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VA legislative update: Bike safety bills advance, while some still try to limit Northern Virginia

As Virginia's legislative session continues, House Republicans are still trying to take local planning authority from Northern Virginia cities and counties. Two bicycle safety bills have moved forward. And Hampton Roads may get a regional transportation authority of its own.


Photo by William F. Yurasko on Flickr.

Bike bills seek to prevent "dooring"

Two bicycle safety bills have passed the Senate and are heading to the House of Delegates, including a bill that would require three feet of clearance when passing a cyclist. Another bill, Senate Bill 225, codifies that a car driver or passenger must ensure that the road is clear before opening their car door into traffic. And the House of Delegates passed HB 82, which specified that non-motorized transportation was included in the law that prohibits drivers following too closely.

However, two road safety bills that would have clarified a driver's duties to pedestrians in crosswalks were defeated in the House.

Delegates rewrite bill stripping Northern Virginia's ability to plan for itself

In our last update, we talked about HB 2, which would reduce Northern Virginia's ability to plan its own transportation projects. It's been significantly rewritten to put transit projects on more equal footing with roads and highways.

It will allow the state to evaluate projects on economic development, safety, accessibility, and environmental quality in addition to congestion relief, which would have been the only factor under the previous bill.

Meanwhile, HB 426, from Chantilly Republican Jim LeMunyon, has been tabled. It called for a "study" of transportation options on I-66 that only included more lanes for cars. It's unlikely that it will come up again this year.

But Delegate LeMunyon did get a House Bill 793 out of committee. That bill would have VDOT recommend specific transportation projects to the groups that plan these projects in Northern Virginia. Bills like this want to ensure that there's always someone advocating for highway projects that local governments may have already said they are not interested in. And this one violates the spirit of last year's transportation bill, which allowed Northern Virginia counties to plan for more public transportation solutions to congestion rather than pursuing a strategy that only focuses on newer and wider roads.

Another bill that we covered and is aimed at pushing a transportation solution that local counties may not want is House Bill 1244 from Delegate Tom Rust (R-Herndon), which would study and likely advocate for another highway crossing of the Potomac River as part of the Outer Beltway. It's been referred to the appropriations committee.

And HB 957, which would delay giving the state more control over VRE's executive board, passed the House. The bill initially called for repeal but this delay means that repeal can be considered again next year.

Good news for red-light cameras, Hampton Roads

The Hampton Roads area may soon be getting a local transportation planning authority similar to the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority with HB 1253, which has moved out of committee. This may be a benefit to Northern Virginia since such a group could bolster the argument that transportation decisions can be answered effectively by local governments.

Meanwhile, House Bill 973, which would have repealed localities' authority to install red light cameras, has been defeated.

We'll keep you updated on what happens to these bills.

Roads


VA legislative update: Hybrid tax going, but bills to limit Northern Virginia remain

As the Virginia legislative session continues, lawmakers in Richmond have agreed to remove the hybrid car tax, and successfully defeated an attempt to take away Northern Virginia's ability to plan and fund its own transportation projects. But several destructive bills, including one that could force the state to widen I-66 in Arlington, are still on the table.


Photo by Mrs. Gemstone on Flickr.

Hybrid car tax poised for repeal

Several lawmakers introduced bills to repeal a tax on the sale of hybrid cars, which the state passed last year. One such bill has now passed both houses and Governor Terry McAuliffe says he will sign it.

The original bill's justification was to make sure that hybrid car owners who use less gas, and thus pay less in gas taxes, still contribute to maintaining state roads. But its critics contend that the $64 tax is an inefficient way to make up for the lost revenue and unfairly punished hybrid drivers who are helping the environment by using less gas.

Attempts to limit Northern Virginia's choices narrow

Legislators have tabled several bills that sought to restrict the power of the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA), which selects and funds transportation projects in that area. Instead, Republicans want Richmond to decide what gets built there, especially if it involves widening and building new highways.

Meanwhile, House Bill 658, sponsored by David LaRock (R-Sterling), would limit "transit, rail, and public transportation" to get at most 25% of Northern Virgnia's transportation funds. Not only is that an arbitrary standard, but it ignores how transit is already moving people and reducing highway congestion.

