Responding to the Critics

October 17, 2012
By The 2030 Group

Sid Dewberry’s blog series will continue tomorrow and end on Friday, October 19.

We all want the Washington Metropolitan Region’s economy to expand and offer its residents the high quality of life they deserve; that’s why The 2030 Group has been commissioning and funding studies, research, and analysis which are academic, scientific, and based on objective data. On the heels of John McClain’s transportation study, we have seen and heard criticism regarding the accuracy of the data used, the findings, and their implications. While we welcome differing opinions in the ongoing discussion over the region’s future, we think it is important to respond to these criticisms directly.

Here’s the reality regarding the GMU report’s data: they are well-regarded, and some of the negative responses we have heard are founded on false assumptions. This report is based on official data and conducted by transportation and economic professionals. This report uses official Council of Governments and local government data and economic modeling, using widely recognized standards, the accuracy of which is agreed to by scores of transportation and land use professionals.

While the TPB Cooperative Population, Jobs and Household Forecasts may not represent the region’s “official forecast,” they are compiled from local government data and the final product is “negotiated.” In other words, based on local estimates, COG/TPB calculates the region will have given numbers of people, jobs and households in select benchmark future years.

Far from trying to “justify highway investments” the GMU report looks at the world and splits in travel modes as they exist today and are most likely to exist in the future, again based on COG analysis. Critics claim the report’s assumptions are “outdated.” However, such claims do not make the assumptions false. The report is based upon analysis and projections that are reviewed and updated regularly.

While some may say that additional highway capacity won’t solve the problem, most recognize that such new capacity is essential to future mobility and economic prosperity. Critics said that the new Wilson Bridge wouldn’t reduce congestion. It has. They said that widening I-66 outside the Beltway wouldn’t reduce congestion. It has. Critics opposed the 2002 Northern Virginia Transportation Referendum, saying there were better ways to fund transportation. A decade later, Virginia’s transportation funding levels are lower, not higher. And critics disapproved of Governor McDonnell’s $4 billion transportation funding package, which is making a difference throughout the Commonwealth today.

The critics assume that Prince George’s County and Route 1 “activity centers” are the wave of the future and will meet their expectations, but that does not mean they will or that the current projections are in error. Wishing for greater investment and/or zoning for certain areas and densities is not the same as market demand. Let’s not ignore the research that shows where our economic development is being generated today and projected for the future. It is not, nor will be, in a revitalized Prince George’s County and Route 1 Corridor.  These assumptions are unsubstantiated.

While some claim that demands for long distance commuting have “collapsed,” official data show such commuting is increasing and is likely to continue to increase. As housing prices inside the Beltway continue to escalate, housing stock becomes less affordable. Even if affordability changes to some extent, the trends do not suggest that most of the projected two million new residents in the next 30 years will reside inside the Beltway.

Although COG has issued a document supportive of transit-oriented development, and the 2030 Group acknowledges the importance of planning for transit, this does not change the reality that 30 years from now the vast majority of daily trips will continue to be on roads. In fact COG has issued such reports for two decades and little has changed in the way of mode splits. Despite the success of transit, it still only accounts for 20-25% of all work trips. This doesn’t mean transit is irrelevant. Simply that it alone can’t and won’t come close to supporting the region’s mobility needs.

The GMU study acknowledges that significant new transit development will occur, particularly in the Tysons/Reston/Herndon/Dulles Corridor areas. However, transit oriented development requires good external access and internal circulation. Absent such funding much of this projected transit oriented development might not occur. In the end, transit oriented development is important. It can help make current and future highway, bridge and transit investments opiate more effectively. However, it is not a substitute for them.

In short, when comparing the expertise, body of knowledge, and consensus that stands behind the GMU report with that of a couple of critics, it is no contest. The 2030 Group is trying to create a meaningful dialogue, rather than dismissing credible research and analysis out of hand. The GMU report begins this important dialogue on how to connect where people live to where people work in our great region.