On Saturday, September 28, over 50 participants took an early fall stroll through the Tenleytown commercial district with the Coalition for Smarter Growth and Ward3Vision to learn about the community’s past, present and future.
Over 30 participants joined tour speakers Nick Perfili of Fairfax County DOT, Stella Koch of Audubon Naturalist Society, Jay Klug of The JBG Companies, and Bruce Wright of Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling to learn about redeveloping Tysons, the Silver Line, pedestrian and bicycle improvements, and the importance of stormwater management and stream restoration on Saturday, September 21, 2013.
We are writing to respectfully request a meeting with you to discuss the actions of the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) regarding the Bi-County/North-South Corridor project. We are further requesting that neither the VDOT nor the Virginia State Historic Preservation Officer sign the National Historic Preservation Act, Section 106 Programmatic Agreement until we are able to meet with you.
Development at Fort Totten has been slow despite access to 3 Metro lines, its close proximity to both downtown DC and Silver Spring, its access to the Metropolitan Branch Trail, its green space and its affordability. But as demand increases for housing in the District, this previously-overlooked neighborhood could become a hot spot.
Photo by tracktwentynine on Flickr.Last Saturday, the Coalition for Smarter Growth concluded their spring walking tour series with “Fort Totten: More than a Transfer Point,” a look at future residential, retail and commercial development near the Fort Totten Metro station. Residents and visitors joined representatives from WMATA, DDOT and the Office of Planning on a tour of the area bounded by South Dakota Avenue, Riggs Road, and First Place NE.
Today, vacant properties and industrial sites surround the station and form a barrier between it and the surrounding area. Redeveloping them could improve connections to the Metro and make Fort Totten a more vibrant community.
There is a significant amount of new residential, retail and commercial development planned within walking distance of the Metro station. But Saturday’s tour began with the only completed project, The Aventine at Fort Totten. Built by Clark Realty Group in 2007, the 3-building, garden-style apartment complex consists of over 300 rental units as well as ground-floor retail space.
The Aventine at Fort Totten, the newest apartment complex in Fort Totten. All photos by the author unless otherwise noted.Visitors were ambivalent about the success of the Aventine due to its small amount of retail space and lack of connectivity to surrounding neighborhoods. While residents noted that it created more options to live close to Metro, representatives of the Lamond Riggs and North Michigan Park civic associations agreed the development differed from the original vision for the project.
They called it an example of the need to continually engage real estate developers and local government agencies to ensure that new development is of a high quality and responsive to the local context. Throughout the tour, residents said that future development proposals should adhere to DC’s urban design guidelines, improve pedestrian access and have a plan to mitigate parking concerns.
Between South Dakota Avenue and the Metro station, the Cafritz Foundation will redevelop the old Riggs Plaza apartments to build ArtPlace at Fort Totten. When finished, the 16-acre project will contain 305,000 square feet of retail, 929 apartments, and 217,000 square feet of cultural and art spaces, including a children’s museum. Deborah Crain, neighborhood planning coordinator for Ward 5, noted that ArtPlace will include rental units set aside for seniors and displaced Riggs Plaza residents.
An ad for ArtPlace at Fort Totten at its future home.As one of the largest landowners near the Fort Totten Station, WMATA has a huge stake in future development around the station. They own approximately 3 acres of land immediately west of the station along First Place NE that is currently used as surface parking lot for commuters. Stan Wall, Director of Real Estate at WMATA, discussed the great potential for development on the current parking lot mentioned that the agency will solicit proposals for development of the area in the near future.
Parking lot at Fort Totten station.Anna Chamberlain, a DDOT transportation planner, talked about how streetscape improvements could calm traffic, making streets around the Metro station more pedestrian- and bike-friendly. DDOT is also working to improve connections to the Metro, as some areas lack clearly defined walking paths. The agency will begin designing a path connecting the Metro to the Metropolitan Branch Trail within the next few months.
New sidewalks and street trees on Riggs Road.The final stop on the tour was Fort Totten Square, a joint effort by the JBG Companies and Lowe Enterprises to build 350 apartments above a Walmart and structured parking at South Dakota Avenue and Riggs Road. DDOT has completely rebuilt the adjacent intersection to make it safer for pedestrians and more suitable for an urban environment, replacing freeway-style ramps with sidewalks, benches, crosswalks and improved lighting.
Jaimie Weinbaum, development manager at JBG, says they’re committed to working with the city and residents to make Fort Totten Square an asset to the community. They’ve promised to place Capital Bikeshare stations there and would like to have dedicated space for Car2go as well.
With help from the private sector and public agencies like DDOT and WMATA, Fort Totten could become a model for transit-oriented development, but much of the new construction won’t happen for a long time. Until then, residents eagerly await the changes and continue to work with other stakeholders toward creating a vision that will benefit everyone.
Photos courtesy of Greater Greater Washington
Montgomery County’s new zoning code will allow less parking in new developments in order to use land more efficiently and encourage alternatives to driving. However, the regulations still require parking in ways that will hinder the walkable urban places the county wants to build.
Space for people, or space for cars? All photos by the author.For four years, the Planning Department has been revising its complicated, unwieldy zoning code. First written in 1928, the code hasn’t been updated since 1977, when the county was still mostly suburban. The new code will go before the County Council in a public hearing June 11.
Under the current code, buildings must have lots of parking, even near transit or in areas where most people don’t drive. The new parking regulations are simpler and allow developers to build fewer parking spaces, though they do require other amenities, like bike racks, changing facilities and spaces for car sharing or carpools.
New rules require less parking, more amenities
The new code reduces parking requirements throughout the county, especially in its parking benefit districts where public parking is available, like Silver Spring, Bethesda, Wheaton, Montgomery Hills and eventually White Flint.
Restaurants currently must have 25 parking spaces per 1000 square feet, a little smaller than a Chipotle. Under the new rules, a restaurant would only need between 4 and 10 spaces, depending on whether it was in a parking district. Meanwhile, office buildings outside a parking district will only need 2.25 spaces per 1000 square feet, compared to 3 today.
Some rules have been simplified. The current law requires different amounts of parking for different kinds of stores; for instance, a “country market” must provide 5 parking spaces for each 1000 square feet, while a furniture store needs only 2. Under the new code, all stores would be required to have 3.5 spaces per 1000 square feet in parking districts, and 5 spaces elsewhere.
New buildings would also have to accommodate alternate modes of transportation by providing bike parking. Larger buildings will have to include space for car sharing, while developers would be able to swap out car parking spaces for carpool spaces, bikeshare stations or changing facilities.
However, the parking requirements for housing won’t change much. Single-family homes and townhomes would still need 2 off-street parking spaces or 1 if they’re in a parking district, same as before, while new apartments would need at least 1 parking space, regardless of where they are. However, apartment developers could build less parking if they “unbundle” them, meaning that residents could buy or rent a space separately from their unit.