This proposal could prevent good transit projects from happening. If the region wants to ramp up a major new Metrorail, light rail, streetcar, or bus rapid transit project and spend more in one year than another, this cap would severely limit that ability. Besides, Northern Virginia should be able to choose how much to spend on different transportation priorities as it sees fit.

Bill would rate transportation projects on "congestion reduction"

Meanwhile, the legislature is still debating HB 2, which would require that the state pick transportation projects based on how much they are "expected to provide the greatest congestion reduction relative to cost." This relies on defining congestion solely as how many cars can move through an area, which automatically puts public transit at a disadvantage.

By its very nature, transit doesn't involve moving cars, and often requires a higher initial investment than a road project of comparable size. This proposal also ignores the ancillary benefits of transit, like lower pollution and the ability to tie transportation to land use, which can reduce overall car trips and conserve land.

"Study" bills push wasteful highway projects

A few bills require the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) to conduct studies of highway projects their authors really want to see built. HB 426, by Jim LeMunyon (R-Chantilly) demands a study of adding extra lanes (that aren't subject to HOV restrictions) on I-66 inside the Beltway in Arlington and Falls Church.

The original bill would have forced the I-66 widening to be part of VDOT's capital plan. LeMunyon changed it to only require a study, which means that even if it passes, it wouldn't necessarily mean the project happens. However, once a study gets finished, it's a lot easier for a sympathetic future administration to turn it into reality, and gives project supporters something concrete to push for.

The language doesn't allow VDOT to consider any sort of transit alternative to widening the highway, even though there is a rapid transit option, the Orange Line, literally running down the middle. It already assumes that the only solution for I-66 is more lanes for cars. Besides, VDOT already studied widening I-66, and the results show that general purpose lanes are not effective, while HOV, managed toll lanes and express bus perform better.

Another bill, HB 1244 by Thomas Rust (R-Fairfax) would push forward on studies to build an Outer Beltway with new bridges over the Potomac outside the Beltway. This would stimulate more car-dependent sprawl on what is now rural land at the region's edge.

Maryland opposes the idea, in order to protect its rural land in Montgomery's Agricultural Reserve and Charles County in southern Maryland. It instead wants to add capacity, for transit or cars, on the American Legion Bridge between Potomac and McLean, and is widening the Route 301 Henry Nice Bridge south of Washington. Despite this, former Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton initiated a study about potential new bridge locations. HB 1244 would make VDOT take the results of that study and recommend specific options.

Things are still very busy in Richmond. We are seeing the effects of local debates regarding Northern Virginia's transportation future reverberate at the state capitol just as hotly as they were contested back home. Bills rise and fall very quickly in the Virginia legislature, and we will keep you up to date on what is happening.

Roads


Bi-County Parkway sprawl would enrich key boosters

On the surface, the Bi-County Parkway/Outer Beltway controversy is about transportation. But it's not. It's about growth: where should it be in Virginia? The farms of Loudoun, Prince William, and Fauquier? Or along future Silver Line stations, and closer to the core? Some people stand to benefit from more outward growth, but not most residents of our region.


Photo by Dan Reed on Flickr.

The Washington Post's Jonathan O'Connell confirms what many suspected, even though it sounded a bit like a conspiracy theory: People with large land holdings along the Bi-County Parkway route, who stand to benefit personally from building more houses there, are pouring substantial cash into lobbying efforts and campaign donations for the road.

O'Connell pulls back the curtain on the 2030 Group, an organization that appeared in 2010 with the stated goal of encouraging "regional cooperation." Cooperation is great, but 2030's version seems to mean getting all officials to cooperate on a certain, predetermined agenda of speeding up outward growth as well as infill.

The group's founder, Bob Buchanan, started the group largely because he owned 400 acres in Loudoun County but people didn't want to build there. O'Connell writes:

The family trade was home building when Buchanan returned from the Navy as a young man. He became a master of site development, the business of acquiring large tracts of land, securing the necessary zoning and transportation improvements, and readying lots for other developers to turn into subdivisions, office parks or shopping centers. ...

