Monday, September 12, 2005

The Baliles Plan Gains Momentum

Former Gov. Gerald Baliles continues to garner favorable responses to his transportation plan to raise $1 billion by imposing tolls on Virginia's Interstate highways. The latest comes in an encomium from the Virginian-Pilot: "Baliles deserves acclaim for crafting a state transportation plan that, while breathtaking in its demands, offers an innovative way out of a gathering crisis."

Citing the $108 billion in "unmet needs" projected by the VTrans2025 study, the Pilot states that "Baliles presents a complete solution for moving beyond the current malaise to solving the transportation woes that plague every section of the state" (my italics).

Clearly, Baliles has devised an interesting measure to raise $1 billion with a minimum of political pain: His proposed tolls on Interstates would tap out-of-state motorists passing through the state to help pay for Virginian roads. But even Baliles, I would venture to say, would not purport to present a "complete solution."

Let's run through the numbers one more time. $108 billion over 20 years averages out to $5.4 billion a year. Baliles' plan would raise $1 billion a year. That would leave the state $4.4 billion short. The Baliles plan has the same problem as the Potts plan: It doesn't come close to raising the full amount of money required by a Business As Usual Approach to transportation. It might kick the can down the road for a few years, but inevitably the system will veer towards collapse.

The current transportation system is fiscally and politically unsustainable. Virginians will not stand for $5.4 billion more in tolls and taxes. May $1 billion more, or even $2 billion, if they really thought the problem will be fixed. But according to the VTrans2025, even $2 billion won't come close to fixing the problem. We need to rethink the most basic assumptions of our transportation policy.


At 7:48 AM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

Give us something we can work with here. Is $108 billion wildly overestimated because the work force is shrinking and women arenot entering the workforce again, and other factors, or is it not nearly enough?

If (when, in my opinion) we merely rethink the basic assumpptions of transportation policy instead of doing something, how much will that cost and when will it show results? Are we going to be down the road a few years wondering where we lost the can?

At 12:37 PM, Blogger Steve Haner said...

"Virginians will not stand for $5.4 billion more in tolls and taxes. May $1 billion more, or even $2 billion, if they really thought the problem will be fixed." (I'd put this in ital but I guess I need a basic HTML primer.)

SOLD, Jim. Most of the people working on this problem would be thrilled if they thought Virginia would invest an additional $1 billion a year from various sources, and I've never heard any of them speak out against any change in the mix of transportation modes, or against ideas such as congestion management, congesting pricing, and an examination of the relationship between transportation and land use problems. What once was the Virginia Road Builders is now the Virginia Transportation Construction Association. They left business as usual in the dust. YOU say we are stuck in the old way of thinking, but I say you are wrong and ask for your evidence. But you are also wrong if you think we need NO new or widened roads period, and your point of view would wreck Virginia's economy.

At 5:13 AM, Blogger Jim Bacon said...

Steve, Here's the problem. Whenever I hear your buddies talking, the only fundamental change I hear them mention is the need to change the tax rate -- always upward. I rarely hear them discuss any alternatives to tax-and-build. If the Road Gang had put one tenth the energy into devising alternatives as they have into raising taxes, we'd really be somewhere. Once they get their higher taxes and get to build their roads, there will be no incentive to seek alternatives -- until the tax-and-spend policy runs out of steam 20 years later and your buddies come back for another round of tax increases.

The only way to fundamentally change our transportation policy is to say, no more money until we've come up with a comprehensive plan that includes land use reform, demand-management strategies and the other types of reforms that critics have been discussing for years now.

At 5:15 AM, Blogger Jim Bacon said...

Ray, Let me turn the question around on you. You want to spend billions more to build more roads. How much will that cost? (How many billions are you talking about?) And when will that show results? I want metrics, man, I want metrics. I want the same kind of hard proof that you demand for land-use reform, demand-management and the host of other alternate strategies that I propound.

