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What do Northern Virginians want most from government? Relief from traffic congestion

Northern Virginia is home to savvy commuters whose knowledge of transportation issues in the region has grown dramatically since 2015, according to a new survey released Wednesday by the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority.

About one-third of respondents listed reducing traffic congestion and offering more transportation options as their top concern, followed by affordable housing, job creation and crime. They said policymakers should focus on funding for roads, followed by rail and transit and lastly, finding ways to encourage less driving during peak commuting times.

The most important transportation project in the Northern Virginia region? The Silver Line.

The survey polled residents on a variety of transportation related issues, asking about everything from the length of their commute to their thoughts on self-driving cars. It was released as part of NVTA’s TransAction, the once every five year rewrite of the long-range transportation plan for Northern Virginia.

Despite their concerns about congestion, the survey found that 68 percent of Northern Virginia residents think the region is doing a “good job” with the maintenance and quality of transportation infrastructure – up significantly from 43 percent who felt positive about the performance in an previous October 2015 survey.

Commuters know that traffic jams come with the territory and are willing to put up with some congestion, but many say congestion on the region’s roadways is close to unacceptable. But commuters in the region are fortunate to have many options. In addition to transit, the survey found,  some are turning to app-based service such as Lyft and Uber to help get them around. In fact, of those who responded to the survey, nearly half expected to use those types of services more in the next year.

Martin E. Nohe, a member of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors and chairman of the NVTA said he was impressed by how knowledgeable Northern Virginia commuters were about various aspects of the transportation system. He also said that Metro’s woes have only raised awareness of the importance of investing in infrastructure.

“Shutting down entire lines has made people very acutely aware of what happens when you don’t make these investments in transportation,” he said. One silver lining however is that it has forced commuters to find others way to get around, he added. Humans are creatures of habit, he said and, “. . . people may not experiment with other modes until they’re forced to.”

The survey found that most commuters get their traffic information from traditional news outlets such as TV, radio and newspapers. Even so a growing number are turning to social networks like Twitter for real-time traffic information. About 31 percent said they find traffic information on social media versus 24 percent in 2015.

One other interesting tidbit: more than half of the women surveyed said ranked reducing travel times as a top concern.

Respondents were more likely to remember negative news about transportation in the region versus positive news. Of that negative news, most involved the Metro system.

There also were misgivings among Northern Virginia commuters about self-driving cars. While some thought the technology was a good idea — many others found the concept, “scary” or “dangerous.”

Among the top projects on respondents’ minds: Upgrades to Route 7 (Leesburg Pike) and Route 1 (Richmond Highway), followed by the Silver Line to Dulles Airport and the VRE Gainesville-Haymarket extension. Respondents also said they would like to see a new or improved highway and/or transit crossing of the Potomac River.