Regional transportation leaders critical of Washington area council of governments
The event was part of the Loudoun Chamber of Commerce's PolicyMaker Series that examines consequential issues in the region and state.
Monica Backmon, executive director Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, David Birtwistle, CEO of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance and Richard Parsons, vice chair of the Suburban Maryland Transportation Alliance painted a picture of a region with the capacity to fund major transportation projects, but one that lacked the leadership to steer them in the right direction, making the projects beneficial to the region as a whole.
The transportation heads agreed that funding Metro’s core projects and a new Potomac River crossing could be some of the top regional transit investments.
However, they noted in order to sustain those and future projects, the region’s business community, congressional delegation and Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments would need to help more than they have been.
Birtwistle and Parsons said that, if they had to rate the 300-member council of governments -- which is made up of elected officials from 23 local governments for its efforts in creating an “effective transportation plan” -- MWCOG would get a D or F grade.
The two said MWCOG had become plagued by special interest groups and that its members now only lobby for the interests of their own jurisdictions without considering the greater region’s transportation needs.
“Most of the activities that are undertaken by these bodies are looking at 'What’s in it for my jurisdiction?’ and not necessarily what’s good for the entire region,” Birtwistle said. “Long-term plans are developed, reams of paper are wasted on priorities that have no priorities ... so we’re not getting the value of what this organization is intended to do for the region.”
Parsons said what he saw in MWCOG’s recent regional transportation priorities plan report read like “gobbledy gook” because of the many different individual priorities listed in the report.
“Instead of doing real long-range planning, all [MWCOG’s] doing is stapling together local priorities in each jurisdiction into a big binder and calling it a regional plan,” Parsons said.
They agreed the private sector could play a role in steering discussions around transportation projects in the right direction and speeding up the overall process to get things built.
“Unequivocally, the business community has to be the driver of any discussions when more regional projects are undertaken,” Birtwistle said.
Birtwistle noted the importance hearing from employers and those who could chose to relocate their business outside of the region about the need for completing key transportation projects.
“That’s what gets the public decision maker's attention,” he said.
Thursday’s State of Transportation discussion came as the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority is in the midst of updating its TransAction 2040 plan.
TransAction 2040 helps fund northern Virginia jurisdictions’ transportation projects that alleviate congestion in the region.
According to NVTA, recommended improvements in the Financially Constrained Long-Range Plan and the TransAction 2040 plan represent nearly $42 billion in transportation infrastructure and service expansion and $44 billion in highway and transit operations and preservation from 2011 to 2040.
NVTA Executive Director Backmon said she expects the authority will adopt TransAction 2040 in early October, but she noted they are still looking at a list of regional “mega projects,” including the Metrorail extension, the American Legion Bridge, Virginia Railway Express expansion, a Potomac River crossing and more.
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