Report: Northern Virginia Transportation Plans Will Induce More Driving

The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority’s plans to widen and expand the region’s highways will lead to a sharp increase in vehicle miles driven, a new study shows.

2 minute read

April 15, 2022, 6:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Herndon, USA - October 7, 2020: Sully road 28 multiple lane highway in Northern Virginia with traffic cars and exit sign for Washington Dulles airport, Sterling and Leesburg

Kristi Blokhin / Highway in Northern Virginia

An analysis of the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority’s long-range plans predicts an increase in driving thanks to the agency’s road expansion plans. “Instead of helping Northern Virginians drive less, the proposed 1,200 miles of new pavement would make the region more car-dependent,” Bill Pugh reports, citing results from a study by the Coalition for Smarter Growth (CSG).

CSG’s On the Wrong Road report analyzed the current TransAction plan and found that Loudoun County would expand its arterial highways at a rate of 1.5 times its population growth and Prince William County at a rate of three times faster than its population growth. Fairfax and Manassas would also build arterial highway miles faster than their population growth.

Pugh cites research showing the “well-documented phenomenon of induced demand,” writing that “CSG used the State Highway Induced Frequency of Travel calculator, developed by Rocky Mountain Institute, and found that the TransAction plans could make Northern Virginia residents and workers drive almost 3 billion more miles per year by 2040 on top of new car trips anticipated from population and job growth.”

Some examples from the analysis: Loudon’s highway network could see a rise of 42 percent in vehicle miles traveled (VMT), while Price William’s non-interstate highway VMT could increase by 60 percent.

“New and expanded highway projects also spark more spread out and auto-dependent development, which generate even more driving and traffic over time,” Pugh writes. “This increased car dependence would also make it impossible for Northern Virginia to meet its climate commitments.” The CSG is calling on the NVTA to take steps to evaluate the potential for induced demand, support more sustainable transit modes, and “adopt a plan that will foster more walkable, transit-oriented communities with a range of housing options.”

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