The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority or NVTA is all set to make important decisions this year that would directly impact the future of transportation in the region. The government agency’s multi-billion dollar decisions may lead to modifications in their 6-year construction plan and the long-range TransAction plan.
According to an analysis by the Coalition for Smarter Growth (CSG), the current highway expansion plans carried out by the NVTA may result in a massive increase in driving. This is in addition to the level of increase anticipated due to population growth. In other words, the expansion may lead to the region becoming more car-dependent.
According to the On the Wrong Road report, the proposed 1,200 miles expansion part of the TransAction plan may very well hinder the success of the several pedestrian, bicycle, and transit projects funded by the NVTA.
The Problems Of Highway Expansion
The projects proposed by the NVTA were analyzed by CSG using the SHIFT (State Highway Induced Frequency of Travel) calculator developed by the Rocky Mountain Institute using several decades of traffic research. As per the results of the analysis, the massive road-building plan proposed by the NVTA will help expand the arterial highway network of North Virginia at a rate of 32% by 2040. This would make it faster than the population growth rate, which is estimated to be around 23%.
However, the proposed highway expansion under the TransAction plan may fail to lower congestion in the long term due to the phenomenon of ‘induced travel’. In other words, widening roads may initially relieve traffic congestion on busy roads, which would encourage more people to travel on those routes, thereby adding to the traffic. In fact, expanded roads have been found to be filled up with vehicles in about a decade.
Moreover, the growing traffic may have several unfavorable outcomes. For example, Charlottesville Car Accident Attorneys would agree with the fact that more traffic on the highways of the state also increases the chances of road accidents.
NVTA’s TransAction plan can also add around 3 billion vehicle miles traveled (VMT) per year by 2040. This is in addition to the estimated increase brought about by population and job growth. The rise in driving levels would result in increasing dependence on fuel and higher transportation costs.
Moreover, the dependence on cars may make it difficult for the region to meet its commitments toward climate change. Turning to electric vehicles may also fail to help Northern Virginia attain this goal, especially when the vehicle miles traveled are on an increase. Despite all these issues, the current budgetary allotment by the NVTA shows that around 60% of funds are set apart for road expansion plans.
A Sustainable Approach is The Need of The Hour
Fortunately, the officials of the NVTA can amend their decision regarding funding this year. With the long-term interests of the region in mind, the board has the opportunity to choose a sustainable approach that focuses on investing in strategic land use and transportation plans.
Instead of concentrating the available funding on extensive highway expansion projects like the TransAction plan and the 6-year construction plan, NVTA should shift its focus towards creating a network of walkable, transit-oriented communities that have a range of housing options. By enabling the residents to live close to their destinations and providing multiple means of getting around (walking, bicycles, etc.), the board can encourage them to drive lesser distances.
This in turn will help make the streets safer and less congested along with making it easier for the region to meet its climate change commitments.