Advancing Equity and Sustainability Using Multimodal Solutions: ACEC/MW’s Virginia Transportation Luncheon

ACEC/MW Transportation Committee Chair and Vice Chair, Sean Rousseau and James Thomas, consider the importance of advancing equity and sustainability in transportation as discussed at the Virginia Transportation Luncheon on 2/16/2023.

On February 16, 2023, ACEC/MW hosted its annual Virginia Transportation Luncheon in Tysons, VA. The hybrid event had over 140 attendees who learned about the latest updates on transportation in Virginia and the District of Columbia. This year's event was focused on Advancing Equity and Sustainability Using Multimodal Solutions and the speakers included Chris Berg, Director of VDOT's Office of Transportation Sustainability; Amanda Stout, DDOT Deputy Chief Project Delivery Officer; Chris Ziemann, Transportation Planning Division Chief for the City of Alexandria; and Mike McLaughlin, Chief Operation Officer for Virginia Passenger Rail Authority (VPRA).

A few themes emerged as the presentations progressed. Outreach was significant for the agencies, as they all noted the importance of being more intentional with those to whom they reach out, and they noted a desire to strive for more inclusion with community engagement. They acknowledged that there was a lot of work ahead in the pipeline, especially as they continue to look at high injury corridors and other metrics, to prioritize future projects and funding. They all expressed the need to consider all modes and all users when developing projects and noted that interagency coordination was on-going and could always be improved.
(From left: Mike McLaughlin, Chris Berg, Chris Ziemann, Amanda Stout)
Chris Berg began by giving a brief overview of the VDOT Office of Transportation Sustainability, which was established in 2022 to balance the Commonwealth's transportation needs and its environmental issues. Chris stated that they will be engaging local communities throughout Virginia, conducting focus groups, and coordinating with other agencies as the office continues to increase outreach efforts. Chris acknowledged their first year was focused mainly on getting the NEVI program out of the door, and that improving interagency coordination and public outreach is a major goal moving forward.

Amanda Stout brought a unique perspective to this year's luncheon being the only participant whose organization is outside of Virginia, and she stressed DDOT's role in providing regional connectivity with Virginia and Maryland. She explained that Equity, Safety, Mobility and Sustainability are major tenets for DDOT, values that are also shared by the transportation agencies in Virginia. Amanda discussed DDOT's Equity Assessment tool, Vision Zero program and shared the High Injury Network, which is a prioritization tool that DDOT uses to plan major capital corridor projects and tactical safety improvements. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is providing an unprecedented level of investment to the District, which is being used to fund both ongoing and future projects.

Chris Ziemann spoke about the City of Alexandria's plans to address equity issues with the ALL Alexandria initiative as well as other plans and strategies related to sustainability and equity in transportation. Chris explained that while the City conducts extensive community outreach and engagement efforts, it was important to understand the data that was being collected and who the respondents were. One of the difficulties the City has seen is getting groups to participate that typically do not respond to the standard outreach efforts. They have been working hard to provide a wider variety of outreach opportunities while not shying away from owing the shortcomings of the outreach to date. Another interesting point that Chris raised related to the City's focus on Vision Zero; making people feel safe when utilizing a particular mode of transportation was as important as designing a project to be safe based on design principles. 

Mike McLaughlin provided detail on the large number for rail projects being developed and implemented in Virginia, including $4 billion worth of projects between Northern Virginia and Richmond alone. A key focus has been providing late night and weekend VRE trains to allow more options for users outside of the typical commuter hours, which is a direct result of changing work patterns the past few years. Mike also gave more information on the Long Bridge project, which was being broken into two packages for delivery: a DC package that includes additional tracks and bridges, and the Long Bridge package, which will construct two new tracks crossing the Potomac River. A key challenge for rail in Virginia is tying the improvement projects into the local projects to increase mobility. He noted that a lot of people still drive cars to the train stations and felt that the next step would be for local agencies to provide multimodal options to take advantage of the boom in rail in Virginia.

Following the presentations, all four presenters participated in a panel discussion fielding questions from the audience as well as moderated questions. The general tone of the discussion was that transportation in Virginia and the District was experiencing an unprecedented amount of investment and activity, and the future looked bright as the industry continues to focus on Safety, Equity and providing multimodal options to address the many challenges ahead.  We thank the presenters for their time and all the valuable information provided.

Our ACEC/MW Transportation Committee meets monthly on the last Friday, and we would love to have you join us.  For more information about the Transportation Committee, or to get involved, click here.


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