The District of Columbia signaled that it will reduce road capacity in the near future to improve air quality and reduce climate change-causing greenhouse gas emissions in plans submitted to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. Maryland and Virginia, on the other hand, plan to expand theirs—even though this flies in the face of their stated goals of reducing car trips, measured by Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT).
Because air quality in the Metropolitan Washington area is below the required minimum, the region’s Transportation Planning Board is required to submit a “conformity analysis” showing how the region plans to get it up to muster by 2021. In order to perform that analysis, the Board solicited input from the regional transportation agencies on their scope of work.
A review of that scope shows that while DC is planning to reduce its road capacity in line with its climate goals, Maryland and Virginia plan to expand theirs. Expanding road networks without first making transportation systems cleaner is climate denialism, not to mention a rejection of the jurisdictions’ own emissions goals.
The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) has identified 43 projects where it plans to reduce capacity, whether it be to add bike lanes, bus lanes, streetcars, or to simply trim bloated car lanes. Note that multiple projects as identified in the report might be referring to just one road on the ground. For example, the report identifies five segments of Pennsylvania Avenue NW as different projects.
Meanwhile, the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) has identified zero roads to reduce. The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has identified three, including the demolition of the South Clark Street Bridge, which will make room for development near the Crystal City Metro station in an area that will likely to become more bustling as Amazon moves in.
On the contrary, Maryland and Virginia plan to expand their roads. MDOT has approximately 170 widening or expansion projects, including widening the Beltway and I-270 with toll lanes, and VDOT has about 210. That doesn’t include other projects that add capacity, like those that convert a shoulder to a carpool lane. The only projects that DDOT has identified for widening is South Capitol Street around the Frederick Douglass Bridge, and extending three roads.
All evidence shows that vehicle miles traveled won’t go down if road capacity goes up. Air quality won’t be improved. Greenhouse gas emissions goals won’t be met. And if DC is reducing its road capacity, it’s not clear where all those cars from Virginia and Maryland are going to go.