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LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS OF THE NATIONAL CAPITAL AREA
FACT SHEET SEPTEMBER 2001:

TRANSPORTATION PROCESS - WHY DOES IT TAKE SO LONG?

Transportation is commonly debated in public as a series of policy issues, a free-for-all with many points of view. But how are the actual decisions made? This first phase of the NCA Transportation study looks at process instead of policy. Our study covered the District of Columbia, the state governments of Maryland and Virginia, the Virginia Counties of Arlington, Fairfax, and .Loudoun, the Maryland Counties of Frederick, Howard, Montgomery and Prince George's, ( Prince George's County has the largest local jurisdiction area, 500 square miles, followed by Montgomery County, 490 square miles, and Fairfax County, 399 square miles), the Virginia Cities of Alexandria and Falls Church, and the Metropolitan W Council 9f Governments Transportation Planning Board.

It is important to realize that the public decision-making structure is only part of the picture. Transportation policy is s complicated stew of philosophical, policy, funding, technical, and, above all, political considerations. Ultimate decision-making responsibility can be hard to locate. Decisions are influenced by personal connections, political supporters, pressure groups, and yes, even individual speakers at public hearings. Once made, they can be undone by later actions, especially at the funding level.

This study grew out of a general assignment to "study transportation issues, especially the connection between transportation and land use decisions." We quickly found that while we had a pretty good grasp on land use decision-making, transportation decisions are much more complicated. They involve both state and local decision-making. In Virginia, the state owns, builds, and maintains roads in counties, other than Arlington. Its primary decision-maker is the Commonwealth Transportation Board, a state agency with representation by geography, rather than population. Local governments may propose, take positions, and argue their priorities, but the State can ignore them. While cities own and maintain their own roads, only Alexandria is large enough to be significant. In Maryland, the state owns a backbone system, including the Interstates, but most roads are local. Highways must conform to local Master Plans (in Virginia they are not required to). This gives Maryland local governments a much stronger voice in transportation decisions. Since Maryland is smaller, with the majority of the population within 50 miles of Annapolis, state and local government have a high degree of contact and cooperation. Virginia government in Richmond sometimes seems to regard Northern Virginia as a distant province. In the District, the DC budget is US law, prepared by the city; but presented as part of the President's budget. Congress has line item veto control over the DC budget, including streets.

Mass transit involves a high degree of regional cooperation, unlike highways. The subway (or heavy rail) is nn by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), whose Board consists of representatives from both state-t governments and the District of Columbia. WMATA also runs a bus system, mostly high-use routes, with local routes run by locally-operated systems. WMATA's ability, let alone authority, to override local preferences is doubtful. In DC all transit is run by WMATA, except for some private shuttles. The area is now No. 2 in the nation, with a new single base regional fare.

Federal funding of road and transit construction creates a number of complications. Federal environmental and transportation laws require extensive studies (corridor, location, environmental impact, etc.). They also impose procedures and limitations, such as the requirements for relocation of affected property owners, payment of prevailing wages (usually union, even by non-union firms), and avoidance of parkland, historic sites, and environmentally sensitive areas, such as wetlands. These requirements may conflict with local preferences and policies. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) oversees projects to assure compliance, though construction is carried out entirely by state and local agencies through contractors. Congress can also influence local decision-making. Members of Congress are closely attuned to their districts and their supporters in them. A five-year highway authorization bill presents many opportunities for "demonstration projects" (earmarked local projects), and special rules and exceptions for favored projects. Annual appropriation bills present similar opportunities; members do not hesitate to take advantage of them. The National Park Service and the Department of Defense (DoD) operate some highways and other transportation facilities in the region. Some Parkways, like the George Washington, Clara Barton, and Baltimore-Washington, are open to the public and are key parts of the transportation system. DoD facilities are primarily for its own use. Local. influence over these operating agencies' decisions is mostly conveyed through members of Congress, rather than by direct involvement in departmental decision-making.

