Sunday, June 12, 2005

Clement Gets It

Whitt Clement, having recently resigned as the Warner administration's Secretary of Transportation, also contributed an op-ed piece in today's Richmond Times-Dispatch. No other state transportation secretary has argued so forcefully for tying transportation planning to land use planning. Sayeth Clement:

The Commonwealth has been handicapped for years by the fact that land use decisions are almost exclusively the prerogative of local governments. In making their zoning and other land-use decisions, many local governments give insufficient consideration to the availability of resources to build the transportation infrastructure necessary to support those decisions; instead they have looked to the state, which has traditionally borne those transportation costs.

Clement never could translate this insight into tangible policy recommendations -- the forces of inertia were too overwhelming. But at least he achieved a level of understanding more advanced than that of his predecessors. That's a sign of progress of sorts. Let's hope he speaks out at the transportation summit on June 17.

Also worth reading in the T-D, Jerry McCarthy's piece on transportation. McCarthy, who serves on the Commonwealth Transportation Board, doesn't see the solution of Richmond's transportation woes soley on the revenue side of the equation. "Unless something is done both to control costs and to optimize the use of limited increases in revenues," he warns, "the prognosis for the future of transportation in the Richmond region is for more congestion, gridlock, air pollution and diminished quality of life." (My italics.)


At 11:50 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

Yeah, but the corollary is to allow local officials to deny land use based on the unavailabilty of infrastructure which they have no intention of supplying: as a means to limit growth.

Talk about letting the fox guard the henhouse.

At 5:12 AM, Blogger Bob Burke said...

What reason, though, is there to expect that local officials would deny all land uses, particularly commercial projects? That's their tax base and they'd have the usual incentives for building it. Wouldn't connecting their land-use decisions to the impact on transportation infrastrucuture give them the incentive to look more closely at the pattern of development?

And what's more, if they were to choose to to limit growth by not building infrastructure, couldn't local voters express their displeasure in the usual way? If the voters approve, then you and I should butt out. If they don't approve, they'll deal with it.

At 3:03 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

Here in Fauquier county, it seems that the government is actively preventing even commercial projects, because they know that these projects attract employees and people. So far, the voters have approved of this and elect officials of a similar mindset: if we don't build it, they won't come.

Hence you have "service districts" with no services, and the board just rejected a proffered school site. This will necessitate finding and buying a site, and further delays in new school construction, increased costs, more overcrowding in current schools, in exchange for the big plus - disincentive to those who might want to come here.

The problem is the "so far" part. When this eventually changes the result will be sudden rampant growth with insufficient infrastructure, as seen in Loudoun County. Fairfax, PW, and Loudoun have all gone through cycles of attempting to limit growth with the result that when it came it was unplanned or badly planned, and more expensive.

When we think about looking more closely at the pattern of development, it is not as if local officials can really control it. All they can do is accept or reject the propositions that come before them. Those propositions appear based on the commercial prospects for sites as presently zoned, or on the commercial prospects of a site (plus costs) if they can get zoning changed.

From the standpoint of officials, this is kind of like trying to steer a boat with a broken rudder by dragging a bucket on one side or the other. It's effective for steering at the cost of headway.

Even though the county has had, and so far enforced, a long term plan for directing growth to the service districts, as far as I can see Warrenton and Marshall still have all the same incipient downtown deterioration, traffic jams, and strip mall proliferation problems as any place else. Plus the disincentives (bucket dragging) to trying to do business here.

For most projects, you have a program manager and people who work for him to accomplish the plan according to schedule and on budget. That is not the case if you are planning a balanced community. Instead you have an adversarial situation in which Long John Silver or someone wants their branded building style on a busy thoroughfare, and the town fathers want colonial brick in an alleyway.

By planning for what they "want" to happen instead of what is likely to happen, they set themselves up to fail. For example, Marshall is a one street town with older businesses set close to the street. The plan is make the main street a historical district and preserve the (run down sorry looking) facades. Put the parking behind the buildings and open up the streets on both sides. Put the utilities underground.

When I pointed out to the local "planners" that this amounted to turning main street into two backward facing strip malls, they looked at me as if I was an idiot.

There is no funding for any of their "plans".

If the voters ever express their displeasure, the result will be binary, because it only takes one vote on the board to swing the pendulum the other way, and this school mess may be enough to get some elected officials fired.

At 8:57 AM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

The following quote from today's Fauquier Democrat is an example of what happens:

"Court documents state that the Fauquier County Board of Supervisors approved a "Minimum Tap Agreement" for Brookside, which guaranteed that Brookside would receive a minimum of 450 sewer taps for its subdivision by Jan. 1, 2005.

In exchange, Brookside would undertake phasing and early construction of millions of dollars in infrastructure that would enable the county to open Auburn Middle School earlier.

"Brookside built the necessary infrastructure, and the new school opened earlier as a result," the lawsuit states. "However, WSA has actively worked to deny Brookside the sewer taps Brookside was to receive under the Minimum Tap Agreement." "


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