To understand why Western Gateway is an environmentally sound project, we can look at this project from the perspective of Prince George’s County’s master development plan, known as Plan Prince George’s 2035 (“Plan 2035”) and also focus upon its function as transit-oriented development.
Plan 2035, enacted in 2015, is the County’s 20-year general plan, which has been passed by the Prince George’s County Council and signed by the County Executive as the representative expression of planning goals and vision on behalf of, and intended to benefit, the over 900,000 residents of this county. For too long the developer community ignored Prince George’s County’s transit sites, as outlined in a 2014 news article.
Plan 2035 identifies “sprawl” as a pressing concern. The County noted that, despite prior master planning, “the majority of recent development in the County occurred in suburban locations outside the Capital Beltway and outside of designated growth centers and corridors.” (Plan 2035 at 78). There is an easily measured cost to sprawl. The County lost 70,000 acres of its agricultural and forested land to development between 1973 and 2010. (Plan 2035 at 165). Geographically disbursed development requires greater infrastructure investment (longer roads, more water and sewer connections) and more expensive public services (fire, police and school services spread over greater geographic boundaries). (Plan 2035 at 79).
Plan 2035 is a detailed, comprehensive master plan, that can be fairly distilled as a plan that protects the most by concentrating growth in specific places. It says growth should go to Regional Transit Districts, such as the College Park and Prince George’s Plaza WMATA station areas, to high employment areas (such as the University of Maryland) and to “local centers” which include the Western Gateway site. (Plan 2035 at 18-19).
Where should growth not go? To areas not served by water and sewer infrastructure and, especially, to the County’s significant rural and agricultural areas. (Plan 2035 at 20). Plan 2035 is consistent with State growth mandates, including the Smart and Sustainable Growth Act of 2009. (Plan 2035 at 31-33).
“Prioritizing denser, mixed-use, transit-oriented growth and promoting infill and redevelopment in existing communities will reduce pressures on undeveloped land and conserve forest and agricultural resources, improve water and air quality, and reduce our reliance on vehicular transportation.” (Plan 2035 at 93).
Recently, the County published its five year evaluation of Plan 2035.
Most critical indicators were favorable. There were increases in agricultural land preserved; bike and pedestrian facilities constructed; impervious surfaces retrofit; and LEED certified buildings. Significantly, between 2014 and 2017, the County’s area of forest planted and preserved increased by 1,482 acres. The shortfalls? Greenhouse gas emission and vehicle miles traveled. (2035 5-year evaluation at 17).
One of the most effective tools to reduce vehicle miles traveled and thereby reduce carbon emissions is transit-oriented development (TOD). TOD housing reduces car use and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
Plan 2035 calls for thoughtful concentrated growth close to jobs and transit.
Plans like Plan 2035 can be highly effective. The National Academy of Science recognized Arlington County, Virginia as one of the nation’s best TOD success stories. Starting in the 1970’s, county planners recognized the importance of concentrating growth near the new Metrorail stations planned for the County. The county was praised for its “adherence to textbook planning principle” that included “careful preparation of a general use plan that set the broad policy framework for all development decisions along targeted growth axes, together with sector plans for orchestrating development activities…within quarter-mile ‘bulls-eyes’ of each Metrorail station.” Reduced vehicle miles traveled rank among the many benefits of TOD. The National Academy of Science noted that repeating Arlington County’s success elsewhere would require “significant and sustained political commitment, substantial transportation infrastructure investments, and decades to show results.” Driving and the Built Environment, The Effects of Compact Development on Motorized Travel, Energy Use, and CO2 Emissions.” (2009).
The State of Maryland provides the “substantial transportation infrastructure investment” mentioned above. The Purple Line is a more than $5 billion investment in transit linking College Park to the employment and transit hubs of Bethesda, Silver Spring, College Park and New Carrollton.
Plan 2035 lays out a “bulls-eye” strategy for long-term development, concentrating it near transit. The State has knit the two together by articulating support of TOD as a matter of law and policy: "The development of improved and expanded railroad facilities, railroad services, transit facilities, and transit services operating as a unified and coordinated regional transportation system, and the realization of transit–oriented development throughout the State, represent transportation purposes that are essential for the satisfactory movement of people and goods, the alleviation of present and future traffic congestion, the economic welfare and vitality, and the development of the metropolitan area of Baltimore and other political subdivisions of the State." Maryland Annotated Code, Transportation Article, Section 7-102(a)(1).