Under federal law, every metropolitan area is required to have a Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) that develops a. Constrained Long Range Plan (CLRP) updated each year to qualify for federal funding. The COG Transportation Planning Board (TPB) is the local MPO and ensures that each local or regionalplan complies with federal regulations. The TPB consists of representatives from the major and local jurisdictions. These governments are not willing to delegate autonomy to COG in spite of frequent calls for a regional transportation authority with real power.

For this study, a Leaguer from each jurisdiction interviewed authorities on how decisions are made there. The findings are in a matrix on the following pages. LWVUS and LWV/NCA positions on transportation are below. Finally, we pose a set of questions arising from our study.

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MAJOR JURISDICTIONS ROADS

  DC MARYLAND VIRGINIA
Who Initiates Plans? DC Transportation Office* elicits proposals from citizens. Federal interests must be taken into account State Highway Administration (SHA), local staff, county or MDOT Begin at the local level
Who Okays Designs, Plans DC Transportation Office*, Mayor's Office, USDOT (historical concerns) MD Dept of Transportation (MDOT) & SHA. Must be in Contrained Long-Range Plan (CLRP). County Councils VDOT plans, builds, and maintains all state highways. Has 10000 staff. Supervised by Commonwealth Transportation Bd., 17 members, 9 from districts, 3 at-large, plus input from state
Must the Project be in the Local Master Plan? Yes Yes Local Comprehensive Plan. But poor coordination with land use planning. Little citizen input. VDOT imposes its priorities, not those of communities.
Who Finances Planning? DC Planning Office MDOT Local and MDOT
Who Produces the Design? DC Planning Office MDOT Local, VDOT, CTB
Who Funds Construction? Largely federal funds, through DC Planning Office Major facilities state/federal. Counties, state, developers All funding decisions state VA Transportation Devlt Plan. Money from gas tax
What's the Major Problem? DC Budget is US law. Congress has line item veto. Many local concerns, esp. large trucks and bad truck drivers, pot holes. Lack of money. Adequate only for maintenance Coordination between land use plans (local) and transportation plans (state).
What Regional Planning Groups Must Approve? TPB Transportation Plannign Bd of Council of Governments (TPB) for federal agencies that fund; FHWA FHWA, TPB

*The DC Transportation Office is currently a division of the DC Dept. of Public Works, but is expected to be a separate office by October 2001. Note that DC functions both as a state and also as a local jurisdiction, so that many of the questions asked of local jurisdictions also apply to DC.

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MAJOR JURISDICTIONS MASS TRANSIT

  DC MARYLAND VIRGINIA
Who Initiatives Plans? DC Transportation Office elicits proposals from citizens. WMATA, DC Transportation and Public Space Policy Div. has Strategic Transportation Plan (6-yr and 20-yr) focuses on what transportation should be. Maryland Transit Authority (MTA). Comprehensive Transit Plan includes MTA (MARC commuter trains, Baltimore METRO), WMATA and 24 local Since 1992 Dept. of Rail & Public Transportation, 10 staff for local. Highways and mass transit are separate. TCC developed 2020 Plan to identify bus, rail transit, road and other transport needs. WMATA.
Who Okays Plans DC Transportation Office, Mayor's Office, appropriate federal agencies (historical preservation). DC Transportation and Public Space Policy Div. MTA and MDOT. Must be in CLRP. TCC, primary coordinating group for transportation. TPB.
Must the Project be in the Local Master Plan? Yes, except for small deviations and some existing conditions. Most of DC's riders are on bus rather than rail. Capital facilities Yes, but land use planning and transportation delivery are poorly coordinated.
Who Finances Planning? DC government through its budgetary process MDOT receives most money from Federal Mass Transit Admin. Dept. of Rail & Public Transportation, TCC, local, WMATA
Who Produces the Design? WMATA with DC Office of Mass Transit MDOT Dept. of Rail & Public Transportation, TCC, WMATA
Who Funds Construction? Mostly federal, WMATA, WMATA's lines criss-cross DC. Red and Green lines are U-shaped; Blue and Orange cross from VA to Prince Georges. Mostly federal NVTC allocates money from state, regional, and federal. Levies 2% gas tax for public transit. VA arm of WMATA
What's the Mayor Problem? DC budget is US law. Congress has line item veto. Better coordination is needed connecting residents with METRO stations. Identified funding for next 25 yrs $15 billion but only $11 billion available. Lack of money Fragmentation of decisionmaking. NVTA created in 2001 to answer this problem
What Regional Planning Groups Must Approve? Congress, TPB, EPA, FHWA TPB, FHWA, EPA TPB, FHWA, EPA

