- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 9, 2005

Improving public transportation rather than roads is the top priority for most Northern Virginia commuters, even for many who do not routinely use Metro, according to a traffic survey.

About two-thirds of those who regularly use the region’s public transit system listed it as their top priority, according to findings for the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority. Among those who do not, nearly half said public transit was their top priority compared with 30 percent who preferred road improvements.

The phone survey included 1,263 commuters across Northern Virginia.

“A bad day on Metro is still much better than a good day on the highways. I think that’s how a lot of people feel,” said Arlington County Board Vice Chairman Chris Zimmerman, who also serves on the transportation authority.

Mr. Zimmerman said he thinks motorists understand that public transportation benefits them too, because it gets cars off the roads.

Sixty percent of those surveyed said extending Metrorail to Dulles was the most important improvement for public transit. They also favored adding rail lines from Dunn Loring into Maryland, as well as along Route 28, Interstate 66 outside the Capital Beltway, and Interstate 95 south to the Potomac Mills mall.

Rail to Dulles is one of a handful of projects that Congress recently exempted from regulations that would have required it to be more cost-effective to qualify for federal funds. Recent estimates have put the price tag at $2.4 billion.

For road-widening projects, Route 28 was listed as the most important, followed by the Prince William County Parkway, I-66 outside the Beltway and the Fairfax County Parkway.

“There is no question [Route] 28 needs to be improved,” said AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman Lon Anderson. He also said he understood motorists’ frustration with the Fairfax County Parkway, which he said was “built on the cheap.”

“Originally, it was to be a limited-access parkway with entrances and exits — not numerous at grade intersections,” Mr. Anderson said. “The traffic lights not only slow motorists, but those intersections also end up having severe accidents as the road gets more crowded.”

Many of those surveyed also said they were willing to trade dollars for time stuck commuting. About 70 percent said they would use toll lanes and 70 percent said they would vote for state bonds to pay for transportation improvements in Virginia.

Commuters said they favored a sales-tax increase over an income- or gasoline-tax increase. Respondents also were willing to spend at least another dollar per trip for increased Metro or Virginia Railway Express service.

Northern Virginia residents rejected a transportation referendum in 2002 that would have given the state money for both road and public transit projects.

Mr. Zimmerman said that referendum largely failed for political reasons.

He also said some voters rejected it because they did not trust the state to use the money only for projects in Northern Virginia.

Mr. Zimmerman said the survey results will be considered as the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority reviews and updates the regions’ transportation plan this fall.

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