Tuesday, March 14, 2006

A Pox on the House

The House GOP caucus is getting a good hammering from some editorial writers, particularly at the Daily Press, which let loose this morning:
'The Republican House caucus blew it again. They went to Richmond eight weeks ago with two key chores to perform - to prepare the 2006-08 state budget and get a long-term transportation plan funding in place - and they didn't get it done.
Instead, House Republicans did what they do best: Played games. Postured. Settled scores.
So, how many times has the House bollixed the budget now? Three? Four? Five?'
Ouch. But there's more:
'Failure to pass a new budget and secure new transportation funding is failure at a fundamental level. The House Republicans bear that responsibility, and no amount of smoke will change it.'
In a way I suppose this links to yesterday's item about the apparent indifference around the state to transportation problems in the urban crescent. Daily Press editorialists argue that the GOP caucus demands party unity and damn the consequences. But the intensity of their frustration probably stems from the realization that they might not crack the House GOP. We are so far away from a decent public debate about transportation...

31 Comments:

At 10:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A budget "crisis" three times in five years. Three diferent Governors. Two different Speakers. One constant- John Chichester. Now, who is really to blame?

 
At 11:00 AM, Blogger Toomanytaxes said...

I find it very interesting to watch both the regular venom spewing from liberal editorial writers against anyone failing to lineup behind ever-escalating government spending and higher taxes and the general decline in both circulation and profitability of many newspapers. While there is clearly a need for a liberal perspective in the media because there are many good liberals in society, the press' continued contempt for the views of many good conservatives in society seems to be having a market reaction as more non-liberals turn towards other media.

What does this say for the segment of the business community and associated organizations (Virginia and Fairfax County Chambers of Commerce, for example) that also push for more government spending and higher taxes? Many in this class also demonstrate a bit of contempt for those fiscal conservatives who don't share the view of bigger and bigger state government. Might some of them also experience a negative market reaction?

 
At 11:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let us review:

In 2001, the issue was the car tax. The Governor and the House wanted to go to 70 percent reimbursment and the Senate refused. There were signs of an economic slowdown. The Governor used the deadlock to move to 70 percent and within months Virginia was scrambling to balance the budget.

In 2004, the Governor and the Senate wanted to raise taxes to deal with an imbalance between revenue and spending. In reality, the tax increase just made up for the car tax payments the state is now making to the localities. The House didn't want to do it, but also proved itself incapable of producing a reduced budget that required no tax increases. It raised taxes too, just different ways. And it wanted to spend just as much as the Senate.

Now comes 2006, the third mexican standoff in six sessions. The one area where Virginia really does have a structural deficit -- the special fund accounts for transportation -- are the center of attention. The House promises it will "use the surplus" but 80 plus percent of the surplus goes to the usual suspects of education, medicaid, raw pork. (Anybody notice the AG's office budget increase?) The Senate wants to increase the traditional special fund transportation taxes and fees for the first time in 20 years.

In 2004 and in 2006, if the House had matched its actions to its rhetoric, it would have prevailed. In 2004 it should have produced a balanced state budget without tax increases and stood by it. In 2006 it should have transferred more of the surplus, and some of the tax sources running up the surplus, to transportation (as Leo Wardrup proposed). That also would have produced a thinner state budget in other areas, but that is a good thing. If they were fighting on that line I'd be right beside them.

But no -- the House spent just as much on as the Senate in 2004, and now it has done so again in 2006. Late last week they produced charts showing they spent just as much as the Senate on higher ed, K-12, the Bay, etc. They fund much of it with new debt.

You can't hold the line on taxes if you won't hold the line on spending. To the Senate's credit, it at least is willing to send the taxpayers an honest bill.

 
At 5:18 AM, Blogger Larry Gross said...

There has always been this basic premise that transportation revenues should come from transportation use rather than from a general tax on all citizens regardless of their individual use of the transportation system.

And yes, individual use varies quite a bit from those that live only a few miles from where they work (think ALL of Virginia - not just the urban commuters).

