July 29, 2022
Ms. Ciara Williams
Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation
1725 Duke Street, Suite 675
Alexandria, VA 22314
Re: Comments on DRPT Southside Beltway Transit & TDM Study
The Coalition for Smarter Growth appreciates DRPT’s involvement in the I-495 southside corridor issue. Our organization has been engaged for over two decades in the transportation and land use issues that connect Prince George’s County and Northern Virginia. Please consider our comments on the I-495 Southside Transit & TDM Study as part of the feedback you are collecting from the public and stakeholders this summer:
DRPT must include land use strategies
- The root cause of the mobility challenges in the corridor is the east-west imbalance of jobs and housing. Transit and TDM strategies are only as effective as the supportive land use. This study won’t fully inform local communities in the corridor unless it also explores the potential for transit-oriented land use, economic development and affordable housing strategies to improve access to job and service locations.
- The National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board’s 2017 Long Range Plan Task Force Study showed that balanced land use (addressing the jobs/housing divide through transit-oriented development) was one of the top strategies for addressing regional bottlenecks like the Southside Beltway.
- WMATA’s ConnectGreaterWashington study came to the same conclusion on the regional benefits of transit-oriented development buildout of our Metro stations, resulting not only in higher transit ridership but better performance on the Beltway.
- Land use strategies are needed to address the pressing equity issues at stake; transit, TDM and Express Lanes alone will not shorten the commute distances of Maryland residents in the study corridor, which are some of the longest in the region. This study will shortchange Prince George’s County and Charles County unless it considers how fulfilling the Prince George’s economic development strategy combined with the Council of Governments’ adopted regional affordable housing targets would fix many of the mobility issues in the study corridor.
- CSG recommends including a land use strategy based on the adopted policies and future visions of the corridor jurisdictions. The transit & TDM alternatives can then be paired with and without the land use component to demonstrate how much more
effective they are with land use planning – and how much more effective this combination is compared to highway expansion. The study should specifically include TOD buildout in Prince George’s and at the Alexandria and southern Fairfax Metro stations, as well as the Embark Richmond Highway Plan.
It should explicitly consider a TOD with Metrorail alternative given that Metrorail was promised during the Wilson Bridge study and the bridge was engineered to support Metrorail. The WMATA Blue Line loop alternative (“Blue Line to National Harbor”) from its current Blue-Orange-Silver Capacity & Reliability Study should be among the options considered.
DRPT and VDOT should be conducting a single study
- We oppose the state’s approach of using separate road and transit studies. It tells us that the state is operating under a pre-ordained conclusion that it will build privately controlled Managed Lanes, and is contrary to both NEPA and best practices when talking about multi-billion dollar projects.
- This would be the third time the state has pushed a transit/TOD/TDM alternative to the side. The first was the original 495 study and the second the American Legion Bridge study.
- Like the 495 NEXT study on the north side of the Beltway, this arrangement of separate studies will result in a foregone conclusion that widening 495 and increasing the number of lanes serving private cars and trucks is the Build Alternative (to which some limited bus transit may be added). This would undermine both our TOD plans and future ridership demand for Metrorail.
- We ask that DRPT and VDOT incorporate the best performing combination transit, TDM, HOV and land use alternatives into VDOT’s study as alternatives with and without new Managed Lanes, including a Managed Lanes alternative that converts existing traffic lanes. These alternatives should also consider provisions to help lower-income commuters of all modes.
Bill Pugh, Senior Policy Fellow
Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director
Sonya Breehey, Northern VA Organizer
CC: Jennifer DeBruhl, Director, DRPT
Todd Horsley, Director of Northern Virginia Transit Programs, DRPT