Local Commentary

Senator Whipple’s Richmond Report

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Transportation is often on the minds of Northern Virginians and their elected representatives. We know that the congestion in this area – second worst in the United States-affects our daily lives. We know how much time we waste sitting in traffic and how often we simply give up on going somewhere because we know it will be a nightmare to get there.

Unfortunately many members of the General Assembly don’t understand how bad it is. As my colleagues have pointed out in previous columns, once again the General Assembly failed to act on transportation funding. Some members continue to believe that we can wring more savings out of VDOT, but that well has run dry. There is no substitute for additional revenue for both maintenance and construction of highways and the operations and capital needs of transit.

For Northern Virginia, transit is particularly important. If we didn’t have Metro, bus service, commuter rail and other alternatives, we would be at a standstill. About three-fourths of every state transit dollar comes to Northern Virginia based on our level of service. So it really benefits this area when transit investments are approved.

In an effort to educate and impress other members of the General Assembly on the level of need in our region, the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC) will host a transit tour for members of the transportation and money committees near the end of June. We want them to see firsthand the transportation benefits of our transit systems as well as the economic benefits that result when we invest in transit.

Ridership in this region on bus and rail is very high. According to NVTC, transit and ridesharing carry two-thirds of our commuters in our major corridors inside the Beltway in peak periods, and about half outside the Beltway. And despite the recession and the February blizzards, Metrorail and VRE are seeing significant daily peaks.

We know that investments in transit lead to increased ridership. A good illustration of this is the phenomenal success of Arlington Rapid Transit (ART). When the service began in 1994, ridership was about 100,000 passenger trips a year and that continued for several years. In 2003 ART purchased 6 new buses and ridership went up to 400,000 passenger trips that year. The next year another 8 buses were added and ridership went to close to 700,000. Last year passenger trips rose to 1,428,827. You get the idea: offer convenience and good service and people will choose transit.

Metro in particular needs long-term, dependable funding for both the capital and operating budgets. Metro is too dependent on annual appropriations that can vary from year to year. Major maintenance has been underfunded for years and even the new agreement with the Federal government ($150 million per year matched by $50 million from each state) is subject to annual appropriation by Congress.

Investments in transportation are crucial to our economic future and quality of life in Northern Virginia.

Now we need the rest of Virginia to understand and agree.

 


Senator Whipple represents the 31st District in the Virginia State Senate. She may be e-mailed at [email protected]