The GA folks are in a quandry of how to deal with transportation needs in an era where the gasoline tax is essentially structually doomed and can no longer generate enough revenues even if the gasoline tax is raised.

The Senate Plan recognizes this reality and basically it's plan is to transfer transportation taxes from gasoline to other taxes on vehicle users.

The House of Delegates plan is basically to punt the ball in the short term (this year) by diverting general revenue funds on a one-time basis with a certain knowledge that next year, and the year after, etc may not produce a surplus to divert not to mention the certain prospects that a surplus might not be available and, in fact, could vary wildly in the future depending on the states economy.

It's not only not sustainable but not predictable either.

You'd never know from one year to the next how much money would be available for the States 6yr plan.

So you'd have a project on a list the "out year" funding columns would likely have a "?" rather than a number that can be relied on and there would be no defined construction date.

It is instructive to remember what happened when Philip Schucet took over VDOT. He essentially discovered what amounted to a "ponzi" scheme for the states 6yr plan because even though there were numbers in the out year columns, it turned out that when you totaled up the costs for each out year column for all projects in the 6yr plan - it was far more than available funding.

Or to put this more simply, there were far, far more projects than there was available funding.

So, he forced the removal of projects until the total costs of the projects actually matched known available funding.

So , then the ball bounced back to the GA to do "something" about how to get the removed projects funded and that's where we are right now.

The question literally on the GA table right now is not only where the funding will come from this year but also in the "out" years.

I'd posit that if you properly framed the realities of this to most citizens - you'd get the same hesitation about how to solve the dilemma and the most frequent answer would be "I already pay taxes for transportation".

So we're down to the "fall on your sword to do what's right" school of politics - and predictably - not all of those being offered swords are convinced that its really their job to fall on them.

:-)

 
At 9:06 AM, Blogger Toomanytaxes said...

Larry: Interesting observations. I'd add that many people in Richmond, including our Governor, seem to be believing (or pretending to believe) that the "trust" issue has been adequately addressed by the efforts of Messrs. Warner and Shucet. While they (and many others) made some substantial improvements at VDOT, substantial gaps still exist.

A significant segment of the population, at least in Fairfax County, believe that the State funds transportation projects, not based on a goal of achieving the best return on investment for taxpayers, but rather, on politics. Many knowledgeable people believe that spending resources on small projects to relieve bottlenecks, etc. would pay major, long-term dividends. However, the CTB and VDOT seem focused on building major new roads, such as an outer beltway and the Techway, that just happen to abut the landholdings of some big developers.

I'll not rehash concerns about the impacts of more development under the existing rules, but simply offer the question: why would people concerned with over-development want to raise taxes to fund more of the same?

The state auditor's report also indicated that VDOT still lacks sufficient internal controls to ensure that projects are built on budget. Why should we pay more until this problem is fixed? I've never had a job where my supervisor has said "ignore your budget." Rather, I've generally been told "it's your job to figure out how to achieve the goals within the budget parameters." Why is VDOT different?

Senator Chichester should spend some time before the GA reconvenes figuring out what to do about trust.

 
At 9:59 AM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

Consider two road users: one travels ten miles a day and earns $100,000. The other travels farther to get an affordable home, he travels 30 miles a day and earns $60,000.

If we move from a gas tax to to using more of income tax to fund transportation, aren't we penalizing the guy who gets the most value out of his VMT and rewarding the guy who travels farther and makes less?

If we have to raise the gas tax or raise the income tax, what's the difference? I don't see that the gas tax is structurally doomed, rather that it forces a clarity in thinking that is anathema to politicians. It might need to be enough higher that the results will be equivalent to falling on the sword.

Nobody ever said leadership was easy, but the alternative may be to have the entire state economy fall on the sword, in which case no funding source is reliable.

 
At 4:02 AM, Blogger Larry Gross said...

I think Toomanytaxes is on to something about citizens perceptions of how transportation dollars will be spent - on improving the existing network or on mega projects.

and agree... some folks think giving VDOT big bucks will do little more than enable them to make more trouble trying to "shoot the moon" rather than spending at least some of their time and money on improving the existing network.

