We asked two leaders who are guiding the implementation of Region Forward to comment on the progress that’s already been made what they’re looking forward to accomplishing in the coming year and how RF impacts their own communities.
Eric Olson is the Chairman of the Region Forward Coalition (RFC) and Vice Chair of the Prince George’s County Council
Frank Principi is the Chairman of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) and serves on the Prince William County Board of Supervisors
Q: Do you think this regional level of focus is key to Region Forward’s success?
A: (Olson) The key to achieving our goals for the metropolitan Washington region as a whole is that we must work collaboratively across our jurisdictions to create high levels of synergy employment education economic and environmental sustainability and transportation integration. These will not happen in silos. Our residents live their lives across our jurisdictional borders and not just from the suburbs into the downtown core but across all our lines. Our economy is regional and is competing with metropolitan areas across the nation and across the globe. We will only succeed as a vibrant region when all of its constituent parts realize the benefits of success.
A: (Principi) Right now inner jurisdictions like D.C. and Arlington may be significantly outperforming the outer suburbs toward a target like the overall share of bicycle trips. At the same time these jurisdictions may be limited in their ability to preserve green space. That’s why it is important for us to keep a regional perspective as we evaluate our progress toward our Region Forward goals.
However I believe that for most of our goals and targets all 22 of our local cities and counties will be able to make significant contributions. While we have our different geographies and development histories we are now seeing properly planned intelligently designed developments spring up all over our region. That’s no accident. These developments which are based on smart growth principles work well and are highly sought after. In Prince William County examples include the three transit-oriented town centers of Potomac Town Center Belmont Bay and North Woodbridge.
For example North Woodbridge improvements will leverage high-speed passenger ferry service on the Occoquan and Potomac Rivers Virginia Railway Express (VRE) the recently funded widening of Route 1 and the recent widening of Interstate 95 including the slug and future toll lanes. These developments in our county and across the region increase transit use add housing choices and spur new business creation which in turn will help us as a region move the needle closer to our goals.
Virginia Railway Express
Q: With many targets measuring impacts far into the future are trend lines the primary indicators of progress?
A: (Olson) Achieving our goals as a region is an ongoing process. We have seen tremendous growth and success in the last decade in parts of our region and many areas are virtually unrecognizable from the places they were four decades ago. The key to planning a 40-year future that includes a resilient economy a stronger workforce a smaller carbon footprint and healthy walkable neighborhoods is ensuring that progress is constantly being made and having regular regional assessments of our benchmarks.
If we are not creating greater equity for our region’s residents if disparities grow and if we are growing farther apart we will need to change our approach. But I believe today’s elected officials are committed to our region as a whole and that we will succeed in our bold effort to create a stronger set of benchmarks for our overall regional progress.
As gas prices continue drain folks’ wallets and with the DC area having some of the nation’s worst traffic a great deal of the public understands that having a strong public transportation system walkable mixed-use neighborhoods and access to nearby jobs are important for a vibrant community. I believe our local officials in the region have a good understanding of the need for such communities as well. We need to make sure therefore that those are the types of places we’re creating.
Q: As Chair of the COG Board how do your priorities for the region in 2012 align with the goals and targets of Region Forward? Are there certain areas within the plan that you would like to focus on in during your leadership?
A: (Principi) The economy. At first when people talked about this recession they focused mostly on the protective bubble the federal government has provided our region. Even though area residents were struggling and unemployment numbers were increasing our region was still doing better than almost any other part of the country. In recent months however the conversation has shifted. This was spurred in part by the huge automatic spending cuts that will be imposed as a result of the failure of the Congressional Supercommittee. If not prevented these cuts will have a massively negative impact on the region’s economy.
In addition to the economy transportation is a perennial issue in metropolitan Washington and that will be no different this year. I’ll work with this year’s Transportation Planning Board (TPB) Chairman Todd Turner to push our region’s transportation needs to the forefront of the agenda.
Q: The region has benefited from the protective bubble that the federal government’s presence has provided and has performed relatively well economically over the past few years. As that protective bubble becomes less certain (with likely reduced federal spending and employment) how can Region Forward help the region proactively prepare for this transition?
A: (Olson) As a coalition of officials representing our metropolitan region we have come together recognizing that we must work closer together to plan for our collective future particularly in less certain economic times. This will mean seeking ways to ensure that there is more equity across our region and across our economic groups as we grow. We cannot be strong as a whole if significant parts of our population are falling behind in any of the four indicators. We should grow our green economy technology health care and educational research sectors. We need to work from the strengths we have but also become a hub for future research and industry. We need to look at commerce in the years to come and use our significant institutions of higher education to spin off new technologies and research that will fuel a new economy.
A: (Principi) Part of the initial Region Forward planning process involved a workshop that examined how drastic changes or “Big Moves” would affect the region. One of the four scenarios considered a major reduction of the federal government’s presence in the region. While we probably won’t see the nation’s capital move from D.C. to Kansas City it is likely that the federal government’s current levels of spending and employment in the region will not be maintained. This year at the COG Board of Directors we’re going to be incorporating that scenarios work into the creation of an Economic Growth and Competitiveness Plan for metropolitan Washington. This plan will be developed by the COG Board in coordination with the Region Forward Coalition and will move us closer to Region Forward’s goal of a diversified stable and competitive economy.
Q: Lastly moving briefly from the regional to the local level how do you see Region Forward benefitting your jurisdiction?
A: (Olson) As a Prince Georgian I see the tremendous assets in my county – the 15 under-developed Metro stations the University of Maryland NASA-Goddard the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center Bowie State University Joint Base Andrews and more. I see the 60 percent of my County’s residents leaving Prince George’s daily to commute to work. I know that by focusing more jobs and investment on the eastern side of our region that it will help alleviate traffic it will create more of a balance in prosperity and it will even create more reverse commutes which can help stabilize WMATA by selling more Metro seats on trains that are currently empty traveling outbound.
By focusing on our overall regional goals it will allow the eastern half of the metropolitan area to do more for the region in the long run it will strengthen our overall workforce our competitiveness among regions and our place in the world.
Beltsville Agricultural Research Center
A: (Principi) For a fast-growing county like Prince William all of the Region Forward goals are important. Our residents want better transportation and housing choices a clean environment vibrant economy and safe communities. In the long term according to forecasts by the Council of Governments Prince William County will gain over 200000 new residents between 2005 and 2040 an over 60% increase in our population. The goals and targets in Region Forward help focus us on better managing this growth into our activity centers and around our transit stations.
Region Forward also challenges us to think boldly about our big challenges. For example to meet our Accessibility goals to reduce vehicle miles traveled and better connect our region’s activity centers I have been a strong proponent of high-speed ferry service along the Potomac River from Woodbridge VA to Washington DC. I’ve also been involved in the early discussions examining the feasibility of extending Metrorail from Springfield to Woodbridge. I think we must stay committed to working across our jurisdictional borders and identifying the big ideas that will shape a better future for all residents of the D.C. region.