Friday, September 23, 2005

Sprawl Kills

A respectable case can be made that suburban sprawl is hazardous to your health: It leads to more high-speed traffic accidents that result in injuries, and, by promoting an autocentric society at the expense of walking and biking, it contributes to the decline of daily exercise and the raise in obesity.

Now comes Douglas E. Morris, author of "Its a Sprawl World After All," who writes in the Gainesville Times to link the rise of sprawl with the increasing number of serial killers in the United States. The connection: By increasing the physical separation between people, sprawl-like development contributes to the social separation of people, leading to more isolation and aberrant behavior.

Morris' theory is a stretch -- wasn't the Son of Sam from New York City? -- but it makes for an interesting read.

Teleconferencing Has Saved VDOT $11 Million

The Virginia Department of Transportation has saved $11.3 million in avoided time and travel costs for meeting by conducting them through teleconferencing rather than in person, according to an article in In the last four years, the agency has invested about $1 million in videoconferencing technology expansions and upgrades. In fiscal year 2005 alone, 798 videoconferences were held, encompassing 2,486 hours of meetings.

It's interesting that the agency responsible for buiding and maintaining roads is the leader in state government for using teleconferencing to avoid using--and congesting--those roads. Maybe it's an example worth emulating.

Transportation Funding Brouhaha

There's a growing divide between the Warner administration and the House of Delegates leadership over transportation funding proposed for the next biennial budget (fiscal 2007-2008). Republicans are concerned that Warner wants to yank $290 million in funding for transportation. The Warnerites say the House 'Pubs are jumping to conclusions. The House 'Pubs insist they're not. It's all quite confusing, probably a reflection of arcane insider maneuvering in anticipate of the upcoming budget bruiser between the House and Senate over transportation funding n the 2006 session.

We're following the flap over on the Bacon's Rebellion blog.

Original press release from the House leadership

Letter of response from the Warner administration

The House's letter of response to the first letter of response (confused yet?)

Thursday, September 22, 2005

HOT Lane Revenues Don't Add Up, VDOT Says

Both groups proposing to build high-occupancy toll lanes down the middle of the Interstate 95 corridor in Northern Virginia have overestimated how much additional revenue they could generate to support transit projects, says The Free Lance-Star this morning.

Chief VDOT financial officer Barbara Reese told the panel reviewing the two proposals that the numbers don't add up. Says the story:

'For instance, the Fluor/Transurban plan estimates that excess toll revenues will generate about $510 million for transit over about 60 years--about $60 million in the first 20 years.
Reese said her examination indicates that only $22 million would be available in the first two decades.

The Clark/Shirley proposal indicates that $449 million could be generated for transit purposes--about $173 million in the first 20 years.

But Reese's analysis--which added in higher maintenance and operations costs--dropped that amount to zero.'

No reaction in the story from either of the two groups, but they're expected to answer Reese's analysis at the next panel meeting Oct. 11.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Fiber is Cheaper than Asphalt

Tim Whitney, an IT consultant writing in the Faquier Times-Democrat, opines that telecommuting could be a more cost-effective way of relieving traffic congestion than expanding transportation capacity. The key to making telecommuting a viable alternative is to "bring broadband to the masses."

Says Whitney: "We need a federal and state "Broadbandification Act" or "BBA: Broadband for All" -- yesterday. This would be similar to the Rural Electrification Act of 1935, to open up the broadband markets and get real competition going for delivering broadband to every single home and business in the U.S."

I would add only this: The potential goes beyond enabling people to work at home two or three days a week. The potential exists to create a "mobile workforce," or a "distributed workforce" that decouples workers from the workplace in a way not envisioned by simple telecommuting. Find my thoughts here: "Rush Hour Will Never Be the Same."

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Opening Budget Skirmish of Fiscal 2007-2008

The public got the first inklings of Gov. Mark R. Warner's budget proposals for the next biennium when disagreements with the House of Delegates erupted in the form of a press release from Speaker William J. Howell and House Appropriations Chair Vincent F. Callahan.

In the statement, released late Tuesday afternoon, Howell and Callahan blasted the Warner administration for "eliminating $290 million in dedicated transportation funding and elminating another $100 million for water quality improvements" in the 2006-08 state budget that the Governor is preparing.

The Guv has not at this time issued a release of his own, and I'm in no position to evaluate what's going on here. But House leaders are clearly upset by proposals to sweep away their signature contributions to the current, Fiscal 2006 budget. See press release.

More Cool Virginia Transportation Technology: Road Condition Information Systems

From Science Applications International Corporation in McLean comes another advance in Intelligent Transportation Systems. As summarized in tomorrow's VA Newswire:

MCLEAN--The Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Information Technology Business Unit of SAIC is teaming with North Dakota-based Meridian Environmental Technology, Inc., to create a system that delivers integrated information on road, weather and traffic conditions to maintenance and traffic operations managers.

Said Meridian President Leon Osborne: "As transportation agencies at all levels of government strive to make more informed decisions, they need to have the ability to integrate data and information from multiple sources. Our system provides a framework for bringing all required data and information into one location for those decisions makers." More.

Virginia Environmental Assembly

Tim Kaine will speak. So will Russ Potts and Leslie Byrne. Bob Holsworth, director of VCU's Center for Public Policy, will deliver the keynote address. And you won't want to miss the workshop on "Building Better Communities: Transportation Investments for Less Traffic and Growth in the Right Places."

Date: Saturday, Sept. 24
Location: Randolph-Macon College, Ashland
Charge: $25
For more information, click here.

Hampton Roads Residents Want Light Rail... I want a Maserati Spyder GT sports car. There are lots of things people want. But that doesn't mean they're willing to pay for them.

