GMU Report Flawed; Would Lead Region Down Unsustainable Path

OCTOBER 11, 2012

CONTACT: Stewart Schwartz
(703) 599-6437

Using funding from developers with significant interests in land in outer suburban locations, researchers at George Mason University’s Center for Regional Analysis have issued a new report arguing for massive investment in highway infrastructure. Experts at the Coalition for Smarter Growth disagree.

“The GMU report is based on flawed and outdated assumptions and would lead our region down an unsustainable development path,” said Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth (CSG).

“The report ignores the fundamental shifts in real estate demand, changing demographics and market demand. The GMU view would also leave behind Prince George’s and older parts of eastern Fairfax and eastern Prince William counties,” said Cheryl Cort, Policy Director for CSG.

“While dressed up with an acknowledgment of transit, the report is focused on justifying a wasteful expansion of highways which would fuel more spread-out development and yet more traffic,” said Schwartz. “This includes real estate mogul and 2030 Group backer Til Hazel’s primary goal of an outer beltway in Virginia.”

“Our region’s elected leaders have committed to a sustainable vision plan in ‘Region Forward,’ a plan that emphasizes the critical importance of transit and transit-oriented communities to improve access to jobs and housing, reduce pollution, and address congestion,” said Cort. “The GMU report seems to be an effort to undermine the region’s focus on these more sustainable investments.”

“We reject this effort by the 2030 Group through the GMU report, and by the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance whose forum yesterday was intended to promote massive new spending on roads and sprawl,” said Schwartz. “We share the goal of an economically competitive region and we are certain that this will require a primary focus on transit and efficient transit-oriented communities.”

The Coalition for Smarter Growth has identified the following flaws in the GMU analysis:

1) Ignores fundamental changes in the residential real estate market:
The report relies on population projections which continue to include old assumptions about growth in the region’s outer suburbs and still don’t fully reflect the dramatic long-term shift in real estate demand.

Demand for housing with long commutes has collapsed and may never recover given high gas prices, the ever-smaller percentage of households with children, and the strong demand of millennials, retiring baby boomers and empty nesters to live in walkable, urban and transit-oriented communities. (See Christopher Leinberger, Walk the Way: The Economic Promise of Walkable Places in Metropolitan Washington, D.C.)

2) Uses old regional activity centers data:
The report uses the old regional “activity centers” data, instead of the most up-to-date activity centers, which means it omits and ignores many of Prince George’s County’s Metro stations, Fairfax’s Route 1 corridor and a number of other older commercial corridors which are planned to be efficient transit-focused centers. This omission biases the report toward sprawling auto-dependent areas.

3) Fails to acknowledge the failure of highway expansion to fix congestion:
Transportation experts have acknowledged that highway expansion in metropolitan areas typically fails and that the new capacity induces more auto-dependent development leading to a return of congestion in as little as five years.

4) Fails to fully account for the benefits of transit and transit-oriented communities:
The report fails to acknowledge the critical importance of transit to manage peak hour commuting. By offering a high-capacity commuting alternative, transit offers tens of thousands of Washington area residents an alternative to driving in traffic. The report also fails to note that mixed-use transit-oriented communities not only shift many trips to transit, but they also maximize walking and biking trips and shorten many car trips.

About the Coalition for Smarter Growth

The Coalition for Smarter Growth is the leading nonprofit organization addressing where and how the Washington region grows, partnering with communities in planning for the future, and offering solutions to the interconnected challenges of housing, transportation, energy and the environment. We ensure that transportation and development decisions accommodate growth while revitalizing communities, providing more housing and travel choices, and conserving our natural and historic areas. The Coalition’s website is