The three transportation experts at the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce’s State of Transportation panel discussion Thursday morning came from three different backgrounds, but they mostly agreed: Metro has got to get fixed, and we’ve got to get a new Potomac River bridge.
David Birtwistle, CEO of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, put Metro safety and reliability at the top of his list of priorities. Right behind that: a new bridge over the Potomac.
“Another crossing over the river has been on the plan since the 1950s, and it’s been studied over and over and over again, so I don’t think we need to be studying it any longer,” Birtwistle said.
Richard Parsons, vice chairman of the Suburban Maryland Transportation Alliance, agreed.
“We are not suffering from lack of knowledge about what to do,” Parsons said. “We know exactly what to do. We have spent millions of dollars studying what to do.” Metro, he said, is a “key attribute” of regional transportation, and the region needs another bridge crossing.
Birtwistle and Parsons were harshly critical of leadership on the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, although they complimented Loudoun’s elected leadership on that council. Birtwistles said COG is “overwhelmed by a prevailing philosophy that seemingly does not want to look at the region as a region.”
“The agency has been captured by special interest groups over time, and by a rabid form of parochialism that has destroyed its mission,” Parsons said. “… Instead of doing real long-range planning, what it’s doing is stapling together local priorities from each jurisdiction into a big binder and calling it a regional plan.”
Parsons was no easier on the elected leadership at the local and state levels in his home state. The public overwhelmingly supports a new bridge, for example, but the Montgomery County Council is universally opposed to discussing it, he said.
“The public is not being represented right now by the people in office,” he said.
Monica Backmon, executive director of the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, which provides funding for many of Loudoun’s largest transportation projects, avoided directly criticizing other government bodies. She said the NVTA has a “verifiable, certifiable process” for evaluating and ranking transportation projects based on impact, and invited other organizations to imitate the NVTA’s model.
“I would dare anyone to say that they have a better process than what we have,” Backmon said.
Birtwistle and Parson’s criticism of the Council of Governments would have been familiar to anyone who was there when they shared a panel at the Loudoun County Economic Development Advisory Committee in November. That panel was focused on the idea of a new bridge crossing, and they offered the same solution to moving elected officials on Thursday:
“What they do need to hear from are employers, are people who could expand their operations or potentially expand them elsewhere outside of our region,” Birtwistle said. “That’s what gets the public decision makers’ attention.”
“We in the business community understand the need for regional mobility, and it doesn’t stop at some political boundary,” Parsons said. “I think the leadership is not coming from our elected officials at the local level right now. … The reality is, if we don’t lead, I don’t know of anyone else who can.”
The State of Transportation panel was part of the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce’s PolicyMakers Series of breakfast panel discussions. The next discussion, on the state of housing, will be held May 3. For more information go to loudounchamber.org/PolicyMaker-Series.