Recap: Here’s what happened at the Jan. 17 TPB meeting

At its January meeting the TPB approved the project submissions for the air quality analysis of Visualize 2045. (VDOT/Flickr)

The January TPB meeting introduced Charles Allen as chair. He led an action-packed meeting as the TPB approved the project submissions for the air quality analysis for the constrained element of Visualize 2045, approved grants to fund transportation services for people with disabilities, approved new highway safety targets for the region, and endorsed two bike and pedestrian initiatives to be added to the aspirational element of Visualize 2045. All this, along with appointing new members for the 2018 Citizens Advisory Committee.

Approving the project submissions and work scope for the air quality analysis for Visualize 2045

Visualize 2045 reached a key milestone with the board’s approval of the project submissions for the air quality analysis. Before the plan can be approved, the fiscally constrained element must be analyzed for its effect on the region’s air. These are projects that the submitting agencies can demonstrate are reasonably expected to be funded by 2045.

Before the board voted to approve these submissions, staff provided a briefing on the major changes and additions to the plan.  Staff also reviewed the comments received during the 30-day public comment period. In all, there were 166 comments submitted from individuals, non-profit organizations, and government representatives. They commented on bus rapid transit, highway, bicycle projects, and other issues.

Since Maryland’s traffic relief proposals for I-495 and I-270 were the largest projects submitted, staff asked the Maryland Department of Transportation to provide the board more detail on its plans. Earl Lewis, Maryland’s Deputy Secretary for Transportation briefed the board on MDOT’s plans to work with a private company to build toll lanes. Since it is early in the planning process, there are few specifics available. However, MDOT is open to allowing buses on the lanes and studying the financial and legal implications regarding any decision on HOVs.

Board member Rodney Roberts from Greenbelt expressed concerns about road building and the specific location of these new lanes. He opposed the proposals for I-495 and I-270. “We believe this simply is going to cause a larger traffic jam, and the environmental and social impact is just too large,” he said.

Other board members noted that these plans are consistent with what Virginia has done for I-66. Board member Linda Smyth from Fairfax County noted that it would add connectivity especially over bridges connecting Maryland and Virginia but that the lane design and how HOV is treated would be important.

Board member Rene’e Hamilton from the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) offered advice from Virginia’s experience with I-66. “We have a lot of lessons learned, so we are definitely on board to help Maryland navigate this process,” she said.

Board member Kacy Kostiuk from Takoma Park expressed two concerns, one focused on neighborhood congestion from cars coming off these roads and the second was the environmental impact. Lewis made it clear that the environmental impacts will be studied as part of the projects’ development. “Regarding neighborhood congestion, that’s a problem with our current infrastructure which is why we have to take action on both additional road capacity and transit capacity,” he said.

Other board members expressed concerns over where the new lanes would be constructed and the future design of the lanes. These details would have to be decided in the future. It was clear from the discussion that there will be more conversations about these projects moving forward.

After the lengthy discussion, the board voted to approve the project submissions so the air quality analysis can begin. Once that is completed, the final plan will be up for approval in the fall. Get the presentation on the project inputs and air quality analysis work scope. Get MDOT’s presentation.

Other board actions

Highway Safety Targets: The board approved new federally required highway safety targets for the region. Before they voted, board members had some questions about these new targets. These evidence-based safety targets are intended to ensure that transportation investments are being informed by performance outcomes. The targets measure serious injuries and fatalities on the roads. The TPB plans to use these data driven targets to measure progress towards achieving the region’s aspirational goals like Vision Zero and Towards Zero Death. Learn more about highway safety targets.

Enhanced Mobility Grants approved: The TPB gets to choose and fund programs that help improve transportation services for people with disabilities and seniors. In all the board approved $6 million in funding for 17 projects. These grants cover programs that train or help folks get around, new vehicles, taxi vouchers, and improvements for sidewalks that make it easier for people to walk or use a wheelchair. Learn more about the enhanced mobility grants.

Bike and pedestrian initiatives: The board also endorsed two bicycle and pedestrian initiatives to be added to the aspirational element of Visualize 2045. These two initiatives would complete a network of bike trails called the National Capital Trail and implement projects at the region’s train stations which would make it easier for people to access the stations on foot or by bike. Learn more about these initiatives.

Citizens Advisory Committee: The board also approved the new members of the Citizens Advisory Committee for its 2018 term. In his final report to the board, outgoing CAC Chairman Jeremy Martin looked back on the accomplishments of the 2017 CAC. Most of its work centered on providing input to the Long-Range Plan Task Force and serving as ambassadors and advisers for the Visualize 2045 public input survey. Listen to Martin’s final report to the board.

Get the full audio and meeting materials from the January TPB meeting.

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Correction: This post has been corrected to more accurately reflect that MDOT is open to studying the legal and financial implications of allowing HOV on its proposed plans for new toll lanes.

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