Division of Legislative Services > Legislative Record > 2008

SJR 122: Joint Subcommittee to Study Regional Rapid Transit Networks

October 1, 2008

The first meeting of the joint subcommittee was held in Woodbridge. Senator Colgan called the meeting to order. Senator Barker was unanimously elected chair, and Delegate Watts, vice chair.


Tom Hirst, Rapid Transit Action Committee
Bill Vincent, Breakthrough Technologies Institute

According to Tom Hirst, there are two crises facing Virginia: transportation and revenue. Increasing congestion, rising gas prices, and other economic concerns are having a big impact on household budgets. Mr. Hirst looked at the historical perspective on Northern Virginia's growth. The job and population centers are moving further apart, creating longer commutes, congestion, and infrastructure needs. The state transportation model, established in the 1930s, requires reexamination. According to Mr. Hirst, there are transit opportunities. Connecting 15 major activity centers in Northern Virginia would provide a cost-effective, efficient transportation option and new opportunities for economic growth at the transit stations.

Bill Vincent then explained bus rapid transit (BRT), a public transport system that improves travel times, creates a premium image for public transport, and promotes transit-oriented development around stations. BRT's features include traffic avoidance, better service, new technologies, and real-time vehicle tracking and control. Mr. Vincent looked at the "Quick Start" or "BRT Lite" option, which identifies options that can update existing buses. "Full BRT" or "BRT Heavy" is a more extensive BRT system. Mr. Vincent said that BRT works because it takes cars off the road and creates a more efficient use of existing lanes.

Mr. Hirst and Mr. Vincent looked at possible next steps for the longer term. These include recognizing and redefining the expanded Northern Virginia, establishing a regional rapid transit network to connect existing and emerging activity centers within the region, and improving the link between land use plans and transport capacity.

October 22, 2008

The second meeting of the joint subcommittee was held in Woodbridge. In brief opening remarks, Chairman Barker explained that since the joint subcommittee had not begun meeting until October 1, it would not be possible to complete its work by November 30, as required by Senate Joint Resolution 122, but that he had received permission from Senator Whipple, Chairman of the Committee on Rules, to hold the group's fourth and final meeting in December.


Corey W. Hill, VDRPT
Corey Hill of Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (VDRPT) began by pointing out the common characteristics of BRT systems. At present, no bus rapid transit operations in Northern Virginia display all of them. At present, services with some BRT characteristics are operating in the following corridors: I-95, I-395, I-66, U.S. Rte. 1, VA Rte. 267 (Dulles Airport Corridor), and VA Rte. 244 (Columbia Pike Corridor).

Although they are not planning to include fully dedicated bus lanes, Mr. Hill explained that the construction of high-occupancy toll lanes (HOT lanes) on I-95, I-395, and I-495 in Northern Virginia would be very helpful to the further development of BRT operations in the area, not only by providing quasi-dedicated lanes for bus operations, but also by providing additional revenues from concession payments to support public transit. He gave specific examples, and cited ongoing studies to be conducted by VDRPT, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), the National Capital Transportation Planning Board, and George Mason University looking toward expanding BRT to serve population and activity centers throughout the region. In his conclusion, Mr. Hill pointed out that using an incremental approach to expanding BRT in Northern Virginia not only makes the program financially feasible, but brings significant improvements in the short term by reducing travel time, increasing ridership, improving coordination of services, providing relief to passenger rail systems, and encouraging public-private partnerships.

Ronald Kirby, Department of Transportation Planning, Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments
Ronald Kirby observed that employment in Northern Virginia has been growing faster than its population, making increased use of mass transit not only feasible, but necessary as well, in order to limit increases in traffic congestion. Several of Mr. Kirby's remarks underscored the interdependence of transportation planning and land use planning and linked increased transit use to efforts to improve air quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Alfred H. Harf, PRTC
Alfred Harf discussed Potomac-Rappahannock Transportation Commission (PRTC) and how its programs and operation fit into the broader Northern Virginia regional context. He gave several illustrations to show that BRT is actually a continuum of costs and benefits, and that the success of any BRT services depends on maximizing the benefits while minimizing costs. Like the day's other speakers, Mr. Harf pointed out that existing BRT operations in Northern Virginia are at "the lower end of the continuum."

Tom Biesiadny, NVTA
Tom Biesiadny began by providing the members with the background and mission of the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA), focusing on the production and approval of the
TransAction2030, a regional long-range transportation plan that has identified the need for $16.6 billion in additional Northern Virginia transportation funding over the next 25 years. His remarks also pointed out to the members the negative impact that the Virginia Supreme Court's ruling voiding the NVTA funding included in House Bill No. 3202 (2007) has had on NVTA's plans and operations. Mr. Biesiadny concluded his remarks by providing the joint subcommittee with specific examples of BRT services currently being provided in Fairfax County.

Next Meeting

The next meeting date, to be held some time in November, will be posted on the committee website and the General Assembly website as soon as information is available.

The Hon. George Barker

For information, contact:
Alan Wambold and Caroline Stalker, DLS Staff

Division of Legislative Services > Legislative Record > 2008

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