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LOCAL GOVERNMENTS ROADS

         
         
         
         
         
         
         
         
         
         

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LOCAL GOVERNMENTS MASS TRANSIT

  METRO How many lines? Stops? Other rail? WMATA How many bus lines? Local Lines? More Mass Transit Planned? Interest Groups? (Some but not all) Land Use Plans Integrated with Transit Plans?
Alexandria City, VA 2 - Blue, Yellow, 4 stops          
Arlington County, VA 2 - Orange, Blue, 9 stops. State VRE, 1 stop Provides major bus service Private shuttles, ride-sharing, ADA paratransit, small buses; ART in Crystal City Expand Metro bus service, ART, WMATA light rail and bus hookups. Must be in TIP and 2020 plans Represent wide range - developers, housing advocates, smart growth, civic assn's. ARlington Way Yes in theory but not in practice. Must be part of NoVa 2020 Plan.
Fairfax County, VA 3 - Orange, Blue, Yellow, 8 stops (incl "Falls Church") State VRE has 2 commuter rails, 5 stops Numerous WMATA buses connect to METRO. Includes TAGS in Springfield. The Fairfax Connector has 156 buses, 60 routes, subsidized fares. FASTRAN for human services. METRO to Tysons. Rail or high speed bus to Dulles; regional bus? 2020 Plan for light/heavy rail. Citizen requests. Home Owners Assns. Chamber of Commerce (Negative). Developers. State - land use planning. County - transit planning. New emphasis on transit-oriented development.
Falls Church City, VA None. No seat on WMATA Board. Only WMATA buses, 2 lines. None Soon-to-be established electric bus service CACT; City InterDisciplin. Trans. Team; Ch. of Commerce; VPIS Yes. But not enough citizen input or interest
Loudoun County, VA None None None None Public influence County has attempted some
Frederick County, MD None None Some     ?
Howard County, MD No METRO. 1 MARC line, 3 stops. 5 communter bus lines operated by MTA. 6 Howard Transit bus lines. Paratransit. No rail plans. (1 MARC line) Buses planned, plus better integration among modes Chamber of Commerce. Public Transportation Advocates. Developers No. Transit follows land use plans
Montgomery County, MD 2 Red lines, 12 stops. Contribution to Metro funded by state from USDOT. MARC 4 stops Backbone routes Feeder routes, Rid-On operated by DPWT Some in Master Plans (must be). Shady Grove, Georgetown Branch. No designs or construction. Action Committee for Transit (Purple Line). County solicitous of Citizens Assns. Developers No. Bike and pedestrian facilities are mostly federal money.
Prince Georges County, MD 4 lines - Green (2), Orange, Blue. 16 stops. 2 MARC lines, 7 stations 73 Metrobus routes Local bus, TheBus, with 18 routes Yes. Blue line will be extended to Large. 13 more TheBus routes in FY02` LWV, Sierra Club, many civic and community assns. Yes. Smart growth techniques are being implemented by professionals.

WMATA

1. How many Bus Lines are there within the District of Columbia?

Answer: 102

2. Are there local routes operating within the District?

Answer: There are two privately operated Georgetown Shuttle Routs transporting Passengers between Rosslyn and Dupont Circle as well as Foggy Bottom and Georgetown.

