On January 15, the Transportation Planning Board unanimously approved the Regional Transportation Priorities Plan, the culmination of a multi-year effort to identify the top strategies for addressing the region’s most pressing transportation challenges.
Above all, the Priorities Plan calls for proper maintenance of the region’s existing highway, bridge, and transit network now and in the future. “Our very first priority should be to keep our existing transportation system in a state of good repair,” the plan says. “The infrastructure we’ve already built is the backbone of our economy and is the foundation for any improvements we make in the future.”
In particular, the plan says that agencies should ensure that roadways and bridges provide safe, reliable, and comfortable travel for people and goods, by making maintenance projects the first priority for use of highway funding.
On the transit side, the plan calls for keeping Metrorail, Metrobus, local bus, and commuter rail systems safe and in good working order, by addressing the remaining backlog of deferred maintenance, setting up systems to address maintenance challenges as they arise, and securing dedicated, reliable sources of funding to ensure that future maintenance is carried out as needed.
In a public opinion survey carried out to help identify strategies that could garner broad political support, highway and transit maintenance received positive ratings from 90% of respondents, more than any other strategy in the plan. Support was widespread among respondents from all parts of the region and regardless of whether they drive, take transit, or bike or walk.
In all, the plan identifies three key priorities, which the plan says are like building blocks, each essential in addressing our continuing transportation challenges. Proper maintenance of highways and transit serves as the foundational priority on which the others rely in order to be successful.
The second “building block” priority identified in the plan is to strengthen public confidence and ensure fairness and equity throughout the region. Public support is a prerequisite for any major or costly improvements to the transportation system, the plan says. Taking care of obvious things first, making common-sense improvements, engaging citizens in the planning and decision-making process, and using technology to achieve greater efficiencies and communicate better with the public are all steps the plan recommends in order to inspire greater confidence.
The second priority also includes improving access to transportation services, especially for traditionally disadvantaged populations -- persons with disabilities, low-income individuals, and persons with limited English proficiency. Doing so would help everyone use the system with greater ease and contribute to and benefit from the region’s vibrant economy.
The third “building block” priority in the plan concerns the nuts and bolts of transportation planning and engineering: how to move more people and goods more efficiently.
The priority aims to address congestion and crowding by increasing the capacity of the system as well as by alleviating demand on it. Targeted roadway improvements and other ways to smooth traffic flow can squeeze more capacity out of the existing road network in the short-term, while longer-term efforts, including express toll lanes on highways, cost-effective surface transit, and running more trains and buses on the existing Metro system, would help accommodate future growth in travel.
Of equal importance in the third priority is alleviating demand on the existing system, in an effort to use the infrastructure we already have more efficiently. The plan’s most significant recommendation is to concentrate more housing and job development in mixed-use Activity Centers, especially near transit, to make it possible for more people to take advantage of alternatives to driving. And focusing attention on Activity Centers on the eastern side of the region would help ensure greater socioeconomic equity and redistribute travel patterns to take greater advantage of existing unused road and transit capacity.
The Regional Transportation Priorities Plan is the culmination of several years of work by the TPB to identify the top priorities for addressing the Washington region’s most pressing transportation challenges. It relies on technical analysis, public outreach, and stakeholder involvement to identify strategies that the whole region can get behind. The plan is dedicated to the memory of Ron Kirby, long-time director of transportation planning at the TPB, who worked on the plan from its beginning.