No Region Is An Island

July 30, 2012
By The 2030 Group

Allen Roberts is Vice President of Operations for Cox Communications – Virginia.

Picture this: you’re driving on historic Lee Highway, busy, crowded, humming with commuters and commerce across Fairfax County, and as soon as you cross over the Arlington line, its paved, well maintained lanes turn into a dirt road. Would that be efficient? Would it be good for business? Would it persuade companies to relocate here? Of course not. No man is an island, as the saying goes – and no jurisdiction is, either.

We are all connected and all in this together. Fortunately, the Washington Metropolitan region has long flourished because of a philosophy that regional solutions to such issues as the transportation, growth and development, affordable housing and others are the recipe for success with the help of groups like the Washington Metropolitan Council of Governments.

But I now fear this long record of success is in jeopardy. I’m not alone in this view: last week, Virginia lost its ranking in a CNBC survey of Best States for Business. In one year, we fell from first to third. Why? CNBC said – and now anyone thinking of doing business here knows – that the decline was due in large part to our infrastructure problem. Bad roads. Aging bridges. Underfunded mass transit. The list goes on.

The numbers are alarming: Virginia plunged 23 spots – all the way to 33rd place – in the “Infrastructure & Transportation” category. In fact, George Mason’s University’s Center for Regional Analysis said in its June 2011 report on Commute Times in the Washington Metro Area that, “Washington area commuters have the second longest commute among workers in the nation’s 15 largest metropolitan areas; only New York area commuters spend more time getting to work. Nearly half of the region’s workers commute more than 30 minutes each way to work. About 16 percent commute more than an hour and four percent—more than 100,000 commuters—travel 90 minutes or more each way to work. “

In other words, a business in another state or country that is contemplating relocating workers, or building a new facility, has dozens of places that are easier to get around in than Virginia. We’re losing ground to the competition.

The Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance’s “What You Should Know About Transportation” makes some important points regarding future trends. “The metropolitan Washington region has added millions of people and jobs in the last few decades and most of these have located outside the Beltway. National Capital Transportation Planning Board forecasts project this outward trend will continue. Today’s congestion is not from a lack of planning, but a lack of political will to build the roads, bridges and a few transit links planners in the 1960s recommended be in place by 2000.” The report goes on to tout Washington’s public transit system as a “great success,” explaining that this region ranks second to New York in percentage of daily work trips are made on public transit. Construction of long planned parkways, bridges and rail links is important to serve current and future travel demand and offer many other benefits,”

And this is only part of the problem. Housing is also part of the problem and must be addressed. Too many people live too far from where they work, forcing them to commute long distances each day. For example, at my company, Cox Communications, 64% of our Fairfax County-based employees don’t even live in Fairfax County. Think how much of a boost it would be for our economy and how much less stress there would be on our over-crowded and underfunded transportation system, if they – and hundreds of thousands of other workers in the region – could actually live where they work and work where they live. Housing and transportation go hand in hand; improving one can mean improving the other.

Think about this the next time you’re sitting in traffic, burning gas and burning time.

Let’s set a goal: to strengthen our long term commitment to regional solutions to our problems so that our region has a future as prosperous as our past.