The Coalition for Smarter Growth takes an even dimmer view than I do of a new George Mason University study, “Connecting Transportation Investment and the Economy in Metropolitan Washington.” Based upon “flawed and outdated assumptions,” says Executive Director Stewart Schwartz, this report was intended to “promote massive new spending on roads and sprawl.”
While acknowledging the need for some transit, the study justifies “a wasteful expansion of highways which would fuel more spread-out development and yet more traffic,” said Schwartz in a press release. “This includes real estate mogul and 2030 Group backer Til Hazel’s primary goal of an outer beltway in Virginia.”
The Coalition for Smarter Growth cited the following flaws in the GMU analysis. The report:
- Relies upon outdated population projections. “Demand for housing with long commutes has collapsed and may never recover, given high gas prices, the ever-smaller percentage of households with children, and the strong demand of millennials, retiring baby boomers and empty nesters to live in walkable, urban and transit-oriented communities.
- Relies upon old regional “activity centers” data, ignoring emerging centers in older commercial corridors which are planned as “efficient transit-focused centers.”
- Fails to acknowledge the failure of highway expansion to fix congestion. New highway capacity induces more auto-centric development, which increases the number of trips.
- Fails to fully account for the benefits of transit and transit-oriented communities. Mixed-use, transit-oriented communities shift many trips from cars to transit, walking and biking.
Bacon’s bottom line: While the GMU study did make a case for more transportation investment, the authors never explicitly called for highway improvements. They implied that more spending on roads was needed by arguing that transportation modes — cars, transit, walking/biking — will have the same market share in 2040 as they do today. But the report offered no specifics.
The Coalition’s suspicion derives from two things. First, the study was underwritten by the 2030 Group, a pro-development advocacy group based in Northern Virginia. Second, it was rolled out at a forum of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, which has lobbied extensively for an increase in transportation funding and in favor of new north-south corridor, often referred to as an Outer Beltway.
Will the study be used in the way the Coalition fears? Let’s put it this way: One of the speakers at the forum was Gary Garszynski, Northern Virginia’s representative to the Commonwealth Transportation Board. His topic: The Northern Virginia Bi-County Parkway and Corridor of Statewide Significance.