Do we still need parking requirements?
While the new requirements are an improvement, some local groups argue that there shouldn’t be parking requirements at all. The Coalition for Smarter Growth, the Montgomery County Sierra Club, and the Action Committee for Transit, where I sit on the board, have all come out against parking minimums.
Parking requirements don’t always make great places.Why? For starters, parking is expensive to build and rarely pays for itself. Construction costs for a space in a parking lot are about $3,500, compared to $30,000 for one in a garage and $100,000 for one underground, not counting the cost of land. Parking fees rarely cover these expenses alone, so the costs get passed on to the public in other ways, like higher prices at a restaurant that’s charged higher rents by its landlord.
Meanwhile, our communities pay for a glut of parking. Surface parking lots that are only full on Black Friday take up valuable space that could be used for buildings or parks instead. And even attractively designed parking garages like this one in Rockville still create a dead space, hurting street life. On top of that, parking lots produce a lot of stormwater runoff, polluting waterways.
This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t have any parking, but the costs of excess parking outweigh the benefits. As Matt Yglesias writes in Slate, people will continue to want parking, and any developer who wants to stay in business will satisfy them without being told to:
Almost 100 percent of Washington-area residents like to sleep on a soft comforable surface at night. But there’s no regulatory requirement that residential buildings contain mattresses. The lack of mattress mandates doesn’t mean people are forced to sleep on the floor. It means that if people want to sleep on a mattress
— and they generally do — they need to go buy one.
Once you take away the Agricultural Reserve, residential neighborhoods, and other uses, you’re left with about 4% of Montgomery County that’s available for development. That land is valuable, and we need to use it well. Covering it with big parking lots isn’t the right solution, but that’s what our current zoning code requires. While the new law’s a step in the right direction, it may not go far enough to create the kind of places we want.
The County Council will hold a public hearing on the Zoning Rewrite on Tuesday, June 11 at 7:30pm. To sign up to testify or submit written comments, visit their website.
Photos courtesy of thecourtyard on Flickr.
Prince George’s County has diverged from its smart growth goals, says the county Planning Board in a searing assessment. The board says residents have a choice: push for more transit-oriented development and walkable communities, or “be resigned to business as usual.”
Largo Town Center. Photo by the author.The board released a policy paper called How and Where We Grow as part of an update of the county’s 20-year plan for growth and development. It offers aggressive proposals to tame sprawling, scattered development and focus public resources at Metro stations and priority urban centers.
While official plans and rhetoric say transit-oriented development is important, land use trends show a different story on the ground. The county must recommit to managing its growth in a sustainable way by preserving open space and focusing development around Metro stations, says the board. Otherwise, the county will remain a place known for bedroom communities, underutilized Metro stations, and weak job growth.
Members of the public can offer their input on the county’s future at a day-long town meeting next month.
Prince George’s is at a crossroads
“Prince George’s County is at a crossroads,” the Planning Board states. “Will we choose bold action or business as usual?”
The document recounts how the 2002 General Plan vision for growth and land use fell short of its original goals over the years. Without commitment to a new direction, the county can expect more spread out development, continued failure to capitalize on the promise of transit-oriented development, and lagging investment to spark revitalization of communities inside the Beltway.
Tier boundaries from the Prince George’s County General Plan.Between 2002 and 2010, residential growth in the county departed from the General Plan by spreading out into over 6,400 acres of the “Developing Tier,” a rapidly suburbanizing area outside the Beltway. The lion’s share of the county’s development occurred there, including 73% of residential and 60% of commercial growth.
In the “Developed Tier,” inside the Beltway, growth lagged. It fell short of goals by capturing 25% rather the hoped-for 33% goal. However, what was built there consumed just 5% of the county’s land area.
Development in the pipeline, which has been approved but not yet built, promises more of the same. More than 79% of residential units in the development pipeline are single-family detached houses in the Developing Tier. Yet according to the Planning Board, demand forecasts show that more than 60% of the new housing units to be built should be multifamily units located in walkable communities at transit-accessible locations.
All photos by the author unless otherwise noted.How and Where We Grow points to the costs of these growth patterns: spread-out development at densities that are difficult to support with quality transit or retail services, long commutes, and a future as a bedroom community to the region. Over the past 40 years, a third of the county’s open space, agricultural, and forested land were converted to low-density residential development. The loss of open space has fragmented natural areas and undermined the agricultural economy.
Furthermore, the board notes that the county has attracted the fewest number of new residents of an area jurisdiction from 2000 to 2010. “Without recalibration of county priorities and policies that promote TOD [transit-oriented development] and high-quality, mixed-use development,” the paper says, “it is likely that the county will be at a continued disadvantage to its neighbors when it comes to attracting residents and employers who value the connectivity and amenities that other such communities provide.”
The county needs a unified vision
The board notes that the structure of county government undermines unity and fosters internal competition through the lack of at-large council members on the county council. “While the County Executive can focus and coordinate resources, the nine different Council members, oftentimes with nine different priorities, it is difficult to agree upon a single vision for the county,” says the paper. “In practice this means that public dollars get spread across the county, instead of being concentrated in a few places to make a truly significant impact.”
A “clear mismatch in stated goals and actual infrastructure investment” emerges when assessing the county’s transportation spending priorities, the board finds. There’s also far more commercial and mixed-use zoning than the market can support. The paper notes that the county’s weak commercial tax base makes it a challenge to compete for employers or have the financial resources to address community needs, like crime and poor schools.
Given these tough observations, the planners put forth a realistic agenda for the future with this set of specific recommendations aimed at leveraging existing infrastructure:
- Define density targets and growth goals for the tiers to shift the focus of development to the centers and the Developed Tier.
- Make a stronger commitment by targeting new growth to the Developed Tier and increase the growth objectives for the tier.
- Locate the new hospital center and key government functions at a transit-oriented development location.
- Reduce the backlog pipeline development (which can linger for decades). Prioritize and phase development by requiring bonding for infrastructure improvements. Also use the water and sewer process to more aggressively discourage greenfield development.
- Prioritize and fast track building permits in targeted areas (County Council is currently advancing a bill to do this).
- Revise surcharge fees for schools and public safety, encourage development in the Centers and Developed Tier by reducing fees, and phase growth in the Developing Tier through fee increases.
- Adopt new zoning ordinance and subdivision regulations. Ensure they are supportive of the General Plan goals, including encouraging transit-oriented development.
The planning board’s honest, stern assessment of the county’s challenges and practical list of reforms offer the chance for Prince George’s County to change its ways. County leadership has shown some appetite for meaningful reforms. At the request of the county council and executive, the state delegation enabled the county to reduce fees for developments around Metro stations during the last Maryland legislative session.
