Tell NOVA Transportation Planners to Focus on GHG Reduction
The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) is updating their long-range transportation plan for Northern Virginia. Public comments are being accepted through Sunday, September 18.
The draft updated “TransAction” plan is an overview of possible transportation projects for the region that seek to improve safety, air quality, and travel time, reduce delays, and connect regional activity centers. Not all of the projects included in the plan will be funded – but in order to be considered for eventual funding, a project must be included in this plan.
The draft 2022 plan is in many ways like the 2017 plan, with a big emphasis on widening roads and building new ones – a “business as usual” approach that will not meet the challenges posed by the climate crisis, since transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the region.
Your comments are important. You don’t have to be a transportation expert to tell NVTA what goals it should focus on in this plan, such as urgently reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, adopting a “fix it first” approach to existing roads and bridges before widening roadways and building new ones, and making alternate transportation options – like transit, biking and walking – safer and more practical.
Even if you’re not an expert, you may find the draft plan, written in plain English, to be interesting reading. More details, including how to review the plan, how to comment, and suggested talking points, appear below. Tell NVTA what you think!
The NVTA (see www.thenovaauthority.org) was created in 2002 by the Virginia General Assembly to facilitate transportation planning and funding for the region, which includes Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties, and the cities of Alexandria, Fairfax, Falls Church, Manassas and Manassas Park.
Guided by such criteria as improving safety, air quality, and travel time, reducing delays, and connecting regional activity centers, it is charged with planning, prioritizing and funding regional transportation projects, as well as with maintaining Northern Virginia’s long-range transportation plan (the “TransAction” plan), which is an overview of various possible projects.
NVTA updates this long-range plan every five years. The current plan is from October 2017, and an updated plan, expected to be finalized by the end of 2022, looks at transportation needs through 2045, and includes 429 candidate transportation projects that together would cost more than $75 billion. It is this draft plan for which public comments are being sought.
The 24-page Draft TransAction Plan, a 52-page list of the transportation projects under consideration, and other materials are available at https://nvtatransaction.org/resources/.
The TransAction plan does not establish priorities for the projects listed, nor would anticipated local, regional, state or federal resources be sufficient to fund all the projects listed. Instead, NVTA’s separate “Six Year Program,” updated every two years, allows member jurisdictions to request action on specific projects – if those projects are already listed in the TransAction plan. For more information about NVTA, the TransAction Plan and the Six Year Program, see https://nvtatransaction.org/faqs/.
NVTA is accepting public comments on its draft updated TransAction plan until 11:59 pm on Sunday, September 18.
For details, or to submit comments, visit https://nvtatransaction.org/participate/.
SAMPLE TALKING POINTS:
- A “business as usual” approach to funding transportation projects is not an adequate response to the climate crisis. Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gases in the region, and widening roads or building new ones does not actually reduce congestion. Through the well-documented phenomenon of “induced demand,” wider roads attract more traffic until they become as congested as before, while generating larger amounts of greenhouse gases and unhealthy particulate matter. The NVTA cites its three core values as safety, equity, and sustainability – and one of its stated goals is to reduce air pollution. However, the core value of sustainability is not served by actions such as road widening that will increase greenhouse gases and air pollution in general. And a key aspect of environmental equity and justice is to reduce the air pollution affecting lower-income populations, such as those who live near major highways. The core value of equity is not served by widening roadways and increasing the air pollution suffered by those who live near major highways.
- To meet our climate targets, one key strategy is to rapidly transition to electric vehicles (EVs), and a key facilitator of that transition is to provide adequate charging infrastructure. However, the TransAction plan includes only modest sums for charging infrastructure ($21 million for transit bus charging, and $12 million each for car and truck charging, for a total of $45 million – less than one-sixteenth of one percent of the total program costs listed). These goals need to be dramatically increased, so that jurisdictions are not foreclosed from major improvements in charging infrastructure by the fact that the TransAction plan’s proposed funding levels are inadequate.
- Another key strategy to meet our climate targets is to reduce per capita (and total) Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT). However, the majority of projects (253 of 429) focus on roads, interchanges and intersections, with many projects to widen roads (totaling more than 1,000 miles of wider roads!). As noted, by encouraging increased traffic, these projects will actually increase greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution in general. (It should be noted that transit projects, while fewer in number, constitute the majority of the cost of the plan – $46 billion of the more than $75 billion cost of the projects in the draft plan. However, to date, the bulk of the money actually expended on transportation projects has focused on widening roads and otherwise accommodating automobiles.)
- As noted, many of the listed roadway projects focus on just widening roads and building new ones. A much better approach, that gives the climate crisis the urgency it deserves, would be to adopt a “fix it first” approach, repairing existing roads and bridges before building new ones. A related concept is to consistently focus on creating “Complete Streets” that encourage walking, cycling, and public transit, not just automobile use (see https://smartgrowthamerica.org/what-are-complete-streets/).
- A new initiative recently adopted by the NVTA is its “Transportation Technology Strategic Plan” (TTSP; see https://thenovaauthority.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/TTSP-and-Action-Plan-Updates-after-the-first-six-months-V1.5-with-summary-of-changes.pdf). It lists eight strategies, which include “Reduce congestion and increase throughput” (Strategy 1), “Maximize the potential of physical and communication infrastructure to serve existing and emerging modes” (Strategy 6), and “Advance decarbonization of the transportation system” (Strategy 8). Strategies like these underline the importance of taking a broad, systematic look at everything that can advance these goals. For example, during the height of the pandemic, there was a dramatic increase in telecommuting, and a concomitant decrease in traffic congestion. And now, even though vaccines have lessened Covid risks, many businesses and workers are continuing to pursue telecommuting. The TransAction plan should embrace the role of communication technology to reduce congestion and decrease greenhouse gas emissions, by, for example, proposing the funding of initiatives to promote universal broadband access that can facilitate telecommuting and keep cars off the road.