Learning Leadership at the Regional Level

Christine GreenThe first weekend of December, I joined 18 fellow citizens at the National Capital Transportation Planning Board (TPB) Community Leadership Institute (CLI). The purpose of the CLI is to learn more about how transportation decisions are made in the region and how to become more involved in the decision-making process. This was the 10th CLI since it started in 2006.

While I have written about the TPB before, just as a refresher, the TPB is the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) for the Greater Washington, DC region. The TPB includes communities in Virginia and Maryland and the District of Columbia.

The CLI had citizen representation from across the region which proved valuable in our conversations. It is amazing how different issues can be within an hour drive or Metro ride. While some citizens were concerned with increasing Metro rail service reliability, others were concerned with population growth in the outer lying areas without Metro access, while others wanted jobs near current population.

The final exercises were the most eye-opening. We first were able to decide where to place new jobs and housing. We prioritized areas without jobs but with a large percentage of the population and places where Metro rail is expanding. We then added transportation options both in existing gaps and to complement our new housing and job decisions. Not surprisingly, hardly any new road capacity was added. We focused on Metro rail, bus rapid transit and light rail.

That was the fun part. The final step was to justify how we would pay for our transportation expansion. This was a frustrating, in-depth look at how little money there is for transportation. I must say, our plans for connecting our region with multi-modal options were fabulous. But if we wanted to maintain the existing system, little money was left for new multi-modal options. Even though those options would improve the commute to jobs and address current congestion issues. Our group took a somewhat easy way out to build our new transportation system. We chose to raise the gas tax, implement congestion pricing for the central business district and create revenue by privatizing parking. While these options were within our given parameters in the exercise, in reality they are not politically popular and would be a tough sell to citizens.

We need to continue to work to prioritize multi-modal transportation and keep our current infrastructure safe for users. This is why working with regional transportation matters.