One of his largest deals, made a decade ago, was a 400-acre property at the intersection of Route 50, Route 606 and the Loudoun County Parkway. At that time, Loudoun housing market was seeing double-digit annual price increases. It was one of the most profitable places in the country to build new houses.

Buchanan Partners planned to turn the grassy, partially wooded site into Arcola Center, with 2 million square feet of commercial space, more than 1,000 homes and 800,000 square feet of retail around a main street anchored by a Target and other big chains.

After the housing bust, construction of exurban subdivisions froze, and the prospects for projects like Arcola dimmed. Land values and housing prices in Loudoun collapsed.

Buchanan also tells O'Connell that he's changing with the times, being more concerned about the environment, and building multi-family housing and mixed-use instead of just houses. And Arcola is mixed-use, with townhouses, offices, retail, hotels, and more.

If you're going to build in a greenfield site at the edge of the region, there is better design and worse design. But even the best greenfield town center without transit will generate more car trips compared to the same growth in the core or near Metro.

As the real estate maxim goes, "location, location, location." If the demand to live southwest of Dulles Airport is weak while prices around Metro are rising higher and higher, that tells you something.

For a developer who doesn't already own 400 acres southwest of Dulles, it tells you to try to build more housing at Metro stations and in the core. Buchanan, instead, concluded he should lobby the state to spend a billion or so to entice people to live around his 400 acres.

With development stagnant, Buchanan looked to local public officials for solutions but saw none forthcoming, he said. Frustrated, he enlisted like-minded partners to form the 2030 Group. ... In a three-year period, according to the group's tax forms, the 2030 Group spent more than $520,000 to finance research at George Mason University and the University of Maryland.
2030 hired PR firm Dewey Square Partners to promote its activities and fairly soon after released a list of transportation priorities. Longtime Virginia Outer Beltway advocate Bob Chase and Maryland outer highway advocate Rich Parsons interviewed a group of secret, unnamed "experts" to create a list that ironically matched Chase's and Parsons' existing preferences.
Buchanan said critics who worry about 2030's influence should be more concerned about how the region will handle expected growth, given its political divisions. Not building new roads, he argues, is not going to stop people from wanting to live and work in the Washington area; it will just add to the already acute traffic congestion.
"The development is coming because people are moving here and they want to live here," he said.
People are moving here. And while some want to live in all parts of the region and all housing types, the greatest demand is for new and existing walkable neighborhoods near transit.

If Buchanan really wants the region to invest where people are moving and where they want to live, he wouldn't push for an Outer Beltway segment that goes past his 400 acres; he and 2030 would push for, say, a light rail line from Tysons to Merrifield to Annandale to Alexandria, through many places already near transit, already with many roads, and where there's ample demand for new housing.

People want transit-oriented development. The region needs to build more. There isn't enough now. To have TOD, you need transit. Therefore, to build what people want, we need regional transportation dollars to go into that transit, not the Bi-County Parkway.

Roads


DC repurposes lanes, Virginia adds them

DC, Maryland, and Virginia have proposed their latest series of changes to a regional transportation plan. It's amusing to look at the list: DC's new projects are all about reconfiguring roadways to be less like highways, while Virginia's are all about adding or widening highways.


Image from the Transportation Planning Board.

This is part of an annual process where the states and DC update lists of what projects they want to do in coming years. The regional Transportation Planning Board has to ensure that the lists, which form the Constrained Long-Range Plan, fit with expected local and federal revenue, and juggles assumptions until staff can at least claim that all the new roads won't make our air quality too bad.

DC is adding 6 new projects, to construct bus lanes on I Street, make New Jersey Avenue 2-way, add a bike trail, and reduce the number of general travel lanes on 4 streets. Those projects will cost about $20.5 million altogether.

The DC changes also include the median on Pennsylvania Avenue east of the river and 2 cycle tracks which have already happened but weren't in the TPB's plan yet.

Meanwhile, Virginia wants to widen 5 highways, build new ones through Manassas Battlefield and around Dulles Airport, and add highway ramps around Tysons Corner, for a total cost of $750 million to $1.4 billion depending on what they choose for Dulles. All of that money is for car capacity; there are no transit, pedestrian, or bicycle projects being added to Virginia's list this year.