The County Council is also advancing a bill to expedite development review for projects close to Metro stations. Meanwhile, the debate over where to locate the proposed Regional Medical Center has shifted away from expansive open sites to parcels around the Largo Town Center Metro station.
However, the county’s spending priorities still reflect business as usual, with a focus on building costly intersections for new communities like National Harbor and Konterra instead of investments to enhance access to transit stations or improve bus service. Expensive sprawl-supporting highway projects remain high on the county’s wish list for state funding, such as roads to support the 6,000-acre greenfield Westphalia development located outside the Capital Beltway and miles from the nearest Metro station.
Despite the mixed and sometimes contradictory priorities pursued by the county, the Planning Board and staff are making waves by pointing out the costs of continuing old ways that will allow the county to fall further behind.
Photos courtesy of Greater Greater Washington.
Dear Mr. Walter:
The Coalition for Smarter Growth, with members and partner groups in Northern Virginia, hereby submits these comments on the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Tier 1 Draft Environmental Impact Statement for I-66 (“outside the Beltway”).
We agree that addressing transportation in the I-66 corridor should be a top priority. We are pleased that the study considers a range of transit modes and focuses on person-trips. However, we are concerned that this 2040-oriented study fails to offer a long-term, sustainable and effective solution both for 2040 and the decades following. Presuming one of the build alternatives meets the capacity needs for 2040, what happens after 2040? More lanes?
The study appears to favor the managed lane (congestion-priced, high occupancy toll lane scenario), but does that scenario really offer the long term demand reduction and capacity that a high-capacity transit with transit-oriented land use would offer?
Documentation is far too limited for why this study favors managed lanes and there is no analysis of the comparative effects on land use of each of the modes.
The most significant shortcoming is the failure to evaluate an integrated land use and transit scenario that would offer a way to more effectively reduce the growth in driving demand and provide the capacity to handle the demand that does come. We have made this comment repeatedly with VDOT studies, yet never do VDOT studies include such a scenario.
The land use discussion is particularly thin and at too high a level (see 22.214.171.124). As was found in the Tysons study, mixing uses, providing a local grid of streets, and measuring the results using more compact traffic analysis zones can show remarkable SOV trip reductions and transit mode share increases — networking these centers with Tysons could provide synergistic vehicle demand reduction benefits, while improving reliable access to jobs.
The study should evaluate an alternative land use scenario linking transit-oriented development (compact, walkable, mixed-use communities linked to transit), with land conservation of rural areas, and high capacity transit, in order to maximize transit trips, minimize vehicle trips, and to provide the means to handle future growth. The study explicitly states that it has excluded a systems oriented transit scenario, but a systems oriented transit and TOD scenario is exactly what’s needed and should be combined with TDM measures and targeted bottleneck and safety improvements in a composite scenario.
Table ES-1 shows that a transit approach matched with TDM and addressing chokepoints would rank highest in meeting the needs identified in the Purpose in Need, yet the study did not provide an integrated scenario linking transit, TDM and addressing chokepoints.
Since the Council of Governments adopted Region Forward Plan and Compact is framed as a transit-oriented future for the region, this study should have studied such a regional scenario. Once again a too narrow corridor focus improperly exclude the networked transit and TOD solution.
The Purpose and Need Statement fails to include what should be key goals for the corridor. While the stated purpose ” is to improve multimodal mobility along the I-66 corridor by providing diverse travel choices in a cost-effective manner, and to enhance transportation safety and travel reliability for the public along the I-66 corridor,” it should also include goals to reduce demand for single occupant vehicle trips (including vehicle miles traveled and vehicle trips), by increasing mode share for non-auto trips through transit and changes in land use — changes in both the location of future development and improved community design which would result in higher transit ridership. Again, looking to the long term, the stated goals cannot be met unless demand reduction goals are also a core goal and focus of this study.
In addition Purpose and Needs states, “the identified needs to be addressed include: transportation capacity deficiencies, major points of congestion, limited travel mode choices, safety deficiencies, and lack of transportation predictability,” orients the study too much toward capacity expansion and fails to include as key needs, such as reducing driving demand and improving land use to reduce driving demand and increase non-auto mode share.
The study is also artificially separated from the analysis of I-66 inside the Beltway even though a substantial proportion of inbound trips travels inside the Beltway and will have impacts all the way into D.C..
The study also inappropriately and without explanation excludes a dedicated transit and HOV scenario, leaving expanded HOV scenarios completely out of the study.
While the practice is to include all projects in the CLRP in the No Build scenario, inclusion of the controversial Route 234 extension (TriCounty Parkway western alignment) which would open up rural areas to more development and increase traffic would likely make the No Build perform worse than it would otherwise.
By separating a full tolling analysis from this story, it’s not possible to get a full picture of the effects of HOT lanes on transit usage, carpooling, general purpose lanes and parallel roadways. A full toll effects analysis should not be deferred to a separate study. Moreover the relative benefits of privately tolled should be compared to public tolling, including the ability to use public tolling to fund more transit service in the corridor.
We were very concerned by the way Tiering of the I-81 study, which also failed to study a composite solution recommended by our group, was used to later foreclose the offering of a composite alternative at Tier 2. In addition, by tying the Tiering with the concept of “projects of independent utility,” a too general and flawed Tier 1 study can then open the door to allowing VDOT to move forward with whichever project it wishes and to foreclose more effective system wide alternatives. Here, the issue may involve specific segments, but equally likely it would allow VDOT to move forward with just one component of the Integrated Concept Scenarios — such as tolled, managed lanes. In fact, the discussion of the ICS, very clearly proposes to allow VDOT to move forward with just one component. Read with other chapters of this study, it appears that the study is framed to favor the tolled, managed lanes.
The study cites the 1999 MIS in a history of previous studies but fails to note the stated preference of elected officials at that time (at least Fairfax County and probably others) for a transit-first solution.
We are also concerned that the Memorandum of Understanding, which we do not believe was subject to public comment, is also structured to focus on and favor a tolled, managed lane scenario, rather than another potentially non-tolled scenario. The study states that per the MOA, decisions on the following will be made upon completion of the Tier 1 study:
- The concepts to be advanced for the I-66 corridor, including transit improvements, transportation demand management strategies, and/or roadway improvements. Within these concepts, consideration will be given to managed lanes and tolling;
- The general location for studying future highway and transit improvements in Tier 2 NEPA document(s);
- Identification of projects with independent utility to be evaluated in Tier 2 NEPA document(s) and evaluated pursuant to other environmental laws; and
- Advancing tolling for subsequent study in Tier 2 NEPA document(s).
With points one and four focused on tolling, and the potential intention to use the “projects of independent utility” to advance only the tolled portion of an ICS, the study appears to improperly lean toward one approach over others — the tolled, managed lanes.
