Moving to Clean Transportation in Virginia

Promoting Major Changes to VDOT: Record traffic congestion & ever-longer commutes are a result of decades of poor planning.


Photo © Doug Riddel

Moving to Clean Transportation in Virginia

Transportation is Virginia’s leading source of carbon pollution, and transportation and land use patterns exact a tremendous toll on our environment, health, and communities. Decades of poor planning and policies focused on pouring asphalt have caught up with us, with more highways and sprawling development causing air and water pollution, traffic congestion, and the loss of vital wetlands, open space, and historic resources. And Virginia’s low-income residents and communities of color bear a disproportionate burden of transportation pollution and the health concerns and other harms it causes.

Changing Direction

People in Virginia drive over 200 million miles each day – farther than the distance to the sun and back. As new and expanded highways encourage development on the fringes of existing communities and the lion’s share of transportation funding continues to go to roads, most of us have no practical alternative to driving. In addition, the vast majority of this driving is done in polluting gas-powered vehicles,

However, growing demand for new approaches has helped fuel record levels of rail and transit ridership and funding, and has begun to slow the increase in the number of miles we drive. The urgent need to address climate change and to develop a more equitable transportation system, coupled with new technology such as advanced electric vehicles and rapid chargers, is creating significant opportunities for change.  

A Plan for Action

SELC is working to transform transportation policies and practices in the Commonwealth. We have helped achieve some significant reforms in recent years, such as establishing dedicated funding for passenger rail, record transit funding, developing a more open and objective way to determine which transportation proposals get funded, and the first major state investments in electric vehicles and charging stations. But much more needs to be done.

Our goals include the following:

  • Adopt Clean Car Standards that require manufacturers to reduce average vehicle emissions over time, and require an increasing share of electric vehicles to be delivered for sale in the state each year.
  • Provide greater funding and incentives for electric vehicles, including electric transit and school buses, as well as the expansion of Virginia’s charging network.
  • Prevent wasteful and destructive highway projects such as the proposed Northern Virginia Outer Beltway Projectsthe Coalfields Expressway, extensive I-81 widening, and the Martinsville Southern Connector—costly projects that would destroy natural and historic resources, spur sprawl, and increase air and water pollution while doing little to solve traffic congestion problems. Instead, we are promoting more effective, less damaging options such as the Charlottesville U.S. Route 29 Solutions package of improvements;
  • Reorient spending to create cleaner, more accessible, and more equitable transportation systems through increased funding for transit, rail and bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, and advance key projects;
  • Increase funding to maintain existing roads and bridges as part of a "fix it first" strategy, improve the efficiency of existing roads, and build effective local street networks that accommodate all modes of travel;
  • Improve the link between transportation and land use planning, and provide greater incentives for smarter growth.
  • Strengthen reviews of greenhouse gas emissions and other climate change effects of all major transportation proposals, including potential impacts on wetlands, forests, and other resources that provide natural resiliency against flooding and sea-level rise.

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