Maryland isn't changing much this round; it's just moving some money from the Corridor Cities Transitway to the Purple Line.

Here is the list of new projects for the District of Columbia (not counting ones DC is adding which are already complete):

  • I St. NW from 13th St. NW to Pennsylvania Ave. NW: Add peak period bus-only lanes
  • New Jersey Ave. NW from H St. NW to N St. NW: Reconstruct from 4 lanes one-way to 2 lanes in each direction
  • 17th St. NE/SE from Benning Rd. NE to Potomac Ave. NE: Reduce from 2 lanes to 1 lane southbound
  • C St. NE from 16th St. NE to Oklahoma Ave. NE: Remove 1 of 2 travel lanes in each direction to calm traffic
  • East Capitol St. from 40th St. to Southern Ave.: Implement pedestrian safety and traffic operations improvements and remove 1 of 3 travel lanes in each direction
  • South Capitol St. from Firth Sterling Ave. SE to Southern Ave. SE: Design and construct a paved bicycle and pedestrian trail and reduce the number of lanes from 5 to 4
Here's the list for Virginia:
  • Widen I-395, Shirley Memorial Highway, Southbound from Duke St. to Edsall Rd.
  • Capital Beltway HOT Lanes: The segment of HOT Lanes between south of the George Washington Pkwy and
    south of Old Dominion Dr. was planned to be 2 lanes wide. VDOT proposes to make this segment 4 lanes wide.
  • Capital Beltway Ramps at Dulles Airport Access Highway and Dulles Toll Road: Construct a new ramp connecting the northbound general purpose lanes on I-495 to the inner lanes of westbound Dulles Airport Access Highway. Widen the ramp connecting eastbound Dulles Toll Road to the northbound general purpose lanes on I-495 from 1 to 2 lanes.
  • Widen US 1, Jefferson Davis Highway from Lorton Rd. to Annapolis Way from 4 to 6 lanes.
  • Widen VA 7, Leesburg Pike from I-495 to I-66 from 4 to 6 lanes.
  • Construct 2-lane collector-distributor roads parallel to Dulles Toll Road between VA 684, Spring Hill Rd. and VA 828, Wiehle Ave.
  • Dulles Toll Road Ramps in Tysons: Construct a ramp to and from the Dulles Toll Rd. to the new Boone Blvd. extension at Ashgrove Lane. Construct a ramp to and from the Dulles Toll Rd. to the new Greensboro Dr. extension at Tyco Rd.
  • Dulles Greenway Ramp: Construct a new egress ramp from the Dulles Greenway to the planned Hawling Farm Blvd.
  • "Improved access" to Dulles Airport: [4 alternatives, a no-build and 3 that involve new 4-lane limited access highways or widening US-50 and VA-606.]
  • VA 28 Manassas Bypass: Study a proposed 4 to 6 lane bypass through Prince William and Fairfax Counties.
And Maryland:
  • Change in project cost of the Corridor Cities Transitway from $1.2 billion to $828 million
  • Change in project cost of the Purple Line from $1.79 billion to $2.245 billion
These changes don't necessarily reflect the mix of projects in the plan overall, just the changes this year. For example, DC is soon going to spend hundreds of millions on a new South Capitol Bridge which will be wider than the old one, while there are major transit and bicycle and pedestrian projects in the plan for various parts of Northern Virginia.

Still, this gives something of a glimpse into what's on the minds of transportation planners in each jurisdiction right now. DC is spending some small dollars to reconstruct roads to better accommodate pedestrians, cyclists, and buses; Viginia is spending big dollars on new road capacity.

Events


See you at Tuesday's 5th birthday party! And other events

Are you coming to the party to celebrate 5 years (and one month) of Greater Greater Washington? We hope you can!


Photo by jen_kels on Flickr.

We'll be celebrating from 6-10 pm at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, 641 D Street, NW near Archives Metro and not far from Gallery Place. Besides a great chance to meet your fellow readers, some elected officials from DC and elsewhere in the region will be joining us.

Unfortunately, it's impossible to schedule any event without conflicting with some other great stuff. In Montgomery County, the Chevy Chase Lake Sector Plan hearing is also Tuesday, so some of our Montgomery readers will be testifying. It also means our friends on the County Council won't be able to join us.

