Friday, December 09, 2005

Another Peek Behind the House Curtain

Over on the Bacon's Rebellion blog, Steve Haner reports on the deliberations of the House Transportation Subcommittee, offering some insight into the thinking of committee chair, Del. Leo Wardrup.

Connaughton's Eight-Point Plan

Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chairman Sean T. Connaughton has sent Gov.-elect Tim Kaine his proposals for the state's transportation system and the Gainesville Times posted it today. You can read it here, and see Connaughton's eight points below. He's a Republican sitting in one of the country's fastest-growing regions. At least he's staking out a position:

-Develop a long-term method to ensure that adequate and reliable funding exists to finance current transportation projects and accelerate new projects;

-Increase state involvement in planning and funding for the expansion of transit in this region and beyond;

-Reward localities that have stepped forward to invest in transportation infrastructure by developing a large-scale cost-sharing program that supplements existing programs;

-Promote real progress on a bypass to redirect I-95 "through" traffic out of this region;

-Increase capacity of regional road facilities such as I-95, I-66, I-395, I-495 and Routes 1, 7, 28, 29, 50, 123 and 234;

-Expand the ability of localities to link transportation and land use, as well as deal with stale zoning;

-Examine and adjust the current management and budget system for transportation, include the role of the CTB, the VDOT central office, the funding formulas, and the responsibility and boundaries of the NOVA district; and

-Forbid the use of transportation funds for non-transportation purposes and increase efforts to restore trust in the transportation program through continued financial and budget reforms.

The Virginia Chamber Weighs in

The Virginia Chamber of Commerce board of directors has issued a position statement on transportation reform in 2006 that endorses tolls, public-private partnerships, cash infusions from the General Fund and institutional reform. While stressing the urgency of the transportation "crisis," the Chamber did not advocate an increase in the motor fuels tax, and it endorsed Gov.-elect Tim Kaine's idea of passing a Constitutional Amendment to secure the Transportation Trust Fund from diversion to other uses.

Stated the Chamber: "Virginia’s transportation funding challenges have now reached crisis proportions and it is imperative that the 2006 General Assembly take effective action to create additional long term, sustainable revenue for all modes of transportation."

The Chamber called for "improved business practices for Virginia’s transportation agencies and the adoption of those private market solutions that hold real promise." It also stated that the Commonwealth "should not shrink" from re-engineering the Virginia Department of Transportation, the Commonwealth Transportation Board, and other institutions "to provide more flexibility and autonomy to regional leaders in a 21st century environment."

The Chamber backed "establishment of a financial foundation for the highway maintenance program. This foundation eliminates the need to divert ever-increasing funds from highway construction, mass transit and other programs, to expand mobility. Reallocating current sources of revenue from obsolete or ineffective programs to transportation needs may be desirable."

All options should be on the table, the Chamber statement said, including tolls, public-private transportation partnerships, congestion pricing, HOT lanes and "a thorough examination of thoughtful private industry solutions for maintenance, procurement, project management, traffic management and asset ownership in the transportation field."

But the Chamber also noted that Virginia's motor fuel tax is one of the lowest in the U.S. and "a great boon to Virginians and the many motorists from other states who use our highways. We should look first to other sources of revenue before considering raising this or other forms of taxation in the Commonwealth."

Pointedly, the statement made no mention of tying transportation to land use reform, one of Gov.-elect Kaine's other signature transportation initiatives.

See the full statement.

Federal transportation bucks for a boat

Doug Wilder's plans for a museum in Fredericksburg includes building a $4 million replica of a 19th-century slave ship, and the museum's organizers are pushing for federal transportation grant money to help pay for it. The Free Lance-Star covers the topic in a story today. The slave museum already won a $189,000 'transportation enhancement' grant last year from the feds; now it's applying for a $778,400 grant and running into some opposition from the Fredericksburg Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, FAMPO.
'The issue is not whether FAMPO supports building the museum in Fredericksburg--it does, administrator Stephen Manster said yesterday.
The issue is whether some of the limited funding available to the state and region should go to a facility that has access to other resources and that, in a traditional sense, is not about transportation, he said in explaining some members' concerns.'
You gotta love that tentative wording - 'in a traditional sense, is not about transportation' - ya think?