The entry and exit tables are confusing because it’s not clear from the use of eastern, middle and western tables where the greatest demand may lie nor what the primary origin and destination data might be.
The COG growth projections which are used by this study fail to account for the dramatic changes in demographics, market demand and energy prices, nor a future of higher energy prices. In turn, having had one of the largest expansions of the federal government in recent history shifting to a very likely downsizing, especially in defense, means that the growth projections should be reevaluated. This can mean substantially less growth in outer areas. In turn, it’s important to note that the allocation of growth within the region is a subjective exercise and that high growth assigned to outer areas is not inevitable, nor is the form of that growth.
In addition, use of percentages for growth can be misleading and tables should be provided to show the magnitude of growth. In addition, the report may overstate Gainesville/Haymarket growth while understating Tysons Corner growth.
While VDOT might argue that it is not responsible for land use, when billions of dollars are at stake, a thorough analysis of cost-effective alternatives must look at alternative growth scenarios. And simply because an agency is not responsible for a subject area like land use, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be studied in an EIS as a potential piece of an alternative. VDOT itself has published a report on the benefits of “Transportation Efficient Land Use” yet inappropriately eliminates such demand management solutions from this corridor.
Again in chapter 3 (figure 3-1), the process for evaluating solutions is flawed by ruling out TDM and system/out of corridor solutions early in the proces.
The four step evaluation approach (3-2) is also flawed for failing to look at alternative growth scenarios and changes in land use combined with other TDM approaches, meaning that the total travel demand entered in the first step may be higher than it would otherwise be.
We don’t understand and are concerned by the statement on 3-6 that “Demand is also based on
unconstrained capacity on I-66 itself (although connecting roads were constrained) in order to
ascertain total demand.” That would seem to inflate the travel demand and overly favor capacity expansion solutions.
It doesn’t appear that the study factors in the congestion feedback signal from congestion in the general purpose lanes which would lead to higher transit use or new residents and jobs moving to transit-accessible locations as has been happening in recent years.
It’s not clear from Table 3-1 if the transit ridership numbers are based on transit-efficient land use or a continued pattern of auto dependent development in Prince William and western Fairfax, where transit efficient development might result in higher transit ridership. It’s also not clear whether the managed lane scenario counts transit trips in the lanes — trips that could also be achieved by HOV/transit lanes without tolls.
Again, Table 3-3 shows that combining transit with a chokepoints solution could meet more components of the Purpose and Need than the managed lanes.
Table 3-4 lacks adequate supporting documentation and is a virtual “black-box” to the public. The ICS alternatives fail to include non-tolled HOV with transit in any of the alternatives, which biases the study to managed toll lanes. It does not appear that the transit ridership factors in congestion feedback from the general purpose lanes.
It is unclear how Table 3-4 and Table ES-2 footprint widths are calculated.
The “Key Findings” (3-9) don’t appear to be fully substantiated. For example, it states:
- “Other than the two-lane Managed Lanes concept (ML2) which accommodates autos and buses alike, single mode improvement concepts result in large corridor width, high cost, poor efficiency, and/or inability to serve total demand.” Would that indeed be true of Metrorail or an HOV/BRT approach, with each tied to transit-efficient land use?
- Another stated finding is that: “The share of trips made either by transit or in multi-occupant vehicles for those ICSs that perform best against the Table 3-4 metrics reach over 80 percent. While accommodating such high percentages of trips by transit and multi-occupant vehicles would be very difficult, the fact that these percentages are so high is indicative of the benefit of including transit and managed lanes that can carry large numbers of person-trips as part of the solution.” If that is the case, why not use an HOV and transit solution rather than only use tolled, managed lanes with the various transit modes?
- Another stated finding is that “The projected peak period travel demands in the corridor highlight the need for a transportation solution that provides space efficiency – the ability to carry large numbers of persons within limited spaces. Managed Lanes and fixed-guideway transit (in descending order of carrying capacity: Metrorail Extension, Bus Rapid Transit, and Light Rail Transit) provide space efficiency. But do managed lanes really provide space efficiency when the interchange needs of having dual sets of ramps are factored in? The interchanges on the 495 HOT lanes have taken a substantial number of acres with a profound impact on surrounding communities.
Conclusion: It is critical to get this Tier I study right because completion of this study will likely foreclose consideration of alternatives at the Tier 2 stage. The study appears biased toward the managed lane approach by failing to analyze non-toll HOV with transit alternatives and by failing to analyze a composite transit, transit-efficient land use, TDM and chokepoint alternative (a systems oriented approach and one that would meet the regional goals in Region Forward). The study does not substantiate the footprint, ridership, table 3-4 ratios, and costs; and the “findings” are also unsubstantiated. Effects on land use are not addressed.
- We request the opportunity for additional time for peer review of this study by independent transportation planners.
- We also request that VDOT’s report on Transportation Efficient Development be considered in this study along with the goals of Region Forward.
- Finally we request that this study be delayed until the composite alternative that we highlight is analyzed using alternative growth and land use.
Battle lines are forming over the north-south transportation corridor in Northern Virginia. Backers say it would serve a growing population and stimulate economic development. Foes say the state has more urgent priorities for spending $1 billion or more.
Red line shows approximate route of the North-South Corridor where it runs through the Manassas Battlefield and extensive farmland.
Northern Virginia, we hear over and over, is one of the most congested regions in the nation – perhaps the most congested. Even with new mega-projects coming on line like interstate express lanes and the rail-to-Dulles Metro service, the list of transportation needs seems endless. Most improvements under consideration are designed to ameliorate the traffic gridlock that grips the region now. But one particular cluster of projects zooming through the bureaucratic approval process is designed to address traffic congestion that is forecast to be a problem… in 2040.
In 2011, the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) added the so-called North-South Corridor west of Dulles International Airport to its list of strategically important Corridors of Statewide Significance (CoSS), a designation that gives priority funding to projects within the corridor. It was the first time the CTB had added a new corridor not based upon an existing Interstate or rail line. Fast-tracking the project, the McDonnell administration has held public hearings and plans to present findings regarding a specific route and the cost to build a limited access highway this month.
Backers say Northern Virginia needs a north-south corridor – in particular, a limited access highway known in different configurations as the Tri-County Parkway or Bi-County Parkway — to accommodate the region’s fast-growing population and employment, and also to promote freight cargo-related economic development around Dulles International Airport.
“If you look at the population projections of the [Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments] and the Commonwealth of Virginia, you see a major percentage of future growth in Northern Virginia does occur in this corridor and points west,” says Bob Chase, president of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance. “Loudoun and Prince William counties will add a couple hundred thousand people over the next 20 to 30 years.”
But skeptics describe the project as a wildly speculative endeavor that might enrich big landowners whose properties could be developed but otherwise do little to address Northern Virginia’s most pressing concerns. In particular, they say, Northern Virginia growth patterns in the 1990s and 2000s have zero predictive value for the future.
