Category Archives: Transportation

NJ Turnpike photo by Dan Murphy used with permission

NJ Turnpike completes significant widening between interchanges 6 and 9

Over the last few weeks, a major expansion of the New Jersey Turnpike was completed after 5 years of construction. Between interchanges 6 (Pennsylvania Turnpike) and 8A (Jamesburg) two new carriageways were added with 3 lanes each direction. These are not express lanes like many dual carriage way superhighways; the Turnpike provides a CARS ONLY portion and CAR-TRUCK-BUS portion which can be shifted. All told, those lanes are now in service between interchanges 6 and 15W, about 50 miles. Another lane was also added to the external carriage ways between interchanges 8A and 9, bringing the total to at least six lanes in each direction with full access to all interchanges and service areas. The project is also the final one to use the NJ Turnpike style signage, including the neon REDUCE SPEED signs, as that has been replaced by standard MUTCD signage. Here’s the official Turnpike commission press release (PDF – really)

MORE COVERAGE

After NJ Turnpike widened, stepped up police patrols – News – NorthJersey.com.

Ceremony marks completion of project to widen NJ Turnpike – News – NorthJersey.com.

Road to the future? New, widened N.J. Turnpike has fans and critics – News – NorthJersey.com.

$2.5B NJ Turnpike widening complete, lanes to open Friday | NJ.com.

Expanded lanes open on New Jersey Turnpike – Philly.com.

Officials hail widened New Jersey Turnpike stretch – Philly.com.

STRUCTURE magazine | Overcoming Challenges.

Turnpike widening from exit 6 to 9 nearly complete.

Also, the project is reported to have come in $200 million under budget, so the leftover money will be directed to the expansion of the Garden State Parkway, controlled by the Turnpike, between mileposts 36 and 63.

Interstate 95, the eastern most number for the Pennsylvania TurnpikeLeft unsaid was a big reason for this expansion to interchange 6 — the re-routing of Interstate 95 via the Pennsylvania Turnpike to the New Jersey Turnpike. That project, mandated over 30 years ago when the Somerset Freeway was cancelled, is only just getting started. The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission continues to drag the project out in part becaue they never wanted it – something the lead engineer said as much to me in an email in the mid-1990s. Why they just didn’t adapt a toll structure that made sense over these last 30 years is nonsensical. Additional funding challenges through Act 44 have impaired the Commission’s ability to fund projects, as have dubious expansion projects in Western Pennsylvania (were the population has lost 500,000 people in 50 years) while that has ignored a significant bottleneck in Pittsburgh.

DSC_0264
Photo by I.C. Ligget – The control cities are weak, should be Del Mem Br/Baltimore/Washington

The NJ Turnpike on the other hand, got this expansion done within a decade, under budget and had even planned ahead when building overpasses 15 years ago. In short, get your act together Pennsylvania and adopt some Jersey-style efficiency.

Photo by Dan Murphy, used with permission

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An up close look at the Delaware Memorial Bridge

US Route 40Interstate 295 - DelawareInterstate 295 - New JerseyPreserving a bridge, one paint coat at a timeThe News Journal
My favorite bridge(s), the Delaware Memorial Bridge which carries Interstate 295 and US 40 between Delaware and New Jersey is being repainted. A photographer went along for the story and took some video in addition to photographs:

The video features the external elevators that I dislike for aesthetic reasons:

The pic referred to in the tweet is one my wife took in 2013 on our way back from a visit to The Jersey Shore.

Delaware Memorial Bridge

All those trips down the Shore are one of the reasons I love those bridge(s), though the novelty of twin suspension bridges is a big part of it too. No, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge doesn’t count — those are fraternal twins. Technically, the Delaware Memorial Bridges are too, as the Delaware-bound span is wider, but that is not distinguishable to the eye. The towers are 440 feet tall.

[flickr : Photos tagged with delmembr/slideshow]

Learn more at Steve Anderson’s phillyroads.com

Highway markers by Shields Up!

