RELEASE: TransAction Vote

For Immediate Release:
December 8, 2022

Stewart Schwartz, CSG, (703) 599-6437

We believe this planning process is flawed and fails to address the transportation, land use, and climate challenge facing Northern Virginia

Officials to vote on record and unaffordable $75 Billion Transportation Plan for Northern Virginia

Plan is four times more expensive than the available funding estimate, but still would have uneven performance 

Tonight, the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) will vote on a proposed $75 billion transportation plan for the region. The “TransAction” plan provides a laundry list of projects through the year 2045 from which the agency can pick and choose for funding decisions.

High price tag: NVTA refers to TransAction as a needs-based plan; however, just within the five years since the previous plan, these “needs” ballooned from $43 billion to $75 billion, increasing over 50% even when accounting for inflation. This total is approximately four times the available funding that Northern Virginia agencies estimated in the recently adopted financially constrained plan adopted by the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board, which represents suburban Maryland and the District of Columbia in addition to Northern Virginia. 

Mixed performance: “Even if the plan could be built, its performance would still be mixed. TransAction fails to address regional climate change targets. It also relies on widening roads that will increase driving rather than addressing the underlying land use and housing issues that force many Northern Virginians to make long trips by car for simple daily needs,” said Bill Pugh, senior policy fellow for transportation and climate at the Coalition for Smarter Growth. 

Fails to address safety: According to CSG Northern Virginia Advocacy Manager, Sonya Breehey, “This continued auto-dependency and the ever-wider arterials brings into question whether this plan is really creating a safer transportation system. Northern Virginia’s arterials are where a disproportionate number of pedestrians are hit and killed. TransAction provides no data to back up its claim that it will improve safety, which is one of the agency’s core values.”

Public opposition: 67% of the public comments on the plan were negative and asked for changes, many noting that the plan despite its transit projects would still pave over Northern Virginia with 1,000 new miles of highway and arterial lanes. TransAction also seeks to build new bridges and highways across the Potomac into rural areas of Maryland and recommends reviving controversial projects like the Bi-County Parkway in Prince William and Loudoun Counties.

More driving and climate emissions: This massive highway expansion would result in residents driving even more miles to meet daily needs, canceling out the gains of its transit projects. The plan fails to address the auto-centric land use policies and shortage of housing near transit and activity centers that are the root of Northern Virginia’s transportation problems.

“TransAction increases per capita driving 3.4% above the future baseline – and almost 10% in the outer suburbs – when the region needs to instead reduce this by over 20%, even with rapid adoption of electric vehicles, to achieve its climate targets. Both local and national studies show this. We can’t build TransAction and create a safe, sustainable future,” according to Pugh. “There’s no serious analysis for a deadly serious issue. The plan merely says that carbon emissions could increase 1.4% or they could fall by 54% if TransAction is implemented. In either case the region would be far from doing what it needs to meet its climate commitments.”

On the positive side, a proposed Bus Rapid Transit network: The TransAction update proposes a new regional Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) network that if implemented would help transform mobility. The plan recommends 370 miles of new rapid transit lines in Northern Virginia, and states that “A regional BRT system could begin to be implemented in the short to medium term, offering the potential to provide Northern Virginians with new and meaningful travel choices. Such a system could reduce traffic congestion, increase access to jobs, reduce (and possibly reverse) dependency on driving alone, increase transit ridership, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

NVTA’s staff memo on the plan recognizes this, that which projects in the wish list get funding and built will decide whether TransAction really meets the agency’s core values or not: 

“The extent to which projects such as a regional BRT system can help the region achieve its vision and goals through NVTA’s Core Values, will depend in large measure on which projects are selected to advance using federal, state, regional, and local revenues, including NVTA’s regional and local funds.”

This is important, because in recent years NVTA has directed the majority of its regional funding, 60%, to widening highways and arterials and building new interchanges.   

“While the NVTA can point at the proposed expenditures in TransAction and say it’s a multimodal plan because it has a large share going to transit, these dollar amounts are driven by some big ticket major Metrorail projects in the DC core and extensions of the Blue and Orange lines. Those projects would need serious changes in land use policies in Prince William and Fairfax to get implemented, and even so would be decades away. The near-term reality is that NVTA allocates the majority of its funding, about 60%, to widening roads and building new interchanges,” said Pugh.

“We believe the planning process at the NVTA is flawed and is not serving decision makers (our local elected officials), or the public well. It won’t solve our transportation problems. We need a transportation plan that is tied to reducing sprawl development and supporting more walkable, transit-oriented communities. One that will meet our climate crisis by helping people shift travel to more sustainable, affordable, and safer modes and giving them greater proximity to daily needs,” concluded Schwartz.