At 9:13 AM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

OK. Here is a metric for you. Auto use, including the best estimates of all owner costs, all external costs, and based on a medium size car traveling only 12,500 miles per year ranges from $0.84 cents/mile in the country to $1.30 per mile for urban driving. Of this, $0.18 cents/mile is the cost of travel time, and only a little over $.03 cents accounts for the cost of land and road facilities.

The source is the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, which appears to highly favor your ideas.

They threw everything into this estimate including the cost of medical and crash facilities, "barter effect" whatever that is, noise, "transport diversity", "barrier effects", and congestion, etc.

With regard to congestion, most analysts consider it to be a wash: the congestion you cause is equal to the congestion you suffer, and since time and operating costs are included elsewhere, this factor appears to be double counting.

VTPI goes on to state that walking can save $0.52 cents per mile in external costs compared to driving. Now if driving costs $0.18 per mile in driving time, walking 3 miles per hour (their figure) has to cost ten times that much. So to save $.52 cents in external costs (ALL external costs including land use effects and highway costs) we would have to spend $1.80 worth of our time.

While VTPI inludes the cost of travel time in their auto calculations, I don't see where their calculations for other modes point out the increase this causes because every other mode is slower. I also don't see them charging the costs of transport diversity to other modes.

But you are right, ride sharing costs almost nothing, so auto costs can be cut almost in half by just adding another rider. Driving an economical car cuts the costs almost as much. You can almost cut the costs in half again just by driving in the country instead of urban areas.

I think you would agree that transport is central to our economy. You can't transport anything on a road you haven't built, so there is a cost to not building roads. Yet this is a real option. The only things that offer more mobility than cars are dirt bikes and ATV's. If we eliminate roads and private property rights and switch to ATV's we could go almost anywhere. Faster than walking, freight capable, and less expensive than autos.

Hey, you said radically re-think our options.

If you did that, land travel would become like water travel: equally paved and accessible everywhere. Yet when you consider water travel on the oceans, you still have congestion on the approaches to New York, Gibralter, Panama, and Suez, and costs go up accordingly.

What about all that other stuff: telework, traffic signal timing, alternate modes?

All the options need to be evaluated on Feasibilty, Aceptability, Sustainability, cost Effectiveness, and Flexibility. In other words, Can it be done? Will it be acceptable? Can it be done continuously? Is it cost effective? Does it offer us the ability to change our mind later?

I see several options: We can do nothing and let people adjust to increasing congstion, which will result in many of the changes you suggest. This is closely related to changing the pricing mechanisms. But don't think for a minute that spending no more money won't cost as much or more than continuing construction.

We can raise more and spend more. tight budgets don't mean we can't build, but we can only build where it is cost effective. It turns out that planning for level D service is most cost effective.

We can change the institutions:VDOT, local land planning, regional government. don't hold your breath.

We can change the pricing mechanisms: tolls, congestion pricing, user fees, gas tax. Each of these will encourage business to go someplace else, not reduce demand.

We can change bad planning: continually building more radial capacity in the face of continuing decentralization. This is another land use issue we have no idea how to solve.

We can have more alternatives: car pools, pedestrian friendly, transit, telecommuting, alternative work hours. Most analysts suggest the gains will be small compared to the expense.

We can redesign land use and wait 50 years for the results to see if it works. First we have to decide whether redesigning land use means encouraging denser development so walking is feasible or restricting development so free flow auto use is feasible. We have no idea whether either idea will work, or which one is more acceptable or cost effective.

Unless you are willing to switch to ATV's, that's it. There aren't any more ideas, and all of these ideas have problems with one or more of the criteria for evaluation.

We need to adopt all of them, but only where they make sense, and only as much as we can afford.

We can't wait for a comprehensive plan that addresses all of these: we may never be smart enough. Consider the issue of accessibility: it means something different to a trucker, a commuter, a soccer mom, and a baby stoller. To measure accessibility you need a weighted average of the costs and value of every opportunity every person might want to avail themselves of. Good Luck.


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