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Potential impact on Alexandria shuttle programs creates setback for transportation funding overhaul

A bus driver waits outside the Van Dorn Metro station in Alexandria (staff photo by James Cullum)

A plan to overhaul the way Alexandria handles transportation funding from developers was sent back for further review by the Planning Commission.

Members of the Planning Commission said earlier this week that there are too many lingering questions about the impacts on local residents of the proposed changes, though the changes are headed in the right direction.

The change could lead to end of city-wide shuttle programs, leaving a gap in services that the local bus network may not be able to fill.

Currently, developers manage funding for transportation projects to offset increased traffic from their projects. That funding, part of a transportation management plan (TMP), can be used to encourage employees and residents to use public transportation, walk, take a bike or rideshare over driving to work alone.

But a number of the 106 TMPs in effect in Alexandria lack proper oversight to ensure funds are being put to good use, while developers face low penalties — a $50 fine — for not following these plans, according to a city report.

The city proposes to lump funding from those TMPs into a single, city-managed pot to be allocated to city transportation projects.

Commissioners and public speakers said there are a few areas where the change could pull the rug out from beneath a few vital current systems.

The plan is “not ready for primetime,” Morgan Babcock, manager and TMP coordinator for the Carlyle Council, told the Planning Commission during public comments.

Babcock said her TMP provides a workday shuttle and supports community events like Bike to Work Day as well as management of a tunnel connecting Carlyle to the King Street Metro station. The city would have to assume responsibility for and management of all these initiatives, Babcock noted.

Commissioners were particularly concerned about the future of shuttle services, which staff said are part of eight TMPs.

“We would potentially be remiss if we pull the rug out from shuttles,” said Planning Commission Chair Nathan Macek. “I’m not sure DASH or Metrobus would be an adequate substitute for shuttles.”

Staff said one part of the plan would involve shifting shuttle operations over to DASH. Macek noted that DASH buses generally do not fill the same needs as the shuttles in TMPs.

In Cameron Station, for instance, a shuttle circulates around the community and gives better access to local homes than a bus traveling along major streets would, Macek said.

Planning Commission member Mindy Lyle proposed deferring the changes until staff could conduct more outreach to current TMP programs and review the impact on shuttles. That motion carried unanimously.

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