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Need Drives Transportation Study

As Loudoun moves from being suburban to more urban and traffic in the county increases, expanding the limited highway system may not be the answer.

“We can’t build ourselves out of congestion. We’re just beginning now to address that fact,” said Chip Taylor, program manager for county public transportation and transportation operations. “We recognize that public transportation will have to play a more significant role.”

In March 2001, Loudoun hired KFH Group, based in Bethesda, Md., to conduct a year-long Countywide Public Transportation Study that assesses the county’s public transportation needs and provides five and 10-year implementation plans for reorganizing and expanding transit services. KFH conducted 50 interviews and meetings with community leaders and residents, residential telephone surveys and site visits to gather information for the study.

Seventy-three percent of the study respondents said they favored expanded public transit and more than 50 percent supported using local taxes to fund the expansion, according to the study’s final report, dated May 17.

“Loudoun County’s time has come for public transit,” said Kenneth Hosen, vice-president of KFH and presenter of the study results at the June 11 Transportation Committee meeting. “More folks are for transit. Less would use it, but they want it there.”

“Even if people wanted to take public transportation, there is none,” said Supervisor William Bogard (R-Sugarland Run). “You are never going to have a system with the flexibility and reach to take everybody everywhere. What you can is take cars off the road” and defer the expense of building new roads, he said.

KFH PINPOINTED two county needs for public transportation, including increasing commuter bus services and adding more fixed routes to connect Fairfax and Loudoun counties and the town of Leesburg. The Virginia Regional Transportation Association (VRTA), formerly Loudoun Transit, provides a fixed-route service in Leesburg, campus shuttle services and services on demand for the elderly and disabled living in the county.

VRTA serves Washington, D.C., where nine percent of commuters work, along with Rosslyn, Crystal City and the Pentagon. Another 48 percent of commuters work in Fairfax County and 33 percent in Loudoun County.

KFH identified a need for expansion of services along the Route 7 and Dulles Greenway from Leesburg to Sterling based on projections where county growth is expected to occur. KFH recommended the county’s rural services remain the same, except for the addition of one to two buses. The consultant suggested VRTA continue to operate the service as a paratransit service with reservation curbside pickup for residents.

“We don’t see the rural area growing as much, especially with the comp plan being what it is,” Hosen said.

KFH recommended the county manage the transportation services, procure the vehicles and contract the services to transit operators as the county is now doing through VRTA and Yellow Transportation, the private provider of commuter bus services. “It gives the best of both worlds,” Hosen said, adding that the county does not have to hire staff for the services but can still have control. “It’s like any business. It’s growing the business. It will take a little time.”

The Board of Supervisors will discuss the study results at a later date and identify which recommendations the county can afford.

“We view the study as a guideline of what we should be moving toward. It points to the types of investments we should make,” Taylor said. “This is not meant to be a final blueprint for how transportation services should be implemented.”

The study cost $260,000, paid for with funds from a gasoline tax charged to automobile users at the gas pump. Capital costs to implement the study’s recommendations are estimated at $9.1 million. The operating costs are estimated at $6.7 million in 2004, increasing to $8.6 million by 2012.