HJR 516: Virginia-Maryland-District of Columbia Joint Legislative Commission on Interstate Transportation

July 8, 2003
Washington, D.C.

Consultant’s Report

Consultants from Parsons Brinkerhoff briefed the panel on the results of a study, undertaken at the request of the Maryland General Assembly, of issues surrounding the creation of a regional transportation authority for the D.C. metropolitan area. Observing that “there is no question that the region has transportation issues facing it,” the Parsons Brinkerhoff spokesman went on to point to the interstate highway system and the Metro subway system as the sorts of projects that can result from interstate cooperation facilitated by some form of regional authority or similar entity. However, regional authorities “do not create themselves,” he cautioned. Carefully structured regional authorities sometimes can be helpful in (i) constructing and operating regional transportation facilities, (ii) administering regional funding sources, and (iii) providing new credit structures independent of other governmental resources.

The key, the consultant suggested, to the success of any regional authority is having a clear mission for that authority—starting with creation of an authority and later attempting to define its mission is putting the cart before the horse. In the case of a regional transportation authority for the Washington Region, there are serious gaps between what supporters of an authority would like it to do and what any such authority will actually be able to do. If clear agreement can be reached about a regional authority’s mission, it might be possible to create such an entity using Maryland’s existing statewide transportation authority and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority as models.

Cabin John Bridge Study

The Northern Virginia district administrator for the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) shared with the members the most recent draft of a scope of work for a consultant’s origin-and-destination study of traffic using the American Legion (Cabin John) Bridge across the Potomac. The greater part of the costs of this study would be covered by Virginia funding set aside for a similar study once proposed by Congressman Frank R. Wolf, but later abandoned. The study is expected to begin in September or October of 2003, with results to be presented in the spring of 2004. The study will rely on technology that captures the images of vehicle license plates, will use this information and vehicle data kept by state motor vehicle agencies, and will not be mailing questionnaires to motorists identified as users of the bridge.

Maryland’s Senator Ruben objected to the proposed study’s focus exclusively on the American Legion Bridge. She suggested that any study that did not obtain comparable data for all the bridge crossings of the Potomac between the U.S. 15 bridge at Point of Rocks, Maryland, and the mouth of the Potomac River would “skew the outcome.” The VDOT representative responded that his charge did not extend to any study beyond traffic on the American Legion Bridge, and that similar investigations involving other crossings would necessarily increase the cost of the study.

Federal Aid

The federal transportation program reauthorization legislation, when eventually passed by the Congress and signed into law by the President, will govern the federal aid transportation program for fiscal years 2004–2009. Present federal legislation governing these matters expires at the end of September this year; it was repeatedly stressed that Congress has an unenviable “track record” in getting legislation of this sort passed on time. Under present legislation, both Virginia and Maryland are “donor states” (i.e., states that contribute more in transportation tax revenues to the federal government than they get back), and there was agreement that every effort would be made to resist attempts to reduce the percentage of revenues returned to Virginia and Maryland beyond the present approximately 90 percent level.

A Virginia official pointed to six principles that she hoped would undergird the new federal legislation: (i) retention of “firewalls” that ensure that federal Transportation Trust Fund revenues are actually spent and spent for transportation projects (not for something else); (ii) multi-modalism (much as in present legislation); (iii) enhancement of national security; (iv) avoidance of unfunded mandates; (v) increased commitments to rail and public transit projects; and (vi) expanded transportation funding generally, with no cuts below the present 90 percent “guarantee.”

Both the Virginia and Maryland representatives expressed disappointment with the current “administration version” of the legislation for several reasons: (i) elimination of several key firewalls, (ii) inadequate guarantees for support of new-start public transit projects, (iii) elimination of the bus “discretionary” program, and (iv) widespread and significant underfunding of the entire federal aid program in general. It was pointed out that other (relatively small but important) pieces of federal legislation are also being considered by Congress, such as expansion of high-speed passenger rail service and funding of Amtrak.

Senator Ruben felt it was absolutely essential that the federal government underwrite 100 percent of costs associated with providing and maintaining the transportation infrastructure throughout the Washington Metropolitan Region, and strongly recommended that the commission, as a group, meet with Virginia’s and Maryland’s Congressional delegation to lobby in favor of the pending legislation.

Missing Links

A Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance representative discussed “transportation missing links,” explaining that a great deal of the region’s traffic congestion and other transportation difficulties can be traced, over the past 20 years, not to a failure of planning, but a failure to build projects that were planned. In a series of slides, he explained that two decades of rapid economic growth in the region have gone hand-in-hand with population growth and parallel increases in the number of vehicles on the highways and the number of vehicle miles traveled throughout the region. He stated that the region’s highway network is not only inadequate in “spoke” roads connecting the District with the suburbs, but is even more inadequate in “perimeter roads” that link one suburb to another. The most fundamental problem, however, is a lack of Potomac River bridges. He concluded his remarks with an observation that many of the “missing links” are good candidates for construction as public-private partnerships funded (at least in part) by tolls.

Next Meeting

The commission tentatively agreed to meet again on September 24, 2003, at 10:00 a.m.

The Hon. Vincent F. Callahan, Jr.

For information, contact:
Alan B. Wambold
Division of Legislative Services



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