The Washington, DC region is great >> and it can be greater.


Anti-livability bill passes Virginia House committee

One of two bills that would base all transportation decisions on models that prioritize the fast flow of cars passed the Virginia House's transportation committee Tuesday. All of Northern Virginia's Republicans on the committee and several Democrats voted for the bill.

Photo by Mrs. Gemstone on Flickr.

HB1998 would make it state law to base transportation decisions on traditional traffic models, which consider only the fast movement of cars and nothing about how closely people live to their jobs, the relative value of transit versus roads, safe movement of pedestrians and cyclists, or any other factors.

This bill is, in essence, the exact opposite of the USDOT's "livability" push. That agency has been retooling the formulas for federal transit funding to move away from only favoring projects that move the most people the longest distance.

Under the old formulas, if a city wanted to build a rail line to an empty warehouse district, they wouldn't get funding, because nobody lives there and therefore the rail line wouldn't move anyone. But, of course, the whole point was to attract people to that district who would then ride the line.

This bill would mandate the road analogue of the old-style formula. It requires that VDOT exclusively prioritize "(i) the total amount of reduction in traffic congestion regionally and, separately, (ii) the amount of reduction in traffic congestion expected to be achieved per dollar cost of the project."

Say there's a congested roadway and two potential transportation projects. One would simply widen that roadway, temporarily reducing traffic but also spurring substantial new auto-dependent office parks 30-50 miles from many of the existing residents in the area, which will fill up the new lanes and make traffic even worse than it is. Another would do less for the roadway itself, but would make it possible to add jobs near the residents to drive economic growth without adding traffic. The second option is actually better for congestion in the long run, but this law would require VDOT prioritize the first.

As Dan pointed out this morning, parts of our region which have attracted fewer jobs have somewhat less stifling traffic than the areas with more jobs. Adding infrastructure to an area draws growth and investment. If this bill passes, Virginia would have to continue neglecting areas where better transportation would drive needed job growth, and instead would have to keep pumping dollars into more and more freeways for those areas where people live far from jobs, thus have to drive long distances, thus creating congestion.

Last night's snow also showed how living long distances from work can create serious problems for commuting during major snows. Some people faced up to 5-hour or even 8-hour commutes home. Virginia shouldn't be creating legal requirements to develop in patterns that will only set the stage for more of these horrific experiences.

Rather than throwing more money to exacerbate existing problems, Virginia should invest in growing cities and towns with jobs and housing close together. The COG Region Forward project aims to steer development around such "activity centers." Bob Chase and other outer-Beltway boosters are trying to head off this approach before it starts by taking the planning authority away from COG and regional governments and locking in old-fashioned planning mechanisms.

Unfortunately, several Northern Virginia representatives including some Democrats supported the bill in the committee. All of the committee's Republicans voted for it, including five from Northern Virginia: Joe May of Leesburg, Tom Rust of Herndon, Tim Hugo of Centreville, Edward Scott of Culpeper, and Barbara Comstock of McLean.

Four Democrats voted for the bill: Hampton's Jeion Ward, Newport News's Mamye BaCote, Charlottesville's David Toscano, and Richmond's Dolores McQuinn. Eileen Filler-Corn of Springfield wasn't present for the vote but voted for it in the subcommittee. The only no votes came from Arlington's delegates Adam Ebbin and Bob Brink, and Richmond's Betsy Carr, all Democrats.

Unfortunately, there was no debate on the bill in the committee. House committee chairs have been rushing bills through full committees with absolutely no debate after they receive approval from only a small subcommittee. The Virginia legislature already has a too-compressed schedule; skipping debate pushes the legislature to make more rush decisions on important issues.

Please contact your delegates and senators to ask them to reject this bill and its companion, HB1999, which hasn't come up for a vote yet in the Transportation Committee, as well as HB2016. Here's more about those bills. Or, if you are in Ebbin or Brink's districts, thank them for their efforts.

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


Add a comment »

"Suburban Self-Sabotage Theory" in effect. In post-bubble America, the only reasonable investment strategy left is shorting suburbia.

by oboe on Jan 27, 2011 2:16 pm • linkreport

Interesting headline. Does that make all of us smart-growth urbanists "pro-life"?

by Ward 1 Guy on Jan 27, 2011 2:17 pm • linkreport

I'm not sure that last night's traffic nightmare is a good example of the problems of people living long distances from work. It was taking easily 3-5 hours to get 3-5 miles. Last night's event was a real one-off. I've been here more than a decade and I've never seen anything like that.

by ksu499 on Jan 27, 2011 2:25 pm • linkreport

Last night's event was a real one-off. I've been here more than a decade and I've never seen anything like that.

global warming is really starting to affect things -- namely, the frequency of extreme weather events.

other than that, i do get the point of this post, and think it's worthy to contest the sprawl-inducing bill, and i'd also like to talk more about 'good and bad congestion' -- feel like some nuance is needed.

and, politically, maybe we can work on getting either 'congestion' or 'traffic' redefined -- so, right now, 'traffic' really means 'automobile/motorized/car/truck traffic' -- but what about 'soft traffic'? even to get new bills to have to state explicitly that their goal is move more motorized traffic faster and further we be a step in the right direction -- then we get to ask important questions like, "well, since the corridor is not congested with soft traffic, how will we allow soft traffic to utilize this taxpayer-funded corridor?"

by Peter Smith on Jan 27, 2011 2:43 pm • linkreport

A similar event happened in 2000. A sudden ice storm with zero response, at least in the District, led to a traffic nightmare. It took me about 4 hours to make what was usually a 25-minute trip, and my wife was trapped on another major arterial about twice as long as I.