3. Is More Transit Planned in the District?

Answer: Yes

  1. The District Government and WMATA are working to construct a new rail station on the Red Line at New York Avenue and Florida Avenue.

  2. There are several efforts underway that are examining new Transit Projects for the District. These efforts include an examination of new Metrorail lines, new Light Rail Transit lines, and expanded bus services to include enhanced local bus service, new express and Rapid Bus Transit lines and new Downtown and Neighborhood Circulator Bus Services.

4. Who are some of the key Interest Groups?

Answer: There are a number of interest groups involved in transit development and transit projects in the City. There number includes Business Improvement Districts, Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, the Developer Community, the Chamber of Commerce, the Federal City Council and many more.

5. Are Land Use Plans Integrated with Transit Plans?

Answer: WMATA is working with the District Division of Transportation within the Department of Public Works and District's Offce of Planning on the local side and the National Capital Planning Commission on the federal side to make sure the Land Use and Transit Plans are integrated.

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FORMS OF GOVERNMENTS

Virginia Dillon Rule State (1 of 4): overriding authority over localities, constrains all but zoning. Maryland Home Rule State, 3 levels of authority for localities: Charter document approved by voters; Code no written charter, some local authority; Commissioner little power, delegation to state assembly checks. DC closely supervised by Congress. Congress can veto any DC law.

  Forms of Government Composition Elections
District of Columbia Mayor, Council, Congress a player 13-member Council - 1 chair, 8 from 8 wards, 4 at-large All elected by citizens. Council members elected every 2 yrs. Council chair, mayor elected every 4 yrs. No term limits.
Commonwealth of Virginia Gov.,k bicameral Gen. Assembly. Only 3 state officials elected, Gov., Lt. Gov., and Atty. Gen. Gov. one of country's most powerful thru app'tment power. Senate - 40 members; House of Delegate - 100 members Gov., Lt. Gov. elected every 4 yrs. off yrs from Gen. ASsembly, 4-yr terms, Gov. not consecutive. SEnate elected every 4 yrs House every 2 yrs. No limits
State of Maryland Bicameral legislature. Governor, Lt. Governor 47 districts each with 1 senator and 3 delegates (47 Senate, 141 House of Delegates) Senate and House 4-yr terms. No term limits. Gov. and Lt. Gov 4-yr terms with 8-yr limit. All elected at non-Presidential Congressional election
Alexandria City, VA Mayor, City Council, City Mgr Council - 6 at-large members, 3-yr terms, no term limits. City Mgr appointed by Council Mayor, Council all elected every 3 yrs.
Arlington County, VA County Board (weak), County Mgr. (strong) Board - 5 at-large members, 4-yr terms, no term limits. City Mgr appointed by Board Every yr 1 seat is up for election, 2nd seat every 4th yr
Fairfax County, VA. Board of Supervisors (BOS) both executive and legislative Dept. of Transportation reports to County Executive 9 supervisors, all by district, Chair at-large; 4-yr terms, no term limits. County Exec is hired, not elected Board Chair elected. Every 4 yrs every seat is up for election
Falls Church City, VA Mayor (weak), City Council, Cty Mgr., 4 general managers Council - 7 at-large members, 4-yr terms, no term limits. Mayor elected by Council from members. City Mgr hired by Council Council temrs staggered, 4 seats at one election, followed 2 yrs later by 3 setas.
Loudoun County, VA Board of Supervisors; County Administrator; 4 assistant county administrators 1 supervisor from each of 8 magisterial districts set by Board; chairman elected at-large; 4-yr terms; no limits 4-yr terms
Frederick County, MD Commissioner, County Board. Dept. heads report directed to Board. Board - 5 at-large members, 4-yr terms, no term limits. Commis. apptd by Board (weak) All seats open for election every 4 yrs.
Howard County, MD Charter County, Elected County Executive, County Council 5-member Council, elected by district Elected every four years. Two-term limit on County Executive; 3-term limit on Council members.
Montgomery County, MD Charter. Elected County Executive, County Council with complete control over planning Council: 4 members at-large, 5 members elected by district Executive and Council elected every 4 years. No term limits.
Prince Georges County, MD Charter. Elected County Executive, County Council 9-member Council elected by district All seats vacant every 4 yrs. Terms 4 yrs. Council 2-term limited. Exec. only 2 consecutive terms.

