A review of more than 450 written public comments and more than an hour of in-person public comment and board discussion preceded a final vote by the TPB on November 16 to amend the region’s Constrained Long-Range Transportation Plan (CLRP). Regularly updating the plan is one of the TPB’s primary responsibilities as the federally designated metropolitan planning organization for the region.
This year’s CLRP amendment added five major new projects, including new Express Lanes on I-395, an 11-mile extension of Virginia Railway Express (VRE) commuter rail, new bus-only lanes on 16th Street in the District of Columbia, and an expansion of the District’s dedicated bicycle-lane network. The amendment also made changes to four major projects already in the plan and included several other smaller additions and changes.
MORE: See all of the major additions and changes in the 2016 CLRP Amendment
5 key CLRP-related actions at the Nov. 16 TPB meeting
The TPB took five formal actions to finalize this year’s CLRP amendment. The actions together pave the way for the TPB to submit the amendment and an update of the region’s six-year Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) for federal review and approval.
- ACTION #1: Accepted public comments and staff and agency responses to comments. The board reviewed and accepted the more than 450 written comments received during a 30-day comment period that ended November 12. The board also reviewed and accepted a set of “responses” developed by staff and sponsoring agencies explaining how the issues raised have been or will be addressed or directing commenters to other appropriate avenues to share their input. Listen to the full presentation and discussion.
- ACTION #2: Approved the results of the Air Quality Conformity Analysis. The federally required analysis demonstrated that future vehicle-related emissions of certain smog-forming pollutants will fall sharply in coming years under the plan and remain below approved regional limits. Most of the reductions will be thanks to tighter federal controls on vehicle technology and fuel formulation. Board member Dave Snyder (Falls Church) reminded the board that the region needs to remain committed to achieving further reductions through measures like transportation demand management, since tougher new air quality standards are expected in coming years. Listen to the discussion and vote.
- ACTION #3: Adopted the 2016 CLRP Amendment. The amendment included five major new projects, changes to four major projects already in the plan, and dozens of other smaller additions and changes. The amendment also reaffirms the hundreds of regionally significant highway, transit, and bicycle and pedestrian projects already in the plan. Four of the 28 board members present voted against the amendment, saying the plan does too little to improve the region’s transportation future. Listen to the discussion and vote or read more analysis below.
- ACTION #4: Approved the FY 2017-2022 Transportation Improvement Program (TIP). The TIP identifies amounts and sources of funding for hundreds of projects programmed for planning, engineering, or construction over the next six years. The TPB updates the TIP every two years, usually in conjunction with an update to the long-range plan. Listen to the presentation and vote.
- ACTION #5: Approved a certification of the metropolitan transportation planning process. When it approves the TIP, the TPB must also certify that the metropolitan transportation planning process it carries out meets all relevant federal requirements. Some board members expressed some reservations about the certification but ultimately voted to approve it. Listen to the presentation and vote.
A mix of criticism and praise emerged in the final discussion of the 2016 CLRP Amendment
Extensive public comment and board discussion preceded the TPB’s final votes related to the 2016 CLRP Amendment. Staff summarized and presented the more than 450 written comments submitted during a formal 30-day public comment period. Four people presented in-person comments at the beginning of the meeting. And several board members spoke up to express concerns, ask questions, or to explain their support for this year’s amendment.
In the end, the board approved the 2016 CLRP Amendment with broad support, saying that the projects in this year’s amendment were worthwhile and needed. But there was also a sense that the TPB should work toward developing a plan that will more positively impact future travel behavior and travel conditions in the region.
> Public comments focused on two main projects but many addressed a range of other issues
In all, the TPB received more than 450 written comments from individuals, businesses, organizations, and governmental representatives during the 30-day comment period that ended November 12. Most focused on two of the proposed additions in this year’s CLRP amendment:
- I-395 Express Lanes: More than 300 comments addressed the proposed addition of express toll lanes on I-395 in Northern Virginia. All but a few expressed support for the projects, for reasons including improved travel time for all users, the use of private rather than public funding, and that the tolls from the lanes will provide a revenue stream for transit improvements in the corridor. A couple of comments expressed concern about the potential adverse impacts of the lanes on lower-income travelers, while others said that no toll revenue should be used for transit services in the corridor.
- DC dedicated bicycle-lane network: About 160 comments addressed the District’s plan to expand its dedicated bicycle-lane network by removing travel lanes for automobile traffic on certain road segments throughout the city. Specifically, the comments opposed the addition of bicycle lanes on a portion of 6th Street NW, citing impacts on parking for several nearby churches as well as traffic implications for major downtown event venues. Representatives from the United House of Prayer, one of the churches affected by the 6th Street proposal, provided in-person comments at the TPB’s October meeting highlighting their congregation’s concerns. DDOT officials said the agency would work with church leaders to determine the best routing for the new bike lanes.
MORE: Full summary of all comments received on the 2016 CLRP Amendment
The November 16 meeting also featured in-person public comment from representatives of four area organizations. Kevin McNulty (Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce) and Brandon Shaw (Prince William County Chamber of Commerce) both spoke in favor of the projects slated for inclusion in the 2016 CLRP Amendment, citing the impact the projects will have on the region’s economy. Nancy Smith (Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance) applauded the key road projects in Virginia but said that the region needs a more strategic approach to identifying worthwhile projects that will have a truly regional impact.
Stewart Schwartz (Coalition for Smarter Growth) applauded the transit investments slated to be included in the plan but told board members that transportation investment will only get the region so far in solving its transportation problems. He said that more efficient growth patterns and land-use will be necessary to address regional transportation challenges.