“The world has changed. Our population is older and is downsizing their homes. Empty nesters and younger workers want to live closer to jobs and transit, and in more urban places,” says Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth (CSG). “Moreover, the region has far more pressing needs serving existing population centers and addressing existing congestion. We need every dollar to fix existing commuter routes like I-66.”
Funding the north-south corridor, says Schwartz, would be “a misallocation of scarce resources.”
Only a year ago, the point seemed moot. Virginia was running out of state funds for new highway construction projects. But the north-south corridor controversy is sure to flare now that the General Assembly and Governor Bob McDonnell are close to approving a restructuring of transportation taxes that is expected to raise $800 million a year statewide for new transportation spending. Projects that had been pushed to the back shelves suddenly look fundable.
$2 Billion dollar project?
Northern Virginia’s major transportation arteries – Interstate 95, Interstate 66 and the Dulles Toll Road – all converge on the I-495 Capital Beltway or Washington, D.C., itself. Over the decades, population growth, job growth and development have followed those pathways out from the urban core. North-south arterials have been built to connect that growth, including the Fairfax County Parkway in the center of Fairfax County, and Rt. 28, farther west. The North-South corridor would represent a fourth such arterial but it would serve hypothetical future transportation demand, not a demand that exists at present.
Although the final plan has not yet been published, the North-South corridor likely will follow a path something like this:
- Apexct its southern terminus the highway will start at Interstate 95 in Prince William County. It will follow the existing Rt. 234, which becomes a partially limited access highway west of Manassas.
- The highway will proceed north across I-66 along the western boundary of the Manassas Battlefield and run parallel to Pageland Lane through miles of farmland, in areas zoned for low density — the so-called Tri-County Parkway.
- The highway will incorporate Loudoun’s expansion of Northstar Boulevard, crossing another stretch of undeveloped land, where it will connect to Belmont Ridge Road until it reaches the northern terminus at Rt. 7.
Because corridors of statewide significance are designated multimodal corridors, not just highways, the north-south corridor plan could include other components such as tolled express lanes and, in theory, Bus Rapid Transit, although there is unlikely to be much demand for mass transit in a rural area far from major job centers. Also, the McDonnell administration is studying the idea of linking the proposed highway to the western approaches of Dulles airport and upgrading Rt. 606, which runs along the western edge of the airport. These improvements would open property on the west side of the airport for commercial development.
Smart growth groups like the Coalition for Smarter Growth and the Piedmont Environmental Council view the north-south corridor as the same as an Outer Beltway proposal that belly-flopped more than a decade ago, with the main difference being that the McDonnell administration seems willing to build it piece by piece rather than all at once. The original plan for the Outer Beltway was to continue north, bridging the Potomac River and hooking up with a major Maryland arterial, opening vast tracts of relatively inaccessible land for new subdivisions and shopping centers. Maryland officials have made it clear that they have no interest in such a collaboration but the Virginia Department of Transportation is footing the bill in a separate study to examine the feasibility of building another Potomac crossing at an unspecified location.
The Office of Intermodal Planning and Investment (OIPI) is scheduled to present its recommendations to the CTB regarding the routing and corridor improvements, says Dironna Belton, OIPI policy and program manager. The OIPI will not make its cost estimates available until then.
Schwartz with the CSG guesstimates that the north-south corridor would cost a minimum of nearly $1 billion — figure $19 million per mile for 50 miles — only a small portion of which could be paid for by tolls. Some of the highway would follow the existing Rt. 234, he says, but construction work on an operating road is very expensive. Throw in some interchanges and the cost of connecting the highway to Dulles airport, he says, and the project could approach $2 billion.
The argument for a north-south corridor is based upon the proposition that jobs and population growth will continue booming on the western edge of the Washington metropolitan region. That case is buttressed by forecasts made by the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service’s Demographics & Workforce Group, which serve as the basis for state and local government planning purposes.
Here are the Weldon Cooper projections for the year 2040, listing jurisdictions in rough order of their proximity to the Washington urban core.
According to the Weldon Cooper projections, jurisdictions in the urban core like Arlington and Alexandria will see no growth – or actually shrink. Following the radius out from the core, Fairfax County will continue to see substantial growth in absolute numbers but only moderate growth as a percentage of its already-large population. The bulk of the population growth will occur in outer-ring counties, especially Loudoun and Prince William but also, traveling down Interstate 95, Stafford and Spotsylvania.
In just Loudoun and Prince William counties and Manassas, the jurisdictions directly served by the north-south corridor, the population is expected to grow by nearly 500,000 by 2040.
In its study of the north-south corridor, the McDonnell administration has embraced the forecast of booming exurban growth. “Nearly 700,000 jobs, 800,000 people, and 300,000 new households are expected to join [Northern Virginia] over this 30-year timeframe,” states an OIPI newsletter. “Much of this future growth is expected to occur within Loudoun and Prince William Counties. Larger portions of the new employment and population growth are expected within the North-South corridor area.”
According to maps published in the OIPI newsletter, population in the corridor study area itself will increase by 190,000 and jobs by 127,000. Population in areas immediately to the west will grow by 230,000 more.
Chase with the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance argues that the growth projections actually might be conservative. In a recent email, he distributed a chart, based upon National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board data, comparing a 1990-to-2010 job-growth forecast made for the Washington region with actual performance. Urban-core jurisdictions like Washington, Alexandria and Arlington under-performed the forecast by a wide margin while outer jurisdictions tended to out-perform the forecast. “These trends are expected to continue for decades to come,” he wrote.
In the battle over a proposed outer beltway a decade ago, which would have run more or less the same route, the Piedmont Environmental Council had warned that building the beltway would generate a population explosion, says Chase. “We didn’t build the corridor but the people came anyway.”
The idea that building roads causes population growth to occur that would not otherwise is wrong, Chase says, particularly in places like Northern Virginia with a strong economy and people moving in from all around the country.
Creating a north-south corridor makes sense, he says. As he wrote in the email cited above: “Most of the region’s workforce lives outside the Beltway and employers are moving closer to their workers. Moving jobs closer to where people live is more efficient than moving people (longer distances) to jobs. It reduces commutes and creates a better balanced, stronger regional economy.”
A big problem with the Weldon Cooper population projections and all the forecasts based upon them is that they extrapolate past trends into the future. There is reason to question whether Northern Virginia can replicate the population and employment growth of the go-go 2000s during the austere 2010s.
The terrorist attack on 9/11/2001 precipitated a decade-long growth in spending on defense, intelligence and homeland security, with much of the money going to federal agencies and contractors in Northern Virginia. With Washington adither over unsustainable budget deficits, however, the main question today is by how much defense spending will shrink. Likewise, spending on discretionary (non-entitlement) domestic spending is expected to level off, according to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) data show below. While federal spending is not likely to collapse any time soon, it won’t provide the jet fuel for Northern Virginia’s growth that it has in the past.
