Travelers in the Washington region will face considerably more roadway and transit congestion in coming decades if current planning and funding trajectories are allowed to continue.
That's the main finding of a recent Transportation Planning Board analysis of how well the projects and programs in the region's long-range transportation plan will meet the increased demands brought on by anticipated population and job growth over the next three decades.
The plan, formally called the Constrained Long-Range Transportation Plan, or CLRP, includes all of the regionally-significant transportation projects and programs that the states and local jurisdictions in the region expect to build or implement between now and 2040.
Currently the plan includes almost $223 billion in anticipated spending, 70% of it needed for maintaining and operating the existing system of roads, transit, and bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. Only $67 billion, or 30%, is slated to be spent on expanding the system, whether by building or widening roads, constructing new transit lines, or purchasing railcars and buses to provide additional capacity.
The TPB's recent CLRP analysis showed that the expansion that is planned will hardly keep pace with forecast demand.
By 2040, the region's population is expected to increase 24% -- an additional 1.3 million people -- while the number of jobs is forecast to swell by 37%. The TPB's travel models predict that such growth will lead to increases in total driving -- measured in vehicle-miles of travel, or VMT -- of 25%. Vehicle work trips are expected to increase by 27%, while transit work trips are expected to increase by 28%.
Meanwhile, the CLRP only includes a 7% increase in new lane-miles of roadway and specifically points out that Metrorail lacks the funding needed to run all eight-car trains during peak hours, a key to increasing the capacity of the Metrorail system.
Together these pressures will result in a 78% increase in the number of lane-miles of congested roadway during the morning peak hour, according to the analysis. And four of Metrorail's five lines to and through the regional core will be "congested" or "severely congested" during the morning peak, compared to just one today.
Predictions like these help illustrate the impacts that current planning and funding decisions will have on the transportation system and its ability to meet the region's needs. The TPB performs such analyses to help planners and decision-makers evaluate the effectiveness of current plans and to gauge the relative impacts of alternative growth or transportation investment scenarios.
One alternative growth scenario that the TPB studied in 2010 assumed that half of housing and job growth in the region between 2015 and 2030 would be located in mixed-use development near transit stations. The TPB's travel models showed an 11% increase in transit ridership and a 17% increase in trips made by bicycle or on foot compared to the trajectory outlined in the then-current CLRP.
The analysis of that scenario showed that shifting anticipated growth patterns and land-use can have a significant impact on transportation outcomes. Analyses of this and other strategies will help planners and decision-makers identify those approaches that offer the greatest potential to address the transportation challenges the region faces.
The TPB's recent analysis of the long-range transportation plan for the region paints a bleak picture of the future. And changing that future will not be easy, especially as transportation revenues continue to decline and the expense of maintaining aging infrastructure continues to rise. The analysis tools the TPB uses can assist decision-makers in their efforts to find the transportation and land-use strategies that have the best chance of improving our transportation future.