Danny Plaugher, executive director of Virginians for High Speed Rail, spoke to members of the city’s business community about the importance of fast and reliable train service during the Economic Development Authority’s roundtable luncheon Tuesday.
Virginians for High Speed Rail was founded in 1994, he said, and is a nonprofit focused on advocating for high-speed rail service connecting Virginia to the rest of the East Coast. As Plaugher explained, traffic woes and delays along highways and at airports across the state have compounded since 1990, and show no signs of slowing. Specifically, he singled out the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel, Interstate 95, Interstate 64 and Dulles Airport.
“Virginia is changing, and that’s having an impact on our transportation system, and our challenges are increasing,” he said.
According to data Plaugher presented at the luncheon, the state’s population grew by nearly 37% between 1990 and 2017. Meanwhile, Virginia’s road network has only grown about 13%, he said.
“Our highways are a little bit worse, our interstates have grown about 12% but vehicle miles traveled on them have grown by 77%, so our interstates are getting even more and more congested, and our airports aren’t that much better,” he said.
With a focus on the state’s urban crescent — which reaches from Northern Virginia to Hampton Roads — he said highways have grown with additions to I-95 and I-64, but that the number of cars on the road has far outpaced any highway construction efforts.
As he shifted over to the benefits of high-speed rail service, he said passenger rail has been the fastest-growing mode of transportation in Hampton Roads since 2000, and that usage of the local Williamsburg Amtrak station is also growing.
As he explained, the train station at the Williamsburg Transportation Center averages 61,000 trips per year, and ridership has increased by 44% over the past decade.
Looking toward the future, he said his organization’s goal will be to take the findings of high-speed rail studies, which suggest that improvements can be made to lessen travel times and to increase reliability and service, and to make them a reality. He also asked attendees to reach out to local congressional representatives and support the Surface Transportation Act up for reauthorization in Congress next year.
“This is going to be the major bill that deals with transportation funding for the next half-decade,” he said. “We need to have a federal partner to allow us to have higher speed rail and start building these projects with federal support.”
Rodrigo Arriaza, firstname.lastname@example.org, 757-790-9313, @rodrigoarriaza0.