Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Is This Any Way to Design a Highway?

So maybe Interstate 81 doesn't need separate truck lanes along its entire 325 miles. A new study released yesterday says it probably needs one new lane on each side, and two new lanes each way for about half its length, says this Roanoke Times article.

The Draft Environmental Impact Statement is just a step in a much longer process of determining what kind of improvements should be made and what's allowed under existing laws. VDOT will be hosting public hearings on in starting in January, says the paper, and a second study could start in 2007.

Meanwhile, the STAR Solutions group hasn't publicly backed off its proposal to build two truck-only lanes on each side, funded by tolls. That idea seems more unlikely than ever now, but it at least comes with a funding plan, which seems to be what pushes road projects forward nowadays.


At 8:08 PM, Blogger Steve Haner said...

The availability of a funding plan determines what get's built because of the debilitating lack of funds for any other choices. The state has no other options, no discretionary funds of any consequence. Beggars cannot be choosers, as they say.

At 9:11 PM, Blogger Toomanytaxes said...

One source of money would be to transfer the ridiculous sums of money that will be spent extending Metrorail to Dulles and beyond to transportation projects that actually improve traffic flow. Keep in mind that the Commonwealth's best case for rail demonstrates no measurable improvement for traffic conditions by building rail than if nothing were done at all.

When, if ever, will elected officials in Virginia admit that the Emperor has no clothes? Metrorail's expansion is being pushed solely to benefit a few large landowners in Tysons Corner.

At 8:37 AM, Blogger Bob Burke said...

That's an issue that seems to get overlooked in the current enthusiasm for public-private deals - that the state's lack of dollars puts it in a lousy position to make sure the state's transportation network comes out right.

At 8:42 AM, Blogger Bob Burke said...

toomanytaxes, you don't seem to address the issue of Fairfax's growth - the people and businesses that are certainly on the way. you talk about improving traffic flow as if it involves only the cars and commuters in the county today. it doesn't.

and, what is fundamentally wrong with some large landowners reaping the benefits of having land in the right place? i realize you're probably addressing the issue of whether they have undue influence over county decisions, but it's also true that when county leaders try to shape where growth will occur, the private sector is their partner. nothing wrong with that.

At 9:17 AM, Blogger Toomanytaxes said...

Bob Burke: What's in the equation for the ordinary resident of Fairfax County? Our real estate taxes are up over the last five years by almost 80%. Should we pay more? We have middle school students eating lunch at 9:45 am because of development. Our real estate taxes could rise another 80% and we will still have middle school students eating lunch before 10 am.

The County Executive has warned that our wastewater treatment system must be rebuilt if anything beyond what is already in the Comprehensive Plan is built. Guess who will pay for that?

It can take a hour to drive from one side of McLean to the other & back just to pick up kids from basketball practice (& this is with a car pool). Let's grow the County even more.

Almost every single public school in Fairfax County has trailers behind it -- including the ones that were just remodelled and expanded within the last few years. Something is wrong here. Have you ever gone to a County Park on weekends? Try even to find a place to park.

All of this growth is great for the rest of Virginia, but does little for many of us who live in Fairfax County. Fairfax County pours millions and millions of tax dollars into Richmond, but gets pennies on each dollar in return. Warner's tax increases will cost Fairfax County $108 M plus for 2005, but Fairfax County Public Schools received less than $14 M in new money. One fine return for us.

There is a huge disconnection between those who benefit from development in Fairfax County and those who pay the costs. As I noted in an earlier blog this week, GMU's professor Stephen Fuller has documented that more than half of metro Washington's workers (from top executives to mail room clerks) are employed in areas not related to the local economy. How do they benefit from growing Fairfax County even more?

These problems are not fatal, but those who want to grow the County even more and those good Virginians south of us who reap benefits of our growth need to understand and respond to these issues. Either we come up with some fair mechanism to handle development and its associated costs or we'll see new local officials in NoVA who will simply stop all development. If we can work towards some fair solutions, we can solve problems without totally shutting down the system.

At 9:52 AM, Blogger Bob Burke said...

toomanytaxes: yeah, i know what you mean. i actually grew up in fairfax, near GMU, back in the early 70s, and today i couldn't afford to live there. i'm sure it's been a wild ride.

Your comments about the money that flows out of fairfax to richmond raises the issue of tax policy, which often gets left out when people talk about growth and the high cost of paying for it. The main tool that fairfax has to raise money to pay for local services - mostly schools - is the real estate tax. and so they OK development because it raises land values and thus tax revenues. But it overwhelms roads, a state responsibility. (not to mention that even when the state had money, it couldn't stay ahead of development).

Maybe if the state would pay its fair share of public education, that would let the county hold the line on tax rates, and let the state go to localities and more credibly make the argument that local land-use decisions need to be changed to lessen the strain on road networks. Fairfax would still grow, but it wouldn't need to be the scattered development it has now. More room for county parks that you could actually use. Shorter carpools. A little density in the right places is a good thing.

