What Is the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance?
The Alliance is a business-citizen coalition focused on advancing highway and transit projects of greatest regional significance. It is non-partisan and the only private sector organization focused exclusively on making better transportation a reality for citizens and businesses.
When and why was the Alliance founded?
The Alliance was founded in 1987 to better inform and involve the public in regional transportation projects and policies. The Alliance believes a well-informed and involved citizenry is the key to better transportation.
What has the Alliance done to improve transportation?
Construction of a new Woodrow Wilson Bridge, Fairfax County and Prince William County Parkways, and the Dulles Greenway; widening of Route 28 near Dulles from 2-lanes to 6, and I-66 outside the Beltway from 4-lanes to 6-8; completion of the original 98-mile Metrorail system and it’s extension to Dulles/Eastern Loudoun County and establishment of the Virginia Railway Express commuter service are some of the original Alliance priorities that are in place today that have made Northern Virginia’s prosperity possible.
Isn’t the Alliance Really All about Highway Construction? Or is it True that the Alliance is really anti-transit?
No. In fact the Alliance was the first private sector organization to call for a dedicated funding source to ensure Metrorail’s state-of-good repair and reliability. The Alliance supported construction of the original 98-mile Metrorail system and its Silver Line extension to Dulles Airport and Eastern Loudoun County as well as establishment of the Virginia Railway Express commuter rail system. The Alliance also supported the re-organization to de-politicize Metro’s Board of Directors, advocates for more rail cars to enable more 8-car trains and a regional express bus network to take more cars off the road and provide more flexible regional transit service.
Shouldn’t We Be Spending More on Transit, Rather than Roads?
Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG) says that about 60% of all current and future transportation dollars now are being spent on public transit; about 40% on highways. MWCOG also says that about 7% of all daily trips are made on public transit while more than 80% are on roads. The region ranks among the top 3 metro areas in transit use, and is #1 in traffic congestion. Bottom line: Greater investment is needed in both transit and highways. However, currently the lion’s share of available transportation funds goes to transit.
The Virginia General Assembly passed a new funding Bill. So why are our road pavements still in such bad shape?
The new funding authorization was the first in 27 years and a huge maintenance backlog developed during that time. Interstates (i-66, I-95 etc.) and primary roads (US 1, US 50, Route 7 etc.,) get first call on maintenance funds, while secondary roads (Annandale, Braddock, Belmont Ridge etc.) get what’s left. While progress has been made on interstates and primary road conditions, only 44% of Northern Virginia’s secondary roads are considered good to excellent, the worst in the state.
To what extent have new state and regional transportation dollars provided the needed resources?
New funding has certainly helped but falls far short of what’s needed. Remember there was a 27-year gap between the 2013 funding and last new funding (1986), during which time a significant construction and maintenance backlog developed. Most new state funding goes to maintenance and 30% of new regional funding goes to local governments leaving limited construction dollars for major new projects. To build the transportation network Northern Virginia needs will require focusing more existing dollars on projects that do the most to reduce congestion and getting additional funding.
Wouldn’t building more residences and offices closer to Metro stations be smarter than building more highways?
Focusing more homes and work places close to Metro stations is a good idea and the Alliance has long supported doing so. However, to succeed mixed use transit oriented communities also need good access/connectivity. Most Arlington residents work outside Arlington and most Arlington workers live outside Arlington. Good transit service is important, but absent I-66, I-395/95, the GW Parkway and 5 Potomac River bridges, Arlington’s transit-oriented communities would not have succeeded to the extent they have. Locating more people and jobs next to transit certainly helps, but does not replace the need for additional highway capacity.
It appears that more and more people are choosing to use public transit today. What are the latest numbers as to how people are choosing to travel today and are likely to travel in the future?
The latest Metropolitan Council of Government study shows there are 17 million trips per day in the metropolitan Washington Region.
Of those trips:
• Auto — 13,940,000 trips (82%)
• Public Transit — 1,190,000 trips (7%)
• Bike/Pedestrian —1,870,000 trips (11%)
By 2040, the number of trips is projected to increase to 21 million. A breakdown of the additional 4 million daily trips.
Of those trips:
• Auto — 16,590,000 (79%)
• Public Transit —1,470,000 (7%)
• Bike Pedestrian — 2,940,000 (14%)
In other words for every new public transit trip in 2040 there will be 9 new auto trips. Overall in 2040 there will be 11 highway trips for every transit trip.
By no means does this say transit is not important. It is. But even if Tysons, Reston, Ballston, Silver Spring etc. all achieve their full development goals as assumed in the MWCOG projections, the vast majority of daily trips (including bus/express bus) will depend upon the highway network.
What is the single most important regional transportation investment and why?
A new Potomac River crossing northwest of the American Legion Bridge connecting the Dulles/Eastern Loudoun/Reston area in Virginia with Gaithersburg/Rockville in Maryland, which studies show would carry more than 100,000 vehicles daily, divert thousands of vehicles from the American Legion Bridge, Dulles and I-66 corridors as well as the Maryland Beltway and I-270 corridors. It would also provide a major suburb-to-suburb transit connection and be a major homeland security resource.
What does the Alliance consider to be the region’s top five priorities?
• New Potomac River Bridge north/west of American Legion Bridge
• Metro — Ensuring Metrorail State of Good Repair/Reliability/New Rail Cars
• I-66 — New lanes outside and inside the Capital Beltway
• Bi-County Parkway connecting Loudoun/Prince William/Dulles Airport
• A regional prioritization process focused heavily on congestion relief and moving the most people in most cost-effective manner.
Given our region’s poor air quality, how realistic is it to think any new highways can be built?
Thanks to cleaner fuels and vehicles air quality has dramatically improved in recent decades and our Metropolitan Washington Council of Government’s latest studies show it will be even cleaner and well with federal standards despite record numbers of vehicles, daily trips and miles of travel. So new road capacity will not degrade air quality, in fact by reducing the time we sit in congestion, new capacity may well improve air quality.