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Why Not More Density?

Two developers in Mathews County are proposing that the county adopt new "density bonuses" that would allow builders up to 30 percent more density that current zoning allows in exchange for amenities such as sidewalks, green space, land for schools, fire stations, bike paths, et al. The Daily Press has a brief story on the idea. The two builders are planning a 198-unit development for people 55 and over and presumably would like to make more money by selling more units. Makes sense to me. It'll be interesting to see what opposition arguments emerge..

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

I-81 Study: Stating the Obvious?

The Bristol Herald Courier vents its dissatisfaction with the recently released Draft Environmental Impact Statement on the proposal to widen Interstate 81. "To a disappointing extent, the exhaustive study of the impact of an expanded Interstate 81 only tells us what we already knew," says an editorial this morning.

The report calls plans to create truck-only toll lanes unsafe and unnecessary. The paper argues that the state should call off its negotiations with Star Solutions, the consortium that proposes the truck-only approach, since that's off the table.
'Instead, the study favors targeted expansion of the interstate, adding an additional lane in each direction in most places to take the highway to six lanes and expanding beyond that at certain choke points. Other safety changes get a strong nod, including wider shoulders, re-engineered exit ramps and a complete reworking of the maddening and dangerous interchange at Exit 14 in Abingdon.'
Okay, if this study is valid, then why wasn't it done three years ago? Instead, the Star Solutions approach is being slammed as "excessive, cost-prohibitive and potentially unsafe." So where's the private-sector innovation here?

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Can Technology Save Mass Transit?

Metropolitan bus operations are perennially squeezed by rising costs and declining ridership. Are there any technological solutions that can help them improve operational efficiency and increase the number of passengers? Perhaps so. Dulles-based Orbital Sciences brings some interesting new approaches to a traditional business.

Orbital recently won an $11.7 million contract to provide a SmartBus System to track the 300-vehicle fleet of Foothill Transit in West Covina, Calif. The company will utilize its GPS satellite-based OrbCAD fleet management system to keep buses running on time by coordinating with traffic signals, keep riders updated on real-time scheduling information, and provide other efficiencies.

Foothill Transit will deploy a fully integrated vehicle equipment suite in each of its buses. Benefits include simplified driver operations, ADA regulatory compliant announcements to the public and enhanced passenger security through an advanced video and audio surveillance system. The Foothill Transit fleet is linked to its divisions and headquarters through a wide-area communications radio system that provides a complete assessment of fleet operations and enables rapid response to incidents through the Orbital TMS system.

A Bus Signal Priority capability controls traffic signals to assist buses in maintaining their published schedule. Additionally, Orbital's Advanced Traveler Information System will provide real-time schedule information to the public at major Foothill Transit centers and throughout the regional transit information system. Said Orbital executive David A. Kachemov: "Situational awareness, responsiveness to incidents, service restoration and enhanced customer service are just a few of the benefits that Foothill Transit will realize when the new SBS system is fully implemented." Read the press release.

Is VDOT a Big Fat Target?

State Sen. Marty Williams, R-Newport News, thinks so. This Virginian Pilot story outlines Williams' plan to get a General Assembly-sanctioned study commission created with an eye to cutting VDOT from its current 9,000 workers to below 5,000.

'Williams, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, said he believes the state should turn over engineering and design functions to private contractors. He also wants more private involvement in road maintenance.

Williams said such a massive overhaul of the agency could be phased in over three to five years. “I’m real serious about it, but I also don’t want to alarm a state agency as large as VDOT that we’re going to just go out there and rip them to shreds,” he said.'

Merry Xmas, VDOT workers.

Didn't Virginia go through this in the 1990s under George Allen - a bunch of senior staffers headed for the exits and the department suffered? Sure enough.
'In 1995, Gov. George Allen reduced VDOT’s workforce by offering cash buyouts and fatter pensions to 1,249 employees.
A 1999 study by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, the legislature’s watchdog agency, found that road-building costs rose after the downsizing because VDOT paid private companies steep sums to perform work previously done in-house.'