Transporation Futures in Metro-Washington DC

All the places we live in are unique and have their own particular challenges. Among the challenges that make Washington, DC unique is our absence of representation in Congress, despite the fact that a Congressional committee has direct oversight of …

All the places we live in are unique and have their own particular challenges. Among the challenges that make Washington, DC unique is our absence of representation in Congress, despite the fact that a Congressional committee has direct oversight of our City’s budget and must approve all legislation passed by the DC City Council. Remember that old line from civics class — No Taxation Without Representation? Well, it does not apply to DC (our license plates read: “Taxation Without Representation”); moreover DC is the only capital of a country with a democratically elected legislature that does not have representation in that national legislature.

Another challenge, also governmental, is that regional planning in the DC metropolitan area has to be cobbled together between DC, Maryland and Virginia. There is no single policy toward economic development, transportation, land-use, energy management, or housing in our region. There are (at least) three for each because there is no coordination enforced from above by a state legislature or executive. This spells trouble for transportation planning. Anybody who lives in a metropolitan area understands the extent to which the transportation infrastructure drives decisions from land-use to business location decisions.

This puts something of an onus on the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) for the region, which is The National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board (TPB), a body of our Council of Governments. As the MPO, the TPB is the federally designated regional forum for transportation planning. The TPB prepares plans and programs that the federal government must approve in order for federal-aid transportation funds to flow to the Washington region.

Its cat herding time when the TPB has to cobble together its Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP); and the prospects for long-range integration with land-use policy is just hardly discussed at all. Enter the Citizen Advisory Committee (CAC) of the TPB. In 2000 the CAC successfully prevailed on the TPB to initiate a regional study to examine different transportation and land use scenarios. Called the Regional Mobility and Accessibility Study (RMAS – make this a hot link? it has been particularly effective in drawing in electeds as well as techies to examine the consequences of transportation decisions, and land-use and land-use decisions on transportation. Public presentations by TPB/CAC staff about the findings of the Scenario Study began in 2004. These presentations explained the link between the RMAS and the need for improved coordination in regional transportation planning, detailed the process of developing alternative land use and transportation scenarios, and summarized the results of the study. RMAS has led a tenuous existence owing to the dangerous nature of information. For example, one finding was based on the 2003 Constrained Long-Range Plan for transportation (“constrained” by the guaranty of construction funding) the projected growth in vehicle miles traveled through 2030 was 37%, while the growth in highway miles 16%. Do the math… in one of the already most congested areas of the US.

It is already hand-wringing time, and few electeds are rising to the challenge. The chairs of the CAC for 2006 and 2007, Emmet Tydings (MD) and Jim Larson (VA) pushed the RMAS findings and the CAC’s recommendation to the TPB earlier this year and succeeded in creating another committee to decide next steps. Even if the response appears to be treading water, the promise of next steps is a step forward. The RMAS scenarios are modeled by computer and have examined such features as the East-West divide between affordable housing and jobs that drives a significant amount of our morning Westward traffic and evening Eastward traffic. Other scenarios looked at areas well served by mass transit that could more easily absorb new housing, and those that could not. A new scenario has been proposed to examine the effect of introducing variable priced lanes on the interstate.

The potential for the use of RMAS to analyze transportation and land-use scenarios is fairly unlimited. Various data such as census and locally generated projections feed the beast, and the output shows future outcomes based on our best guess of what is happening or that we can make happen. The trick now, just as it has always been, is to effectively use the information to educate our electeds on a regional transportation strategy that best serves the entire region in addressing challenges of land-use planning, priority transportation projects, policy for energy, housing, and economic development. More anon…

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Tags: public transportationwashington dc

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