Plus, there are many more important forums and workshops coming up in DC, Maryland, and Virginia:

Live chat on building heights: The National Capital Planning Commission is also having a forum from 7-9 Tuesday on building heights, with speakers from 3 other capital cities, London, Paris, and Berlin.

Fortunately, there's another chance to engage in the conversation: I'll be moderating a live chat with some of the panelists at 12:30 Tuesday. More details will come soon. If you have questions about how other capital cities deal with building heights, post them in the comments.

Outer Beltway community meetings: Smart growth and environmental groups are holding three community meetings about VDOT's efforts to build an Outer Beltway in Virginia. The meetings are on successive Mondays: March 4 in Middleburg, March 11 in Chantilly, and March 18 in Ashburn.

ACT with Ken Ulman: This month's Action Committee for Transit meeting will feature Ken Ulman, Howard County Executive and a likely candidate for governor. He'll talk about how Route 29 fits into the future of transit in Maryland. The meeting is Tuesday, March 12, 7:30 pm at the Silver Spring Civic Center, One Veterans Place.

MoveDC workshops: As it moves into the next phase of designing a citywide transportation plan, the MoveDC project will hold 4 workshops in the evening of Wednesday, March 20 (at Minnesota Avenue), Thursday, March 21 (in Anacostia), Tuesday, March 26 (on Capitol Hill), and Thursday, March 28 (in Tenleytown).

Have an event we missed? Post it in the comments or email events@ggwash.org.

Roads


Move to moveDC Saturday, and more on the calendar

Are you going to moveDC? This Saturday is the moveDC Idea Exchange, the big kickoff to DDOT's big effort to create a comprehensive transportation plan. Plus, there are 2 forums on the future of transportation in Montgomery County next week.


Photo by Read G on Flickr.

The Idea Exchange includes an open "transportation fair" all day, from 9:30 am to 3 pm at the MLK Library at 9th and G, NW. The booths, open all day, include family-friendly activities as well as more serious transportation discussion.

Mayor Vincent Gray, Councilmember Mary Cheh, and DDOT Director Terry Bellamy will talk at 10:30, and then there will be a panel with Anita Hairston of PolicyLink, author Chris Leinberger, and Slate's Matthew Yglesias at 11.

If you take Metro, be aware of track work on the Red and Orange Lines north/west of Grosvenor and Ballston and north/east of NoMA and Stadium-Armory. DDOT is also setting up more temporary bike racks to handle the extra bike parking demand. Finally, Anacostia Waterfront Initiative officials and consultant CH2M Hill have set up a 25-lane racetrack oval. No, not really that last one.

For Montgomery County residents, there are 2 great opportunities to talk about transportation's future next week (and in the same spot!) The Action Committee for Transit's monthly meeting features WMATA planning head Shyam Kannan talking about the Metro "Momentum" strategic plan. That's Tuesday, February 12, 7:30 pm at the Silver Spring Civic Center, One Veterans Place.

Wednesday, The Coalition for Smarter Growth is holding a forum on the "next generation of transit." How can the county accommodate 200,000 new residents and 100,000 jobs in the next 20 years? It will take investments in Metro, the Purple Line, and bus rapid transit.

Geoff Anderson, head of Smart Growth America, and Councilmember Roger Berliner will speak about the future of Montgomery County, and there will be presentations on transit projects in the pipeline. The forum is Wednesday, February 13, 6-8 pm at the Silver Spring Civic Center, still One Veterans Plaza. RSVP here.

Meanwhile, in Virginia, the Piedmont Environmental Council is holding a public meeting to talk about the McDonnell Administration's push for an Outer Beltway through Loudoun and Prince William. It's Monday, February 11, 6:30-9 pm at John Champe High School, 41535 Sacred Mountain Street, Aldie, VA.

Also, a film about plastic bags is screening Sunday in Hyattsville; John Muller is giving another tour of Frederick Douglass's Anacostia February 23; and the Anacostia Watershed Society is holding a "Green Roof Networking Happy Hour on Tuesday, February 26.

