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TPB Weekly Report

December 18, 2012

Worsening Congestion Expected to Reduce Access to Jobs For Some, Not Others

A recent Transportation Planning Board analysis that shows worsening congestion on the region's roadways and transit systems through 2040 also predicts an overall decline in the average number of jobs that will be reasonably accessible by car, even as more than 1.1 million new jobs are forecast to be added in the region during the period. At the same time, the average number of jobs accessible within a 45-minute trip by transit is expected to grow.

The analysis, which is based on the latest update to the region's Constrained Long-Range Transportation Plan, or CLRP, found that the number of jobs accessible by car within a 45-minute drive for the average resident of the Washington region will decline by 72,000 between now and 2040. Currently, the average resident can reach about 1.3 million jobs by car in that amount of time.

For people who take transit, the number of jobs accessible within 45 minutes is expected to increase by about 80,000, from 419,000 to nearly 500,000, although the average resident will still be able to access almost two and a half times as many jobs by car.

The changes in accessibility by car are expected to differ greatly in different parts of the region.

Significant losses are anticipated on the eastern side of the region. In Prince George's County, close to 450,000 people -- or about 52% of the county's population -- live in areas where at least 300,000 fewer jobs are expected to be reasonably accessible by car compared to today. In Montgomery and Fairfax Counties, about 15% of the population lives in such areas.


In the west, many areas are forecast to see increases in the number of jobs accessible by car. In much of Fairfax County, residents are expected be able to access at least 100,000 more jobs by car in 2040 than they are today, with some areas seeing accessibility gains of more than 300,000 jobs. Large swaths of both the District of Columbia and Arlington County are expected to see significant gains in accessibility through 2040.

While the declines in accessibility by car in some parts of the region are due mainly to congestion -- as highways become more crowded, it simply takes longer to get places -- the stark differences between these areas result mostly from imbalanced job growth. In the westernmost counties -- Loudoun, Fairfax, and Prince William -- job growth is expected to outpace growth in the easternmost counties -- Prince George's and Charles -- by more than 300,000 jobs over the next three decades.

When it comes to transit, the analysis shows much less regional variation in the changes in accessibility.

Gains of up to 100,000 jobs are expected throughout much of the region, since transit does not suffer nearly as much from delays as a result of overcrowding as roadways do. But some areas are forecast to see declines in accessibility by transit, much of it resulting from roadway congestion making it harder to access transit stations by car or bus.

This picture of the region's transportation future is not necessarily an inevitable one. The TPB's analysis is based on current planning and funding trajectories outlined in the CLRP, which reflects current forecasts of population and job growth and the major transportation improvements that the state and local jurisdictions in the region currently expect to build or implement over the next three decades.

Several of the TPB's existing planning activities -- including the Transportation/ Land-Use Connections program, or TLC, and a planned study under the federal Transportation, Community, and System Preservation program, or TCSP -- aim to shift the current trajectories somewhat by encouraging development patterns that bring jobs and housing closer together and shift future development into areas near current or planned transit stations, and by improving multimodal transportation options.

The TPB's analysis of future job accessibility in the region is an important one because it shows what current forecasts and planning imply for future economic opportunity for the region's residents. As the region adds 1.1 million jobs by 2040, a drop in the average number of jobs that are reasonably accessible by car -- with significant losses on the eastern side of the region -- is a call to action for planners and decision-makers.

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"TPB Weekly Report" is an online publication designed to provide brief, timely summaries of recent TPB research, analysis, outreach, and planning in the metropolitan Washington region.

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Questions and comments about "TPB Weekly Report" should be directed to Ben Hampton.