Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Shucet Solution: Hold Rural Areas Harmless

Proposal number seven in Philip Shucet's letter to the Senate task force on transportation: Hold rural areas harmless from the loss of current funds. This recommendation should be viewed against the background of proposals frequently heard among Northern Virginia candidates for the House of Delegates that the Northern Virginia sub-region pays a lot of taxes but is not getting its "fair share" of the money back for local transportation projects. Many say they would fight to reallocate state transportation funding formulas which benefit RoVa at the expense of NoVa.

If additional funds become available, Shucet says, it "may be reasonable" to direct a larger share to urban areas. But it is imperative to hold rural areas harmless from any possible loss of current funds. Sixty percent of pavement deficiencies on secondary roads, 70 percent of primary road deficiencies and 50 percent of Interstate system deficiencies are in rural districts. Furthermore, rural districts account for 85 percent of all deficient bridges on secondary systems, 77 percent on the primary system, and 55 percent on the Interstate system.

Says Shucet: "If we are to grow Virginia, we have to protect the economy of our rural areas. Safe and efficient transportation go hand-in-hand with new jobs and opportunities."


At 7:40 AM, Anonymous SDH4VBT said...

This is where the political rubber meets the road, so to speak, and this may be the problem that underlies proposals tied to regional referenda. Would rural Virginia accept a tax increase just to hold itself harmless? (Not likely.) So leave everything the same in much of Virginia and let those regions with the worst headaches solve their own problems by taxing or tolling themselves.

The votes are there to change the formulas, to the detriment of rural areas, but a certain amount of political shame and an understanding that only minimal dollars are involved has held things back. Some of us living here in Congestionland do remember our roots in the other parts of Virginia, and don't want them shafted.

I just told an audience in Danville yesterday they better pay attention and keep the pressure on, or they may be left behind.

At 8:17 AM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

Overall Shucet's arguments are rational and reasonable. At one end of the spectrum there are those who would pave paradise to put up a parking lot, and at the other end there are those that would spend 80% of our transportation dollars on anything but road transport.

But the argument that we should rural areas harmless is a strong one that does not get much visibility. If you study input output tables you find that farming and manufacturing spend a higher propoertion of their costs on transportation than service businesses or government, for example. Almost twice as much, actually.

Good transportation, then, is essential to keep what remains of the the farm and manufacturing sectors.

Instead, what we see are proposals to tax rural residients at ten or twenty times their present rate to cover their cost of services. We see plans to limit development based on infrastructure, which are really pleas to save open space, and avoid having new neighbors. We see road projects attacked as subsidies to avaraicious developers. None of these plans conforms to the idea that we should hold rural areas harmless.

It is hard to determine what a fair allocation of funds is. On the one hand urban areas have the worst problems, which will cost the most to fix, and they have the population which pays the majority of taxes. On the other hand, the idea that we cannot pave our way out of congestion is a concession to the idea that the problems of these areas can't be fixed at any cost.

But Shucet points out that rural areas also face huge deficiencies. Since these deficiencies are in areas where the problems can be solved at much lower cost, isn't it reasonable to spend money where it can do some good, rather than throw good money after bad? Isn't it reasonable to spend money where growth can be accomodated rather than in areas that already suffer terminal congestive artery failure?

In areas that will be developed, we have an opportunity to match development to transit availability and not overwhelm it as we have done in urban areas.

Matching development to real transit availability is an entirely different idea from simply limiting development. It means for example that adding development at Vienna Metro, when Metro cars are beyond standing room only and the Metro station area creates its own traffic jams, is just as much of a fraud as building "New Urbanist" developments in far western Jepip.

For many people, Shucet's argument ends with his premise: "If we are to grow Virginia..." exactly because that is exactly what they don't want.

At least they don't want it in their neighborhood, never mind that growth and change are mostly inevitable.

SDH seems to think that NOVA is already getting more than its fair share of road revenue, and that may be true, I'd like to hear more of how he reaches this conclusion. But it seems to me that here is an area that needs to be examined with considerably more care, and less regional self-aggrandizement.


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