Revising the County’s Transportation Chapter

Transportation planning ain’t simple, but the DC Examiner newspaper jumped the gun on June 27. It reported that the Board of County Supervisors had approved a new transportation plan.

Nope, not yet. The reporter heard the supervisors dreaming big, with little or no attention to budget challenges. However, those very expensive road and transit construction proposals mentioned in the article are not a “done deal” yet.

Last month, the Board just formally initiated the update of the Transportation chapter in the Comprehensive Plan. There’s still time to align the limited funding to the priority (vs. nice-to-have) projects.

There’s even time to consider how the county could steer new growth to certain areas, so we reduce the additional tax dollars required for new roads/transit.

A Mobility Committee appointed by the supervisors has drafted a new Transportation Chapter, just as a separate committee has drafted a new Land Use Chapter for updating that part of the Comp Plan.

The Board has not approved either draft chapter. It has just said “OK, it’s been 5 years since the last Comp Plan review. It’s time for Planning Commission to officially update these two chapters of the Comprehensive Plan.”

Next step: Planning Commission decisions in September/October to revise the inconsistent draft chapters. If the Planning Commission gets it right, future land use changes will be consistent with transportation changes… and we’ll get more bang for our buck, when building new roads/transit.

The reporter was confused by a separate regional planning document, “Transaction 2030.” That is a wildly-expensive, fiscally-unconstrained proposal. It does propose to extend the Virginia Railway Express’ Manassas line south through Nokesville, and west to Haymarket. (It also proposes building light rail from Manassas to Dulles, building a new bridge across the Potomac River from Dumfries to Maryland, building Metro to Potomac Mills…)

It’s easy to list projects that could be built. It’s harder to prioritize, to match limited funding.

The Mobility Committee specifically recommended which roads to build/widen, and where to focus investment in transit. It proposed over $2 billion in new infrastructure over the next 22 years.

However, the committee did *not* recommend extending VRE south into the Rural Crescent at Nokesville, or extending VRE west across Route 29 to Haymarket. The committee recognized there are limits to funding. (It also recognized that VRE should focus on serving existing development, and not invite further sprawl.)

Every election cycle, it’s customary to hear promises that ignore limits. After elections are over, however, it’s time to define real-world priorities that match realistic funding projections for schools, public safety, roads, etc.

The Comprehensive Plan update is supposed to shape the county’s growth pattern through the year 2030. This update, right after the election last November, will create a document for governing – not campaigning.

Determining how much new transportation infrastructure Prince William County will build in the next 22 years will be harder than making lots of “I will fix transportation” campaign promises in 2007. Even if the General Assembly approves new taxes/fees to finance new projects, there’s not enough money to build everything that has been proposed while we were stuck in a traffic jam.

It’s time for the Planning Commission, and then the Board of County Supervisors, to make some tough calls with this Comp Plan update. It will be interesting to see which officials will shift from campaigning to governing.

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