Category: Statewide

CSG Comments to VDOT/VDRPT on 495 Southside Express Lanes NEPA Study

The Coalition for Smarter Growth appreciates the efforts of the Virginia Department of Transportation
(VDOT) and the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (VDRPT) to improve mobility
within the I-495 corridor between Springfield and Maryland. However, to truly address the needs of the
study area communities on either side of the Woodrow Wilson bridge and the metropolitan region,
VDOT will need to take a broader and more holistic approach consistent with the National
Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

Action Alert: here’s your chance to tell elected officials how you travel & what to build

The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) wants to hear from you as they update their long range transportation plan, TransAction. Take a short survey to let them know about your travel modes and preferences.

Take the survey!

The survey also includes two important questions about the transportation future we want. For Northern Virginia – and for our children and grandchildren – we need one that is more sustainable, healthier, safer, and where we cut the emissions that are fueling climate change. 

NVTA is a regional funding agency for transportation projects. Unfortunately, their long wishlist of road expansion projects included in past TransAction plans won’t get us to our urgent climate targets – even with the important transition to electric vehicles. Northern Virginia needs more walkable, bikeable, and transit-accessible communities – and the transportation projects that support this vision.

Thus far, NVTA has not seriously considered the option of improving our transportation network and access to jobs by bringing jobs, housing, and services closer together in walkable communities. So, when they ask about “reducing congestion” or “improving access to jobs”, the agency is generally viewing this through the lens of making traffic faster through more road widening. The science shows widened roads attract more driving and fill up in as little as five years.

Parting thoughts

This time the TransAction plan has to be different, especially if we are going to slash the greenhouse gas emissions from transportation that are contributing to climate change. Studies at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments have repeatedly shown that the best performing approach to transportation is a network of walkable, transit-oriented communities. 

Stay tuned as we campaign for a better TransAction plan.

CSG/Sierra Club re: Northern Virginia Transportation Authority 6-year plan update

CSG/Sierra Club re: Northern Virginia Transportation Authority 6-year plan update

September 9, 2021
Fairfax County Board of Supervisors

Dear Members of the Board of Supervisors:

The Sierra Club Great Falls Group and Coalition for Smarter Growth are submitting these comments concerning Fairfax County’s candidate projects for the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority 6-year plan update. We appreciate Fairfax County’s increasing focus on concentrating new development in walkable, bike-able communities near transit. For these smart growth plans to succeed, the County must prioritize transit, pedestrian and bicycle improvements in its applications for transportation funds.

In Fairfax’s current 6-year Transportation Priorities Plan, more than 59% of the anticipated available funds ($1.8 billion) are for road widenings, interchanges, extensions and spot improvements. Only 27.6% ($837.2 million) is programmed for transit capital and operations, and 7.2% ($219.5 million) for bicycle and pedestrian improvements. (Source: Transportation Status Report, Feb. 2021, p. 13) Most of the bicycle and pedestrian improvements are being funded by local sources such as the Commercial and Industrial Tax and a transportation bond. While the county may be able to design and implement individual projects more quickly through using local funding sources, local funds alone are not enough to shift the county toward a cleaner and healthier transportation future within the next 10 years. Fairfax County has a long list of missing pedestrian and bike connections and should seek to fill these gaps in our active transportation network through all available funding sources.

The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority allocates $200 million a year in regional transportation funds, as well as more than $80 million in 30% local-share funds. Fairfax County was awarded more than $700 million in NVTA regional funds for the 2018-23 six-year plan and 2020-25 update, in addition to receiving more than $30 million annually in local-share funds. However, most of Fairfax County’s NVTA projects have been narrowly focused on expanding road capacity for private vehicles. Among Fairfax County’s eight submissions for the NVTA
2020-25 update, for example, seven were road projects, with only one transit project (Route 1 Bus Rapid Transit).

Fairfax County has many bicycle, pedestrian and transit projects that are in the current NVTA Transaction Plan, that need additional funding, and that could be implemented by the 2027 “out” year for the Six-Year Plan update. Moreover, each of these is a regional transportation solution, including Metrorail station access improvements. Fairfax County should make a priority of completing the plans and seeking construction funding to complete these projects within the next six years. These projects include:

  • Herndon Metrorail Station Area access improvements: The Herndon Metrorail Station Access Management Study has identified numerous infrastructure improvements so that people can more easily walk, bicycle, and roll to the future Herndon Metrorail station. These include a pedestrian bridge over the Dulles Toll Road to Monroe Street; trail improvements and new trail links; and design improvements to make Herndon Parkway more pedestrian- and bike-friendly. These improvements should be funded and implemented as soon as possible to maximize the benefits of Metro and transit-oriented development.
  • High-capacity transit on Annandale and Gallows Road from Annandale to Tysons: Compact, walkable, mixed-use development is emerging all along Gallows Road, especially at INOVA, Mosaic, Dunn Loring and Tysons. The county should accelerate plans to improve transit through priority bus lanes, improved bus stations and other enhancements that will make this area even more walkable and reduce congestion and pollution.
  • Route 7 enhanced bus service from Baileys Crossroads to Tysons: Route 7 is the second-busiest bus corridor in northern Virginia. While the overall Route 7 Bus Rapid Transit project from Alexandria to Tysons is still being developed, the county should take steps now to better connect residents in Baileys Crossroads, Seven Corners and other areas to Tysons and other commercial centers in the corridor through enhanced bus service. Bus enhancements could include signal priority and enclosed stations with real-time schedule information, and ultimately transition to full Bus Rapid Transit on dedicated lanes with pre-boarding fare collection.
  • Fairfax County express bus service, Herndon Metrorail station to Fort Belvoir: Fairfax County has developed plans for improving transportation on Fairfax County Parkway. These include bus service improvements such as queue jumps and the planned Route 496 bus from Herndon to Franconia Springfield. Fairfax County should expedite key transit improvements and seek regional funding to implement them in the near term. At the same time, any new travel lanes on the Fairfax County Parkway should be dedicated bus and HOV3 lanes.
  • South County feeder bus service: Improve service levels on bus routes serving Richmond Highway, Kingstowne, and Springfield.