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League of Women Voters Positions on Transportation

LWVUS

Access to Transportation: LWVUS believes that energy-efficient and environmentally sound transportation systems should afford better access to housing and jobs and will continue to examine transportation policies in light of these goals.

NCA

1. In support of the concept that there be some form of public transportation available for all, we endorse public policy in services and planning that:
  1. supports a coordinated public transportation system that includes bus and rapid rail transit (1964, 70, 83, 89);
  2. promotes and improves the present and proposed public transportation systems to encourage the use of mass transit (1963, 70, 89).

2. Priorities in transportation services and planning should include:

  1. transportation systems services that are convenient, frequent, regular, speedy, and economical to the user and for the befit of the larger community (1963, 64, 70, 83, 89);
  2. reduced air pollution through the promotion of mass transportation systems (1970, 89);
  3. allocation of road space for use of high-occupancy vehicles (buses, carpools, vanpools) to speed services, including traffic control.

3. We support public participation and supervision in determining information needed and in evaluating transportation proposals, transportation planning, and operations. Public involvement and decision-making should include:

  1. appointment of citizen members to decision-making boards with full authority to participate in their functions, and enough tenure to master the subject. (These members should be residents of the jurisdictions involved and include consumer advocates who do not have business connections or official roles in the transportation and appropriations process (1971, 89);
  2. every effort by local governments to include minorities, senior citizens, economically and/or physically challenged persons, and other traditionally underrepresented citizens on transportation and land-use advisory committees and to facilitate this participation (1997);
  3. open public meetings of all regulatory and public management boards (1971, 89);
  4. compulsory paid publication in general circulation newspapers of proposals on which public review is to be held (1971, 89);
  5. decision-making on the level of services for the regional mass transit system by WMATA with local input, including citizen input early in the decision-making process (1981, 89).

4. We support financial measures that include:

  1. informing the public of the total costs of auto use and full public disclosure of the costs of transportation service, of who service and who receives it, and of fail cost/benefit information;
  2. public investment to finance public transportation systems, to encourage substantially greater use of mass transit, to increase resources for bus and rail transit, to achieve a realistic alternative to private auto use, to provide funds for bus shelters and information services (1971, 83, 89).
  3. reduction of subsidies to auto use, such as tax favors that support parking and free parking for employees paid out of public funds (1971, 89)
  4. the use of a dedicated tax to help fund public transportation. The objective of such a tax should be to spread the costs of mass transit among the total population and to encourage the use of mass transit instead of the automobile. A sales tax that excludes such necessities as food and medicine would be the best means of financing mass transportation in the metropolitan area. The most important criteria to be used in evaluating particular taxes dedicated to transportation should be revenue potential, timeliness, and reliability (1980). Note: the above position applies only to the Washington Metropolitan Area and may be acted upon within the context of interstate regional cooperation, despite its partial conflict with LWVMD, LWVVA, and LWVDC positions.

5. We support the integration of transportation and land-use planning on local and regional levels (1997).

In addition, LWVNCA has positions on Airports and Beltway Safety.

