The regional transportation authority for Northern Virginia has posted a proposal which includes 370 miles of high-capacity public transit across the region. This network would transform Greater Washington: it would make everyday travel more sustainable, fairer, safer and more economically productive for much of Northern Virginia.
Yet the same document also includes plans for a thousand new miles of new and widened freeway lanes, an investment incompatible not only with the rapid transit system, but also with the stated values of the planning authority.
Here’s an overview of the plan and what we know so far.
A bold but contradictory plan
The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) is responsible for setting transportation policies and priorities throughout the region. He recently released a draft of his main long-term plan, Transaction, for public comment. Transaction is “non-fiscally constrained,” meaning it may contain more projects than NVTA will be able to fund.
This project includes the most ambitious transportation plan currently proposed in Greater Washington. NVTA proposes to invest up to $45 billion over the next 25 years in a rapid transit network, most likely bus rapid transit: BRT uses extra-wide buses on physically separated to provide the same quality of service as the metro for a small fraction of the cost.
This proposal, if not diluted in an “enhanced bus” service without dedicated lanes, would transform our region. It would complement Metro and VRE, connecting the Leesburg area to Woodbridge so most residents wouldn’t need a car. We could concentrate growth around new rapid transit lines, providing enough new housing to ease the housing crisis while easing pressure on exurban sprawl.
Transaction has bold goals, but it’s a plan that contradicts itself. In addition to BRT, it is allocating up to $29 billion for more than 1,000 new miles of highways that will take people away from public transport. These widenings, interchanges and bypasses induceVirginians to drive a valued 6 billion additional kilometers each year, emitting at least twenty and up to eighty million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent greenhouse gases by 2030. That would be new traffic, not just reroutings. On the high end, these are the same emissions as operating a new coal-fired power plant at full capacity. Travel by car is the most dangerous motorized means of getting around cities, and the most economically exclusive. That $29 billion goes against NVTA’s “core values of fairness, sustainability, and safety.” We are no longer building new coal-fired plants. Why are we building new highways?
I’m not jealous of NVTA President Phyllis Randall. She is chair of the board of not only NVTA, but also Loudoun County, and when we spoke, she explained the connection the Authority is in. Randall, like his colleagues on both councils, is dedicated to fairness, sustainability and safety. Randall pointed out that Loudoun County has not approved any new development west of Rt. 15 in more than a decade, protecting Northern Virginia’s natural environment.
NVTA’s mandate, Randall explained, is to improve transportation for everyone in Northern Virginia, not just people living in transit-friendly areas like Arlington. The NVTA is looking at ways to help residents of the outer suburbs get around car-free, but so far they haven’t been able to come up with an approach that doesn’t involve more freeways, Randall said. .
I know it’s hard to imagine a solution for such remote and car-dependent areas, but I hope it won’t be impossible.
We need transportation that puts people first
The contradiction of Transaction is rooted in mode-based rather than person-based goals. People will use the infrastructure given to them: if it is faster and cheaper for me to drive to work, no matter how much I care about the environment; the boss needs me at nine, so I’ll jump in the car.
But if it’s easier to walk to a BRT route that goes past traffic, anyone will get on the bus. NVTA’s goals are to improve “mobility, accessibility and resilience across all modes, including roads, public transport, walking, cycling and more”. (TransAction p.4) If we drop this idea that all modes need to be improved, and instead start looking for the most efficient way to help people get around, we can build a Virginia where our investments work together instead to cancel each other out.
The public comment period will be open until September 18. You can learn more on Transactionsubmit your comment (English| Spanish| Korean), leave a voice message (571-354-0065) or contact Randall directly.