The Washington D.C. metropolitan region saw major developments in transportation that included progress toward completing the largest public rail project in the country, the opening of a new highway on the Beltway, and an update on D.C.’s coming streetcar system. 2012 also raised questions critical to the region’s economic future. In a region plagued by some of the worst highway traffic congestion in the nation and a public rail system crowded to capacity, how can transportation planners and real estate developers maximize the region’s economic potential in a climate of finite funding for major projects.
1) The Silver Line
When the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors gave final approval to the county’s involvement in the $5.5 billion project that will connect D.C. to Dulles International Airport, lawmakers removed the last major obstacle to completing the Metro rail line by 2018. Outstanding issues remain, however. The most controversial issue is the Silver Line’s financing plan, overseen by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. Without further federal or Virginia state funding, motorists on the Dulles Toll Road will cover half the Silver Line’s costs.
2) I-495 Express Lanes
A new highway is big news in this region. After six years of construction, high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes opened on Nov. 17 on the 495 Beltway between the Dulles Toll Road and the I-95 interchange in Fairfax County. Drivers using the HOT lanes may get a faster ride, but the project raised questions about the wisdom of highway expansion as a method of solving congestion as well as the pitfalls of funding megaprojects: without the public-private partnership between Virginia and the international road building company Transurban, the road would not be built. Virginia gets a $2 billion road, and Transurban gets the toll revenues for 75 years.
3) Transit and Gentrification
Washington, D.C. is one of the fastest gentrifying cities in the United States. While rising property values, economic development, and a growing number of residents living a car-free existence are transforming the District for the better, gentrification has its costs.
4) The Uber Battle for the Ages
After months of contention, the D.C. Council finally approved legislation legalizing the popular sedan car service Uber. This battle was strange -- and it got personal. Legislators and regulators seemed to tie themselves in knots figuring out to handle the unregulated Uber while the district’s own taxicab industry struggled to modernize. In the end Uber won. And so did smartphone-using, taxicab-hailing residents of D.C.
5) MWAA’s woes
The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which operates two major airports, rarely caught the public’s attention. But after the authority took control of the Silver Line, however, the public’s attention intensified – and not for good reasons. Audits by the U.S. Department of Transportation and news reports unearthed a litany of shady contracting, hiring, and travel policies and practices. Critics have relentlessly pressed for changes to the plan to raise tolls significantly to pay for the Silver Line. MWAA is making changes but has not yet recovered the public’s trust.