- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 19, 2018

The Metropolitan Washington Council of Government (COG) is kick-starting transportation changes in the region with a resolution directing local jurisdictions to develop policies on highway tolls and bike trail expansions, among goals set out by COG’s Visualize 2045 plan.

The resolution, unanimously approved Wednesday, advances part of Visualize 2045, a $291 billion plan for more than 500 transportation projects to meet the needs of the additional 1.2 million people expected to live in the area by 2045.

The three-page resolution directs transportation agencies in the District, Maryland and Virginia to devise an express lane tolling policy “that exempts high occupancy vehicles from tolls to prioritize moving more people rather than more vehicles on our roadways.”

It calls for local agencies and governments to “develop a consistent framework of preferred standards of development density, operations and service to support the regional implementation of Bus Rapid Transit.” It also directs the council’s Transportation Planning Board (TPB) staff to connect the planned National Capital Trail for bicycles to other area biking trails.

“Nothing that we are doing here is going to change anyone’s commute in the next three months,” said Marty Nohe, the incoming TPB chair and a member of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors. “But the initiatives that we’re moving forward with will have a transformative impact on how people live, work, play, spend time with their families for a generation.”

“Step One, the TPB’s work activity will help in putting this specific idea in front of decision-makers,” said Kanti Srikanth, COG’s transportation planning director. “Step Two is for those decision-makers to actually make those decisions and make it happen. Only when that happens will the commuter see the changes and benefits of these actions.”

TPB resolutions are not binding on the jurisdictions, but COG representatives can be called before the board to publicly answer questions about their governments’ failure to meet regional goals.

Outgoing TPB Chairman Charles Allen told The Washington Times that he has faith these “bigger, bolder, initiatives” from Visualize 2045 can be met, in part, because the resolution passed in time for the policy directives to get “baked into” transportation agency budgets for the next fiscal year.

The resolution directs TPB staff to help Metro increase the number of employers who use its SmartBenefits program and encourage companies to allow more employees to work from home.

The resolution also requires TPB staff to “identify a set of regionally prioritized high capacity transit stations” that could increase ridership by adding pedestrian and bicycle access, and to find “potential sources of funding” for such projects.

Metro Board members previously have expressed support for Visualize 2045’s goals of increasing transit ridership and expanding service, but have told The Times that the funding remains to be seen.

COG’s Visualize 2045 includes plans for completing the National Capital Trail, a 60-mile “bicycle beltway” of biking and walking paths; creating bus rapid transit; widening highways in Maryland (US 301, MD 201 and MD 97) and Virginia (US 15); and adding tolls to Interstates 495 and 270.

Visualize 2045 estimates that 5.7 million people live in national capital region and projects that 6.9 million will live here by 2045.

• Julia Airey can be reached at jairey@washingtontimes.com.

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