Transportation Bills at the General Assembly
We’ve seen the benefits of investing in smart growth and reliable transit in Virginia. That’s because our metropolitan regions would truly choke on traffic and air pollution if we didn’t provide real alternatives to driving for every trip.
But this year at the General Assembly in Richmond, the highway lobby is pushing Richmond to take us backward with bills that are anti-transit, pro-sprawl, and anti-local control. Bills before the General Assembly would cut spending on transit, reduce and even eliminate the role of local officials in selecting transportation priorities, and force through controversial highway projects in Northern Virginia.
Many bills introduced this session, either individually or in conjunction with other bills, would have imposed narrow limits on the criteria used to select transportation projects, limit spending on transit, or otherwise reduce or eliminate the local role in transportation decision-making. The bills that limit the authority of the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) would be especially egregious, given that the funds being appropriated by the NVTA are raised solely in Northern Virginia. These bills also would have created a precedent for applying the same restrictions on the authority and decisions of officials in Hampton Roads (where the General Assembly also increased local/regional taxes) and Richmond (which wants a regional authority like that in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia).
Some bills directly take authority away from elected officials and give it to the appointed and much less accountable Commonwealth Transportation Board, others limit how much money Northern Virginia can spend on transit, others would mandate certain projects be built, and others would unduly limit the factors that the state can consider in selecting transportation projects.
The highway lobby has been pushing “greatest congestion reduction relative to the cost of the project” and “economic development” as the sole factors to be used in selecting transportation projects. Virtually any project could be justified under economic development, so that’s not helpful. While “congestion reduction” and cost sound reasonable, there are a couple of catches:
- This criterion could prevent the funding of rail transit projects that are particularly effective over the long-term, or prevent the funding of the local street, pedestrian and bicycle facilities that make places like Tysons work.
- In a successful metropolitan region, it is not truly possible to permanently reduce congestion, because newly expanded capacity can fill up again in as little as five years.
It’s critical to provide a range of options for residents and commuters, using more efficient land use, operational investments, demand management, and transit — which have proven to be more effective and long-lasting. Every person who lives or works in a location with good transit and a pedestrian and bicycle-friendly local street network is a person who will help solve a metropolitan region’s road congestion problems — because these residents and workers drive much less than other residents.
- Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax and Falls Church are making walkable, transit-oriented neighborhoods the key to more sustainable development — neighborhoods where residents and workers drive much less, reducing in the impact on northern Virginia roads.
- Norfolk has invested in light rail as a revitalization tool and Virginia Beach is planning to extend the light rail through new development centers all the way to the beachfront.
- Loudoun and Prince William residents continue to say no to outdated ideas like the Bi-County Parkway, and to demand improved transit options for getting to work.
- The City of Richmond is planning bus rapid transit to help fuel its ongoing renaissance.
But the legislation being considered this year is designed to cut transit funding, prevent long-term rail and bus rapid transit projects from being built, force through Potomac River bridge crossings and a four lane expansion of I-66 inside the Beltway, and make highways the priority over other investments. It would undermine a more sustainable, efficient and competitive future for our metropolitan regions.
Bills we supported and were approved by the House and Senate:
HB1090 (Villanueva) and HB1095 (Peace) – These bills help ensure that Virginia takes advantage of technology and innovation to improve our transportation system. New technologies and other innovations present important opportunities to increase the safety, efficiency, and effectiveness of Virginia’s transportation system.
Bills we opposed and were tabled in the House Transportation Committee:
- HB41 (Marshall) — Would have the Commonwealth Transportation Board, instead of the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, select which projects Northern Virginia’s increased transportation taxes would go towards.
- HB425 (LeMunyon) – Adds one Senator and two House members to the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, doubling the number of state legislators on the board and diluting the authority of local elected officials who are more familiar with the link between transportation and land use.
- HB426 (LeMunyon) – Amended bill would require VDOT to study one to two additional lanes in each direction on I-66 inside the Beltway – a four-lane expansion that would likely take homes and lead to more traffic exiting the highway and overwhelming DC, Arlington and Fairfax roads. The study is redundant given that previous studies showed new non-HOV lanes wouldn’t work. The bill would override local goals to use the Silver Metro line, expanded express bus and other potential alternatives for efficiently moving people through the I-66 and Orange Line corridors.
