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Capital Region Transportation Planning Board Highlights Transit, Livability
The Theodore Roosevelt Bridge (near) is one of the areas designated for priority bus improvements funded by TIGER grant money.  Photo: wallyg, flickr.

The Theodore Roosevelt Bridge (near) is one of the areas designated for priority bus improvements funded by TIGER grant money. Photo: wallyg, flickr.

Today’s National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board (TPB) meeting was evidence of a region ready to embrace sustainable planning, enhance its transit offerings, and improve its environment. The TPB is the federally designated Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) for the D.C. area and serves as the regional forum for transportation planning. It is associated with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG).

MEETING HIGHLIGHTS:

The Capital region was among the winners of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (USDOT) Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants, announced today. The money granted to our region – $58 million – will primarily fund priority bus transit.

The TPB’s application for TIGER funding for the regional Priority Bus Project was selected as one of 51 projects receiving funding. USDOT received $60 billion worth of projects for $1.5 billion in available funding – in other words, only 3% of the applicants were winners.

The TPB had submitted a package of possible projects so DOT could select portions to fund. TIGER grants will fund bus priority improvements (bus-only lanes, NextBus real time passenger information displays at stops, transit signal priority systems, queue jump lanes, etc.) on 16th Street, 14th Street, Georgia Avenue, H Street/Benning Road, Wisconsin Avenue and the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge in the District; Addison Road, University Boulevard, US Route 1 and Veirs Mill Road in Maryland; and the US 1 Transitway and Leesburg Pike in Virginia. Additionally, grants will cover a new rapid bus service from the Van Dorn metro station to the Pentagon, multimodal improvements to I-95/I-395 and a new transit center at the intersection of University Boulevard and New Hampshire Avenue on the border of Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties. Initiatives not funded included bikesharing and Metro station improvement projects, among others.

To see details on these projects and a full list of other projects funded, check out DOT’s information packet.

The Executive Director of the Federal Transit Administration, Matthew Welbes, spoke about a change in how the USDOT selects New Starts projects to fund.

The New Starts program is one of the agency’s largest discretionary programs, with $2 billion available. “New starts” are defined as new fixed guideways, including bus rapid transit, light rail and heavy rail. (For a local example, the Largo metro extension was funded under the New Starts program.) The USDOT has historically rated proposed projects according to “project justification” and financial criteria. There are six project justification criteria, each assigned a specific weight: economic development, mobility improvements, environmental benefits, operating efficiencies, cost-effectiveness, and land use. Along with the financial criteria, these six factors combine to form an overall rating. This overall rating must be “medium” or higher for a project to be eligible for federal funding.

However, in 2005, the Bush administration issued a “Dear Colleague” letter effectively overriding this law. They instructed the USDOT to consider only the cost effectiveness criterion, which focuses on travel time savings. In other words, unless a project met a certain travel time-saving standard, it would not be a candidate for funding. This resulted in DOT overlooking projects with solid environmental and other benefits – for instance, a streetcar project in Portland with important land use implications was passed over – and ineffective planning – for example, a new rail station’s platforms had to be shortened in order to meet the standard, then had to be lengthened later at significant added cost.

Fortunately, on January 13, USDOT Secretary Ray LaHood announced that the agency would comply with the original regulation. Once again, they will consider all six criteria when making New Starts funding decisions. Additionally, the DOT will initiate a rulemaking process examining how to include the full benefits of a project – including those related to land use, the environment, and economic development – in the cost-effectiveness criteria, rather than limiting consideration to travel time gains. The rule will be issued in the first half of 2010.

This change was a welcome one at TPB, and it ties into the new DOT/U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)/Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) livability agenda.

EPA’s new nitrogen dioxide and ozone standards will have serious implications for the Washington metropolitan region.

EPA recently issued a new NO2 standard, proposed stricter health standards for ground level ozone, and released guidance on the use of the new Motor Vehicle Emissions Simulation Model (MOVES) for regional air quality planning.

The new NO2 standard will require roadside monitoring starting in 2013. Though officials are not sure whether the D.C. area will be in nonattainment (i.e. fail to meet the standard) due to these new regulations, it is possible that the standard will affect our status.

Additionally, the EPA has proposed strengthening the eight-hour ozone standard, and is now taking public comments on this change. New nonattainment designations will be announced in August 2011. Officials believe the D.C. area will almost certainly be in nonattainment.

Finally, the region will begin using the new MOVES model, and dealing with its implications for air quality conformity, in 2012. The model differs from the one currently being used by MWCOG, most notably in that it produces higher emissions estimates.

Additionally, MWCOG is:

  • Looking out for HUD’s Sustainable Communities Planning Grant Program, which will make $100 million available to MPOs that integrate transportation, housing and environmental planning. Currently, HUD is asking for comments on the program’s structure.
  • Preparing for the next stimulus bill. Maryland DOT already has shovel-ready projects lined up, and the departments of transportation in the District and Virginia are preparing some.
  • Organizing a snowstorm after-action conference in March to examine the response to our recent severe weather, and to analyze the fiscal impact of closing government operations along with the additional costs of plowing roadways for governments already facing unprecedented budget shortfalls. Public and private sector representatives are invited to attend.
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