Not only is population and employment growth likely to slow, smart growth advocates contend that the pattern of that diminished growth is shifting dramatically away from the peripheral counties of the Washington MSA back toward the urban core.
Many urban economists believe that the forces impelling metropolitan growth to green-fields on the periphery have petered out or even reversed themselves. That doesn’t mean there won’t be any job or population growth in places like Loudoun and Prince William, but it does suggest that growth could fall far short of projections based on past trends.
Major economic and demographic shifts are transforming growth patterns across America. Most notably, the cost of automobile ownership is outstripping the rate of inflation and household incomes. Over the past decade (2003 to 2013), the Internal Revenue Service deduction for business travel, a good proxy for the cost of owning and operating a car, surged 57% to 56.5 cents per mile, far faster than the 26% increase in the consumer price index over the same period.
There is good reason to believe that the cost of ownership will continue to rise. Global supply and demand forces will continue to push the cost of gasoline higher. Interest rates, a critical factor for automobile financing, can hardly get any lower and likely will climb. Federal fuel economy standards will save on gasoline costs but increase the cost of purchasing cars — a 2012 study by the American Automobile Association indicated that 122,000 licensed drivers in Virginia, or 1.9%, would be priced out of the market. Meanwhile, automobiles are evolving into mobile communication and connectivity hubs that add tremendous functionality but also push up the price. While the cost of driving is increasing, incomes are stagnating for the bottom 80% of income earners. Assuming the laws of economics still hold, Americans will adapt to the higher cost of automobile ownership by driving less.
That economic trend dovetails with major demographic trends. Two-thirds of all households today consist of singles, childless couples, or empty-nesters, and that proportion will rise over the next 20 years, Christopher Leinberger , a real estate developer, Brookings Institution fellow and author of “The Option of Urbanism,” has argued. Those households don’t need a big suburban yard where Little Johnny can run and play. They prefer smaller accommodations that require less maintenance and offer a variety of transportation options. Indeed, Leinberger says, there is a huge housing surplus in what he terms the “drivable suburbs” and a pent-up demand for what he calls “walkable urbanism” where inhabitants can meet many of their daily needs by walking, biking or riding mass transit.
The evolving priorities are most evident among Millennials, the rising generation of 20- to 30-year-olds, who appear to be less enamored with automobiles than their parents were. In 2008, according to the Federal Highway Administration, only 46.3 percent of potential drivers 19 years old and younger had drivers’ licenses, compared to 64.4 percent in 1998. Similarly, drivers in their twenties drove 12 percent fewer miles in 2009 than twenty-somethings did in 1995. In big cities, many Millennials are abandoning the idea of car ownership and flocking to rental services like ZipCar and ride-sharing services like SideCar and Lyft.
Consistent with these trends, the 12-month moving average of Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) plateaued in 2006 around 3 trillion miles, according to Federal Highway Administration data, and has dipped since then. Adjust for population growth, as seen in the chart below, and the decline is striking.
Graphic credit: Business Insider.
In the Washington region, developers are pouring billions of dollars into re-developing the District, close-in suburbs like Arlington, and even middle-band suburbs like Fairfax County. D.C.’s population increased by 30,000 over the previous 27 months, the Census Bureau reported in December 2012. Arlington planners, who count some 1,380 housing units under construction at present, project that 36,000 residents will move to their county by 2040 — diametrically opposite to Weldon Cooper’s prediction forecast that the jurisdiction will shed 23,500 people.
Here is the breakdown for population growth in 2012. At this point Loudoun and Prince William, which are working off a large inventory of houses and lots from the recession, are on pace with the Weldon Cooper projections. But Arlington and D.C. are coming on strong.
Meanwhile, Fairfax County is the sleeping giant. Nowhere is the shift in human settlement patterns more visible than at the 10 Metro stops planned for the Silver Line. Literally tens of millions of square feet of walkable, mixed-use development are planned for Metro stations along the Dulles Corridor. Fairfax County is undertaking a massive, multibillion-dollar transformation of Tysons from the prototypical auto-centric suburban office district into a pedestrian-friendly community. The addition of a strong residential component to Tysons alone could absorb between 20,000 and 40,000 new inhabitants by 2040.
Given the pent-up demand for transit-oriented development and the massive resources committed to building it in Northern Virginia, diverting resources to the North-South corridor makes no sense, contends Morgan Butler, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC). Investing in the Silver Line so Tysons can be the center of growth while building a highway that facilitates sprawl are mutually contradictory aims, he says. Transit-oriented development represents the future, he says, and state and local authorities should focus limited resources on making it work.
Northern Virginia has many transportation needs that are urgent right now, much less three decades from now. Just one example: A recently issued Environmental Impact Statement found, for example, that nearly half of a 25-mile stretch of Interstate 66 outside the Capital Beltway operates at a Level of Service E or F (worse than free-flow conditions) during morning rush hour. Nearly two-thirds are deficient during the afternoon rush hour.
What kind of traffic relief could Northern Virginia buy with the $1 billion or more proposed for the Tri-County Parkway?
A coalition of smart-growth and conservation groups has published an alternative to the Tri-County Parkway that would not only protect Loudoun and Prince William farmland and steer traffic away from the Manassas Battlefield Park but ameliorate congestion that afflicts commuters here and now. States their “Updated Composite Alternative”:
Our alternative is designed to address the much greater need for east-west commuter movement and to provide for dispersed, local north-south movement for current and future traffic. Access to Dulles is provided by the completion of upgrades to Route 28 from I-66 north, improvements to the I-66 corridor, and upgrades to the Route 234/Route 28 connection and Route 28 on the east side of the Cities of Manassas and Manassas Park. The composite set of connections is designed to improve traffic movement throughout the area, benefitting more travelers and trip types than would the single large north-south highway proposal.
The document does not contain a cost estimate for the alternative projects, which includes mass transit and lots of local road fixes, so it’s not clear if the proposals constitute an apples-to-apples comparison with the proposed north-south corridor improvements. What is clear is that there is no lack of pressing projects competing for that $1-$2 billion.
The Air Cargo Push
Backers of a north-south corridor cite a second justification for the Bi-County Parkway: By improving access to Dulles International Airport, a highway would promote warehouse and logistics investment around Dulles Airport and even in Prince William County.
The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) plans to develop 400 acres of airport property on Route 606, while Loudoun County is promoting 500 acres on the north-south corridor for cargo expansion, according to a December 2012 presentation made by Garrett Moore, then-district administrator for Northern Virginia. VDOT is conducting an environmental assessment for widening Rt. 606 on the western edge of Dulles’ property and a variety of other projects to improve western access to the airport.