Roads


Floor debates begin on flawed McDonnell transportation bills

Governor McDonnell's transportation funding bills (HB2313 and SB 1355) are on the floor of the Virginia House and Senate today and tomorrow. The McDonnell Administration is facing objections on many fronts, but the Republican majority quickly pushed the bills through committee.


Photo by MSVG on Flickr.

Votes to pass the bills must take place before "cross-over" on midnight Tuesday in order for them to survive and cross over to the other chamber.

Many legislators, both Republicans and Democrats, will seek amendments on the floor, but observers believe that the Governor and leadership want to push the bills into a closed-door conference committee where the Republican majority will control crafting the final bill. That means the best opportunity for major amendments is now.

If you are concerned about these bills, you can get the latest from the Coalition for Smarter Growth, contact your elected officials, and monitor @csgstewart and @betterDCregion for a Twitter play-by-play.

Without critical amendments, the bill that ultimately emerges from the conference committee is unlikely to be a good deal for Northern Virginia or other metropolitan areas of the state. The McDonnell administration has squandered much of the $3 billion in borrowed funds the legislature authorized in 2011. The governor spent it on highway projects in rural areas, while neglecting funding for Dulles Rail, Tysons Corner, and Hampton Roads' top prioritiestheir bridge-tunnel crossings.

Prominent among the McDonnell Administration's wasteful projects have been Route 460, the Coalfields Expressway, Charlottesville Bypass and the Outer Beltway. If Virginia continues to pursue these projects it could waste a combined $5.5 billion, but if the legislature makes review and reevaluation of these projects a condition of new funding, there's still a chance to redeploy the funds to real transportation needs.

Eliminating all taxes on gasoline, the centerpiece of McDonnell's bill, could make traffic in our metro areas worse, reducing transit use and increasing driving. It cuts the sensible tie between transportation use and funding, forcing Virginians who drive less to subsidize those who drive more, hurting seniors and low-income people, carpoolers, transit users, those who live closer to their jobs.

Switching to the sales tax could also make Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads further subsidize long-distance driving throughout the state. It would also divert state general funds essential for education, health care, public safety and conservation.

Without amendments to ensure the Virginia Department of Transportation sets better priorities, there is no guarantee in these bills to meet the needs of the metro areas or the state's growing transit needs. There is no guarantee these bills will restore funding for local roads; for the past 2 years, VDOT has zeroed out funding for secondary roads in localities despite record transportation spending.

Fortunately, nearly all of the Democrats and a number of Republicans believe that eliminating all taxes on gasoline is a bad idea. Opposition to the idea also extends from the smart growth community to the Wall Street Journal.

On January 15, a Wall Street Journal editorial argued that McDonnell's scheme "violates the user-pays principle" of sound public finance:

[It] would mean that a Virginia resident who may not even own a car has to pay more for road repairs when he buys a cell phone, computer or Big Mac. Motorists who benefit most from the roads would pay almost nothing directly to use them... [F]unding transportation through a sales tax "makes roads free," at least in terms of direct payments, and thus will lead to more driving and more gridlockthe opposite of what McDonnell says he wants to achieve.
Let's hope the legislature rejects the Governor's proposal to eliminate the gas tax. We hope the legislature will vote for the following amendments:
  • Include mandatory reevaluation of VDOT's megaprojects. We could save much of the $5.5 billion to use to address our real transportation needs.
  • Reform the Public Private Transportation Act to ensure greater public oversight.
  • Keep the gas tax. It is an appropriate user fee tying payments to use of Virginia's roads, and it ensures out of state drivers also contribute. Apply the sales tax to gas at the wholesale level and/or index the gas tax to inflation.
  • Withdraw any increase in the statewide sales tax. A statewide increase will mean the state (VDOT) will just siphon the money from Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads.
  • Allow a local sales tax for transportation in Northern Virginia that Northern Virginia controls and the same for Hampton Roads. Let our two most congested regions decide what to fix and build.
  • Require 25% of the new funding to go to transit, both urban and rural.
  • Require 15% of the new funding to go to local roads. VDOT has zeroed out money for local roads in order to build unnecessary highways in lightly trafficked areas. If we don't specify this, then we still won't get local street funds including pedestrian and bicycle facilities.
  • Keep the $15 vehicle registration fee for intercity passenger rail and public transit funding.
Without these amendments, the legislature should reject the Governor's bills and new funding for the state transportation agencies.

