Comments to the NVTAuthority Annual Organizational Meeting by Stewart Schwartz
We must reduce vehicle miles traveled and greenhouse gas emissions
January 13, 2022
I’ll begin with expressing deep appreciation for your public service and the service of all staff. I join others in praising your Gateway dashboard. We also appreciate the support some jurisdictions have given to dedicated bike/ped and transit investments. Nevertheless, we also have very serious concerns about the existing Transaction plan, the ongoing update, and 6-year plan spending.
Transportation is the largest source of planet-heating carbon pollution. Multiple studies demonstrate that electric vehicles will not be enough and that we must also reduce the amount we have to drive.
- The TPB’s Climate Change Mitigation Study finds that this region must reduce per capita vehicle miles traveled by 15-20% compared to pre-pandemic levels by 2030 in addition to rapidly adopting electric vehicles and making its electric grid cleaner.
- Regional transportation plans would only reduce per capita VMT by 3% by the year 2045.
- NVTA must set a per capita VMT reduction target informed by the TPB climate study and begin to evaluate projects in TransAction and its six-year program accordingly.
Unfortunately, TransAction has been taking us in the wrong direction. The existing 2017 TransAction plan would add 1,200 new lane miles to major thoroughfares, equal to building a 4-lane highway all the way to Niagara Falls. If actually built, arterial lane miles in Northern Virginia would increase much faster than population growth. The principal arterial network, for example, would grow by 35% compared to forecast population growth of 23% by 2040.
Draft analysis by CSG shows that this huge increase in roadway capacity would induce 3 billion more miles of driving per year. This increase in driving on principal arterials, for example, would far surpass population growth. The road expansions planned in Fairfax, Prince William, Loudoun, Manassas and Manassas Park would increase miles driven on their principal arterial networks by 27% to 41% compared to forecast population growth of 22% in these jurisdictions. Trying to build our way out of congestion created by auto-dependent land use, will not work and will only generate more driving and congestion.
Walkable, mixed-use, and transit-oriented communities are essential to reducing driving, congestion, and emissions, and are not the sole province of the inner suburbs. Woodbridge and the Prince William Route 1 corridor, around Manassas and Manassas Park, Loudoun’s Metro Stations, and Route 28 corridor – these are all examples of good places for transit-oriented communities. In addition, each suburban neighborhood could be built or retrofitted with shopping within a 15-minute walk, and local street networks safe for walking and biking to schools, parks, libraries, and services.
We once again we urge you to take a fundamentally more sustainable and equitable approach in updating TransAction and prioritizing projects: set goals to reduce VMT and greenhouse gas emissions (50% by 2030); then study and adopt a transit-oriented scenario that meets those goals, shifts substantial mode share to non-auto modes, and reduces combined housing and transportation costs, with a particular focus on addressing the inequities faced by lower income residents. At the same time, protect rural areas, and eliminate large numbers of arterial expansion projects in favor of local complete street networks, more transit, and 15-minute walkable neighborhoods. We must act together now to address our sprawl, traffic, and climate change.
 Analysis using the Rocky Mountain Institute SHIFT Induced Demand Calculator, which is based on decades of academic studies demonstrating the increased driving caused over time by highway and arterial expansion. The methodology for the SHIFT calculator was developed by the National Center for Sustainable Transportation at the University of California-Davis and is used by the California Department of Transportation.