According to an editorial in today's Virginian-Pilot, 60 percent of the respondants to an Old Dominion University telephone survey stated that "they wanted local leaders to focus on building a commuter train system."

Does that finding really mean anything?

First question: What does it mean to "focus on" building a commuter train system? Does that mean the poll respondants want to build such a system, or just that they want to local authorities to complete a final project design and then decide?

Second question: Did the survey mention that the project has a $200 million price tag? The Pilot doesn't tell us. Would Hampton Roads residents still want the transit system if they had to pay the full price? Probably not, as the Pilot implicitly concedes, stating that the project "can't be built" without federal funding.

Third question: Even if the feds were forthcoming with the lion's share of the $200 million project, would respondants still support light rail if they considered the alternate uses of that $200 million?

Fourth question: Would Hampton Roads residents actually use the light rail, or do they perceive it as something that "other" people would use, thus relieving congestion on roads and highways, which they will continue to use themselves?

Final question: Did the Old Dominion poll probe the sentiments of local residents regarding alternatives that don't entail spending hundreds of millions of dollars? Were they asked about telecommuting and flexible work hours? Or synchronized traffic lights? Or development of balanced communities where they can live in close proximity to where they work, shop and send their kids to school?

That's not to say that light rail is a bad idea: Just look at how Arlington is using it. Road to Ruin will examine the Norfolk project in detail in the near future.

Frankly, Scarlet, I Don't Give a Land

The Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star offers an idiocyncratic take on the differences between Southerners and Yankees when it comes to property rights and regulation of land development. The Yanks regard land as a commercial commodity to be used and despoiled. To the Southerner, land is sacred. As Scarlett O'Hara's father, Gerald, explained, "Why, land is the only thing in the world worth workin' for, worth fightin' for, worth dyin' for, because it's the only thing that lasts."

The Free Lance-Star concludes: "The blind impressment of property rights into the service of merely 'real' interests threatens that which makes the South different and, in respects, better; that which Mr. [William] Winter describes as 'our emphasis on civility and graciousness and common courtesy.' These virtues, communal as well as individual, surely are inseparable from land that deserves protection now just as much as in 1861."

Ah, the romance of the lost cause.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Hide the Women and Sheep!

The Sept. 19, 2005, edition of Bacon's Rebellion has been published. A number of columns are of potential interest to Road to Ruin readers:

Baliles Sharpens the Debate
Jerry Baliles has proposed a bold plan to increase transportation funding. Trouble is, it would just inject more money into the same failed transportation policies of the past.
by Patrick McSweeney

Post Labor Day Funk
Political campaigns are supposed to pick up in September. But the yack-fest that passes for debate in Virginia has only distracted voters from the fundamental issues.
by EM Risse

Supersize Me!
Jerry Kilgore's diet for Virginia's clogged transportation arteries is like eating a salad with a helping of ice cream. Tim Kaine's nutritional plan is worse: all burgers and fries.
by Philip Rodokanakis

Herding Candidates
Contenders for House of Delegates this year offer loads of solutions for solving Virginia's road woes. The ideas have little in common except promising to get someone else to pay for the improvements.
by Steve Haner

Convincing Voters - A 'Mind Set' Problem?

'Congestion in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads makes routine commutes miserable and threatens the economic health of the state's most prosperous regions,' says this article in the Roanoke Times. 'Virginia's transportation infrastructure no longer meets the needs of its citizens and businesses, and the state's next governor will face tremendous pressure to develop a plan to avert a long-term crisis.'

"The irony to me is that people want it, but they don't want to pay for it," said Roanoke Vice Mayor Bev Fitzpatrick, a co-chairman of Virginians for Better Transportation, a coalition of citizens, businesses and trade organizations. "It's a mind-set problem, and I don't think we've adequately explained to them [the public] that it's going to cost them more in the long run if we don't address it," Fitzpatrick said.'

How, though, can you argue that the issue hasn't been 'adequately explained'? Voters have been bombarded with the-sky-is-falling warnings since the run up to the 2002 transportation referenda in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads. And then there's the many surveys and polls and articles and editorials in between, and the current hand-wringing about the issue that this article represents.

More of a credibility problem, perhaps.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Marshall Blasts Dulles Toll Road Plan

Del. Bob Marshall, R-Manassas, has blasted a proposal to lease the Dulles Toll Road to private investors for $1 billion, an a column in the Washington Post. Among the points he made is that the offer submitted by a private investor group significantly undervalues the property. I have no way to tell whether Marshall's appraisal of the price is right or wrong, but I do think he has makes one valid point:

"I have asked the Virginia General Assembly's Joint Legislative Review and Audit Commission to analyze how the state should calculate the current replacement costs of the Dulles Toll Road. No state-owned facility should be mortgaged because Metro myopia has afflicted politicians and their campaign donors."

I would go one step further: Given widespread talk about privatizing other state highways, the General Assembly had better develop an objective methodology for valuing all state transportation assets.

Biking Paths that Go Somewhere

Fredericksburg resident George Solley thinks like Road to Ruin: He would like to see more bike and walking paths that "go somewhere." The city's canal path starts nowhere and ends nowhere, he observes, according to the Free Lance-Star. The path should be widened and have more access points. "Solley," says the newspaper, "is hopeful that the pathways will grow from a few isolated trails into a useful network."

Moral of the story: It's nice to build bicycle paths for recreational purposes, but it's even better if the paths connect destinations that people actually travel to. For the modest extra cost of creating more access points, local governments can turn the trails into useful transportation corridors that a few people might actually use.