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VDOT releases 1949 footage of US 29 in Arlington

us29_va_old_tinyThe Virginia Department of Transportation found footage of US 29 (Lee Highway) from Key Bridge to Cherrydale filmed in 1949. VDOT recreated the same drive and combined that and the 1949 footage into one video and posted it on youtube:

us211_va_old_tinyThe 1949 footage isn’t perfect, but still gives an idea of post-WWII Arlington County. Streetcars are visible and along with the billboards that faced Georgetown at the Virginia end of Key Bridge. It’s also noteworthy that there are two US 29 signs visible, but not US 211 which was officially multiplexed with US 29 until 1980 according to the Virginia Highways Project when it was officially truncated at Warrenton. I had previously heard 1984, but I suspect that the completion of Interstate 66 outside the Beltway hastened the demise of US 211 since it was no longer than only continuous route number from the Shenandoah Valley to Washington, D.C. This video suggests that the predecessor agency of VDOT and/or Arlington County was disinterested in the US 211 designation near Washington in that designation long before it was technically removed.

In the last frame, beyond the intersection of Kirkwood Road, is a trestle for the Washington & Old Dominion Railroad. That right-of-way would later be used for Interstate 66, completed in 1982 and the Custis Trail, BeltwayLand’s most challenging bicycle path. Starting that year, the intersection with Kirkwood Road was also the northern terminus of the George Washington Memorial Parkway according to Steve Anderson’s dcroads.net. Since 1959, that part of the GW Parkway has been a spur called Spout Run Parkway.

Highway markers from Shields Up!

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The newest Goodyear blimp is longer, faster and actually a zeppelin

My friend Chris tipped me off on this Wired article and video about the next generation of Goodyear’s airship fleet:

…Wingfoot One, a new airship that Goodyear designed along with storied airship builder Luftschiffbau Zeppelin (yes, the same zeppelin of hydrogen-filled Hindenburg fame). Zeppelin’s hopes for a high-tech, dirigible-driven future largely went up in smoke with the Hindenburg. But today’s helium-filled design could propel us into a new age of flight, minus the airborne conflagrations.

How Goodyear Revamped Its Zeppelin for a New Age of Flight


So, they’ll look different and fly faster.

Of course, there is a bit of a helium problem (NBC) right now. Perhaps using this scarce and expensive resource for birthday parties wasn’t the best idea. Oops.

On a lighter note, blimp pilots are rarer than astronauts:

Blimp pilots have a great vantage point, but lead solitary livesThe Post

Blimp pilots are kind of lonely, but they get a great view. I’m sure my mother, who worked for MetLife, appreciates that their blimp was featured too.

So, when does Tom Wolfe write about these brave airship pilots? He could call it The Light Stuff

I’ve mentioned it before, but growing up in Vienna, we lived below the flight path of blimps headed to Dulles Airport. Mostly, it was the Goodyear blimp, Enterprise, but once or twice it was the McBlimp. My mom called Dulles to ask about it and a presskit came in the mail a few days later. We should have kept that one. Here’s how west Texas reacted to McBlimp back in 1985:

Also, my grandparents also lived outside of Lakehurst, N.J. a major hub of airships, even after the Hindenberg.

So, I’m a blimp guy or airship enthusiast I guess. Naturally, the stories linked above was a must-read and even blog about…for posterity.

Now can we please let commercial blimps fly around BeltwayLand again? Maybe in October…

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REDUCE SPEED: These neon signs used to be all over the New Jersey Turnpike. Photo by Ian Ligget.

REDUCE SPEED: Vintage neon NJ Turnpike sign for sale on ebay

Can somebody please buy, ship and store this outstanding New Jersey Turnpike neon sign for me? It’s only $2,000! You can drop it off with me when I get a house. A really big one, apparently.

In 2013, I mentioned the coming end of NJ Turnpike exceptionalism when it comes to signs. The Turnpike Authority has begun modernizing (note: I did not say “upgrade”) highway signs to comply with the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). Though not necessarily directly related, the neon “REDUCE SPEED” signs that have been on the Turnpike since time immemorial are being removed in favor of modern LED signs.

I have been wondering what will happen to all of these classic neon signs. I hope that some are saved for museums. Maybe I’ll tweet at them to buy this one, though on second thought the Turnpike ought to donate one. There probably ought to be one or two at a service plaza on the Turnpike itself.

The sign itself probably weighs at least a ton and it has to be picked up. This isn’t a really good time for me to do that logistically or financially. So, a little help?

Failing the acquisition of this neon sign, I’d be okay with a Turnpike trailblazer. A Garden State Parkway, Capital Beltway and even a Pennsylvania Turnpike sign while you are at it.

Photos © Ian Ligget

h/t Steve Anderson

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I-95: Chesapeake House reopened

Chesapeake House the second service area, err travel plaza on Interstate 95 (John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway) north, reopened last Tuesday. Both the renovation and reopening seems to be lacking in the fanfare of Maryland House, but it’s good news for I-95 travelers.

