A current Transportation Planning Board effort to identify the region's top transportation infrastructure needs and ways to pay for those improvements is, according to a report released last week by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, one of five key ways the Washington region can help make its economy stronger and more competitive.
The report -- known as "Economy Forward" -- comes in response to the concerns of local officials and economic experts in the region who have said that reduced spending by the federal government in coming years, which is seen as more and more likely, could cause a severe ripple effect throughout an economy that has for decades relied heavily on the presence of the federal government.
The report identified transportation as a top priority because business leaders and economic development experts across the region agree that a high performing transportation system is essential to attracting new businesses to the region, especially those that are less dependent on federal spending.
In a survey conducted as part of the Economy Forward effort, business leaders most often cited the region's transportation system as the top challenge in recruiting new businesses to the area.
As a result, Economy Forward strongly recommended greater investment in transportation infrastructure, and it pointed to the TPB's existing work to develop a regional transportation priorities plan -- which began in July 2011 and is set to be complete in July 2013 -- as a way to identify the most needed infrastructure investments and ways to pay for them.
Already, the TPB has engaged business leaders, transportation experts, smart growth advocates, and the general public in several rounds of discussion about the challenges the region faces -- like increasing highway and transit congestion -- and strategies that could address those challenges -- like increasing the capacity of the Metrorail system or bringing highways and bridges to a state of good repair.
Additional public outreach is planned for the coming year to further refine the strategies in the plan, and the TPB will work to assess the relative costs and benefits of each strategy to identify those which offer the greatest potential contributions to addressing regional transportation challenges.
Ultimately, the plan will identify 10 to 15 near-term, ongoing, and long-term priority strategies that the TPB hopes will garner broad-based public support, and it will identify specific ways to pay for those strategies -- like increasing gas taxes or instituting new sales taxes.
The other recommendations in Economy Forward endeavor to build on the region's existing assets, which the report says include a highly-educated workforce, numerous housing and job centers located near transit, strong international diversity and connections to places and people around the world, and an entrepreneurial climate that, in terms of the number of fast-growing private new businesses, rivals that of any other region in the country.
In addition to greater investment in transportation infrastructure, the report specifically calls for the Council of Governments to work with its regional partners to achieve the following outcomes: a stronger working relationship with the executive branch of the federal government to identify ways to mitigate impacts of cuts in federal spending, a strategic plan to guide future investment in the region's transit-oriented activity centers, an industry and labor market analysis to ensure that workers are being trained for jobs in fields that are growing now or will be in the future, and a new regional brand that reflects and promotes the region's growing economic diversity.
The Transportation Planning Board's priorities planning effort -- which aims to identify the region's top transportation infrastructure needs and ways to pay for those improvements -- is one component of a broader strategy to help the region become more economically competitive and to weather possible future cuts in federal spending.