The Washington Region’s Transportation Planning Board (TPB) issued, as part of its weekly report, a new analysis of the region’s transportation future and it is a sobering view. Their main conclusion:
“Travelers in the Washington region will face considerably more roadway and transit congestion in coming decades if current planning and funding trajectories are allowed to continue.”
We couldn’t agree more. Current funding trends in the State of Maryland and throughout our region are absolutely unsustainable and elected leaders in this State have been AWOL for years when it comes to addressing this crisis. The economic costs of a failing transportation system are severe, and even crippling in scope, costing the state tens of thousands of well-paying construction jobs already, and hundreds of millions in lost revenue due to a systemic lack of investment in new capacity. And that doesn’t even count all the lost productivity and jobs in other sectors that will move elsewhere as our traffic congestion continues to worsen relative to other markets.
As you can see from this chart, the region is expected to see a 27% increase in vehicle work trips and a 24% increase in truck trips by 2040, but only a 7% increase in lane miles. Even the most wildly optimistic estimates show that future growth in transit ridership will not even come close to addressing this gap — and the money is not there to fund needed transit expansion projects like the Purple Line and CCT anyway. And TPB’s own figures show simply changing future development patterns doesn’t even make a dent in future congestion levels in the region. We already have some of the worst congestion in the U.S. so imagine it getting 78% worse.
This is not rocket science. We know traffic is going to get much worse if we don’t add significant new transit and road capacity in the next two decades, we know we have no choice but to make these investments yet we have set aside no money to do so, and we have no plan to deal with any of this because Maryland State officials continue to make transportation their absolute last priority, year after year. Irresponsible? One could say that, but it would be an understatement.
Here is a link to the latest TPB weekly report. If this isn’t enough of a wake-up call for State officials to step up to the plate this next session and do their jobs, it’s hard to imagine what would be.
The SMTA Board was briefed recently on two efforts to expand bus-rapid-transit service, also known as “BRT” (or the more appealing acronym “RTV” for “Rapid-Transit-Vehicle”). RTV systems are seen as a cost-effective alternative to either single-occupancy-vehicle automobile travel or more expensive fixed-rail transit systems.
The first is being pursued in Montgomery County by County Executive Ike Leggett’s Transit Implementation Task Force, which is looking at a county-wide system covering as many as 18 routes. The system under consideration would be the region’s first “gold” level RTV system, meaning its vehicles would move in their own dedicated lanes and provide a much higher level of service and shorter travel times than traditional bus systems.
The second is currently under study by metropolitan Washington’s Transportation Planning Board. New modeling data presented this week shows significant traffic relief — a 12% reduction in travel delays — can be achieved through a scaled-down combination of new toll lanes on major highways, conversion of some existing lanes to toll lanes, a network of regional bus-rapid-transit lines using those managed lanes, and more focused development around transit stations. The study also conclusively shows that transit-oriented land-use changes, by themselves, do nothing to relieve congestion, but in combination with new lane capacity and transit service, yield significant positive results. The best part of all, the revenue from these new toll lanes more than pays for the construction and operating costs of the entire system, including the new lanes and RTV transit system. You heard that right, a self-financing project that cuts congestion delays in the entire region by 12%. This ought to be one of THE top priorities for local jurisdictions in the Washington region.
Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley has announced a new mixed-use development near the largely underutilized (from a land-use-planning standpoint) New Carrollton Metro station for the new headquarters for the State Department of Housing and Community Development. See the Washington Post Story today for details.
This is good news for Prince George’s County. It is also a good example of sound, transit-oriented development to bring more jobs to parts of the region that need more employment opportunities, already have a large supply of workforce housing nearby, and that are near current or planned transit centers. The proposed new development will include a mix of retail, housing and commercial office space, all of which will help to minimize the need to drive everywhere.
Adding density where it is needed most — near our Metro stations — is one of the long-term strategies that the entire region is pursuing to varying degrees. While this is no panacea for the region’s traffic problems, and in the real world will only make a small dent in the future growth of travel demand, it is a small step in the right direction and worthy of support.
Congratulations to Prince George’s County and the Governor for getting this one right.