Saturday, December 03, 2005

Death Toll Rises in the 'Burbs! Pedestrians Slaughtered by the Hundreds!

That's a panicky headline you'll never read in Virginia's newspapers, which don't seem to place the same premium on a life lost to a suburban automobile accident as a life lost in an inner-city drug deal gone bad. But I'll give the Associated Press credit, a recent headline -- "Walkers May Find Danger in South" -- comes close.

A story published in this morning's Times-Dispatch notes that an increasing number of Hispanics, who live and work in the suburbs but often don't own their own cars, are getting hit by vehicles as they cross roads not designed for pedestrians. "Hispanics die in pedestrian-vehicle accidents at a higher rate than any other racial or ethnic group" in most Southern states, the story stated. In Mississippi, the worst state, the pedestrian fatality rate was 4.72 deaths per 100,000 Hispanics (the article did not say which year).

Critics blame poor urban planning. Said the AP:

"Northern cities are better designed for pedestrians because most boomed before vehicles became the main most of transportation," said Sally Flocks, president of Atlanta-based Pedestrians Educating Drivers on Safety. "That didn't happen in the South until after cars became dominant. Sidewalks then became an afterthought."

Friday, December 02, 2005

The Mother of All Wonk Fests

I'm getting pumped about the Public-Private Partnership Forum, scheduled for Dec. 16-17. We've nailed down a really impressive roster of participants. I'll be moderating a really cool panel, "Alternatives for Financing Transportation and Community Development." The panel will explore the potential for public-private partnerships to help build infrastructure by raising private capital that cash-strapped state and local governments cannot provide through traditional revenue sources.

Starting with the names you're most likely familiar with, the panel will include:

Whitt Clement, former Secretary of Transportation, now a partner at Hunton & Williams.
Sean Connaughton, chairman, Prince William County Board of Supervisors, one of the fastest-growing and most infrastructurally challenged counties in the Commonwealth.
Steve Haner, a Bacon's Rebellion contributor, who will be representing Virginia Citizens for Better Transportation, an industry-sponsored group lobbying for transportation solutions.

And then some really interesting voices you may never have heard of...

Thomas Pelnik (or designee), with the Virginia Department of Transportation's Innovative Project Delivery Team, the group charged with soliciting and analyzing public-private transportation partnership proposals.
Gabriel Roth, a transportation economist with the Independent Institute and outspoken advocate of highway privatization.
Chris Walker, a Northern Virginia real estate developer with extensive holdings in the Dulles corridor, and a proponent of user-financed infrastructure and competitive markets.
Rich Herlich, CEO of VMS, Inc., the company that privatized highway asset management here in Virginia, and a partner in two public-private partnership proposals to build HOT lanes in Northern Virginia.

What a phenomenal line-up of speakers. It's a shame we get only two hours! And that's just one session! For anyone interested in how Virginia is going to pay for its growing infrastructure needs, this will be one of the most stimulating conferences of the year.

Click here to see an updated version of the program. Click here to visit the conference home page and access registration information.

More Clues to Speaker Howell's Thinking

While Gov.-elect Tim Kaine holds a series of highly publicized transportation hearings, and the state Senate holds its own transportation-related START hearings, the House of Delegates leadership has kept a low profile. But House Speaker William Howell, R-Stafford, gave some clues to his thinking about transportation in the fast-approaching 2006 General Assembly session while addressing the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce yesterday. (See Paul Bradley's coverage in the Times-Dispatch.) The highlights:
  • Howell predicted that the General Assembly could reach consensus on transportation without the necessity of a special section, a possibility that Kaine raised earlier this week.
  • Howell said he agrees with Kaine that road building alone will not solve the state's congestion woes. Wrote Bradley: "The equation must also include mass transit and initiatives such as telecommuting."
  • But the Speaker was skeptical that Kaine could make good on his campaign pledge to connect transportation with land use reform, noting that any such proposal would be strongly opposed by real estate and home-building interests.
  • Howell sees nothing wrong with using General Fund revenues for transportation, putting it on an even footing with education and public safety in the competition for state funds.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Why Can't Albemarle Just Say No?

