Friday, June 24, 2005

Kaine Transportation Plan a Huge Step Forward

Tim Kaine's transportation plan represents a revolutionary step forward in thinking about transportation policy in Virginia. Never before has a gubernatorial candidate so explicitly acknowledged the disconnect between transportation and land use planning as a fundamental cause of traffic congestion.

Kaine may or may not win in November. He may or may not govern according to the principles he has laid out in his plan. But the mere fact that he has articulated them injects into the mainstream ideas that previously had been the domain of university lectures, environmentalist wonkfests and cranky niche publications like Bacon's Rebellion. No longer can these important ideas be marginalized.

Says the Kaine plan:

For too long in Virginia, we have made transportation and development decisions separate from each other. We can all point to examples of new homes or shopping centers that were built on roads not ready to handle the traffic, or to new roads that seem oversized for their surroundings....

The inefficiency of the planning divide shows up in both directions—localities plan large developments near roads without the capacity to support them, then turn to the state for money to widen the roads; or the state approves roads that open unexpected areas to development, forcing localities to spend money on new schools and services. The result is not only that we develop in a way that affects our natural and historic resources, but that it actually costs more per person to move us around.

We can’t continue to do things the same way and expect them to turn out differently. It’s time for new thinking on transportation.

Is giving more power to Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) the best solution? Should metro areas establish regional plans? Should counties be given more control (like Arlington, Henrico and all cities have) over which projects are funded within their jurisdictions? I don't know the answers. But these are questions no one has been asking -- until now.

With Kaine's announcement the terms of the transportation debate are shifting dramatically. The genie is out of the lamp and can't be coaxed back in. Finally, Virginia will begin addressing issues that, before now, it has steadfastly ignored.


At 6:13 AM, Blogger Barnie Day said...

Here is southside Virginia, between Stuart, in Patrick County, and Hillsville, in Carroll County, we have a 30 mile stretch of empty houses on both sides of U. S. Highway 58. The state condemned these houses and took them a few years ago in right-of-way acquisition for continuing the desperately needed four-laning of 58 to I-77 in Hillsville. But there is no money to build this stretch, so these houses sit, curtains flapping through the windows. Does your genie have any money?

At 9:13 AM, Anonymous Joe Freeman said...

Barnie, wishing there was more money to go around doesn't help if it's institutions and processes that are the problem to begin with. The current division of labor which has the state doling out projects while the municipalities beg for largesse is the problem. Neither is responsible for the overall results, which are, more and more obviously, dysfunctional. Jim raises the further question of how to make a change -- to the MPO??

The MPOs were created by of the Johnson (Lyndon, not Andrew) administration to coordinate federal transportation aid. Those that I've heard about are almost vestigial. The PDCs are regional bodies with a similar history, but more activity. Both seem not particularly striking candidates for the job, but maybe there's more there.

It does matter what the GA does, and from time to time they promote regional cooperation, as in the case of state funding for regional jails. Is that an example that tells us anything?

At 8:23 AM, Blogger Jim Bacon said...

OK, Barnie, I understand now. You want U.S. 58 finished. I can't say I blame you. That project was started during the Wilder administration, was it not? The state issued special bonds that were supposed to finish the project over three phases, as I recall. What happened? Why wasn't the job finished? Cost overruns? Did the state renege on a promise?

No question, U.S. 58 is a crucial project for your region. I don't blame you for taking the stance on transportation funding that you do. My only problem is with your rhetoric. The problem isn't that Republicans and other anti-taxers are ignorant "flat earthers" -- the problem is that their transportation strategies don't do anything for your corner of the state. N'est ce pas?

At 9:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Doesn't this add another chit to the Kaine message of strong, out front leadership, vs. Kilgore's "groundhog sees his shadow" act?

At 1:56 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

"The result is not only that we develop in a way that affects our natural and historic resources, but that it actually costs more per person to move us around."

Any development we do is going to affect whatever was previously there, whether natural or historical. If we use that as an argument against development we might as well give up now. But this argument goes to crazy extremes: if you propose a development in an area of slummy rowhouses you will be accused of gentrification or destroying the historical significance of the community (crime ridden and impoverished as it may be). I can't give credence to the preamble of this statement.

The second part is both unclear and unproven. Costs more than what? Subsidized trips on VRE or Metro? Not building roads and traveling by horseback? Presumably these cost claims refer to some other (perfect) plan that we didn't use. But if we had been smart enough to use some other, less expensive, plan we probably would have.

We are not anywhere near smart enough to know what that (perfect) plan might have been, and anyway, the conditions under which the present scheme were built were different in that historical time.
That is the same historical time we we are trying to protect by not changing now.

Had we built that other (perfect) plan, by now the conditions would have changed and it would no longer be perfect, in which case we would be sitting around wondering "What were those idiots thinking?"

Probably, they were thinking about what seemed best at the time or what we derisively call short term profits. They did what seemed best without regard to either history or future, because that is all you can do. Without short term profits, there are no long term ones.

To the extent that we can see and predict long term profits, we do use them to guage the necessity of current investments, but our vision is imperfect and we should not expect to reach the (perfect) solution.

Sure, you can use land use planning to eliminate traffic congestion, just plan to use the land as a forest. But outside the forest, show me a community anywhere where traffic congestion was actually reduced by land planning. It has never happened, and probably never will.


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