Metro Washington could grow more efficiently and reduce its notorious traffic congestion by making better use of existing capacity in underutilized parts of the region instead of continuing costly, unsustainable expansion into undeveloped areas.
Such underutilized areas include the eastern half of the region as well as previously developed areas throughout metro Washington ripe for infill development or redevelopment.
The recently released Region Forward Baseline Progress Report, which measures how the region is doing on meeting the targets adopted in 2010, shows that despite the national and regional trends favoring urbanism rather than sprawl, we’re still not developing enough around activity centers.
In 2010, 46% of the region’s new commercial construction and 31% of new housing was built in activity centers, far below the Region Forward targets of 75% and 50%, respectively. Traditionally, activity centers are places throughout the region with a high concentration of employment.
Through the Region Forward Coalition, these activity centers are currently being updated to better reflect regional priorities such as transit connectivity, residential development, and sustainability. Targeting development in activity centers is a more efficient way to accommodate the region’s growth, which is predicted to bring at least two million more residents to metro Washington by 2050.
When development takes place on previously undeveloped land it requires lots of new infrastructure, such as roads, transit lines and stations, power lines, sewers, etc. However, if development occurs where the infrastructure is already present – such as around many of Prince George’s County’s Metro stations – the resulting economic and environmental costs are much lower. Concentrating development and in turn infrastructure investments is a key step in ensuring that our region’s economy remains resilient.
In addition to lower direct costs, promoting development in activity centers will also help alleviate metro Washington’s infamous traffic congestion, which costs the region millions of dollars in lost productivity each year and negatively impacts the region’s air quality. As of now, the dearth of jobs in the eastern part of the region exacerbates the traffic problem by forcing residents to traverse the region to more job-rich jurisdictions.
As noted in the Baseline Progress Report, a development rebalance that links land-use planning, economic development, and transportation demand is essential to the region’s ongoing economic growth and environmental sustainability.