Nice article here by the Daily Progress about a court fight between Albemarle and a developer that has implications for local growth-control powers. In a nutshell, a company seeking a site plan approval for a development project was turned down by the county in part because of the impact that the project would have on local roads.

The county attorney advised the Board of Supervisors last year that including the road-impact factor was invalid, but the board unanimously rejected the project. So they're being sued.

'Circuit Judge Paul M. Peatross Jr. said he would look over the evidence and "make a decision promptly."

If he rules in favor of Faulconer [Construction Co.], the board would be forced to exclude that condition from its review of the facility. If he rules in favor of the county, it would be a landmark decision that gives local government the power to make a decision based on the adequacy of a development's surrounding infrastructure, local officials said.

... Supervisor Sally H. Thomas, whose district includes the site, said she thought the board's decision to reject the site plan was sound. "It was for the protection of the health and safety of the county," she said. "What this court case is about is whether the Dillon Rule trumps the health and safety of the people."'

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.

Monday, November 28, 2005

The Public-Private Partnership Forum

Want to know more about the future of public-private transportation partnerships in Virginia? Then you need to attend the Public-Private Partnership Forum, Dec. 16-17 at the Virginia Crossings Resort in Glen Allen, Va.

With the Commonwealth relying increasingly upon toll roads and private sector cash to build its transportation system, this timely conference will explore issues related to transparency, risk and accountability in public-private partnerships -- as applied to both community development and transportation.

Confirmed speakers include:

- House Speaker William J. Howell
- Pierce Homer, Virginia Secretary of Transportation
- Jim Regimbal, Fiscal Analytics, Ltd
- Edd Hauser, UNC Charlotte Center for Transportation Studies
- Alan Pisarski, Independent Consultant
- Ken Klinge, Former Chairman, Commonwealth Transportation Board

Plus many more....

Click here to see an updated version of the program.
Click here to visit the conference home page and access registration information.

- sponsored content -

Show Me the Money

In its final days, the Warner administration appears to have developed its own, unique approach to the transportation crisis: Solicit public-private partnerships on an unprecedented scale to upgrade major traffic corridors, using tolls and private capital to pay for improvements that the state cannot. We are living through what may be the greatest boom in public-private transportation partnership solicitations and proposals in the history of Virginia.

In theory, PPTAs inspire the private sector to inject fresh thinking and outside capital into Virginia's transportation system. But critics worry that the PPTAs elevate lower-priority projects to the top of the list for state funding at the expense of the general welfare. Bob Burke highlights the issues in his latest Road to Ruin reporting, "Show Me the Money."

A Riot of Rebellious Scribbling

The Nov. 28, 2005 edition of Bacon's Rebellion is now online. Those who follow transportation and land use issues may find these two columns worth reading:

The Foundation of Babble
In the study of human settlement patterns, sloppy language leads to sloppy thought. Take, for instance, the use of the word "sprawl."
by EM Risse

A New Generation of Boondoggles
Has Virginia learned nothing? State authorities have approved three new highway projects that will cost more than $1.8 billion and provide precious little congestion relief in return.
by Trip Pollard

I also recommend Bob Burke's latest reporting, on the topic of public-private partnerships, which I will flog in a follow-up post.

Kaine's Tour Heads to Manassas

This Wash Post story this morning captures the rising sense that Gov.-elect Tim Kaine's string of 'town hall' meetings around the state are wearing kind of thin. Tomorrow night he goes to Manassas.

Sean T. Connaughton (R), chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, said Northern Virginia's message is pretty simple: "Traffic stinks, and we want them to deal with it a meaningful way."

"What we need are leaders who will turn campaign promises into construction projects," continued Connaughton, who said he plans to deliver this message at the town hall meeting. "Every member of the General Assembly and every candidate for statewide office promised to do something about the issue of transportation, and it really has not ever translated into anything."

The article points out that Kaine didn't commit to any major new transportation projects in Northern Virginia (but he still crushed his opponent there).

So, is this a sensible political strategy by Kaine, given the scope of the challenge? The article also outlines the gap that Kaine has to bridge, between the more-funding coalition and the 'smart growth' and anti-tax forces. There's not much trust and/or goodwill between those two sides.