At 12:20 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

Fairfax is almost 10% parkland today. That is unlikely to increase very much.

Let's back up to the 70's. If we had then an accurate forecast of what traffic would look like today, what development would we have stopped? What roads would we have built? Where would the development we rejected go? If more density in some locations would have solved our problems, where would we have put it? Given that METRO is jammed now, how much more would we have spent to design a system with more capacity?

I think you are dreaming Bob.

TMT is right, when government shapes growth to benefit some, they make everybody else is an unwitting and maybe an unwilling lender, but without interest. The argument that planned growth is for the public good doesn't seem to show up in the metrics in Fairfax.

It is frequently cited as a poster boy for failure as in "Don't Fairfax Fauquier".

On the other hand, Barnie would say, send the work here.

At 1:13 PM, Blogger Bob Burke said...

There's plenty of room in Fairfax for parks and ballfields. And the 'stop development' argument is a straw man; no suggestion of stopping development is on the table. Just doing it differently.

It's funny how the density issue is such a matter of perception. Fairfax's land use patterns are kind of like my 9-year-old's bedroom - I tell him he doesn't need a bigger room, he needs to clean up the one he has. He'll discover there's plenty of space.

At 1:57 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

That's not what the parks people or the comprehensive plan says. They are trying to get to 10% parkland, or may be its 11%, I forget. Compared to most places, 10% is a lot. Think of it as tithing, there is only so much non-revenue producing land you can afford.

There may well be plenty of space, if everything is designed perfectly and we put away all our toys. But cleaning up a county is a lot bigger job than cleaning a room, and a lot of the furniture is bolted to the floor.

I seem to recall reading something about the county buildout plan. After that you are talking about re-development.

Density is entirely perception. I have a home in in Alexandria on a large well-treed lot. People there think it is large and peaceful, but it would be shunned by most Fauquier residents.

It is located in a small neighborhood surrounded on three sides by industrial parks. I thought that it woould be redeveloped 20 years ago, but it hasn't happened yet. This neighborhood rejected an initiative to put in sidewalks, so I don't imagine they will be receptive to redevelopment either.

Of course, now we have KELO.....

Considering the many antigrowth groups in Fairfax there will be continuing sentiment against growth. Big interests will prevail in the end, but even they won't be interested if there is not reasonable housing and transportation and schools.

At 2:44 PM, Blogger Bob Burke said...

Yes, so maybe the anti-growth groups, from the smart-growth types to those like toomanytaxes, need to develop an alternative strategy that acknowledges the inevitable growth that Fairfax will see, and the issue of affordable housing, adequate/appropriate transportation, and public education. So let's hear it.

They can't simply rail against the powers of the private sector, and then at the same time insist that the public sector is clueless and inadequate.

In the Charlottesville/Albemarle area, there is a group of very smart people who are advocating a no-growth approach for the county, that would involve capping the county's population. It might or might not work in Albemarle, but it would never work in Fairfax, given its location.

Maybe the idea of simply building more mcmansions all the way to the west virginia line, along with those wonderful winding four-lane feed roads, looks like a solution to some.

But housing is a tough one. That's why I like to challenge those who say Fairfax is too crowded, or that it's built out. It isn't. The combination of the private sector's profit incentive and the public sector's large-lot zoning approach to dealing with growth isn't working.

We all ought to be offended at the idea that a middle-class & young family can't buy a house in Fairfax and reap the benefits of a county with a really good school system, despite the trailers etc.

At 10:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It took me almost two years to get a building permit in fairfax. And this was for a lot with water and sewer already on it.

I had no end of problems with those idiots - for absolutely no reason. It was a pre-fabricated pre-inspected home.

Should have been $60,000, by the time the county got through screwing with me it was $109,000.

My first assessment was $157,000

Today it is $550,000.

If you want cheaper houses, just get off the builders back.

At 11:15 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

If No-growth based on a population cap won't work in Fairfax, then it surely won't work in Charlottesville. I'd like to meet one of those very smart people must be idiots in some respects.

At 2:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

With regard to I-81 and rail supplementation:

Rail intermodal depends on short-haul truck delivery (“dray”) at each end of the rail haul

o Drayage is costly, typically $100 or more for each dray

o Terminal costs for moving containers from and to rail cars add additional costs

o Intermodal terminals are costly to build

o The only way to have anything left to cover the rail haul is to move trailers/containers 750 miles or more

o Rail cannot compete for shorter hauls and make any money

o Illinois Central “Slingshot” service (Chicago-St. Louis) was abandoned due to lack of demand􀂋

o Burlington Northern “Expediters” (short haul, short trains between major markets) was discontinued after only a few years􀂋

o Conrail “demarketed” shorter-haul services (New York --Buffalo) due to lack of volume and profitability

Exactly the same problems face the use of rail for passenger transport:

o You still need a car to get to the terminal.

o Terminals need extensive parking.

o Intermodal transport is expensive, inconvenient, and takes longer.


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