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GLOSSARY

CACT - Cit. Adv. Comm. for Transportation
C1P - Capital Improvements Program
CLRP - Constrained Long Range Plan
COG - Metro. Wash. Council of Govts
CTB - Commonwealth Transportation Board
CTP -Consolidated Transportation Prog
DPW - Dept. Pub. Works
EPA - Environmental Protection Agency
FHWA - Fed. Hwy Adm
MDOT - Maryland Dept. of Transportation
MNCPPC - MD National Capital Planning Comm.
MTA - MD Transit Adm.
MPO - Metropolitan Planning Organization
NCPC - National Capital Planning Commission
NVTA - Northern VA Transportation Auth.
NVTC - Northern VA Transportation Comm.
SHA - (MD) State Highway Admin.
TCC - No. VA Transportation Coordinating Council
TIP - Transportation Improvement Plan
TPB - COG Transportation Planning Bd
USDOT - Federal Dept of Transportation
VDOT - Virginia Dept. of Transportation
VPIS - Village Preserv. & Improve't Soc.
VRE - VA Rwy Express
WMATA - Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority

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SO, HOW DO WE GET OFF THE DIME? CRITICAL ISSUES AND QUESTIONS TO RAISE

The Washington, DC, area has been judged the second most congested region in the nation. Only Los Angeles exceeds Washington in time for a commuter spent in slow traffic. What a waste of human energy! With three independent jurisdictions, each with very different processes and points of view, how can we come together with a plan to ease transportation?

Our interviews have attempted to find out:

What is the role of local decision making?
How do local decisions tie in with the states?
How do the states tie .in with their Departments of Transportation, US agencies, the other counties and their sister states?
How do the regional agencies, i.e., WMATA and the TPB, affect decision-making?
What is the role of USDOT both as funder and as policymaker? (Federal funding of road and transit construction is dependent on laws that require extensive studies, procedures, and limitations. The location approval process takes years of hearings and studies..)

To paraphrase Pogo, "the enemy is us." We have more vehicular trips per household, all in different directions each morning, and longer distances per trip. A single family home and privacy remains the American dream; sprawl continues. Sales increase for SUVs with exemption from emission standards and poor gas mileage. We can't even talk about options for crossing the Potomac as battle lines are drawn before the facts or those options are known. If a governor scratches a road such as the Inter-County Connector or a congressman gives up the Techway in Virginia, the proponents just wait for the next election to support the project anew. Every jurisdiction claims they have no money. We have "constrained" transportation plans.

How much bad air and traffic congestion can we stand?
When does an individual sacrifice his right to do as he pleases for the good of the community?
Do we have a workable regional transportation plan for the future?
Have we agreed on highways or mass transit as the way out of congestion?
Or what combination?
What percentage of transportation funds should be expended on each?
Why is every project considered separately?
Why is the big fight between growth and no growth?

Is public input representative of the public as a whole or is it made up of NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yard) or BANANAs (Build Nothing Anywhere Anytime) or those with a doctrinaire axe to grind?
How can the decision maker judge popular opinion? And should they?

But is transportation a public responsibility? It hasn't always been. Toll roads dominated the revolutionary period. Canals were transportation projects of private companies. Railroads were developed privately with some government help in obtaining rights-of-way. Cities were served by private bus companies. (Remember O. Roy Chalk and the "rancid transit system?") The federal Interstate Highway System was justified by defense arguments during the cold war. Where are we today? LWV/NCA positions call for funding transportation through a sales tax; it assumes government is responsible. Are we talking about how to pay for it? Have we as a region agreed on what "it" is? Who pays? The feds? The states and the District? The locals?

Where do we go from here? The problem is twofold -- providing for the dispersed development patterns that exist throughout the area today, and encouraging more rational transportation and transit development in the future. How can we reach consensus as a region that transportation improvements are needed? Who is the leader? What is the role of LWV/NCA?

THIS FACT SHEET PREPARED BY THE TRANSPORTATION COMMITTEE, LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS OF THE NATIONAL CAPITAL AREA, JULY 2001. FOR PERMISSION TO REPRODUCE OR TO LEARN OF CORRECTIONS, PLEASE EMAIL BETH COGSWELL, bethcogswell@aol.com, OR GRANT REYNOLDS, grant62@starpower.net.