Sprawling development in the Washington area is wasting land and energy, polluting the air, threatening the water and outstripping the capacity of both highways and public transportation.
If this pattern of development persists there will be further environmental deterioration, increased dependency on the automobile and increased demands for costly governmental service "which probably cannot be met," according to an unusualy blunt document from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.
The document entitle "Metropolitan Growth Policy Statement," and now being circulated in draft form among local governments, is an attempt to define for the first time in 13 years what this metropolitan area is and where it is going.
This study is the product of more than two years of work and a series of detailed reports that include population and employment projections and assessments of the impact of those projections on energy consumption, air quality, land use, water resources and transportation.
If present development patterns continue unchanged here for the next 20 years, the reports predict that:
Specialized communities, containing either jobs or bedrooms but not both, will burgeon. This will increase the distances between homes, jobs and supermarkets and thus require more longer, energy-consuming airpolluting trips.
Housing will develop primarily in rings farther and farther from the urban core, while jobs will be located along major transporatation corridros radiating from the center. While the Capital Beltway now serves the kind of exurban housing development at 10 miles out, areas beyond the Beltway for the most part have wretched roads.
Present spending levels are inadequate to improve this situation. Longrange areawide highway needs are estimated to cost $368 million per year, but the average annual expenditure for roads is $83.8 million.
Between 1972 and 1985, 57 per cent of the region's new jobs are expected to develop within the planned Metro subway's corridors, but only 34 per cent of the new households. Between 1985 and 1995, 49 per cent of the new jobs will be in the rail corridors, but only 31 per cent of the households.
Because of Metro, travel time to the central area (Washington, Arlington, Alexandria) will improve dramatically into the early 1980s. After 1985, however, auto commuting to the central area will take increasingly more time because of increased congestion in the outlying regions.
By 1995, each person living in the area will consume an average of 11.9 per cent more energy than he does now for needs ranging from home heating to transportation. Assuming that the 100-mile Metro is completed and operates trains every two minutes as planned. Metro will consume 1 per cent of the region's energy total and 11 per cent of the region's energy for transportation. The more people ride the Metro, the more productive it becomes.
Several air pollutants will diminish because of tougher federal standards, but smog - the most noticeable Washington summer air quality problem - will occur in levels that violate national goals and make eyes smart. Improved quality of vehicle exhausts will be partially offset by increased trips.
Much development will cover in areas that do not have sewers or sewage treatment plants. Enormous investments will be made to provide both, while existing usable facilities will be wasted.
New rooftops and paving will increase the amount of silt and other pollutants that are carried into the area's water supplies, particularly in the Occoquon Reservoir basin serving Northern Virginia. Thus, just as the region is cleaning up its rivers with almost $1 billion in sewage treatment plants, increased siltation will threaten water quantity as well as quality.
"Nearly all of the negative impacts anticipated," the draft growth policy says," are related to the dispersed pattern of growth that has been forecast, particularly for residential development . . . A more compact development pattern and a more focused effort to conserve resources would lessen or prevent many of the negative impacts identified."
The COG policy statement proposes specific guidelines for more efficient development and use of public services. It suggest that growth be redirected toward the urban center, but that outlying growth areas, with both jobs and houses, should also be designated by the individual jurisdictions. It suggests that some, but not all, Metro stations be selected as the centers of more intensive development.
The new COG statement is intended to replace its Plan for the Year 2000, a regional master plan created in 1964. That plan proposed generally that the Washington metropolitan area be developed in alternating bands of builtup areas and green space radiating from the center.
Major spokes, such as Georgia Avenue or Shirley Highway, would receive concentrations of jobs and residences.Green corridors in between - such as the Potomac or Rock Creek Park, would be protected from intensive development.
Only Montgomery County officially adopted the plan and the county has attempted, but not always succeeded, in following the concept.
In the rest of the region, the proposed green spaces have been filled in with tract housing oriented to the Beltway - which opened in 1964, the same year the plan was adopted. The spokes in the regional wheel have developed more as employment and transportation corridors.
Wedges and corridors, as the 1964 plan is known, "worked partially for employment, but not at all for residents," said Ben W. Gilbert, chief planner for the District of Columbia and a long-time student of area development.
There was no way the green spaces could survive market forces pushing tract housing unless government purchased the land, Gilbert said. "They never found the money any plan that ambitious has to be funded from the beginning."
The result has been a developing Washington Metropolitan area with centrally oriented transportation but housing patterns that require more side-to-side movement.
That is one of the key facts area leaders are reviewing as the look at possible truncation of the planned 100-mile Metro subway system.
The projections for Fairfax County residents show, for example, that only 19 per cent of them will be able to use public transportation - as it is presently designed - for home to work trips in 1995.
Montgomery County residents, living in a jurisdiction that adopted and tried to force development along transportation corridors, would be able to use public transportation for 30 percent of their home to work trips.
But fully half of the county residents' work trips to the District of Columbia could be carried by Metro.
The Plan for the Year 2000, which the present COG policy would replace, has been largely ignored by the region. The same thing could happen with COG's new growth policy statement.
The critical test will come when local governments in the area are called upon to designate "growth centers," according to Jane Roggers, one of the key architects of the COG studies.
Growth centers beyond the urban core would contain jobs, services and homes, not just one or two of the three.
"This policy is not just a recommendation for densities," Rogers said. "We do not mean Manhattanization. But enormous resources can be saved through compactness and conservation."
There is opposition to any suggestion of more compact development. The growth policy report "is a typical document by some starry-eyed planner," according to Fairfax County Board Chairman John F. Herrity.
"Planners want to put moonrises [his word for highrises] at every Metro stop and it's not going to happen. The citizens of Fairfax County have indicated that they want low density areas and I believe in that."
Herrity brushed aside all questions of cost savings. "We have an active program to attract clean industry to this county so that not all taxes will have to be paid by the homeowner," he said.
All planners and politicians interviewed said that, barring an enormous energy crisis that would radically change everything, many Americans will want to live in the exurbs for the forseeable future. But that doesn't mean that everyone has to or wants to.
The COG Growth Statement is seen by most as a vital step in developing a regional debate on an important issue. Royce Hanson, who has guided Montgomery County's planning for years and is chairman of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, likened the COG draft to "an effort to begin a course correction" for a misguided battleship. "There's a tremendous amount of inertia to overcome," Hanson said.
Whether it will be successful - or just another plan that sits on the shelf like the one adopted in 1964 - is the toughest question.
"I don't see any way of overcoming the economic and political predispositions to spreading out" without first developing and presenting to the taxpaying public some "hard numbers" that detail the costs of existing policies, said Archie Shidler, president of the Washington Center for Metropolitan Studies.
"COG is performing an extremely valuable service in starting this process," he said.