- HB635 (LaRock) – Removes transit as an eligible priority for NVTA spending for the regional funds raised from Northern Virginians.
- HB653 (LaRock) – Limits the total transit/rail allocation per 12 month period from NVTA funds to 25% of the total expended.
- HB658 (LaRock) – Limits the amount of funds the CTB can allocate to transit in Northern Virginia to 25%. Northern Virginia depends on transit, especially to handle the high volume of peak hour commuters in the region. Without transit, the region’s highways would shut down and economic growth would stagnate. Billions of dollars in real estate value have been created at transit stations and demand continues to grow (84% of the over 5 million sq. ft. of new office development in the pipeline is being built within ¼ mile of Metro stations.
- HB824 (Minchew) – Delays NVTA’s bonding authority until July 1, 2018, but this would undermine financing for projects already approved.
- HB1244 (Rust/Minchew) — Would have VDOT continue controversial study of new Potomac River bridge crossings and to recommend a preferred site or sites. The study initiated by former Secretary Connaughton resulted in DC and the State of Maryland stating that their focus was on fixes to the American Legion Bridge and bridges into DC. This bill expands the study to areas to the south. Past studies have shown these outer beltway bridges do not relieve congestion, but would open up new areas to sprawling development and divert funding necessary for fixing existing commuter routes and investing in transit and other needs.
Special Note: While the House Appropriations Committee tabled the Potomac Bridge bill, Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne announced on WAMU radio that he would continue the study initiated by the previous administration — despite Maryland’s continued strong objection to new bridges. We are naturally disappointed, but are confident that the conclusion will be that we must invest our scarce resources in helping the largest number of residents and commuters — which means focusing on solutions for the American Legion Bridge corridor.
Bills which have been amended and approved by the House and Senate:
- HB2 (Stolle) – Description of the original bill: This bill focused on “congestion reduction” and “economic development” as the primary criteria for selecting transportation projects. We recommended amending to include other criteria including: safety; environmental impact; land use, transit, HOV and bicycle/pedestrian use, and reduction in vehicle trips and vehicle miles traveled. Note that HB87 (Cole), and HB1100 (Yancey) where incorporated or conformed into HB2.The substitute bill that passed the House and is awaiting final approval in the Senate contains significant changes which we believe better reflect the varying needs of each region of the state and offer a more balanced set of criteria that include safety, accessibility, environmental quality, demand management, and transit. It also ties transportation investments to the Urban Development Area provisions of 2007 and to achieving integrated regional land use and transportation solutions.
- HB793 (LeMunyon) – Description of the original bill: Requires VDOT to recommend projects for inclusion in local comprehensive plans — but only those that reduce congestion, not transit or projects that could meet other goals. In any case, VDOT already provides advice and input to local comprehensive plans so this bill is unnecessary.Amended bill now states: Further, to the extent that such information is readily available, the Department shall also include in its comments an assessment of the measures and estimate of the costs necessary to mitigate or ameliorate the congestion or reduction in mobility attributable to the proposed plan or amendment. The new language effectively restates the case for Traffic Impact Analysis, provisions which were included elsewhere in the code in 2007, which we strongly supported.
I-66: VDOT Pressure on Arlington
Even though Arlington has demonstrated the phenomenal transportation benefits of linking transit and development, VDOT highway engineers and some non-Arlington officials are pressing ill-conceived highway expansion on the community.
VDOT has pressed to widen I-66 one-step-at-a-time toward a possible expansion of the entire highway to six lanes, despite a federal commitment to limit the road to four lanes and despite the fact the traffic will have nowhere to go once it hits D.C.’s streets. VDOT has ignored more cost-effective solutions to relieve traffic including converting to HOV-3 from HOV-2, HOV in both directions, express bus service, and how the shift of new development to the Metro Silver Line stations will help shift workers to transit.
In the I-95/395 corridor, VDOT is pursuing a privatized toll lane proposal without having analyzed alternatives and potentially undermining HOV and bus service in the corridor.