Does the D.C. regional transportation plan include enough mass transit?

Nearly a hundred road improvements and two dozen transit projects now comprise the region’s official answer to forecasted population growth and traffic congestion, as representatives of local governments approved a long-range transportation plan on Wednesday at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG).

Inclusion in the plan means a project has the green light to be built between now and 2040 and is eligible for federal funding assistance.

Transportation specialists use the plan to measure whether the Washington, suburban Maryland and Northern Virginia region might meet its goals of minimizing congestion and CO2 emissions, but only projects with secure funding make the list. That is why Metro’s key Momentum program — a multi-billion dollar endeavor to expand Metro’s core rail capacity — was excluded. The transit authority has yet to secure all the necessary funding.

“It is definitely a disappointment that it is not in this plan,” said Kanti Srikanth, the top transportation planner at COG, who said Momentum could be included in next year’s update. “I am very hopeful because there continues to be discussions and efforts to find money.”

Among the projects added to the list this year are future extensions of D.C.’s coming H Street/Benning Road streetcar line, possible toll lanes on the bridges leading into the District that are heavily traveled by Virginia and Maryland commuters, and the Purple Line in Maryland.

The plan also contains dozens of highway interchange improvements designed to alleviate traffic-causing bottlenecks, but critics contend it is too heavily tilted toward roads instead of transit at a time when per capita vehicle-miles-traveled (VMT) is declining.

“There are 1,200 lane miles of new highway in this plan and only 44 miles of transit,” said Stewart Schwartz, the executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, a pro-transit group.

“We’ve argued that when you see the success of D.C., Arlington, and Alexandria and the urbanizing suburbs in places like Tysons and White Flint, more investment in transit, walking, and bicycling would do much more to reduce regional traffic than this road-heavy approach.”

Srikanth said there is another way to look at the long-range plan so that it does not appear to neglect transit.

“The [plan] improves the number of jobs that will be accessible by transit by 20 or 30 percent, but whereas the accessibility of jobs through automobiles is in the single digits,” he said.

“It shows additional transit lane miles of a 15 percent increase, but on highways it is only a 7 percent increase while travel in the region is expected to go up significantly,” he added.

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