- Public transportation reduces traffic, congestion, travel times and stress for everyone in a region, even for those that never use the transit system, saving 865 million hours and 450 million gallons of fuel each year.
- Public transportation is a vital link for more than 51 million Americans with disabilities, providing them access to jobs and the rest of the economy.
As further evidence of the value of investment in public transit, public private partnerships are becoming more prevalent as laws and policies allow and encourage it. Today, there are billions of dollars in capital funds looking for infrastructure projects in which to invest, but previously there was no mechanism in place to allow a return on the investment. This resulted in public agencies stretching for enough funds to complete projects, and investors sitting on the sidelines with money.
An example of such a partnership is Fairfax County, Va., where the county government and developer Comstock Partners teamed to build a mixed-use parking structure at the $750 million Reston Station project, part of the $6 billion Silver Line Metro extension toWashington Dulles International Airport. The county is providing $87 million toward construction of a $91.3 million, 2,300-space underground parking deck at the largely underground metro station along Wiehle Avenue. The project also envisions a commuter park-and-ride facility and a transit bus depot. On the nine acres above the station, Comstock is developing a 1.3 million square-foot, mixed-use center that will include 900 luxury apartments, a 200-plus-room hotel, restaurants, and office and retail space. Together, the county and Comstock are creating jobs and revenues, benefitting the entire community.
In short, the project must be viewed as an investment in the community in order to silence the critics and show the value of investing in mass transit projects.
James D. Parsons, AICP
Vice President, Aecom
For years, the rail transit industry has contended with a host of critics who make a variety of arguments against major capital projects. In recent years, these arguments have become easier to refute by simply citing the many highly successful new rail transit investments. Nevertheless, critics persist with both old and new arguments in cities from Honolulu to Charlotte. However, the industry’s new broader understanding of the relationships between transit investments, land use and economic development and the shaping of future metropolitan-area travel patterns lends a new perspective to the debate.
About 20 years ago the rail transit industry suffered from a track record that saw projects balloon in cost, lengthen in delivery schedule and under perform in terms of forecast and actual ridership. Critics pounced on these problems, dragging up the famous “Don Pickrell Report” of 1990 to argue against investing in transit. The ensuing 10 years saw a vast improvement in our ability to control the scope and cost of new projects, and achieve better-than-expected outcomes. Deliver them on time and produce ridership results above forecasts. Much of this new rigor came about through the efforts of the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and its New Starts project development, design, riskassessment and construction oversight procedures. While people may moan about the time and steps involved in the FTA process, it is hard to argue with the results — today most of our projects are delivered under budget, ahead of schedule and with ridership numbers above forecasts. No other area of major public works investment can cite the recent record — certainly not highway projects. The public has also been impressed, as evidenced by the strong support shown at the ballot box for transit tax measures across the country. Nothing answers the critics better than these successes.
Despite this, critics continue to complain that transit investments have not eased traffic congestion. What they fail to recognize is that transit investments will never empty the roads. Transit can ease, but not eliminate the rate of growth inroadway congestion. I am often amused by those who argue that, to be effective, a transit investment should attract everyone else to ride, so that they can drive on uncongested roads. Rail transit investments provide mobility choices and the opportunity for travelers to avoid traffic congestion. Well planned rail transit also provides the infrastructure around which new development can be shaped in ways to reduce auto dependency and vehicle trips in general. One of the biggest benefits of this synergy is the net reduction in vehicle trips — what planners refer to as the “trip not taken” because people can now walk to shop and do other errands. Building more and bigger roads is certainly not the answer to traffic congestion problems.