Maryland law emphasizes the State’s obligation to support local development plans, such as Plan 2035: "The desired regional transportation system cannot be achieved by the unilateral action of any one political subdivision, but requires action by this State through a State agency that is politically responsive to local needs and will assure that the development of the regional transportation system fosters general development plans for this State, the region, and the local development plans of the participating political subdivisions." Maryland Annotated Code, Transportation Article, Section 7-102 (c).
Although the Maryland Mass Transit Administration, not the University of Maryland, is developing the “regional transportation system,” the University is a State entity. Maryland Annotated Code, Education Article, Section 12-102(a)(2). Its primary mission is academic, but the University is also legally encouraged to promote the economic development of the State. Maryland Annotated Code, Education Article, Section 15-107.
The Western Gateway project is a transit-oriented development that matches well with the type of project that is called for in Plan 2035.
Nasri, A., et al., The Analysis of Transit-oriented Development (TOD) in Washington, D.C. and Baltimore Metropolitan Areas. Transport Policy, vol. 32, 172-179 (2014) https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tranpol.2013.12.009 (“Our results indicate that people living in TOD areas tend to drive less, reducing their [vehicle miles traveled] by around 38% in Washington, D.C. and 21% in Baltimore, compared to residents of the non-TOD areas even with similar land use patterns.”)
National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine 2008. Effects of TOD on Housing, Parking, and Travel. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/14179. (“For peak periods (that often govern the design of roads and highways), this research shows transit-oriented apartments average around one half the norm of vehicle trips per dwelling unit.”).
Ali, L., et al., Dynamics of Transit Oriented Development, Role of Greenhouse Gases and Urban Environment: A Study for Management and Policy. Sustainability, 13, 2536 (2021). https://doi.org/10.3390/su13052536 (“TOD can help in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and building life-energy cycle consumption by 9-25%. The overall impact of GHG can be reduced by 36%, respiratory impacts by 8.4%, and smog by 25% through the proper planning of transportation and buildings.”)
Haas, P., et al., A. Transit Oriented Development and the Potential for VMT-Related Greenhouse Gas Emissions Growth Reduction; Report of the Center for Neighborhood Technology for the Center for Transit Oriented Development: Chicago, IL, USA, 1–64, (2010) available at https://www.cnt.org/publications/transit-oriented-development-and-the-po... (“By simply living in a neighborhood that is within a half mile of public transportation, this study shows that in the Chicago Metropolitan Region such households have lower transportation-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from auto use, 43 percent lower than households living in the average location in the Chicago Metropolitan Region. Households living in a downtown—which typically have the highest concentration of transit, jobs, housing, shopping and other destinations—have 78 percent lower emissions.”).
Odioso, M., et al., Cool Communities: identifying Climate-Friendly Developments in the Washington D.C. Region, A Coalition for Smarter Growth research report (April 12, 2010) available at https://www.smartergrowth.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/Cool_Communitie... (“Transit-oriented locations and walkable designs can reduce CO2 emissions by anywhere from 8 to over 40 percent.”).
Cervero, R., et al.,Transit-oriented development and joint development in the United States: A literature review. Tcrp Res. Results Dig. 2002, 52, 1–144 (“TOD can lower annual household rates of driving 20-40 percent for those living, working, and/or shopping within transit station areas.”); (“By providing safe and easy pedestrian access to transit, TOD allows households to lower rates of air pollution and energy consumption. Also, TODs can help households reduce rates of greenhouse gas emissions by 2.5 to 3.7 tones per year.”).
EPA Website: Smart Growth and Transportation: Transit-Oriented Development, United States Environmental Protection Agency, available at https://www.epa.gov/smartgrowth/smart-growth-and-transportation#transito... ("TOD can help lower household transportation costs, boost public transit ridership, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution, spur economic development, and make housing more affordable by reducing developer expenditures on parking and allowing higher-density zoning.")