Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Silver Line Metro expansion a classic example of the need to have true regional transportation planning

Yesterday's papers had more on the continuing story of the fallout over the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority's choice of a more expensive subway connection at Dulles Airport (see "Loudoun weighs pulling Dulles rail funds" from the Post).

The story discusses how some Loudoun County Supervisors are reconsidering their decision to participate in the expansion of the Metro heavy rail transit system (I won't call it a subway because out there it will be above-ground), because of the controversy over the additional costs for building a better station connection at the Dulles Airport.

From the article:

The 23-mile Metrorail extension to Route 772 in Loudoun is being built in two phases. Loudoun’s share of the estimated $3.5 billion second leg would rise to $300 million, officials said, based on an underground location for the Dulles stop. ...

The first phase, connecting to the existing system near East Falls Church and extending to Wiehle Avenue in Reston, is scheduled to open in 2013 with five stations and will cost $2.75 billion. The second phase is expected to have six stations, including the one at Dulles, and could open by 2016.

Fairfax County has committed to financing 16.1 percent of the rail project’s total cost; Loudoun is expected to pay 4.8 percent; and the airports authority would finance 4.1 percent. The rest of the project would be paid for with state and federal funds and with revenues from the Dulles Toll Road.

4.8% of the total cost is $300 million. Arguably, Loudoun County will spur far more than that in new development and investment in the county, and reduce its reliance on automobile-centric mobility.

But the Airport connection raises another issue in terms of "who benefits?" vs. "who pays?" and should be considered more broadly. We shouldn't be too quick to condemn the shortsightedness of Loudoun County's elected officials, because they are pointing out a problem with the transportation planning and funding process.

1. We don't plan transportation infrastructure regionally, instead each of the jurisdictions does its own thing, and the various projects are cobbled together in the regional transportation planning and funding process, which is coordinated by the federally designated Metropolitan Planning Organization, which here is the Transportation Planning Board of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

2. This includes transit planning. While WMATA was involved, the Silver Line was initiated by the State of Virginia.

3. So planning for the line reflected Virginia's preferences and didn't take into account other transit system needs, such as the need for an additional crossing over the Potomac River, and the desire to create a "separated blue line" serving Georgetown and other points in the city, and adding redundancy and capacity in the core of Washington, where capacity is expected to reach early next decade.
Proposed changes for the WMATA system, 2001 (separated blue line)
Washington Post graphic, 2001. Plans for the blue line extension were scuttled in 2003, although recent planning visions for the subway system have revived this idea.

4. On the other hand, having a rail connection to the region's major international airport is desirable not just for Fairfax and Loudoun Counties but for the entire region, and the argument could be made that making such a connection shouldn't only be the financial responsibility of those particular jurisdictions.

In fact I have argued that it is on this scale that the airport connection should be considered, and that the quality of the proposed connection and the alternatives should be compared to other international airports, and judged accordingly.

5. Although rather than make jurisdictions like DC or the State of Maryland pay into this expansion (although DC could have and should have if the Silver Line was used to create the separated blue line) for it, there ought to be an ability to have a surcharge on airline tickets for flights arriving and departing from Dulles Airport. EXCEPT that federal law doesn't allow it.

All this goes to show what a mish-mash transportation planning and infrastructure funding ends up being, and how it becomes an extreme disservice to the region.

True regional transportation planning would be the first step. Also see "Metropolitan Mass Transit Planning presentation."

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