Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Alternatives to Tax-and-Build

One of our goals in the Road to Ruin and Bacon's Rebellion has been to highlight alternative transportation strategies that don't entail spending a lot of money on mega-road and rail projects, and and raising taxes to pay for them. Over the past 10 months or so, we have explored quite a few.

In yesterday's edition of the Rebellion, I touched upon the potential to reignite mass transit ridership by giving the private sector a greater role. Municipal transit monopolies and taxicab franchises dampen the ability of the private sector to adapt to changing settlement patterns, implement new technologies and introduce innovations into the marketplace. By re-thinking the way we approach shared ridership, we could reinvigorate this alternative to One-Man-One-Car. (See "Liberate Mass Transit.")

In a similar vein, we've written about NuRide, an Internet-based service that allows commuters to identify other carpoolers traveling the same route at the same time -- a technology that offers the potential to revive the declining practice of carpooling. (See "Carpool Comeback.")

We've explored the potential for telecommuting (working from home) and telework (working outside the main office and staying connected through cell phones, BlackBerries and laptops). (See "Rush Hour Will Never Be the Same.")

We've shown how local governments can work with developers to create real estate projects with a smaller "traffic footprint" through better urban design and creative use of shared ridership. (See "Traffic Buster.")

We've shown how new zoning codes and new templates for urban design can reduce the length and number of car trips and reduce traffic on congested thoroughfares. (See "Albemarle Place," and "Street Cars and Zoning Codes.")

We've shown how it's possible, with modest investments, to significantly increase the capacity of existing thoroughfares without expensive widening projects. (See "Seeing the (Traffic) Light" and "Aroused about Roundabouts.")

We've argued in favor of congestion-pricing tolls as a way of rationing scarce peak-highway capacity and encouraging commuters to change their driving behavior, whether carpooling more, riding buses, or resorting to telecommuting and telework. (See "Congestion Pricing" and "Roads and Reason.")

There is no "silver bullet" for addressing Virginia's congestion woes. But there are many narrow-bore policies, each of which can address a piece of the problem and all of which can make a huge difference. Sadly, we have seen another session of the General Assembly come and go with none of these ideas being discussed seriously. Virginia's leaders are locked into a worldview that defines traffic congestion as a problem that can be solved only by adding more capacity.

While debate has raged over the necessity of raising taxes to pay for transportation improvements, virtually no one is questioning the idea that adding more capacity is the one and only solution. Even Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, who campaigned on the slogan that we can't pave our way out of congestion, has abandoned efforts at meaningful land use reform and become an advocate of tax-and-build.

The failure of Virginia's political leadership -- even tax-averse Republicans -- to consider other strategies is most disheartening. But we'll keep plugging away.


At 2:37 PM, Blogger Larry Gross said...

For folks who wonder about whether congestion pricing "works":

Central Stockholm toll reducing traffic 20%+, doubling peakhour speeds.

Stockholm's trial toll in a ring around the downtown is reducing traffic by 20 to 25%. Travel times are dramatically improved in the peak hours when the tolls are highest. The toll is levied at 18 toll points on arterials plus motorway ramps leading in to the central business district. In the first two weeks of operation - from 3 Jan - the reduction in traffic at the ring or cordon where tolls are levied - was down 25% to 35%, but then recovered a bit to the 20% to 25% range below pre-tolling numbers. Absolute numbers are approx 300k/day with tolls vs 400k before.


But the other points made are also good in my opinion, and, in fact, demonstrate what the word "comprehensive" actually means.

But how to implement these concepts in Virginia is a challenge.

First, because we are a Dillon Rule state which basically promotes the idea that each jurisdiction can decide how to deal with issues - even issues that affect the entire region so we end up with no real effective method for implementing many regional approaches.

Second, VDOT is simply not interested in cost-effective strategies to maximize the existing road infrastructure.

Their approach has been and continues to be that only Mega Projects are the real solution - even if it bankrupts the state and taxpayers.

They disdain most common-sense strategies to improve the network.

Localities have to beg VDOT to do simple things like timing the lights, or putting in left turn or right turn lanes.. or PLAN for commuter lots.. and BUILD them.

Locally we had a project delayed for 6 months and went way over budget and the "answer" was that there was a shortage of "barrels" for temporary lanes and since they were already over budget - they couldn't pay what it would take to get them quick.

This is the kind of stuff localities have to put up with.

I could go on but their focus is simply the major projects that they have in their 6yr plan. That's the 'red meat' they lust after in their dreams and when they come to work.

The Feds have it "right" with the MPO concept that binds metro area jurisdictions together for transportation planning and decisions but VDOT see's this as basically "interference" in their rice bowl and most MPOs except for the major ones like Wash Metro.

The others are essentially controlled by VDOT through the funding process.

It's true that a local MPO can pick the projects that go into their local 6yr plan.. but the "gotcha" is that VDOT can choose NOT to fund those projects.
(and does).

VDOT usually let's it be known what projects it WILL fund and so, in the end, VDOT decides which projects will go forward and often, as not - money for congestion mitgation is not spent on its purpose but rather on projects that VDOT prefers - new builds - that they always claim
will mitigate congestion.

I'd like to see VDOT mostly out of the transportation planning business. Let them maintain the roads, clear the snow, and montior and enforce design-build contracts and assist localities with things like traffic counts and the such
but let the MPOs do regional planning.


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