Bus rapid transit, light rail, car and van pooling, and bicycling and pedestrian infrastructure are all in the works for Northern Virginia, under the so-called "Super NoVa" transportation plan for the next three decades, to be released in September.
Planners envision the construction of cross-jurisdictional networks to connect people to their jobs in the metropolitan Washington area, and to employment and tourist locations within northern Virginia and neighboring states. The goal is to help commuters avoid the region's notorious traffic congestion.
"It's really looking at the major travel patterns of people throughout this region and trying to understand where they are and where they want to go," says Amy Inman, the manager of public transportation planning at the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, a post she has held for four years. Inman is the head planner for Super NoVa.
With the growing realization that only paving more highways would not satisfy the demands of region's population and job growth projections, Inman says localities 50 or 75 miles away from Washington need more public transportation options. The study will evaluate the needs of future population and employment centers.
The unofficial border of northern Virginia as outlined on a map today contains several counties including Fairfax, Alexandria, Arlington, and Loudoun, among others. Under Super NoVa, northern Virginia would extend as far south as Caroline County and as far west as Culpeper and Frederick counties.
"We are envisioning mobility beyond boundaries," Inman says. "As we all know, there isn't just one mode of transportation that's going to be the solution, but we want to be able to provide people with travel options."
Inman says planners are focusing on maximizing the capacity of existing infrastructure in current corridors; for instance, transforming part of a major roadway into a bus rapid transit corridor instead of building a new road.
Super NoVa is gathering information from people traveling to Virginia from Maryland, West Virginia and Washington. A second round of public hearings has been held this month; officials held their first round of hearings in February. The public will get another chance to weigh in after September when the first recommendations are released. The study is expected to be completed by the end of the year. Inman says the public feedback has been useful.
"We have learned that the growth of this region is very great," she says. "In the future, the areas of Fauquier, Culpeper, and Winchester will have a developing demand for different types of public transportation, so we're learning from the localities what kinds of solutions will be necessary to address their particular transportation issues."
In some places, bus rapid transit may work. In others, light rail or increased car-pooling may be the answer. Super NoVa is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Planners are trying to ascertain which modes of transport are supportable in a given location.
"Even beyond Culpeper County there are folks who are traveling 100 miles or greater into D.C.," she says. "It's phenomenal the distance people will travel to get to their employment. We also know that we're reaching or exceeding the capacity of many of our transportation transit systems today."
Inman says Virginia's political leaders, including Gov. Bob McDonnell, have been supportive of the plan.
"Everyone understands we have to think of multiple solutions to address the transportation issues, especially in the Super Nova region, an economic engine for the commonwealth and neighboring states," she says.
Although Super NoVa is not planning new highways, Inman says the group's recommendations will square with the plans of the Virginia Department of Transportation for new roadways.
"VDOT has plans in place that we are building upon," she says, referring to VDOT's proposal to increase roadway capacity along the I-95 corridor.