Sunday, June 12, 2005

A Question for Gov. Baliles

Former Gov. Gerald Baliles has given more thought to transportation issues than any Virginia's governor in the modern era. As the architect of Virginia's 1986 transportation funding structure, he speaks with authority. In this morning's Richmond Times-Dispatch, Baliles notes that Virginia's roads are bad. Twenty-seven percent of the state's major roads are rated either poor or mediocre in condition, he says, and the maintenance budget is gobbling the transportation budget. Within a few years, there will be no state funds for new road construction.

Highlighting the warning signs in the Richmond region, Baliles wrote:

Recent data demonstrate that during the past dozen years the Richmond region's consumption of land for development and vehicle miles traveled are now greater per capita than any other region of the Commonwealth. For example, from 1982-2001, while the Richmond region's population increased 42 percent, vehicle miles traveled jumped more than 98 percent.

Here's the question I would respectfully ask the Governor to ponder: Why is Richmond consuming land at a faster rate than Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads? Why is Vehicle Miles Traveled accelerating? Could there be any connection between those two trends and the regional road-building strategy of the past two decades?

Here's how I would answer the question: Richmond got out way ahead of the curve in building roads -- completing Interstate 295 roughly a decade ago, and the rest of the circumferential highway (Route 288 and the Pocahontas Parkway) in the past year or two. Patterns of development promptly changed; building clustered around the interchanges and the thoroughfares they served -- massively expanding the outer reaches of Richmond's suburban periphery. A handful of projects were well planned, mixed use projects, but most of the development was scattered, disconnected and land intensive -- what we commonly call sprawl. With development splattered all over, citizens found themselves driving greater distances to get places -- hence, the increase in vehicle miles traveled -- and increasing traffic congestion.

The situation is getting bad enough that civic and political leaders are gathering in a Richmond Regional Transportation SUmmit on June 17 to decide how to deal with the region's transportation challenges. Gov. Baliles did not say in his column exactly what he proposes, but he hinted that the answer may be finding more revenues to build more roads. "One thing is certain," he wrote: "An area ... that ignores addressing investment needs in transportation, that proposes to deny, defer, or distract rather than meet the needs head-on, will be an area that loses more than it wins."

I would add that a region that fails to heed the lessons of its very recent past also will be one that loses more than it wins.


At 3:31 PM, Anonymous Paul said...

Hmmm. It seems to me like Richmond does 2 things:

1. They plan ahead with extra roads.

They completed 288 and 295 and now there's a beltway around the city.

They built plenty of north south limited access connectors (Powhite, Route 150) so that traffic didn't get bottled up in neighborhood arteries.

2. When there is a transportation problem, they fix it.

When Robious Rd. became overcrowded, it only took a couple of years for it to be widened to 4 lanes.

When Courthouse Rd. became overcrowded, they widened it.

Perhaps comparing Richmond to NOVA is apples to oranges. But the lack fo a North-South connector in NOVA is certainly something to look at...

Richmond also has more mile lanes of highway than NOVA.

Most outrageous is that Richmond has 13 James River bridges compared to 10 Potomac River bridges. Remember, the Greater Richmond area is less than 1 million people. DC has 4.5 million people.

At 11:55 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

"One thing is certain," he wrote: "An area ... that ignores addressing investment needs in transportation, that proposes to deny, defer, or distract rather than meet the needs head-on, will be an area that loses more than it wins."

Honest to God, Jim, I don't see how you can say he speaks with authority in the first paragraph, and disagree with him in the last.

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