“My gut tells me that Dulles in terms of cargo is about where we were with passengers in 1982. In those days, … there was very little passenger activity,” says Leo Schefer, president of the Washington Airports Task Force. But passenger service did take off. Dulles now is one of the busiest airports in the country and an economic engine of Northern Virginia. Schefer sees a parallel process underway with air freight. The established air cargo gateways are becoming more congested and more expensive to operate. The big logistics companies can cover their bets, he suggests, by establishing a presence at Dulles, which has enormous expansion potential and superior operating economics.
Schefer concedes that cargo-related development is not a sure thing. Unlike passenger service, in which airlines respond to rising traffic volume, “air cargo is more of an economic development exercise.” Northern Virginia economic developers need to persuade the big logistics companies to use Dulles as a strategic gateway where they can consolidate operations. That won’t be the easiest sell because the Washington region is not itself a huge market for air cargo. “We don’t produce much here besides paper,” he quips.
Northern Virginia is too expensive for the manufacturing sector, a major customer of air freight. However, Schefer sees that changing as new super high-tech manufacturing technologies are deployed and increasingly automated manufacturing processes rely upon fewer, more highly skilled employees. That kind of manufacturing could thrive in the region, he suggests, especially if manufacturers could avail themselves of superior air-freight access.
Be that as it may, Dulles has the real estate to accommodate large warehouses. “Logistics companies will want to see better truck connections,” Schefer says. “That’s where the north-south corridor comes in: A highway would provide superior access to markets to the west and south.”
Local economic developers view the situation similarly. “We view [the corridor] as an asset,” says Brent Heavner, marketing and research manager for the Prince William County Department of Economic Development. “One of the advantages of having better north-south transportation capacity is the market it opens up for industrial, warehouse and distribution users” in Prince William County, particularly the western county. “Right now those operations are at a disadvantage due to the circuitous route they have to move their freight to reach Dulles.”
A beefed-up air freight operation at Dulles might find itself competing with Richmond International Airport (RIC), which also has positioned itself as an air cargo handler. At this point, however, Dulles’ air-cargo ambitions have not made much of an impression on RIC. It’s not something airport management has studied, says Troy Bell, director of marketing and air service development. “We’re not anti-Dulles. But we have capacity and a very capable field.”
Schwartz remains skeptical of the economic-development argument. “Dulles is pushing its dreams on the rest of us. … They’ve justified the corridor by cargo growth at Dulles Airport. We think that’s a red herring. Air freight is a tiny percentage of total freight traffic.” While Dulles boosters have been promoting the north-south corridor, he adds, the air freight companies themselves have been conspicuously quiet.
There may be sufficient locally generated traffic demand to justify four-laning Rt. 606 on the west side of Dulles, a project that would cost $50 million, Schwartz says. But the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) wants eight lanes and four interchanges, which could bump the project up to $300 million. “They’re asking for the taxpayer to pay for the expansion of Rt. 606. Why shouldn’t they pay for it?”
The way forward
In sum there are several imponderables the state needs to consider before putting money into the north-south corridor:
- Federal budget. Will the federal government deal with chronic deficits and a mounting national debt by cutting defense and discretionary spending, the lifeblood of the Washington metropolitan economy, and what impact would a spending slowdown have on population and job growth in Northern Virginia, particularly in the area served by the north-south corridor?
- End of sprawl. Do economic and demographic trends portend an historic shift in the pattern of growth and development in the Washington region, away from the growth frontier served by the north-south corridor and back toward walkable urbanism served by mass transit?
- Dulles air freight. Does Dulles air-freight traffic have a realistic shot at growth, and how significant is the economic impact of that growth?
- Alternative investments. How much will North-South corridor improvements cost, and how else could funds be deployed to mitigate congestion and create economic value?
Anyone can say anything. Anyone can make unsubstantiated claims. As Nassim Taleb, author of “The Black Swan” and “Antifragile” observed, however, players with “skin in the game” — with something to lose if they’re wrong — deserve to be taken more seriously than outside pundits and prognosticators.
One option for the commonwealth would be to solicit bids to build the Tri-City Parkway and other corridor improvements by means of a public-private partnership, in which private-sector partners would invest their own money. Private investors, unlike parties with a political or ideological axe or something material to gain or lose, would have every incentive to develop realistic projections for the key drivers of traffic volume and toll revenue: population, employment and air-freight growth. If corridor improvements create sufficient economic value, it should be possible to pay for the project with toll road revenue. If the demand is lacking or takes too long to materialize, as happened to private investors in the Dulles Greenway, private players will pay the cost of their miscalculation with their own money — not the taxpayers’.
The McDonnell administration’s experience with the U.S. 460 project between Petersburg and Suffolk, designed to serve a projected increase in port-related traffic, is instructive. Soliciting bids from three construction consortia, the Office of Public Private Transportation Partnerships discovered that the private sector was willing to fund only a tiny portion of the project. Demand for the facility would be more uncertain and take longer to materialize than originally anticipated. In a controversial decision, the administration chose to commit more than $1 billion in public funds anyway in the hope that the highway would attract major industrial investment.
Soliciting public-private partnership proposals for the North-South Corridor could yield similarly useful information. How much of their own money would investors bet on the prospect of massive population and employment growth in eastern Loudoun and western Prince William? Investor willingness to fund the project would eliminate grounds for complaining that the project is diverting state funds from Northern Virginia’s other transportation needs. Similarly, the unwillingness of investors to put their own money into the project without a massive state subsidy would be a clear sign that the anticipated benefits are either too meager, too chancey or too slow to materialize to warrant investment at this time.
Images courtesy of Bacon’s Rebellion
Nearly five months after opening, the operators of the 495 Express Lanes are struggling to attract motorists to their congestion-free toll road in a region mired in some of the worst traffic congestion in the country.
Transurban, the construction conglomerate that put up $1.5 billion to build the 14-mile, EZ Pass-only corridor on the Beltway between the I-95 interchange and Dulles Toll Road, will let motorists use the highway free this weekend in a bid to win more converts.
“It takes a lot of time for drivers in the area to adapt to new driving behaviors. A lot of us are kind of stuck on autopilot on our commutes. That trend might continue for a while, too,” said Transurban spokesman Michael McGurk.
Light use of HOT lanes raises questions
McGurk says some drivers are confused about the new highway’s many entry and exit points. Opening the Express Lanes for free rides this weekend will let motorists familiarize themselves with the road, he said.
After opening in mid-November, the 495 Express Lanes lost money during its first six weeks in business. Operating costs exceeded toll revenues, but Transurban was not expecting to turn an immediate profit. In the long term, however, company officials have conceded they are not guaranteed to make money on their investment. Transurban’s next quarterly report is due at the end of April.