Thank you for considering our comments.

Sincerely yours,
Susan Bonney, Chair Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director
Sierra Club Great Falls Group Coalition for Smarter Growth

Cc: Tom Biesiadny

Transportation overhaul: New scoring system for project funding nearly set

The Commonwealth Transportation Board is slated to vote Wednesday on the key details of a new scoring system that will be used to decide what new road projects get funding around the state.

The board is expected to weight various scoring categories in the formula, which will be used to judge all future projects. Projects expected to reduce congestion will score high in Hampton Roads, particularly if a change that the Virginia Department of Transportation has suggested wins board approval.

When the scoring criteria were rolled out in March, the plan was to figure 35 percent of a project’s score in Hampton Roads based on congestion mitigation. The new recommendation is 45 percent.

Board members said they’re not sure whether the change has the votes to pass Wednesday, and two said they’d prefer a compromise of 40 percent. That, they said, would allow increases to at least one other category that they believe has a longer-term effect on congestion relief than the congestion mitigation category itself.

The basics of the new scoring system were laid out last year in House Bill 2, which called for an overhaul of the state’s road-funding process. Supporters on both sides of the aisle, including Gov. Terry McAuliffe, said they wanted to replace an often political process with something more objective and transparent.

Projects will be scored, those scores will be posted online, and if the Commonwealth Transportation Board deviates from those scores when it picks projects, people will notice, supporters said.

There are six scoring categories: Congestion mitigation, economic development, accessibility, safety, environmental quality and land use. VDOT was tasked with deciding how much to weight each category.

Weightings will differ around the state. In rural areas, safety improvement projects will score better. In Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia, congestion mitigation will reign supreme.

But environmental and smart growth advocates said Tuesday that just because a project scores well on mitigation, as opposed to accessibility and land use, doesn’t mean it will have the biggest long-term effect on traffic. Adding lanes addresses issues in the short term, but can discourage people from car pooling, taking mass transit and scheduling travel at off-peak times, said Stewart Schwartz, executive director at the Coalition for Smarter Growth.

Accessibility scores, on the other hand, judge how much a project helps people get to and from work, and it includes a transit component. Land use is based on how transportation projects support efficient development.

Accessibility shrunk in importance by 15 percentage points to increase congestion mitigation’s effect in Hampton Roads, and to up land use’s by 5 points. Marty Williams, a former Newport News city councilman and Peninsula state senator who sits now on the state transportation board, said he’d like to see accessibility bumped back up about 5 points before the formula is finalized.

Both Williams and John Malbon, who represents Hampton Roads on the CTB, said they’d be comfortable with congestion mitigation at 40 percent. They noted that the old system – the one in place before House Bill 2 – probably put congestion mitigation at about 80 percent, though projects weren’t formally scored that way.

Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne said Tuesday that there was some push, from legislators and others, to crank congestion mitigation up as high as 70 percent. Local officials were more likely to prefer the 35 percent VDOT originally suggested, he said.

“I don’t think anybody is really happy with it (at 45 percent),” Layne said. “Which probably means we pushed it about as far as we could.”

Camelia Ravanbakht, who, as interim executive director of the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization, is heavily involved in suggesting projects for funding, said she was surprised Tuesday to hear about the increase proposal. Her group didn’t request the change, and she said it’s too early to know how it would affect specific projects planned in the region.

“I wish I did (know),” she said. “It’s very project-specific. You cannot really generalize it.”

Nick Donohue, the deputy transportation secretary who spearheaded the lengthy process that led to these weighting formula recommendations, told board members Tuesday that there will be some trial and error in the coming years. The state will probably want to tweak the formula “at least every few rounds.”

Local officials will submit projects for funding, but the project-by-project scoring will be done by the state. Donohue said that process hasn’t been set, but will be in the coming months. It’s possible that multiple teams will score projects so that at least some of the projects scored in each round are reviewed by separate teams, he said.

Fain can be reached by phone at 757-525-1759.

Read the original article here.

Virginia to Congress: Stop approving new flights out of Reagan National Airport

Stewart Schwartz, the executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, said taxpayers already have invested billions in the Dulles Access Road, Dulles Toll Road, Routes 606 and 28, and the Silver Line.

“Now the Dulles folks are seeking billions more for another round of highways,” Schwartz said. “Before we jump into that approach let’s first recognize the challenges that Dulles faces include the fact that they have over projected growth amid the boom in the mid-2000s and they took on too much debt.”