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VRE and I-495 lanes in the news this week
Roundup: VRE again is in the news-for good reasons and bad; express lanes open; and Route 3 widening project moves forward. Also this week a short Q&A on roundabouts

Date published: 11/19/2012

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By Scott Shenk

HOW ABOUT another new twist this week?

From time to time, we'll have area transportation professionals and experts take part in a Q&A on transportation issues.

And we'll start with a favorite of this space: roundabouts.

First, though, lets take a quick spin around the local transportation news.

Virginia Railway Express just can't stay out of the news recently, for good and bad. And the big change happened on Interstate 495 over the weekend.

First, the good for VRE. The date for Santa Train ticket sales has been announced: Nov. 26 at 9 a.m. Tickets will be sold online and at vendor sites. For more details, visit vre.org/ seasonal/santa_trains/availability.html.

Now for the bad. Last week it became known that Gov. Bob McDonnell asked for and apparently is getting an inquiry into more possible employee wrongdoing at VRE.

The new electronically tolled express lanes were set to open on Saturday on I-495. It's a big change in that area. So before you head up that way, especially if you plan to use the new lanes, get details on how they work at vamegaproj ects.com.

There were signs of progress last week on the seemingly cursed State Route 3 widening project.

Two temporary westbound lanes were switched to the area where the permanent lanes will be. There are still just two lanes each way, and the work won't be finished until late summer at best, but at least it's progress.

Now for the Q&A with Lloyd Robinson, the administrator of the Fredericksburg Area Metropolitan Planning Organiza- tion.

;">What are the pros of roundabouts?

Although I am not an expert on this, I see roundabouts in general as having application where they make sense.

Their assets are that they are quite efficient at keeping traffic moving and therefore reducing congestion.

They are safe, as speeds are reduced, and intersection crashes are reduced and less severe.

They are economical, because they generally require less right of way and do not require the infrastructure required for signals (poles, mast arms, etc.).

;">How about the cons of roundabouts?

Roundabouts are not a panacea, but they work where traffic conditions and right-of-way needs make them a superior choice.

Where instances such as high traffic volumes, the presence of many large trucks and other factors exist, close scrutiny needs to be undertaken to determine where a roundabout or a more traditional intersection solution should be employed.

In addition, another drawback to roundabouts is that people are not generally familiar with them, so oftentimes people are reluctant to endorse them as a viable solution.

In addition, given this public unfamiliarity with roundabouts, people need to understand how to use them safely and efficiently. This may take some education and some getting used to.

Finally, and perhaps ironically, roundabouts can be highly efficient as a way to move traffic, but sometimes this efficiency itself can cause problems through unintended consequences, namely that the newly efficient roundabout will swamp the capacity of adjacent intersections and cause more ancillary congestion.

Scott Shenk: 540/374-5436
Email: sshenk@freelancestar.com