Improving Northern Virginia Transportation | The Moyers Team

The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation has begun a study for transportation needs in Northern Virginia in 2040.  This plan is known as the Super NoVa Transit and Transportation Demand Management Vision Plan.  The study will focus on already stressed public transportation options, and find transportation enhancements for local, express, rapid, and priority bus services; guide way (streetcar), light rail, heavy rail, commuter rail, and intercity passenger rail.  The Northern Virginia area will be redefined by this study to include Caroline County (south), Culpeper County (west), and Frederick County (northwest). As a lifelong resident of Northern Virginia I understand the need for this study. The Northern Virginia transportation network is outdated.  Northern Virginia residents are now seeing construction of current transportation projects which should have been in place 30 years ago.  The present day requirements of effectively moving traffic in Northern Virginia require all existing forms of mass transit to extend to Spotsylvania County with stations complimenting established areas, and areas of projected growth.  But Metrorail and Metrobus halt passenger service from Washington, D.C. to Springfield (Blue Line) next to I-95,  and Vienna (Orange Line) next to I-66.
This requires Prince William County residents to rely on the Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission commuter bus service, slug lines,  and Virginia Railway Express to provide connection service to Washington, D.C. In 1982, the areas of Springfield and Vienna marked the start of traffic congestion.  But in 2012, traffic on I-95 and I-66 is routinely stop-and-go on both ends of Prince William County during weekday commutes to Washington, D.C.  Several of our past clients working in Northern Virginia, and Washington, D.C. tell us all methods of rail and bus services for commuters need to expand three times the current capacity to move passengers effectively.  The complaints we hear are the same.  There are not enough trains and buses to meet commuter demand. The same can be said about all commuter services in Northern Virginia.  Financing and revenue problems are the usual problems cited by transportation officials.  Whatever the reason for the outdated transportation system in Virginia, decades of failed planning and execution seem to cause commuters to pay user fees for a better commute.
The I-95 HOT Lanes and Dulles Toll Road are good examples. Interstate 95 HOT Lanes in Northern Virginia have become the latest VDOT answer to our traffic congestion.  They are a welcomed option by commuters living in the suburbs because the current commute is intolerable   In our opinion, citizens of Northern Virginia have gone decades without a reasonable explanation from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority why the biggest problem in Northern Virginia has been ignored, unexplained, or both.  HOV/HOT lanes should now extend to Spotsylvania County past Route 1 & 17 (Massaponax).  But we now deal with stop-and-go traffic at Route 234 (Dumfries) in Prince William County at merging HOV Lanes. The latest solution created by transportation officials is a private partnership to tax commuters to extend the headaches of a HOV/HOT Lanes merge to Route 610 (Garrisonville) in North Stafford.  That’s good news for the people in Prince William County.
Future traffic delays during daily commutes will now occur further south.  Commuters living in Stafford County and beyond get to sit in merging traffic further south on I-95.  Taking money from commuters to cut travel times has become an accepted option out of frustration, and lack of choices.  Previous decision makers for federal, state, region, and local transportation organizations have failed us, and it has made commuting options for home buyers as important as public education when searching where to live in Northern Virginia. Improvements to the Northern Virginia transportation grid include the recently completed I-95/I-395 & I-495 (Springfield Mixing Bowl) Project, I-495 Express Lanes, Fairfax County improvements of Route 123 (Ox Road), Route 28 (Sully Road), & Route 29 (Lee Highway), the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Silver Line Project, and the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project.
There is no doubt the creation, funding, and execution of upgrading a regional transportation system is complicated beyond the view of ordinary citizens.  It is frustrating to see current highway construction in Northern Virginia which should have should have occurred in the 1980′s.  I am hopeful the amount of highway construction in our region is a good sign for mass transit projects addressed in the National Capital Region Financially Constrained Long-Range Transportation Plan.  A rundown of current major transportation projects in Northern Virginia is at Virginia MegaProjects, and a rundown of smaller construction projects is found on the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) Northern Virginia Projects webpage.
PRTC only has until March 2016 to make changes before they’re forced to make some drastic cuts to bus service. Any changes will be implemented in July 2016.