> Board member Linda Smyth pressed VDOT on allowing commercial trucks to use I-66 Express Lanes
Last year’s CLRP amendment included the addition of a Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) plan to add new express toll lanes to I-66 inside and outside the Capital Beltway. The agency has since said that the private concessionaire that will build and operate the lanes has proposed allowing commercial trucks to use the lanes on the portion of the facility outside the Beltway.
At the November 16 meeting, board member Linda Smyth (Fairfax County) reiterated her ongoing concerns about the air quality, noise, and traffic impacts of allowing commercial truck traffic on the new lanes and pressed VDOT for an analysis of potential impacts.
“I understand what VDOT is saying here, except their analysis is not complete. The environmental analysis should include the impacts on neighborhoods and air quality,” Smyth said. “What they’re looking at essentially is the through-movements of trucks on the express lanes, not where they get off on the ramps and what neighborhoods they then drive through. And that should be part of the analysis.”
VDOT’s Rene’e Hamilton told Smyth that the state will study the effects as part of a reevaluation of the environmental analysis of the project.
“We are going to go through a reevaluation and look at those interchanges and potentially the impacts to neighborhoods around there,” Hamilton said. “We will go back in and look at air, noise, and all the traffic related to any changes,” she said.
Hamilton also explained that the results of that analysis would be taken through a public review and comment process, including bringing it back to the TPB, before VDOT makes a final decision.
“I will look forward to a very comprehensive analysis,” Smyth responded.
Listen to Smyth's comments (beginning at 12:18):
> Four board members voted against CLRP approval, saying the plan falls short
I understand the importance of why we do this work, keeping the system going. But I do think it’s important that at least some of us register our frustration that we do not have a CLRP that actually reduces congestion and improves performance by whatever related standards we determine are appropriate.”
That was the sentiment of board member Peter Schwartz (Fauquier County), who along with three other board members voted against adoption of the 2016 CLRP Amendment. Schwartz, along with two of the other opponents, Marc Elrich (Montgomery County) and Neil Harris (Gaithersburg), cited the CLRP's failure to improve travel conditions in the region despite tens of billions of dollars in capacity-expanding highway and transit projects.
“Some of us need to say more concretely that we don’t think this is where we really need to be,” Elrich said.
Metro’s Shyam Kannan was responsible for the fourth “nay” vote, saying that the transit agency could not support any amendment to the plan that did not include sufficient funding for Metro’s capital needs, including both reinvestment in existing infrastructure and key expansion projects.
The CLRP amendment ultimately passed with broad support—24 of 28 board members who were present voted in favor of the amendment.
Some board members publicly voiced their intention to cast a “yea” vote, including Jay Fisette (Arlington County), who said that the CLRP amendment process had given localities the chance to work with VDOT to refine the I-395 Express Lanes project.
“This project now includes as a base condition a minimum of $15 million annually for multimodal improvements in the corridor to promote transit use and moving more people and fewer vehicles. That was nowhere a part of the plan earlier,” Fisette said.
Board member Martin Nohe (Prince William County) also voiced his support, bringing a dose of reality to the discussion. Nohe said he agreed with the comments that the region needs a better long-range plan, but that the CLRP isn’t that plan.
“I believe we do need a bigger, multijurisdictional, regional plan that says, ‘Here is what we can do if we had the money,’” he said. “But the fact is, [the CLRP] is what we can do with the money that we have, and therefore I think we should go do it.”
Also publicly voicing their support were board members Cathy Hudgins (Fairfax County), Jonathan Way (City of Manassas), R. Earl Lewis, Jr. (MDOT), and TPB Chairman Tim Lovain (Alexandria).
Next steps for the CLRP
The 2016 CLRP Amendment as adopted will now be submitted for federal review and approval. The TPB will forgo a 2017 plan amendment and instead focus on the next major four-year update of the plan as required by federal law. The update will include revised estimates of available revenue and is expected to include a new “unconstrained” element to highlight projects for which funding has not yet been identified but that area leaders might want to rally support around to find new funding.
Other takeaways from the Nov. 16 TPB meeting…
- The TPB’s Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) endorsed Vision Zero. After a briefing on regional traffic safety data at its November 10 meeting, the committee formally endorsed Vision Zero, an effort to eliminate traffic-related bicycle and pedestrian deaths in the region. Read the full CAC report.
- Recruitment is underway for new CAC members for 2017. Applications to join the CAC for its 2017 term are due December 9. The three incoming TPB officers for 2017 will appoint nine new members to the committee, three from each state-level jurisdiction. Learn more and apply.
- Chairman Tim Lovain recapped the Nov. 2 traffic incident management conference. The conference brought practitioners and regional leaders together to discuss ways to further improve the region’s already robust traffic incident management practices. Read more about the conference.
- The TPB’s Long-Range Plan Task Force presented its Phase 1 report. The group is looking at the region’s unmet funding needs and is hoping to identify a limited set of projects with the greatest potential to improve the future performance of the region’s transportation system. The Task Force met just before the November meeting and expects to meet again soon in the new year. Read the full Phase 1 report.
- COG is leading work on a Metro funding study and establishing a new Metro safety oversight agency. COG Executive Director Chuck Bean updated the board on ongoing work to quantify unmet funding needs for Metro and to facilitate the establishment of the new tristate Metro Safety Commission (MSC). Listen to Bean’s full report.
Cover photo by Elvert Barnes/Flickr