Skip to Content
Streetsblog USA home
Streetsblog USA home
Log In
Streetsblog.net

When “Congestion Reduction” Policy Actually Doubles Down on Congestion

The powers that be in Northern Virginia are getting ready to divvy up $350 million between a list of transportation projects. But in this growing, congested region, highway projects always have an edge over transit in these types of budgeting sessions, thanks to some old-fashioned policies that come from the state DOT.

A map of the locations of 34 projects selected by the powerful Northern Virginia Transportation Authority for funding. Image: NVTA via GGWash
Northern Virginia is going to widen these roads in the name of congestion reduction, thanks to the state DOT's flawed formulas. Map: NVTA via GGWash
false

Douglas Stewart at Greater Greater Washington explains:

VDOT's rating system for [Northern Virginia Transportation Authority] projects rewards expansions of the busiest highways, on the assumption that more road capacity will reduce congestion. It's a flawed 20th century metric that ignores decades of real world experience that bigger roads actually make congestion worse.

The VDOT system does not measure things like how a project might benefit safety, or increase accessibility, and doesn't take into consideration how land use changes are driven by infrastructure.

The biggest problem is simply that VDOT's model doesn't know what to do with short distance trips, which are the exact type of trip that transit-oriented development produces more of. So when a transit or pedestrian project makes it possible for thousands of people to walk two blocks instead of drive five miles, the VDOT model doesn't always show that as reducing congestion.

Thus, road expansion projects end up looking good, and other things have trouble competing. Transit does OK if it relieves traffic on a major road, but pedestrian or bike projects are almost impossible.

Many other regions are using broader metrics for measuring transportation performance and congestion mitigation, but Northern Virginia can't because the General Assembly won't let it.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Plan Philly imagines what an equitable street would look like. Streets.mn says banning banning funds for a passenger rail link between the Twin Cities and Rochester, Minnesota, is short-sighted and counterproductive. And 1000 Friends of Wisconsin says 42,000 miles of the state's roads are in need of immediate repair.

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from Streetsblog USA

Wednesday’s Headlines Are in a Good Place

How should we react to public indifference about the danger cars pose to society? Perhaps a sitcom has something to teach us.

July 24, 2024

Opinion: Is Kamala Harris ‘The Climate President We’ve Been Waiting For’?

Kamala Harris fought hard for a better transportation plan in the San Diego region despite big political risks. If elected president, will she do the same for the country?

July 24, 2024

America is Setting Micromobility Records — But That Boom Could Go Bust Without Public Funding

Shared bike and scooter trips soared 20 percent in a single year. So why are so many U.S. systems shutting down — and what will it take to keep the revolution rolling?

July 24, 2024

Get on the bus! Advocates Urge Mayor Johnson to Save Chicago Greyhound Terminal

According to the letter, rehabbing the station would cost less that $40M, a small fraction of the price tag of many other local transportation projects.

July 23, 2024

Tuesday’s Headlines Are Running Hard

More political news: Today's top stories delve into Kamala Harris' record on climate change and Republicans' plans for the Trump administration if he returns to power.

July 23, 2024
See all posts