Smart Growthers Blast GMU Study

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 Based upon “flawed and outdated assumptions,” says Executive Director Stewart Schwartz, this report was intended to “promote massive new spending on roads and sprawl.”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  • Relies upon outdated population projections.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.

– JAB

4 Responses to Smart Growthers Blast GMU Study

  1. And in this corner, wearing the green tights – the Mighty NIMBY. Wrestling against the Mighty NIMBY tonight, wearing red tights – the Dreaded Developer. Tonight’s referee will be Richmond Bubbleup from Henrico County, VA.

  2. The Corridor of Statewide significance has been opposed by numerous Boards of Supervisors on the ground that there is insufficient demand for the roadway, which will take funding away from other projects that are needed more. A road is a road. No it’s not. The Loudoun County BoS, responding to residents’ concerns, has declared its opposition to any above-ground connection into Maryland. The Outer Beltway should be flushed down the toilet and the money spent on projects that actually helps reduce traffic congestion and improve safety.

    The supporters of the road argue it is needed to bring more airfreight to Dulles Airport. However, no airlines or airfreight companies are in the lead supporting this project for such reason. I wonder whether they even know about it. Even more significant is that the boundaries of the corridor’s northern termination are not near Dulles and are on the side away from the terminals and support facilities. So how do the goods get to the airlines and airfreight companies? Probably they would need to drive down Route 7 to Route 28. My isn’t that efficient?

    If Til wants his Outer Beltway, let him build it as a public private partnership. Or based on the soon-to-be adopted funding plan for Tysons roads and bus transit, let him and his cronies pay the same 59.5% that the Tysons landowners are paying. Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

  3. to play a little bit of Devil’s advocate here. Developers are agnostic with respect to transportation mode – right?

    If they can make money at Smart Growth development… easier with less problems than with highways, I suspect they would.

    Or is this a “culture” thing with older developers?

    It is a bit funny that LOCAL (regional) developers like Hazel want a Corridor of Statewide Significance … until one takes note that National Interstates like I-95 and I-66 have been well co-opted for development and once the capacity is used up, they move on to greener pastures leaving the state and taxpayers to try to rehabilitate it.

    I think I read somewhere that Hazel has come right out and said it’s the responsibility of taxpayers to pay for roads and he made the point that even if you charge developers, (like with proffers), that these costs are just incorporated in the price of the residential and commercial development.

    What we are now seeing down our way – is proposals from developers with reduced proffers – and they are saying that the proffers are driving the cost of the houses up past the market price and they won’t sell if the proffers boost the price too much.

  4. Balance, common sense, and perspective are the keys to arriving at the best – cheapest, most practical, and workable – solutions here. NIMBYISM is as responsible for our current congestion and failing neighborhoods as mindless land use development. And Smart Growth Doctrine taken to the extreme also holds the potential to be equally destructive. Parties to the debate who Demonize Individuals are typically driven by counter productive ideologies. Their arguments should be discounted accordingly.

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