Testimony before the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority Re: NVTA 2014 and 6-Year Plan Draft Project Lists

Dear Chairman Nohe and members of the NVTAuthority:

Following up on my verbal testimony from your hearing on June 20, the Coalition for Smarter Growth submits the following written comments. As you recall, we strongly disagree with the approach being pressed by Delegate LeMunyon and Bob Chase of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, and Delegate Minchew. Their concept is that you can eliminate congestion through highway capacity expansion, or “get the red out” as they like to say.

Unfortunately in a great metropolitan area with a strong economy you cannot do that. The proponents of capacity expansion are ignoring the power of induced traffic in a metropolitan area, a phenomenon well-known in the transportation planning community (we will transmit some of the studies to you).  A newly widened highway in a metropolitan area can fill up with traffic again in as little as five years.  In the short-term people change the time of their commute returning to the peak hour, they change the route of their commute, and they change the mode, leaving carpools and transit to use the temporarily expanded capacity. Longer term, highway and arterial expansion fuels the continuing spreading out of Northern Virginia, inducing new areas of auto-dependent development and new traffic.

This region has done a terrific job in charting a different course, as captured in the Region Forward report and a number of the other studies that have been in the Council of Governments including the What Would it Take Scenario and the land use/transit component of the Aspirations Scenario. It is clear from those reports that a network of transit oriented centers and communities, addressing the east-west jobs/housing imbalance, and transit offers the most effective long-term approach to our transportation challenge — providing strong alternatives to driving and creating patterns of land use that provide the greatest reduction in single occupant vehicle trips and vehicle miles traveled.

Our localities are also trying to chart a different course. Chairman Bulova has made a transit-oriented development future the priority for continued growth in Fairfax County, and Arlington, Alexandria, and the District of Columbia have been national leaders.  Arlington has added millions of square feet of development without adding traffic.  The low car ownership and very high non-auto mode shares in Arlington and D.C. are astounding. Furthermore, Loudoun County developers have all been pushing mixed-use developments, unfortunately too many lack the matching transit needed to support them. North Woodbridge, Manassas and Manassas Park are all seeking compact mixed-use development as their future.

The reason this new approach is so important for our transportation priorities, is that these transit-oriented communities are a regional traffic solution. That’s because every person who lives in one of these communities or works in one of these communities is taking fewer car trips and driving many fewer miles per day. They may not even own a car, or they may own just one car and drive it on the weekends.

Therefore, the local street network, bicycling, walking and transit investments that our group supports are essential for making these efficient patterns of development possible and are indeed a regional traffic solution — every bit as much as a lane expansion or a new interchange.

So a misguided approach of “just trying to get the red out” by widening roads and adding interchanges is only going to squander our tax dollars and waste our resources. Yes we have to address some targeted bottlenecks right now, but we cannot do it ad infinitum. At some point you’ve paved over the whole place.  What’s the plan 100 years from now if we were to extrapolate the capacity expansion approach? Therefore, we remain concerned by how much money continues to be focused on lane expansions, intersection expansions, and costly interchanges, simply moving bottlenecks down the road and diverting scarce revenues from supporting the types of communities and land use designs that will provide a more effective transportation solution for the long-haul.

Our common goal should be these sustainable, walkable communities — that are much like the historic towns we used to build.  The NVTAuthority meeting on June 20th was held in the City of Fairfax, and we have the examples of the City of Falls Church, the Town of Leesburg, the City of Manassas and the City of Alexandria.  Grids of streets work very well.  In lieu of arterials, we should be connecting local street networks, so that not all traffic has to be on the arterials. In lieu of big interchanges, we should consider those local street network options. And for the peak-hour commute, there’s nothing better than mass transit, whether dedicated lane service or heavy rail like Metrorail.

Our region would never have grown to the extent it has and our city would not have revived, and our suburbs would have been hollowed out, had we not invested in Metrorail. Metrorail was a wise use of our resource, creating billions of dollars in real estate values, and enabled our highway system to function. It has made possible the compact high density centers and fabric that further reduce auto trips by converting to many more walking and bicycling trips in addition to transit trips.

