The annual process of updating the region's constrained long-range transportation plan, or CLRP, started last October when the Transportation Planning Board called on state, local, and regional transportation agencies to submit their proposed additions and changes.
Now, following a period of public comment on the package of 21 proposals that were submitted by the Virginia and District of Columbia departments of transportation, the TPB will continue the process of updating the plan by determining whether shifts in travel patterns that might happen because of the proposed changes will push future vehicle-related emissions above targets previously set by the region and approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
But that analysis of air quality impacts, which the TPB conducts every spring as part of the annual update process, will now include two additional project considerations, thanks to input from hundreds of individuals and advocacy organizations during the most recent public comment period.
The new project considerations are two additional alternatives to a proposal by the Virginia Department of Transportation to provide better access by car and truck to Dulles International Airport from Loudoun County on the western side of the airport.
Planners hope to support significant growth in passenger and air cargo traffic at Dulles in coming decades, which they say will require better access than is currently available, particularly for freight trucks.
One option proposed by VDOT is to construct a new $800-million, four-lane highway in the existing right-of-way of US 50 and the Loudoun County Parkway.
A less costly alternative, also put forth by the state agency, would involve building a new three-mile route north from US 50 along the planned North Star Boulevard, then east just south of Broad Run. The price tag would be a little more than $150 million.
The two new alternatives that resulted from input received during the public comment period include a widening of US 50 and the Loudoun County Parkway -- rather than construction of a whole new parallel route -- and a "no-build" option.
The option to widen existing facilities would be considerably less expensive than building a new road -- around $268 million -- while the "no-build" option would give the TPB the flexibility to postpone a decision on the overall proposal, if it reached no agreement on the best alternative, without delaying the adoption of the other proposed changes.
Most of the other project updates and changes by VDOT also involve building new roads, widening existing ones, or otherwise adding roadway capacity.
The biggest proposed widening of existing roads in terms of new-lanes miles and cost would be the addition of two new access lanes in either direction along a six-mile stretch of the Dulles Toll Road between Spring Hill Road and Wiehle Avenue. The project would add 24 lane-miles of highway at a cost of $186 million. The other four expansion projects include widening portions of Leesburg Pike, Jefferson Davis Highway, the 495 Express Lanes, and I-395.
The remaining VDOT proposals include on- and off-ramps on the Dulles Toll Road in the vicinity of Tysons Corner and Leesburg and at the Capital Beltway, and a $500,000 study of a new six-mile highway bypass of Manassas between VA 234 and I-66.
The projects proposed by the District of Columbia differ significantly from those proposed by Virginia. They include seven lane-reduction or reconfiguration projects and changes to three bike-lane projects that are already in the CLRP.
Most of the lane-reduction projects would remove one travel lane in either direction from roads that currently have a total of four or six lanes. In most cases, the reductions are designed to make it safer and easier for bicyclists and pedestrians to travel along the route, usually by slowing traffic to a safer speed.
The three changes to existing bike-lane projects include a shortening of two planned cross-town bicycle lanes on L and M Streets in Northwest Washington, and removal altogether of a planned bike lane on 9th Street.
The annual process of updating the CLRP typically begins in October and ends the following July. Federal law requires that the air quality impacts of any regionally-significant project or program be analyzed before the project or program can be built or implemented. The law also says that the plan can only include those projects and programs for which funding "is reasonably expected to be available" in the future. Together, these requirements mean that the CLRP paints the most realistic picture of how the region's transportation system will evolve in coming decades because it reflects the latest planning and funding realities at the state and local level.
The recent public comment period, which was the first of two during this year's update process, influenced the 2013 update to the constrained long-range transportation plan by leading planners and officials to consider additional alternatives to a significant proposal to build new highway access to Dulles Airport. When the TPB completes the air quality analysis of these alternatives and the other proposals under consideration in this year's update, the public will have another opportunity to comment on the changes before the TPB votes in July on whether to incorporate the changes into the long-range plan.