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Northern Virginia Should Improve the Worst Performing Transportation Services First

posted Jun 20, 2016, 6:21 PM by Info@ Transiters

The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTAuthority) is deciding how to allocate transportation funds among competing regional transportation projects. While highway congestion in the region may be poor, public transit service is far worse. Greater public transit use will benefit everyone by taking more automobiles off the road, but public transit use won't increase unless public transit service is improved. We ask NVTAuthority not to invest in further major automobile projects, which will divert dollars from public transit projects, until public transit service reaches some level of parity with single occupancy vehicles. We submitted the following comments to NVTAuthority on June 17, 2016:


These comments are submitted on behalf of Transiters, a transit users group, and other transit riders.


We believe these projects should be evaluated against the community’s goals. The Metropolitan Washington Council of Government (MWCOG), has adopted a Vision Statement that lists as its first Goal:


"The Washington metropolitan region's transportation system will provide reasonable access at reasonable cost to everyone in the region."


Supporting that Goal, the first Objective in the Vision is "A comprehensive range of choices for users of the region's transportation system," and its first Strategy is "Plan, implement, and maintain a truly integrated, multi-modal regional transportation system." (http://www.mwcog.org/transportation/activities/vision/)


While NVTA is not subject to nor required by statute to comply with MWCOG’s Vision, every jurisdiction belonging to NVTA is a member of MWCOG and a number of elected officials serving on the NVTA board also serve on the MWCOG board. MWCOG does not build infrastructure, so it is incumbent on NVTA and similar organizations to effectuate the vision of reasonable access at reasonable cost to everyone.


An examination of transportation in Northern Virginia reveals that this region has failed miserably to achieve that Vision.


While there are frequent reports about how bad traffic is in this region, public transit is far worse. We saw an indication of that recently when the Washington Post reported that the Silver Line ridership was 30 percent below forecast for its first year. Even closer to home, the NVTA FY2017 Public Hearing held on June 9th further illustrates the neglect that public transit is afforded. While NVTA advertised that shuttle buses would transport people beginning at 5:40 from Dunn Loring Metro Station to the hearing, the first bus didn’t come until 7:15 -- an hour and fifteen minutes after the Open House began, fifteen minutes after the Open House ended, and fifteen minutes after the presentations began. The buses only appeared because Transiters were stranded at Dunn Loring and called NVTA to find out what happened to the shuttles. As a final illustration of how poor and neglected public transit is, not a single member of the NVTA board, NVTA staff, other hearing attendee, or even the Director of Fairfax County transportation took public transit to the hearing.


Public transit is not just a local concern to us in our increasingly urban environment -- it’s a global concern, as illustrated by this passage from the Encyclical Letter on Care for Our Common Home published last year by Pope Francis:


“The quality of life in cities has much to do with systems of transport, which are often a source of much suffering for those who use them. Many cars, used by one or more people, circulate in cities, causing traffic congestion, raising the level of pollution, and consuming enormous quantities of non-renewable energy. This makes it necessary to build more roads and parking areas which spoil the urban landscape. Many specialists agree on the need to give priority to public transportation. Yet some measures needed will not prove easily acceptable to society unless substantial improvements are made in the systems themselves, which in many cities force people to put up with undignified conditions due to crowding, inconvenience, infrequent service and lack of safety.” (http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html)


We have known for a long time the primary factors that affect the transportation mode -- auto, transit, bicycle, walking -- that individuals choose: cost and time (because time has value, we will refer to cost alone). NVTA’s objective of congestion reduction is not necessarily inconsistent with the vision of reasonable access at reasonable cost for everyone, and we believe that to achieve this end NVTA should select projects that will provide the greatest improvement to public transit.


Of particular concern is the Transform 66 Outside the Beltway and by extension the I-66 / Route 28 Interchange Improvements project 6T, which VDOT has incorporated into Transform 66. While Transform 66 is constantly being promoted as "Multimodal Solutions -- 495 to Haymarket," we don't believe that it is multimodal in any meaningful way. In fact, we believe that it is an automobility project that will further urban sprawl with all its associated negative externalities. Among those negative externalities will be further dampening of Silver Line and other public transit ridership.


We have two major concerns about this Transform I66/28 project.


First is that despite saying that this provides “multimodal solutions,” VDOT has failed to provide an estimate of the number of transit riders or the transit mode share that will result from this project. VDOT has provided an estimate of the impact that this project will have on average speeds along the corridor. We believe the failure to provide transit information belies the claim that this is a multimodal effort.


Second is the fact that while the draft Comprehensive Agreement Relating to the Transform 66 P3 Project (May 13, 2016) provides for payments for both highway and transit service -- labeled Support for Corridor Improvements and Transit Funding Payment -- there is a significant disparity in the terms of these payments. The Support for Corridor Improvements payments must equal a minimum Net Present Value (NPV) calculated at a specific discount rate, while the Transit Funding Payment need not meet a minimum NPV. In addition, this Comprehensive Agreement contains a provision that Virginia would be penalized if it were to invest in significant transit infrastructure -- the Orange Line -- within ten years of the completion of the Transform 66 P3 Project. This demonstrates continued prioritization of automobility over public transit.


We encourage NVTA not to fund this Transform 66 Outside the Beltway and by extension the I-66 / Route 28 Interchange Improvements project.


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