Friday, July 22, 2005

Kilgore's General Fund

GOP gubernatorial candidate Jerry Kilgore told a Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce group yesterday that a growing state budget surplus means the general fund will be able to fund transportation projects, thus adding to the funding that traditionally comes from nongeneral fund sources such as the fuels tax. Democrat Tim Kaine also supports using the general fund for transportation projects.

This AP story in the Daily Press outlines details of the $544 million surplus. The surplus is actually closer to $1 billion above the revenue expected when the biennial budget was passed in 2004, says the story, which also has thoughtful analysis of this event by the gubernatorial candidates and their clever spokespersons.

A point worth noting:
As hearty as the revenue collections have been, they are unlikely to last, at least at their 2005 pace.
The bulk of the growth came from the most volatile and unpredictable sources: non-withholding income taxes generally paid by the self-employed or on bonuses and stock dividends; taxes on real estate transactions during the home-buying and refinancing boom; and record corporate income tax receipts. "Those account for $414 (million) of the $544 (million), and separate those out and we're only about 1 percent over the forecast," (Finance Secretary John) Bennett said.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

More Jobs, Fewer Houses

These two stories fit together nicely. The Washington Post reports this morning that Loudoun County supervisors are backing a new set of restrictions on the number of houses permitted in the western part of the county. Restrictions put in place a few years ago by a different board were tougher but were tossed out on a technicality by the State Supreme Court. The new rules would allow builders to more than double the 9,200 houses now there; the current rules would allow up to 55,000 houses, the paper says.

And this report on job growth: of the 51,000 new jobs in Virginia in the year ending in May, 49,100 of them went to Northern Virginia. What's the comprehensive solution to the housing-supply issue?

VDOT Improves On-Time Performance

The Virginia Department of Transportation has reported that it completed 75 percent of its construction projects and 74 percent of its maintenance projects on time in fiscal year 2005. That compares to only 36 percent of construction projects completed on time the previous year, and 51 percent of its maintenance projects.

In its final quarterly report for Fiscal 2005, VDOT also noted that it completed 78 percent of its construction work within its planned budget, up from 73 percent the previous year. Budgetary performance on maintenance work was about the same.

Over the past year, the report noted, the number of VDOT employees shrank from 10,001 to 9,126.

For details, see the Virginian-Pilot article published today.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

When Development Is Good for Traffic Congestion

U.S. 29 North, a retail corridor north of Charlottesville, is one of the most congested thoroughfares in the Commonwealth. According to the conventional wisdom, plopping down a 1.9 million square-foot mixed-use development at one of U.S. 29's busiest intersections could only make matters worse. But that's not what Albemarle County planners have concluded: They have approved Albemarle Place out of the conviction that its New Urbanism-styled design actually will absorb traffic from U.S. 29 -- and provide a template for the redevelopment of the entire retail corridor by other property owners.

Bob Burke highlights this remarkable project in a newly published Road to Ruin article: Albemarle Place: Can a Giant New Development be Part of Charlottesville's U.S. 29 Traffic Solution?

Keeping Up Appearances

How it all looks is a big theme lately. Loudoun County is making plans to guarantee that Route 50 is "an attactive gateway" according to a story in the Loudoun Times-Mirror.

Stafford County wants developers of big-box stores to seek a special use permit for anything bigger than 80,000 square feet and make them follow tougher architectural guidelines, landscape requirements and parking design standards, says The Free Lance-Star.

Fauquier County is drafting a plan to shape the appearance of development along many of the county's main roads, says the Fauquier Times-Democrat. Construction on some parts of the highways would be allowed only if had the 'straightforward and functional character' of rural Piedmont. "There's nothing wrong with asking the development community to improve the look," Jack LaMonica, county Architectural Review Board chairman, told the paper.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Charlottesville's Bike Alternative

While the city of Charlottesville experiments with bus service and synchronized traffic lights (see post below), local advocacy groups are pushing for greater consideration of bike paths. According to the Daily Progress, a 20-year plan prepared by the local Metropolitan Planning Organization, "calls for $6 million in bike-friendly improvements, including $3 million for trails, $1.6 million for bike lanes and sidewalks and $1.2 million in road, rail and water crossings, including a $225,000 pedestrian bridge over the Rivanna River that would connect Darden Towe and Pen parks."

Completion of work on a Downtown Transit Center should free up federal alternative-transportation funds to begin work on the bike paths soon.

Admittedly, bike paths aren't for everyone. With a high percentage of university students, many of whom can't afford to buy cars, Charlottesville is a special case. The university provides a large bike-friendly sanctuary in the city, maintaining extensive bike racks all around the grounds. there are other communities like Charlottesville. Every university town should make bike paths a priority. Even larger metro areas might be surprised at the response if bike paths made it easy and safe for cyclers to peddle to work.

Local governments should think about ways to reward developers who include bike paths in their development plans. All the better if the bike paths actually connect with one another.

Spotsylvania's 2 Percent Solution

Spotsylvania County has been growing a fast clip for close to two decades and shows no sign of slowing down. Its population soared 19 percent between 2000 and 2003 to nearly 108,000 people, according to Census estimates. Between 1990-2000 it climbed 57.5 percent.

Five years ago county leaders set a target of limiting residential to growth to 2 percent a year, says this Free Lance-Star article. Now they're debating whether to loosen that restriction and seek more proffers and impact fees. The debate is driven in part by the 1500-home 'New Urbanism' project called New Post, proposed by Tricord Inc.

Why 2 percent, some county supervisors are asking, and that's a good question. Tricord's project suggests that the county sees another way to absorb development without overloading the county's budget - by focusing on the pattern of growth and not just the pace. The New Post project comes with $19 million in proffers for transportation projects and up to $12 million for the county's Purchase of Development Rights land preservation program, says the paper.

Catherine Farley, leader of the local Spotsylvania Voters to Stop Sprawl, tells the paper: "Whether we reach build out in 10 years or 12 years by controlling the growth rate, seems trivial in comparison to what our community will look like when we're done."

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Charlottesville's Bus Alternative

If you're going to get people out of their cars - and thus reduce congestion - then you've got to give them alternatives that work. Charlottesville is trying to do just that with its bus transit service, says a Daily Progress story.

It's about to launch an effort to improve and expand the offerings by adding buses and routes, building a new Transit Center next year. The system is expected to get about 1.3 million riders this year, but most are 'captive riders' who don't have an alternative. It's the 'choice riders' the system needs to attract.

The city's also in the midst of a three-year effort to synchronize the 70 traffic lights in the city to smooth traffic flow. And the new traffic lights, according to the article, will be able to receive signals from approaching buses and keep the lights green or yellow until the bus passes through the intersection.

Now that sounds like the kind of change that would attract some 'choice riders.' The new buses the system is adding also have built-in GPS devices that one day could be used to transmit arrival times to bus stops.