To opponents of the project, five months of relatively light traffic on Virginia’s new $2 billion road is enough to draw judgments. Vehicle miles traveled (VMT) has not recovered since the recession knocked millions out of work and more commuters are seeking alternatives to the automobile, according to Stewart Schwartz, the executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth.
“They miscalculated peoples’ time value of money. They overestimated the potential demand for this road,” said Schwartz, who said the light use of the 495 Express Lanes should serve as a warning.
“We should not have rushed into signing a deal for hot lanes for the 95 corridor, and we certainly shouldn’t rush into any deal on I-66,” he said.
Transurban is counseling patience.
“We’re still in a ramp-up period. You’ve probably heard us say that since the beginning, too, but with a facility like this it’s a minimum six months to two years until the region falls into a regular pattern on how they’re going to use this facility,” McGurk said.
In its first six weeks of operations toll revenues climbed on the 495 Express Lanes from daily averages of $12,000 in the first week to $24,000 in the week prior to Christmas. Traffic in the same period increased from an average of 15,000 daily trips to 24,000, according to company records. Despite the increases, operating expenses still outstripped revenues.
It is possible that traffic is not bad enough outside of the morning and afternoon rush hours to push motorists over to the EZ Pass lanes on 495.
“It may also show that it takes only a minor intervention to remove enough cars from the main lanes to let them flow better,” said Schwartz, who said the 14-mile corridor is simply pushing the bottleneck further up the road.
Even Transurban’s McGurk says many customers who have been surveyed complain that once they reach the Express Lanes’ northern terminus at Rt. 267 (Dulles Toll Road), the same terrible traffic awaits them approaching the American Legion Bridge.
Express Lanes a litmus test for larger issues
The success or failure of the 495 Express Lanes will raise one of the region’s most pressing questions as it looks to a future of job and population growth: how best to move people and goods efficiently. Skeptics of highway expansions, even new facilities that charge tolls as a form of congestion pricing, say expanding transit is cheaper and more effective.
“An approach that gives people more options and reduces driving demand through transit and transit-oriented development may be the better long-term solution. But we’ve never had these DOTs give us a fair comparison between a transit-oriented investment future for our region and one where they create this massive network of HOT lanes,” said Schartz, who said a 2010 study by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments pegged the cost of a tolled network of 1,650-lane miles of regional highways at $50 billion.
Transportation experts say a form of congestion pricing, either tolled lanes or a vehicle miles traveled tax, may be part of a regional solution to congestion. The public, however, needs to be explained why.
“As long as the majority of system remains non-tolled and congested then you are not going to solve the problem,” said Joshua Schank, the president of the Eno Center for Transportation, a D.C.-based think tank.
“Highways in this region are drastically underpriced. People are not paying enough to maintain them and they certainly are not paying enough to pay for the cost of congestion. The American people have been sold a bill of goods because they have been told that roads are free. Roads cost money,” he added.
The 495 Express Lanes are dynamically-priced, meaning the tolls increase with demand for the lanes. The average toll per trip in the highway’s first six weeks of operations was $1.07, according to Transurban records. As motorists enter the lanes they see signs displaying how much it will cost to travel to certain exits, but no travel time estimates are displayed. “It is important to be very clear to drivers about the benefit of taking those new lanes, and I am not sure that has happened so far,” said Schank, who said it is too early to conclude if the Express Lanes are working as designed.
“It’s hard to know if it works by looking whether the lanes are making money. I don’t know if that is the right metric. It’s the right metric for Transurban, but it’s not necessarily the right metric from a public sector perspective,” he said. “The real metric is to what extent does it improve economic development and regional accessibility, and that’s a much harder analysis that takes some real research and time.”
Photo courtesy of Transportation Nation
Please accept our testimony on behalf of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. My organization works to ensure that transportation and development decisions in the Washington D.C. region accommodate growth while revitalizing communities, providing more housing and travel choices, and conserving our natural and historic areas.
We wish to express our support for the revised Master Plan for the McMillan Sand Filtration Plant proposal. The new plan takes an already thoughtful plan and provides additional open space and careful treatment of the unique historic resources of the site. The plan will restore and provide public access to key elements of the distinctive historic resources. This would not be possible without the redevelopment program that helps pay for the cost of the restoration.
We recognize that the expansion of park space on the site was in part driven by D.C. Water’s enhancement of stormwater management and flood mitigation efforts. The expanded park space, driven both by D.C. Water and public demand for a larger park, has traded off a significant loss of affordable housing for the space. This is a major disappointment and a loss of D.C.’s use of public lands to address the housing needs of many residents, especially at lower income levels of 60 percent of AMI and below.
Notwithstanding this significant loss, we recognize the important historic preservation, public space, housing, and commercial space contributions of the revised Master Plan. For decades, access to this large area was prohibited, creating a wide gap between surrounding activities and neighborhoods. The revised plan would make this historic resource featured in a major public park a citywide destination. The Master Plan honors and replicates the historic landscape elements of the Olmsted Walk that have disappeared from the site. We agree with the staff comment that additional work should be done with DDOT to ensure that the Olmsted Walk connection to the sidewalk design is more than a standard sidewalk. This might require some flexibility in DDOT’s design standards.
The plan appropriately focuses taller office buildings towards Michigan Avenue and tapers building heights and forms as the development moves south to meet rowhouse neighbors. The plan adds separation to the neighborhood to the south with a large public park. Large scale buildings are needed close to Michigan Avenue to give a sense of enclosure and connect to the Washington Hospital Center. Eventually, we hope these new buildings will encourage reconfiguration of the hospital complex to create more pedestrian-oriented designs.
Preservation of Cell 14 and recreation of the Olmstead Walk along North Capitol Street highlight the historic features of the site; however, they should be balanced with the need to support a better pedestrian environment along these busy streets by better connecting the pedestrian to adjacent uses on the site.
The plan for complementary new uses of retail, offices, and residential will strengthen the facing hospital complex and reconnect the site the city. These proposed uses are likely to build upon and amplify the contribution that current hospital center-related activities make to D.C.’s economy and employment base. While the northern components of the plan better connect the site to its surroundings, the large park and recreated Olmsted Walk also allow the site to stand out as a distinctive and special place.
Overall, we support the revised master plan as a sensitive approach to preserving and making publically accessible this industrial architectural and public works heritage. The housing, retail, and office components help address the needs of a growing city and hospital district. Given that we have already lost a significant number of low income housing units planned in the first Master Plan, we ask that historic design guidance work with existing proposed levels of housing and commercial space, and not force further reductions. While we would like to see significantly more affordable housing in this plan, the redevelopment plan does contribute to important community and citywide needs. The proposed plan for preservation and development is a compromise to enable the restoration of this distinctive historic resource.
Thank you for your consideration.