- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) voted 29-2 Wednesday to approve Visualize 2045 — a regional plan for $291 billion worth of projects to optimize transportation for the additional 1.2 million people projected to live in the area by 2045.

The plan has seven main goals, five of which aim to reduce car trips and increase people’s access to buses, bike trails and pedestrian paths. A key provision calls for completing the so-called “bicycle beltway” — the National Capital Trail — 60 miles of interconnected biking and walking pathways that will encircle the central portion of the greater Washington area.

“Currently, 21 miles of the trail have not yet been constructed and three miles need to be upgraded,” the Visualize 2045 plan states.

COG revises its federally-mandated plan every four years, but this is the first time pedestrian and cyclist needs have taken center stage, said Kanti Srikanth, the council’s transportation planning director.

Transportation Planning Board Chairman Charles Allen noted the issue of bicyclist and pedestrian safety “was brought home” for him on Friday, after his friend Carol Joan Tomason, 70, was struck and killed crossing H Street NW by a pickup truck driver turning left on 15th Street.

Ms. Tomason’s family posted her obituary Wednesday morning with a call for mourners to support D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s “Vision Zero” campaign promise to end pedestrian and cyclist deaths by 2024. Safety advocates have criticized her administration for failing to fulfill data reporting requirements and make meaningful infrastructure changes as the number of fatalities continues to rise.

“I never want to see an obituary that has that again,” said Mr. Allen, a Democrat who also represents Ward 6 on the D.C. Council.

But Visualize 2045 anticipates as many as 529 “nonmotorist fatalities and serious injuries” across jurisdictions in the District, Maryland and Virginia for 2018, based on Department of Transportation data.

Mr. Srikanth said jurisdictions that surpass that benchmark would have to answer to the council.

“We would call those jurisdictions to account,” he said. “We would ask them to explain what plans they are taking to improve why it’s not working. And through the [Transportation Planning Board] approval we can demand that they put more money into those.”

The board has the authority to approve regional transportation projects for federal funding, as it did with $1.19 million for four D.C. bicycle and pedestrian projects later Wednesday afternoon.

Mr. Allen said the board enforces the safety and environmental values laid out by Visualize 2045 through this project-review process for federal funding.

“That’s where our teeth really sit,” he told The Washington Times. “If you don’t go through TPB to get approvals, you can’t get the resources.”

However, some COG members said Visualize 2045’s safety and environmental goals are at odds with the plan’s proposal to widen highways in Maryland (US 301, MD 201, and MD 97) and Virginia (US 15) and adding tolls to Interstates 495 and 270.

“With the so-called improvements, I can’t afford managed lanes, I can’t afford toll lanes,” said council member Rodney Roberts, who represents Greenbelt and voted against Visualize 2045 over its highway project portion. “It hasn’t improved the traffic one iota. So to think this plan is going to make it better, you’re kidding yourself. And you’re hurting our future.”

“I think this takes us to an outdated space we don’t want to be in 2045,” added council member Kacy Kostiuk, who represents Takoma Park and also voted against the transportation plan.

Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, spoke in the public comments portion of Wednesday’s meeting to oppose the highway expansion projects.

“The never-ending widening embodied in this plan represents potentially billions of dollars in wasted money,” Mr. Schwartz said.

Visualize 2045 notes that 5.7 million people currently live in national capital area and projects the population to increase to 6.9 million by 2045.

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

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