Virginia DOT aims to assess its core assumptions and reprioritize

By Chris McCahill

Last month, Virginia’s Deputy Secretary of Transportation, Nick Donohue, updated the Commonwealth Transportation Board, which oversees VDOT, on the status of the agency’s long-term planning process. He indicated to the board that the agency is beginning to rethink its core assumptions about future travel needs, and that the state’s next surface transportation plan will reflect this new way of thinking in important ways. Among the issues facing VDOT, Donohue noted, was the fact that recent increases in VMT have been far lower than the state’s forecasts suggest—a nationwide phenomenon that affects funding outlooks and programming decisions.

The department hopes to develop a new guiding policy—VTrans 2040 Vision—by early next year, and a new Multimodal Surface Transportation Plan early the following year. The new plan will likely reflect changing housing preferences and travel behavior in the state and it will be the first to fully incorporate a performance-based approach, in accordance with MAP-21. Under the new policies, projects will undergo a more stringent evaluation process and will be prioritized based on criteria outlined in House Bill 2. This evaluation process will include projects already programmed for funding.

Carefully selected performance metrics will be a key part of the agency’s planning process, according to Donohue. Conventional measures of traffic congestion, he explained, often fail to capture outcomes that are important to most travelers, such as lower total travel times. In addition to looking at congestion, the agency also will consider whether projects can achieve a broad range of goals related to economic development, environmental quality, accessibility, intermodal connectivity, and safety.

Chris McCahill is a Senior Associate at SSTI.