lanes didn't prevent traffic jams from growing, officials on those projects said, but the ability to move vehicles into the special lanes likely slowed the rate at which congestion worsened.

      Surveys taken by AAA Mid-Atlantic show growing support for express toll lanes. A telephone poll of about 300 Washington area motorists culled from driver registration records last fall showed that 49 percent favored allowing drivers to pay to use special lanes if it would ease traffic. That was a 10 percent jump from three years ago.

      "We come to this as a reluctant bride," said Lon Anderson, director of governmental relations for AAA Mid-Atlantic. "We do worry very much that we could create a dual system of travel on public roads, with the fast roads used by the haves and the slower roads used by have-nots. That said, if we're going to have any major new road projects, they're going to have to be built on a toll basis, given we have no hope of building these things with public funding."

      The difference in approach between Virginia and Maryland -- and the reason a similar idea goes by a different name in each state -- is that Virginia wants carpoolers, van pools and buses to use the special lanes at no charge as an incentive for ride-sharing. Maryland officials don't want to give anyone a free ride, saying they can't adequately monitor the lanes to make sure that carpools consist of at least two people. "We'd be better off tolling everyone," said State Highway Administrator Neil J. Pedersen.

      Observers say that Maryland, Virginia and other states have turned to toll lanes as a way to expand road capacity and pay for billion-dollar highway expansions at a time of tightening budgets.

      The toll lanes "may provide a new source of additional revenue for the state, and in these days of fiscal austerity, every penny counts," said C. Kenneth Orski, a transportation consultant who lives in Potomac and has been studying toll lanes for years. The money generated by tolls can be used to widen the highway or pay for other improvements, he said.

      Another reason for the newfound popularity of toll lanes is growing pressure on state governments to do something about congestion, Orski said.

      "As highways become more and more crowded, the public is demanding some sort of alternative to getting stuck in traffic," he said. "The principle behind HOT lanes is traffic flow in those lanes will always be fluid. Motorists employing HOT lanes will never be stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic. And using the pricing mechanism, you can actually control the volume of traffic entering these lanes."

      But Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, said Maryland appears to be more concerned with adding asphalt than with reducing congestion.

      "Tolling carpools sends the wrong signal and will significantly cut back on carpooling in the region, worsening our air quality," Schwartz said, adding that tolls aimed at highway expansion do nothing to help rail transit. "They're adding highway capacity in a way that will sprawl development at greater distances to our job centers. [Their] fascination and concentration on highway expansion reveals a lack of commitment to rail transit."

      Maryland officials plan a series of public meetings this month and next month to explain their concept and answer concerns.



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    • rickrise@earthlink.net
      You have been sent this message from rickrise@earthlink.net as a courtesy of washingtonpost.com As Pressure Increases, So Do Ways to Curb Polluted Runoff By
      Message 2 of 8 , May 24, 2005
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        As Pressure Increases, So Do Ways to Curb Polluted Runoff

        By Lisa Rein

        Hopewell's Landing isn't just another subdivision paving over a forest of red cedars and pine trees at the reaches of suburbia.

        Most of the back yards being graded for the luxury homes off Route 29 in Gainesville will have sunken gardens filled with moisture-loving plants and mulch to absorb rain. The streets will be five feet narrower than usual, to reduce paved surfaces. The 155 homes will be flush with the road, resulting in shorter driveways. And instead of the curbs and gutters that usually carry rain to a nearby stream, deep trenches full of shrubs and stones will line the road to slow and filter the water.

        The design mimics a time when Hopewell's Landing was 53 wooded acres. Rain naturally soaked into the forest floor, instead of rushing -- as it does in most of today's suburbs -- over parking lots and roofs and streets, into streams that overflow easily. The residue of daily suburban life is swept along -- fertilizer, brake fluid, oil from gas lawnmowers -- until it flows into the Chesapeake Bay.

        Prince William County persuaded developer D.R. Horton to test the new environmental features to help turn back a little-addressed cost of a half-century of suburban sprawl: polluted runoff.