In my experience Chesapeake House, originally opened in 1972, is less crowded than Maryland House, so I have preferred stopping there over the years. The last several years have seen three completely rebuilt service areas along a 40 mile stretch of I-95 between Baltimore and Wilmington. The Delaware Service Plaza was rebuilt in 2008.

Maryland Transportation Authority sealService areas are lasting vestige of the pre-interstate toll roads area. In order to promote commerce along interstate corridors, service areas are banned and have been since the early 1960s. Some interstates were assigned to existing turnpikes like parts of the New Jersey Turnpike and the service areas were grandfathered in.

Unfortunately, an opportunity was missed during the reconstruction of these service areas — flyover ramps from the right side. It would have been eight overall (2 off, 2 on in each direction) but for whatever reason, the Maryland Transportation Authority did not choose to go n that direction. Safety and traffic flow are better when exits and entrances are from the right side.

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dc-traffic-light

An explanation of the D.C. traffic signal system

The Post has a good video explaining the Washington, D.C. traffic signal system. It can be adjusted in real time as needed, for events like Washington Nationals games.

By the way, the photo above is the most popular on my flickr stream with over 11,000 views. Here’s an old-school “art deco” style Crouse-Hinds signal:

These were ubiquitous for decades, but the one pictured was removed around 2005, along with all the other survivors.

UPDATED

I found out after the fact that this was posted on the 100th anniversary of the first traffic signal.

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Whiele-Ave-Silver-Line-Station

Generations in the making, the first phase of Metro’s Silver Line is open

Saturday afternoon was a big day for transportation in Northern Virginia and greater Washington, D.C. – the first phase of the Silver Line opened between Whiele Ave-Reston and East Falls Church. Five new stations, including four in Tysons, one of the largest office districts in the U.S., are now in service providing greater connectivity for the entire Washington, D.C. region.

My family and I rode the first train to Whiele Ave-Reston from Courthouse station in Arlington. We were in the front car which was a little more than half full. Several people were in the very front with their cameras. Other riders took the train only as far as some of the Tysons stops, particularly the Tysons Corner stop which serves the two malls. When the train left the Orange Line tracks for the new Silver Line tracks, there was mild applause.

I jumped out at each of the stops to take a few photos, but with the whole family along, including our 1-month old son taking his first Metro ride, I did not explore. It was interesting to get a new perspective on the familiar Tysons area from the elevated tracks. The best view of the Tysons skyline is on the big curve from the media of the Dulles Access Road to VA 123.

At the Whiele Ave-Reston East terminus, there was a celebration hosted by Comstock. VIPs got to go indoors, while the public was entertained by a DJ playing a bunch of music that came out when I was in middle school. We had a quick picnic there anyway, before returning to the platform to take the Silver Line back to Courthouse.

[flickr : Silver Line Opening Day/slideshow]

The ride was smooth, though not as fast as I would have thought, particularly on the return trip.


Rail to Tysons (and eventually Dulles Airport) was something I wondered if would ever happen. Like baseball in D.C., it made a lot of sense, but there were obstacles to getting there. Increased Metro service is a bigger deal than baseball, but the absence of both for most of my life was frustrating.

George Mason University history professor Zachary Schrag (Q & A: The Great Society Subway) made the case in his outstanding book, The Great Society Subway, that Metro should have been built to Tysons rather than Vienna all along. Instead, the Orange Line was built through the median of Interstate 66 all the way past the Nutley Street interchange. Though recent development, mostly in the form of low-rise apartments has come to the Orange Line corridor outside the Capital Beltway, the primary role of that Metro Line is as suburb to city, commuter rail, rather than an intraurban subway. Ultimately, the Silver Line will do the same though. The increasingly urbanized Tysons Corner and its four stations will be the only ones, with the exception of the Dulles Airport station, that are not within the median of the Dulles Toll Road. The commuter rail/subway hybrid has always been a compromise to maximize the constituency (and funding partners) of Metro.


Getting this far with the Silver Line has been messy and expensive. The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority struck a deal with the Commonwealth of Virginia and the federal government to build the Silver Line in exchange for taking over the Dulles Toll Road. Much of the funding (too much), is coming out of automobile tolls. Some subsidy from motorists is appropriate, but perhaps a comparatively token fee, such as a $1 a ticket, passed along to Dulles Airport flyers would have been more helpful. The partnership between two public authorities MWAA and Washignton Metropolitan Transit Authority isn’t ideal and this will never be a great deal, but as the saying goes, at least it got built.

