Monday, July 11, 2011

Highway lobby gets serious

In 2008 the Greater Washington 2050 Coalition, a group of public, private, and civic leaders created by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, produced Region Forward, a vision for a more accessible, sustainable, prosperous, and livable National Capital Region. This vision was produced after a long process of public involvement and comment. The vision included two major transportation goals:
  • We seek a broad range of public and private transportation choices for our Region which maximizes accessibility and affordability to everyone and minimizes reliance upon single occupancy use of the automobile.
  • We seek a transportation system that maximizes community connectivity and walkability, and minimizes ecological harm to the Region and world beyond.
It's not surprising that the road lobby was upset that a more ambitious road building plan wasn't included in the recommendations. According to NVTA, "Greater Washington 2050’s Region Forward draft ignores both these realities in endorsing a totally inadequate transportation strategy focused exclusively on public transit, bicycles, sidewalks and land use."

When MWCOG and its 21 local governments individually endorsed Region Forward and its Greater Washington 2050 Compact in 2010, the road lobby got serious. Some of the largest developers in the region, including Til Hazel, formed the 2030 Group to push for the outer beltway, a new bridge across the Potomac to Montgomery County, and other sprawl inducing transportation projects.

The 2030 Group then funded a survey of '45 unnamed "transportation experts"' to define transportation priorities in the region. See the GGW post Surprise surprise: "experts" picked by road lobbyists put road building at top of priority list and Coalition for Smarter Growth's press release Contrived Survey is Latest Effort to Promote Costly and Ineffective Outer Beltways.

Dr. Gridlock recently asked representatives from the two sides of this debate, Stewart Schwartz of Coalition for Smarter Growth, and Richard Parsons, president of the Suburban Maryland Transportation Alliance (sponsored in part by the 2030 Group), to make their case in Two roads to traffic relief for D.C. area. Stewart Schwartz said it well:
In this environment, building more roads and transit without addressing development patterns is a recipe for failure. The Wall Street Journal recently reported on a study finding that expanding roads in metropolitan areas increases traffic after just a few years. An outer beltway would not relieve traffic, but like most new beltways, it would spark development in undeveloped rural areas.

We need to use our scarce resources, first, to fix potholed roads, crumbling bridges and our aging Metro system and, second, to create a more energy-efficient land-use and transportation system. If we don’t offer alternatives to so much driving, then high oil prices will keep eroding family finances and threaten our economic and national security. High gas prices and changing demographics — young workers and downsizing empty-nesters and retirees — are increasing demand for more walkable, convenient and transit-accessible locations.

Build a network of transit-oriented communities. A network of walkable, mixed-use, compact neighborhoods at Metro and commuter rail stations will be far more cost-effective than merely adding transportation capacity.
Reinvent commercial strip corridors. Redevelop thousands of acres of parking lots and one-story buildings as part of that network.
Address the east-west jobs divide. Locate employment at 15 Metro stations in Prince George’s County; Wheaton and Glenmont in eastern Montgomery County; and Route 1 in Prince William and Fairfax counties.
Locate homes in or near major job centers. For example in Tysons Corner, the Red Line/Interstate 270 corridor and Loudoun’s Route 28 corridor.
Locate jobs in centers with transit and mixed uses. Maximize peak-hour transit trips on rail, buses, vanpools and carpools, and take advantage of reverse commute opportunities.
Enhance neighborhood accessibility. Invest in walking and bicycling routes to schools, libraries, stores and parks, creating alternatives to driving on traffic-choked arterial roads.
Fix major commuter corridors. Simply widening corridors such as I-66, I-95, I-270 and Route 5 will fuel more-distant development and even longer commutes. Focus on express buses with dedicated lanes, combined with zoning to manage development in outer areas.
Finish Dulles Rail and the Purple Line. Tie them to well-designed development and add Purple Line crossings of the Potomac at both ends of the Beltway.
Commuter rail. Invest in VRE, MARC and Amtrak.
If we can accomplish these tasks, our future will include more transportation choices and more convenient access to work, school and services.

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