So I urge you to resist what some people call for, which is a return to the old approach which didn’t work, hasn’t worked in regions across America, and focus on this transit-oriented, walkable, bikeable future that we need to have.

Our positions (enumerated below) on the proposed projects in the draft NVTA 2014 and 6-Year Plan lists follows from the  discussion above and the urgent need to focus our scarce resources to support a walkable, bikeable, transit-oriented future.

2014 Projects:

Alexandria:  We support all four proposed projects.

Arlington:  We support all four proposed projects.

Fairfax City:

  • We are concerned about the VDOT proposed design for this project and recommend an area-wide solution that includes a better street network on both sides of Route 123 and parallel to Route 50, evaluation of routes around the core of the City of Fairfax, and evaluation of transit improvements between GMU and other areas south of the City of Fairfax and Vienna Metro. Major expansion of the 123/Route 50 interchange is only a short term approach and will create an area hostile to pedestrians and bicyclists, and hinder the walkable, mixed-use redevelopment of the area.

Fairfax County:

  • Any new lanes on Route 28 should be HOV and dedicated transit or just dedicated express bus.
  • Herndon investments should be complete streets with safe bicycle and pedestrian facilities.
  • The Innovation Center Metrorail station garage should not be at the 100% most proximate location to the station and should be wrapped with active uses and/or groundfloor uses and well integrated into mixed-use development.

Falls Church: We support all three projects.


  • Belmont Ridge Road — we support but not as part of a North-South Corridor and that justification should be deleted.
  • Route 28  hot spot improvements — any lane expansion must be limited to use for HOV and bus or just express bus.
  • Edwards Ferry Road/Route 15 Leesburg Bypass — we understand this will be bike/ped compatible but remain concerned about the continued focus on interchanges in areas surrounding Leesburg.  The failure to build a better connected road grid has resulted in the large arterial and interchange approach at the cost of what could have been a community character more compatible with the historic town rather than anonymous sprawl.
  • We support the Leesburg Park and Ride and new transit buses.
  • We recommend greater focus on east-west commuter needs.

Prince William:

  • Route 1 — we remain concerned about the focus on widening and the wide lanes.  Route 1 should have 11 foot lanes and safe bike/ped facilities and be designed for future dedicated lane transit.
  • Route 28 — we oppose additional Route 28 expansion west of the 234 Bypass because it will fuel more long-distance commuting and sprawling development.
  • We recommend funds be targeted to supporting a grid of “complete streets” (ped/bike friendly) for North Woodbridge redevelopment.

NVTC:  We support the Route 7 transit study.

PRTC:  We support the PRTC bus.

VRE:  We support the three VRE requests and note that the Alexandria station improvement is an important state solution for intercity rail.

WMATA:  We support the two WMATA projects.


Six-Year Plan Projects:

City of Falls Church: We support the pedestrian signal improvements.

Fairfax County:

  • Braddock Road Expansion (Project 3) — we oppose general purpose lane expansion and urge the new lane be dedicated to HOV/express bus service.
  • Franconia/South Van Dorn Interchange (Project 5) — we oppose this project in light of the scale of the projects on Franconia previously built as part of the Springfield Interchange. This new interchange would further divide communities on both sides of Van Dorn and Franconia.  Instead we need a new approach of local connections, dedicated HOV/transit lanes, and urban style interchange that shrinks pedestrian crossing distances.  That a major interchange is proposed here is a direct and predictable outcome of the construction of the massive Kingstowne development without  effective transit connections.
  • Route 29 Widening (Legato to Shirley Gate) — We oppose unless the new lane capacity goes to HOV/express bus.  This is another example of the never-ending and costly widening that fuels continued spread out development. More compact development and urban style boulevards would serve better over the long term.
  • Herndon/Monroe Metrorail station garage should not be at the 100% most proximate location to the station and should be wrapped with active uses and/or groundfloor uses and well integrated into mixed-use development.


  • Belmont Ridge Road — We only support as part of the transportation network for surrounding communities, not as part of the proposed North-South Corridor.

General:  We support the remaining transit improvements listed for the jurisdictions, VRE, WMATA.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment.

Stewart Schwartz
Executive Director