Here's a more detailed breakdown of where we find nearly $5.5 billion in waste:

  • Route 460: This $1.4 billion proposed new highway between Suffolk and Petersburg costs over $1.1 billion of taxpayer funds, plus tolls. The current Route 460 carries just 11,000 trips per day.
  • Coalfields Expressway: A $2.8 billion new highway is in the least-trafficked area of the state.
  • Charlottesville Bypass: This $243 million project doesn't solve congestion and saves minimal travel time for commuters.
  • North-South Corridor: This estimated $1 billion piece of an Outer Beltway around DC doesn't address commuter needs and would add development and traffic in areas without infrastructure.

Roads


Sierra Club names best and worst transportation projects

Capital Bikeshare, the Purple Line, and Silver Line are among the best transportation projects in America, according to the Sierra Club's annual list of the 50 best and worst. Virginia also scored 3 "worst" slots with sprawl-inducing, environmentally destructive highway projects around the state.


Photo by dan reed! on Flickr.

Capital Bikeshare: Our system, now in DC, Arlington, and Alexandria and soon in Montgomery County, is still the largest bike sharing program in the United States as long as New York and Chicago are delayed (not that we're rooting for any more delays).

The report says, "Capital Bikeshare resolves the "first and last mile" dilemma for many transit users by providing convenient transportation to and from transit stations. User surveys show that bikeshare eliminated 5 million miles of driving in 2011."

Purple Line: The Sierra Club says, "The Purple Line is estimated to have 68,000 daily commuters when complete, replacing an enormous amount of automobile traffic, enhancing air quality and decreasing greenhouse gas pollution. ... Construction on this project is will begin in 2015 and the line is scheduled to open in 2020."

If, that is, Maryland can come up with money to get it built. Local leaders and stakeholders are meeting tomorrow for a "Regional Transportation Funding Summit" to talk about how the state can find the necessary money for its share of the project; right now, it has no funding from 2014 on to keep going with the project.

Silver Line: The line has already spurred TOD at Tysons Corner and is projected to displace 91,000 car trips with both phases complete. "The project will also help preserve the rural nature of western Loudoun County by absorbing growth in higher density TOD around the two stations in the eastern part of that County," notes Sierra Club. It can do that best if Virginia doesn't also build the Outer Beltway to generate more sprawl.

Meanwhile, Virginia's highway-building spree, which Governor McDonnell accelerated but Governor Kaine laid plenty of groundwork for, is causing significant damage and warranted 3 dishonorable mentions:

Outer Beltway: "The project has been repeatedly rejected because it doesn't relieve traffic on the overly congested Washington D.C. Beltway, I-95, or I-66. It will induce greater traffic demand by encouraging housing developments, strip malls and office parks along its route in the now rural areas of western Prince William and Loudoun Counties."

Look for the McDonnell administration to try to push this through in the final years of his term; he's promised to find a solution for transportation funding, which to him means only road funding.

Coalfields Expressway: "Located in Southwest Virginia, [this] is a proposed project to construct a new four-lane highway through rural areas of the Appalachian Mountains via mountain top removal coal mining methods." It will pollute the environment and do little for mobility in the lightly-populated area.

Route 460 in Hampton Roads: This $1.5-2 billion project would create a new 4-lane, 55-mile road paralleling an existing one, which will create more sprawl and environnmental damage. Sierra Club writes, "The new parallel highway is intended to serve as a truck corridor for the Port of Virginia, detracting from a less oil-intensive freight rail alternative for the port."

Transit cuts: Another "worst" project is the nationwide cuts to transit, pressure to raise fares, or both that systems around the nation are facing as the federal government, states, and municipalities reduce their investments in transit.

"A survey of 117 transit agencies by the American Public Transit Association in 2011 found that "nearly eight in ten transit agencies (79%) have cut service or raised fares or are considering either of those actions. Half of the transit agencies (51%) have already cut service or raised fares," the report says.

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