        For decades, the federal government has overlooked the dangers of such a dispersed pollution source, instead targeting sewage treatment plants for cleanup. But now, its attention is turning to storm-water control to protect streams and rivers across the country, including that jewel of the Washington region, the Chesapeake Bay.

        The Environmental Protection Agency, prodded by lawsuits from environmental groups, is enforcing a 30-year-old provision of the Clean Water Act, ordering state and local governments across the nation to remove pollution from rainwater before it fouls waterways.

        "In the old days, we paved everything, and the attitude was, 'Let's put a pipe underground to get rid of the water as fast as we can,' " said Carl Bouchard, director of storm water management for Fairfax County.

        Faced with stricter federal enforcement, local governments are scrambling to find affordable ways to meet their obligations. Public works departments are rebuilding streams to stop erosion, replacing leaky pipes and retrofitting storm-water ponds. And planners are encouraging "low-impact" techniques, such as the rain gardens in Hopewell's Landing -- mini-wetlands planted with native vegetation to intercept runoff.

        The consequences of doing nothing loom. In the Washington area, pollution limits could become much stricter if they are not met by 2010, the deadline for the multibillion-dollar federal and state effort to restore the bay to its once-pristine condition.

        Dozens of tributaries in the bay's 64,000-square-mile watershed are assigned limits on nitrogen, phosphorus and other nutrients that, in high concentrations, can choke waterways with oxygen-depleting algae and endanger fish. The EPA has threatened to impose new pollution limits for the bay, which would add a potentially onerous burden to state and local governments.

        Remedies carry exorbitant costs -- especially, for example, in older neighborhoods inside the Capital Beltway that were built with no storm-water controls. A recent report by state environmental agencies on the Chesapeake Bay estimated new cleanup costs at $30 billion, much of it to control storm water. That reportedly will mean a total of about $12 billion in Maryland, Virginia and the District.

        Businesses and homeowners eventually will pay the expense through new or increased fees on their property tax or water bills. Prince William's annual fee of $21.76 for single-family homes, for instance, will cover county inspections to ensure new Gainesville homeowners maintain their boggy gardens.

        "It's major maintenance the county is taking on, just like trash collection," said Wade Hugh, Prince William's chief of watershed management.

        Fairfax County is nearly doubling its spending on storm-water cleanup, allocating $18 million in next year's budget. Bouchard estimates that the county will need to spend $800 million in the next 20 years.

        As antipollution efforts increase, the field of municipal engineering has sprung up -- as have such terms as bioswales, pervious surfaces, soakage trenches, green roofs, French drains, porous pavers and bioretention facilities. Those techniques create mini-treatment plants that store surging runoff as they filter pollutants, then let the water soak into the ground.

        In the District, several hundred modern buildings -- including MCI Center, the Washington Convention Center and the Mandarin Hotel -- have installed labyrinths deep beneath the street: vaults of sand the sizes of small apartments to filter rainwater.

        Even tiny cities such as Falls Church (population 10,400) face new costs.

        The standard technique for handling storm-water runoff is the drainage pond, a man-made lake built in subdivisions and office parks that releases water slowly into drainpipes and streams. But the ponds are becoming unpopular. They do not filter pollutants and, if not properly maintained, can collect sediment. Homeowner groups complain that the ponds are ugly, are breeding grounds for mosquitoes and are unsafe for children.

        But of greater concern to local officials and environmentalists are such older neighborhoods as Alexandria, Silver Spring and areas of the District that were built with no storm-water controls.

        "To rein in that situation, you have to go back and try to retrofit buildings," said Doug Siglin, director of the Anacostia River Initiative, an environmental group. He said the District has a "huge stake" in cleaning up storm water flowing into the Anacostia since so much economic development, including a new baseball stadium, is planned for the riverfront.

        The District bears the extra burden of having its storm-water runoff and sanitary sewers in the same pipes. After a heavy rain, sewage flows into streams and rivers. This spring, a judge ordered the city to separate its combined system over 20 years -- an expense estimated at $1.9 billion, on top of storm-water costs.

        Environmental groups are pushing the D.C. Council to increase a small storm-water utility fee, which the city has levied since 2000, to fund the water system costs. D.C. households pay $7 a year on average, generating $3 million a year, but Siglin said that is not nearly enough.

