the Shirley Highway (now I-395/I-95) remains clogged with traffic despite multiple expansions since the initial two lanes reached the Occoquan River in 1949
Source: George Mason University Special Collections and Archives, Traffic congestion, Shirley Highway, 1960
Transportation corridors have affected the location of Virginia development since Native Americans adopted agriculture and created the first settlements. Trails along the Fall Line and across shallow river fords created opportunities for trade or threats of attack. John Smith's map documented how waterways offered easy access via canoes to towns located along the edges of rivers.
Developers proposing new subdivisions in Northern Virginia, outside Richmond, and in Hampton Roads pressure state officials to approve expansion of existing highways, construction of new roads, and expansion of rail service in order to justify rezonings allowing more houses.
Local officials who control land use decisions recognize that new houses result in greater traffic congestion on existing transportation routes, causing existing residents to object to new development. However, if the state officials on the Commonwealth Transportation Board would fund a new transportation project, then local officials could claim that the new "demand" for transportation created by rezoning decisions would be matched by a new "supply" and new houses would not create greater congestion.
In 1980 the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG) recognized the relationshhip between land use planning and traffic congestion, and why transit upgrades were not eliminating traffic jams:1
park-and-ride lots are symbols of the gaps between where people live and work
Source: Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), Park and Ride Maps
But are costs actually reduced by roads, or just shifted? The Coalfields Expressway won't be built for free. Innovative financing may push the costs into future budgets, but the taxpayers of Virginia far from Buchanan, Dickenson, and Wise counties will be paying for that transportation improvement. The local wildlife will also be affected - greater convenience for people usually involves impacts on the natural environment.
Investments in transportation are not neutral - they steer growth towards an area. Failing to build roads or interchanges, or failing to maintain/existing ones, will deter growth. It's no secret that housing and transportation are intimately connected - though the government agencies that deal with one often fail to coordinate effectively with the other.
different modes of transportation require different amounts of paved roadways to move the same number of people
Source: Human Transit, the photo that explains almost everything (updated!)
In the Housing Act passed in 1961, the federal government assumed a role in financing mass transit so state and local governments could purchase buses, trolleys and trains. In theory, mass transit would enable low-income residents without a car to have access to jobs in the area. That requires mass transit managers to offer reasonable connections from the various housing developments to the employment centers. Since 1961, the character of many downtowns have shifted dramatically. While many jobs moved to the suburbs, not all of the bus systems have been able to expand.
Chesterfield County has openly opposed the efforts of the Richmond-based bus system to offer service in the county. The opposition was based in part upon the rivalry between the two jurisdictions, but illustrated more clearly the prejudices based on the income level and the racial makeup of inner-city vs. suburban residents.
travel time between home-work is highest in regions where many people choose to live at a great distance from their jobs, clogging the commuter roads with traffic at rush hours
Source: Census Bureau, Average Travel Time to Work in the United States by Metro Area (October 16, 2019)
Transportation is a hotly-debated issue across the state, and the predominant issue (along with schools) for local politics in Northern Virginia. The local business community (and the Washington Post newspaper in particular) constantly advocate greater investment in local transportation. Legislators in the region strongly supported increased funding for local (all politics is local...) road improvements to be included as "priority projects," when the General Assembly's specifically directed funding for a six-year, $2.6 billion statewide transportation package in the 2000 session.
In Northern Virginia, as in Southwestern Virginia, new roads are also recognized as stimuli for new development. In the suburban counties of Loudoun, Prince William, and Fauquier, however, strong opposition has developed against proposed roads such as the Western Transportation Corridor. These are perceived as "developer highways" to stimulate new housing in rural areas, helping farmers convert fields to subdivisions - but not easing the clogged commutes of current residents. Talking points from the Voters To Stop Sprawl in Prince William County include:
The Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance highlights that more roads (and transit) are required where the people are actually living, not where the planners want them to live. An April 12, 2004 "NVTA Alliance Alert" put it clearly:
The Urban Mobility Study of the Texas Transportation Institute has examined the traffic congestion in the Washington, DC-Maryland-Virginia region. In 1999, that region had expanded to 1,000 square miles, with a population density of 3,465 people/square mile. The mobility report shows that traffic has increased far faster than the region's population in the last two decades:
To highlight the point that population growth was not the only reason for increasing
traffic congestion, consider these changes between 1982-1997:
|Daily VMT increase||82%|
|Freeway VMT increase||107%|
Primary source for the Texas Transportation Institute statistics: the Federal Highway Administration's Highway Performance Monitoring System (HPMS) database (see also Highway Statistics 1997).
The cost of traffic congestion is not just a decrease in the quality of life, leading to "road rage." There's an actual pocketbook cost, increased taxes for current residents to provide the infrastructure to support new suburban residents. The costs of sprawl are somewhat hidden, and highly debatable. There is, after all, a reason that people choose the live in the suburbs. Typically a family can get a larger house, with more yard space for children to play, by moving away from the job center and commuting to work. Some commuters even enjoy the solo experience of driving in their cars, referring to "road zen" for the hours they get to be undisturbed, in total control of the radio, air conditioning, etc.
General Motors' "Highways and Horizons" exhibit at the 1939-40 New York World's Fair included the Futurama (click to see video)
Source: Archive.org, To New Horizons (1940)