The Silver Line has also created a squeeze at the Rosslyn tunnel which has cut into Blue Line service. I ride the Blue Line several times a week, but I have found it to be manageable, albiet more crowded. Come September, it could get very crowded. Optimization of the Rosslyn tunnels is an urgent need and long-term, more tubes under the Potomac is also needed. That will be another 15-25 years, I’m afraid.


Building the Tysons portion above ground rather than below it is a flawed decision, but at a certain point, the attitude of “at least it got built” wins out again. I don’t mind the views, but this was pennywise and pound-foolish. Will it hold back Tysons development? Probably not, Chicago seems to do fine with elevated trains and locally, Silver Spring and Alexandria have strong transit oriented development near above ground Metro lines.

If the Silver Line is to succeed, it will be in spite of its builder, not because of it.

I believe that the Silver Line will ultimately be successful and vital to region, but it, like much of the area’s transportation and development isn’t a home run.

FURTHER READING

Post coverage of the Silver Line

WAMU’s coverage

wh02

I-495, Capital Beltway in Northern Virginia opened 50 years ago today

On April 2, 1964, Administrator Rex Whitton participates in the dedication of I-495, the Capital Beltway from U.S. 1 to the Shirley Highway-the last segment in Virginia. Photo by FHWA

It was on this day fifty years ago that the Capital Beltway was completed in Northern Virginia. I suppose many commuters would have found it opening a day earlier more apropos as the road seems more a burden than anything else and the SPEED LIMIT 55 signs to be a mockery. Back in 1964, most of Virginia’s 22 miles of Beltway was only 2 lanes wide each way. Now, with the HO/T (high occupancy/toll), EZ-Pass Express Lanes, it is 6 lanes each way between Springfield and Tysons.

Inside the Beltway wouldn’t be coined until 1969 (by Mike Causey, then of The Post, now with Federal News Radio), but the highway formed a big wall literally and figuratively in Fairfax County and the City of Alexandria. There currently are only 23 automobile crossings of I-495 in Northern Virginia and 15 of them have full interchanges with the road, while another has a partial interchange with lanes. Another one, Live Oak Road, is not a through route. The are also 3 Metro rail crossings (Orange, Blue and Yellow lines) and 2 Virginia Railway Express rail lines penetrate it as well. There are a few pedestrian/bicycle trails too, but overall it is tough to get from one side of the Beltway to the other. A “bridge to nowhere” was built between Van Dorn Street and Telegraph Road, but it never became connected to anything and was torn down in the early 21st century.

The Beltway divides the sprawling newer suburbs with the more established and often denser populated pre-World War II areas like Arlington and Alexandria, whose residents don’t even necessarily think of the Beltway much. Tysons Corner, once a crossroads of two country roads grew into the 11th largest business district with two large shopping malls and a growing skyline most of which is just outside the Beltway. In fact when USA Today left Rosslyn for its own campus, I recall then publisher Tom Curley making it a point to mention in an interview that they’d be outside the Beltway. It really abuts the Beltway by the way or at least it did before they sold off their land with the softball field and path. I digress.

Back in ’64, the Virginia portion of the Beltway was signed only as Interstate 495 as Interstate 95 was then routed along the Henry G. Shirley Highway into Washington, D.C. over the 14th Street Bridge and planned to cut through Northeast D.C. and Takoma Park then onto points north. That didn’t happen and in 1977, the eastern-most portion of the Beltway in Virginia was changed to I-95. That proved to be confusing, so I-495 multiplexed back on the I-95 portion of the Beltway around 1989.

The original Beltway exit numbering began in Alexandria with Exit 1 at US 1 (note US 1 is also Exit 1 in several locations throughout the East, including just over the 14th Street Bridge on I-395) and increased sequentially clockwise until finishing off at Exit 38 for I-295 just east of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. Around 2001, the exit number was changed in Virginia for the first time (it had changed in Maryland after I-95 was moved to the southern and eastern portions of the Beltway) to be a counter-clockwise continuation of the Maryland numbering scheme that began east of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge all the way to the Springfield interchange (Exit 57) where I-95′s mileage-based exit numbering took over, the there is a jump from 57 to 172.

The entire Beltway opened in August 1964, so I’ll have more to say then.

FURTHER READING

Capital Beltwaydcroads.net

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