Northern Va. transportation summit targets regional solutions

The American Legion Bridge is one of two bridge crossings between Maryland and Virginia. The other is the Wilson Bridge. (Courtesy of Maryland State Highway Administration)

MCLEAN, Va. – Congestion was the name of the game at a Thursday night forum where panelists called upon Northern Virginia’s elected leaders to think about regional traffic solutions.

The Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance (NVTA) hosted the event entitled, “What It Will Take to Make Transportation Regionalism Work.”

“The biggest challenge is to look at the big picture and take a top-down approach. We don’t have local transportation problems, we have regional transportation problems,” says NVTA President Bob Chase.

“Businesses don’t think in jurisdictional lines. People don’t think, if I live in Fairfax, I am going to Loudoun County. They’re going to a job. People who live in Loudoun going to Prince William, it’s just a fact of life,” he says.

Bob Buchanan of the 2030 Group says elected leaders have done a poor job separating local and regional interests. He suggests a Maryland, Virginia and D.C. regional group with representatives that aren’t beholden to specific jurisdictions and won’t be concerned with bringing the most back to the voters.

“If the need and the demand is great enough, we may just find ourselves willing to tackle specific improvements. There needs to be a group to work with Council of Governments that is accountable and can raise funds. A group that thinks regionally, not politically,” he says.

Buchanan represents a group of business leaders that wants to keep the region competitive with other states.

“You look at the political discourse right now. The rhetoric and the vitriol associated with the Bi-County Parkway. If that’s an indication of how we’re going to address our major transportation priorities, then I really worry that we won’t become the world class power we could be,” says Buchanan.

Panelists suggested politicians serving on regional transportation groups should be less concerned about bringing projects to their districts and more focused on approving projects that reduce the most traffic, regardless of the jurisdiction.

Martin Nohe, Chairman of the NVTA, agrees that regionalism is important and that it’s a delicate balancing act for politicians. He’s a Prince William County supervisors representing the Coles District as well.

“I think it’s very easy to get community leaders to agree that we need to work regionally. It’s harder to get them to agree what regionalism really means. Unfortunately, I think we’re still struggling with the notion that one man’s regional priority is another man’s boondoggle. Regionalism looks different to different people,” he says.

The NVTA approved a list of road and transit projects this summer, although the funding will remain on hold until a court rules on a lawsuit from Del. Bob Marshall. But Nohe hopes the transportation package will allow his organization to tackle some of these regional questions over the next six years.

“It’s not just Northern Virginia, ultimately we need to get Maryland involved in regional solutions. We need better bridge connections between Maryland and Virginia. We need to do the same thing on the American Legion Bridge as we did on the Wilson Bridge and put in managed lanes. Montgomery County and Fairfax County are the two largest jurisdictions in our region and it’s only connected with one bridge. That’s just crazy,” says Chase.

A solution in the near future seems unlikely, according to the transportation officials.

Maryland transportation officials suspended a study on solutions to the traffic problems between the American Legion Bridge and the Wilson Bridge a few years ago.

Maryland Transportation Secretary Jim Smith also tells WTOP there are no plans to spend money on big solutions near the American Legion Bridge with their new transportation dollars.

“We’re talking about competing to get the 2024 Summer Olympic Games, but how can we seriously think we can get it, unless we get a world-class transportation system?” asked Buchanan.

“We know we have the worst congestion in the country, we need to address that.”

Later this year, the 2030 group will release a list of 10 regionally significant projects called “game changers.” It’ll be the result of consultation with several transportation experts, many of whom remained anonymous to protect themselves against any political fallout.

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