        Montgomery County tacked its first storm-water fee onto property tax bills two years ago. Arlington County and Alexandria officials said they are considering similar policies, and an advisory group in Fairfax has recommended adding a fee to water or tax bills, starting in 2007, that would be safe from budget cuts.

        New bureaucracies are forming to measure the area of paved or impervious surfaces on commercial properties so governments can tax them accordingly. And as counties weigh fees for homeowners, they debate the fairness issue: Should everyone pay the same rate, or be taxed based how much of their property is soil and how much is asphalt?

        Prince George's became a pioneer by levying the region's first storm-water fee in the early 1950s to address chronic flooding. Today, some experts call it a national model for promoting low-impact systems.

        Builders in Stafford must apply for a waiver if they do not want to put in rain gardens or other water filters. The District requires developers renovating old properties to install storm-water systems on site if the paved surface around the new building exceeds 5,000 square feet.

        Anne Arundel makes the same demands of builders and owners of single-family homes. And the county plans to invest millions of dollars in experimental "green roofs" on six county buildings, including a police station and a library. Green roofs are covered with soil, grass and plants.

        Arlington went a step further 18 months ago, rebuilding Langston Brown, a school and community center complex off Lee Highway, with three-story high cisterns that collect rainwater from the roof, then become giant watering cans for the lawn. The building has a rain garden next to the playground. And the parking lot was dug to a depth of 12 feet, filled with sand, gravel and dirt and topped with asphalt that looks like a mosaic of tiles, which are separated just enough to let rainwater seep through.

        But there are downsides to these marvels of municipal engineering. The caverns of sand under dozens of office buildings in Washington have been monitored poorly, environmental advocates have said, reducing their effectiveness as filters. In Fairfax, the county recently built rain gardens at the county courthouse and in a Centreville park, only to create soggy wetlands that must be torn up and replaced because the original soil mix wasn't porous enough.

        And employing the anti-pollution techniques can be pricey.

        "On a per-lot basis, all of these regulations are getting very expensive," said Bill Zink, an engineer and president of the Fairfax chapter of the Northern Virginia Building Industry Association.

        Homeowners are signing on for much more than lawn mowing and azalea pruning. Prince William officials said they worry that the new residents of Hopewell's Landing will not keep up their rain gardens -- and they wonder how, if at all, to penalize them if they don't. They also acknowledge that not everyone will enjoy the sight of a bog next to the backyard barbecue after a rain.

        "When water comes in, it does stand for a certain time period," said Hugh, the storm water chief. "People will have to get over the perception that they have a drainage problem."


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      • rickrise@earthlink.net
        You have been sent this message from rickrise@earthlink.net as a courtesy of washingtonpost.com The End of Sprawl? By Eduardo M. Peñalver Why the mortgage
        Message 3 of 8 , Jan 2, 2008
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          The End of Sprawl?

          By Eduardo M. Pe�alver

          Why the mortgage bust is a boon for opponents of urbal sprawl.

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        • Simon Baddeley
          EPA Sued for Denying States Right to Curb Emissions http://www.truthout.org/docs_2006/010208R.shtml Margot Roosevelt of The Los Angeles Times reports:
          Message 4 of 8 , Jan 2, 2008
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            EPA Sued for Denying States' Right to Curb Emissions
            http://www.truthout.org/docs_2006/010208R.shtml
            Margot Roosevelt of The Los Angeles Times reports: "California and 15 other
            states filed suit against the federal government today for denying them the
            right to restrict carbon dioxide emissions from cars and trucks, a major
            cause of global warming."

            Simon
          • rickrise@earthlink.net
            You have been sent this message from rickrise@earthlink.net as a courtesy of washingtonpost.com Cycling Back Around By David Montgomery This is the summer of
            Message 5 of 8 , Aug 2, 2008
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              Cycling Back Around

              By David Montgomery

              This is the summer of women on bicycles riding around town free as anything, wearing long dresses or skirts, sandals or even high heels, hair flowing helmet-free, pedaling not-too-hard and sitting upright on their old-school bikes, the kind with front baskets where they put their laptops, and han...

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