Regional leaders review proposals to reduce congestion in D.C. area

It's no secret that Washington, D.C. has some of the worst traffic congestion in the nation. But how local planners should fix that problem is not as obvious.

Wednesday, regional leaders reviewed some out-of-the-box proposals to reduce congestion. It was all a part of a comprehensive survey of local drivers to gauge their support or opposition for pay-for-usage programs.

To reduce traffic, local lawmakers and transportation planners have long mulled over several proposals using what's called "congestion pricing."

"I'm an economist, and I think if you charge people for doing something that is imposing costs on other people that it will have some effect," said Alice Rivlin, a Brookings Institution Senior Fellow.

The Brookings Institution and the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments studied three proposals to curb traffic congestion in and around the district.

In their survey, they found local drivers are cautiously open to one proposal - adding more toll lanes to highways. Sixty percent of those surveyed supported the idea, which is similar to the Beltway hotlanes and the Intercounty connector.

The survey shows another proposal, per-mile pricing using GPS data, is very unpopular, with 86 percent in opposition.

Meanwhile, drivers are lukewarm to a third proposal. Fifty percent were in favor of charging drivers for entering high traffic zones, like downtown D.C.

During their survey, the researchers say they were surprised how many drivers said instead of any of these proposal, just increase the gas tax. They said 57 percent of drivers surveyed support an increase in the gas tax.

COG Principal Transportation Planner John Swanson said, "I think to some degree it was just a sense that this is an obvious common sense solution. And before you start talking about grander, bigger ideas, we really need to do some of the obvious things."

Critics of congestion pricing say you can't toll or tax your way out of a traffic problem, and none of these proposals will reduce the number of cars on the road.

"People drive not becaues they want to, but because they have to. It's the nature of the beast in the D.C. area," explained AAA Mid-Atlantic Spokesman John Townsend.

If and when implemented, COG officials say congestion pricing should be a part of a broader transportation strategy, emphasizing mixed-use development, mass transit and most importantly the money raised from tolls or taxes should go to transportation funding.