It happens. Also, remember 9/11. Different cause, similar result.

by Steve on Jan 27, 2011 2:44 pm • linkreport

There was one like two years ago, maybe three where sudden icing conditions on the springfield interchange basically shut that whole massive thing down. Cars couldn't move, salt trucks couldn't reach it. It gridlocked everything in that area utterly horribly. Getting from Crystal City to the Landmark mall area took two hours or more, trying every tertiary thru street available.

by NikolasM on Jan 27, 2011 3:01 pm • linkreport

Here we go again. Show me even one mass transit proposal that would eliminate need for the road "changes" (since "road upgrades" are apparently an unacceptable term here) that are currently in VDOT's long range plans. Have you even looked at the VDOT long range plan?

The two examples used in the editorial are bunk.
1. Why in the world should we build a transit line to a vacant warehouse district? We already have densely populated areas that are underserved by transit that are struggling to get funding. Why would you dedicate scarce funds for projects that have no clear use?

2. And as ksu499 says, using last night as an example is BS. Most of the issues were in our most densely populated areas, not places that would be served by this mythical "outer Beltway" (which of course is a figment of the writer's imagination).

by movement on Jan 27, 2011 3:37 pm • linkreport

I faced a 2.5 hour commute from one location in DC to another location in DC.

Apparently I should blame that on Virginia, rather than a totally inept response by the Gray administration. Where were all the regular DDOT traffic cops at major intersections? Why wasn't a snow emergency declared in DC mid-day so as to get cars off major streets? Where was the coordinated plan with MD and VA officials?

If you're going to use last night's traffic debacle to blame Virginia for how it spends its transportation funding, then at least it should be on-point and relevant.

by Fritz on Jan 27, 2011 5:21 pm • linkreport


Anyway, this post isn't meant to say don't fund roads its saying that the metric used for determining new roads/widenings proposed by these bills isn't a good metric and fails to take into account some of the things that created the traffic in the first place.

by Canaan on Jan 27, 2011 5:26 pm • linkreport

Good article.

by Fred on Jan 27, 2011 6:07 pm • linkreport

thanks for the link to the senators!

by Shawn G on Jan 28, 2011 12:01 pm • linkreport

We all can agree that there's a lot of space on the roads and bridges that isn't being used in the most efficient way. Simply put, it's the unused passenger sides of cars that are creating the congestion.

See for THE solution - ultra-narrow car design. It's simple and effective. Watch this video for further information:

The solution doesn't have to be small. Enormous straddling buses also can alleviate congestion by allowing traffic to go through and below the buses while the driver and passengers transport above:

Like the scene in "Up in the Air" when George Clooney's character throws away the wide suitcase, to rid our society of unnecessary traffic congestion it's time to replace cars with room wasting passenger sides with ultra-narrow vehicles.

For the record, George Clooney himself bought the first Tango, and the owners of Google own two themselves.

by Michael Weiser on Jan 28, 2011 7:57 pm • linkreport

AAA is at it again. Got this yesterday:

Subject: URGENT REQUEST: Help to Support Vital Transportation Funding in VA!

AAA urges you to support Virginia's Transportation Funding and Trust Fund Protection Plan.

Dear Jasper,

The General Assembly is now considering Governor McDonnell's proposals to fix transportation funding and to protect the Transportation Trust Fund with a constitutional amendment.

While not a panacea for Virginia's funding crisis, Governor McDonnell's plan is a strong step in the right direction. It combines much needed constitutional protections for the Transportation Trust Fund with over $4 billion of new funding to address some 900 clearly identified transportation projects.

A constitutional amendment to protect the Transportation Trust Fund is an essential component of the plan. Without it, any transportation funding could simply be raided for any non-transportation purposes as has happened too many times in the past.

For more information on this important issue, please visit our Legislative Action Center. I encourage you to join our advocacy efforts and contact your legislators to support this plan to fix Virginia's roads and bridges, reduce congestion and improve highway safety.

Click now to make your voice heard.

Please feel free to forward this email to your family and friends who also live in Virginia and ask them to join our efforts.

Ronald W. Kosh
Vice President, Public and Government Affairs

Obviously, when you follow the links you can only agree with AAA's POV. I e-mail back that I do not support their POVs and that our Gov is an fiscal fraud. Also, I noted they should allow opposition to their dictates. And that they should actually check with their members first before they air positions. The e-mail bounced from an "unmonitored mailbox", so looked up their comment form on the site, and copy-pasted my initial response plus the observation that sending e-mail from an "unmonitored mailbox" is no sign of being open for comment.

Yeah, I had some free time on my hands.

by Jasper on Jan 29, 2011 10:49 am • linkreport

Add a Comment

Name: (will be displayed on the comments page)

Email: (must be your real address, but will be kept private)

URL: (optional, will be displayed)

You can use some HTML, like <blockquote>quoting another comment</blockquote>, <i>italics</i>, and <a href="http://url_here">hyperlinks</a>. More here.

Your comment:

By submitting a comment, you agree to abide by our comment policy.
Notify me of followup comments via email. (You can also subscribe without commenting.)
Save my name and email address on this computer so I don't have to enter it next time, and so I don't have to answer the anti-spam map challenge question in the future.


Support Us