The commuter buses of OmniLink and OmniBus service 7,400 passengers a day, their cross-county services 1,900 a day and their local bus routes service 3,700 residents a day. The commuter services cover 13 routes and the local services cover six routes. There is a $9 million annual shortfall in revenue for these services. It will be a big loss in the lives of commuting Prince William County residents if the Potomac Rappahannock Transportation Commission decides to terminate these services in 2016.

I urge citizens in Northern Virginia to ask questions from transportation officials at all levels of government. If development in Northern Virginia will push forward during our lifetime, we can’t settle for planning which provides an adequate 2012 regional transportation system in 2040.  Listed below are transportation organizations representing the future of Northern Virginia transportation planning, regional commuting, and quality of life.

  1. Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC):  15 members provide citizen viewpoints for long-term regional transportation policy to the Transportation Planning Board.
  2. Federal Highway Administration (FHWA):  Responsible for highway regulations related to metropolitan area transportation planning.
  3. Federal Transit Administration (FTA):  Responsible for public transit concerns of metropolitan transportation planning.
  4. National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC):  This is a federal agency which provides guidance for transportation issues on federal land in the national capital region.  The overdue improvements of Route 29 (Lee Highway) through Manassas National Battlefield Park in Prince William County involve the NCPC.
  5. Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA).  Responsible for advocating the transportation needs of Northern Virginia to state and federal government officials responsible for transportation project approval and funding.  The NVTA also works with jurisdictions in Northern Virginia to improve air quality, and develop a transportation plan for Northern Virginia.
  6. Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC):  Serves the counties of Arlington, Fairfax, & Loudoun, and the cities of Alexandria, Fairfax, & Falls Church.  The NVTC is one of two owners of the Virginia Railway Express (VRE).  The NVTC also coordinates public transit policies in Northern Virginia, and appoints members to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA).
  7. Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission (PRTC):  Provides local transit service in Prince William & Stafford counties, and the cities of Fredericksburg, Manassas, & Manassas Park.  The PRTC is also an owner of the Virginia Railway Express.
  8. National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board (TPB):  Members of this board include local officials, representatives of state transportation agencies, state legislators, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, and others.  The purpose of the Transportation Planning Board is to bring together regional decision makers to coordinate the planning and funding of future transportation projects in the region.  The TPB develops a Regional Transportation Priorities Plan to find and agree on problems facing the region.  The TPB is part of the Washington Metropolitan Council of Governments (WMCG). Click here for WMCG publications related to future short-term (six years) transportation projects, and over 750 long-term projects between 2012-2040.
  9. Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (VDRPT):   Provides technical support of rail initiatives.  This includes supporting the Virginia Railway Express and Amtrak.  Both the Virginia Department of Transportation, and the VDRPT report directly to the Virginia Secretary of Transportation, Sean Connaughton.  He is an experienced federal and state transportation official who previously served on the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, and several other regional transportation boards and commissions.  I observed his work as the Chairman of the Board of County Supervisors in Prince William County, and he was consistently a smart problem solving politician with forward vision above and beyond other local officials.  If there is one person who could change the history of sluggish regional transportation development in Northern Virginia, he is it.  If Mr. Connaughton eventually serves Virginia in the U. S. House of Representatives or U. S. Senate, I think he would have the intellectual ability, and political influence necessary to advance highway and mass transit funding for Northern Virginia.
  10. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA):  Metrorail, Metrobus, & MetroAccess.

The agencies listed above only represent the regional transportation planning organizations for Northern Virginia.  The list also involves other federal agencies, and organizations representing the interests of the District of Columbia and Maryland.  All of these government agencies working together for a common goal makes me wonder if cooperation and communication problems of so many agencies put the Northern Virginia transportation network 30 years behind to date.  The last 10 years of highway construction in Northern Virginia have given us progress, and anticipated growth rates in Northern Virginia will require the completion of all mass transit proposals in the 2040 plan.  I’ll be 75 in 2040.  I will be surprised if the transportation network in 2040 includes the present day visions of a 2040 Northern Virginia transportation system which includes mass transit reaching the far suburbs. If I’m not dead by then, I’ll be surprised, and hopefully retired.

The Author: Dwayne Moyers is a Northern Virginia Realtor and life-long resident of Northern Virginia.  He works with his wife Maryanne Moyers.  His strong points do not include waiting in lines or sitting in rush hour traffic on Northern Virginia highways.