When the TPB of MWCOG did exactly that utilizing before and after air photos... for 2 bottlenecks.. people did notice.

People also notice basic things like lights that are not timed and left turn lanes not adequate... at the same time VDOT is pursuing high-dollar mega projects and claiming they are too broke to fix the basic things at the same time.

VDOT has a road-building culture. Their perfect dream is brand new roads with sexy interchanges and other neat state-of-the-art infrastructure design.

Backfitting existing roads to squeeze more out of them is messy and complicated and in conversations I've had with VDOT engineers - it is often their view that new mega roads are more cost-effective at improving the network than optimization of the existing network.

 
At 4:35 AM, Blogger Larry Gross said...

re: gas tax and falling on sword.

I think some of the GA "might" fall on their sword IF they thought by doing so, a solution would emerge.. but the math shows that falling on one's sword might well be for naught.

One new penny of gas tax will bring in around 50 million dollars
in Virgnia.

One generic interchange costs 50 million dollars.

The Springfield Interchange cost $700 million dollars.

The Wilson Bridge cost Virginia more than a billion dollars.

The statewide backlog is more than $100 Billion.

In six years, the gas tax in Virginia will generate only enough funds to pay for maintenance and not one penny left over for construction.

The math is the reality.

The gas tax would likely have to be fifty cents or higher per gallon to continue to be viable.

Hmmm.. the entire GA is up for election in the next year or two... Most of them understand math also. :-)

 
At 8:14 AM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

Larry, right again. Near my home is a T shaped ntersection - right after the crest of a hill. Since I have lived there, the guardrail and signage at that T have been replaced dozens of times, ususally it seems like it is 4 to 6 times per year.

Some road crew is making a career out of fixing the damage there. It could easily be fixed with a crash ramp and some rumble strips to warn about the intersection, and suspended signage, but NOOOOOO!

The math is what the math is. If it would take a fifty cent gas tax, so be it. It seems to me that Jimmy Carter suggested such a thing.......

We would still have less tax than, say England or Portugal. And we would have the option of re-arranging our lives to avoid the tax. I would prefer that to an income tax or something else that is not related to driving, but I'm sure I'm in the minority.

 
At 9:01 AM, Blogger Toomanytaxes said...

Larry: re VDOT - I wonder whether VDOT or, more importantly, the CTB has ever used the "low-hanging fruit" concept? Let's assume that the CTB discovered a $250 M windfall. How would it allocate the money? To big new projects? To capture low-hanging fruit, based on the best return in terms of LOS improvement for the dollars spent? Or tossed around the state to make everyone "happy"? Trust has not yet been restored.

Ray Hyde: I think you make some good points re the income tax. I think some people would favor using the income tax for transportation because some people assume that someone else will pay the tax increases (ha, ha) and because of tax withholding. People see the impact of higher gasoline prices on their checkbooks better than the income tax that's withheld.

 
At 7:02 AM, Blogger Larry Gross said...

re VDOT:

"low hanging fruit" is not in VDOT's glossary.

While Schucet did an admiral job of downsizing an unfundable 6yr wish list - note the process for how he did it.

You say "what process"?.
Exactly my point.

There is no VDOT process for prioritizing and ranking projects
neither for adding or removing.

This was (I thought) Shucets unfinished Agenda but when he left and with no heir-apparent and Kaine did not immediately find a like-minded replacement... not good news.

re: gas tax revenue sustainability:

Two Datapoints:

1. - "Increasing Virginia's gas tax is offered as a source for generating additional funding. But throughout the nation, that tax is widely questioned as an unsustainable source. A recent Brookings Institution report found that states are already seeing declines in their gas tax revenues."

http://www.brookings.edu/views/op-ed/20050926_puentes.htm

2. - exerpt:
"Sharply higher prices for asphalt, concrete, steel and fuel were cited as driving the decreases, along with an anticipated drop in gasoline sales."

from a 3/17/06 news article on the General Assembly budget negotiations.

http://www.fredericksburg.com/News/FLS/2006/032006/03172006/176047




"

 
At 7:43 AM, Blogger Toomanytaxes said...

Back to the "need for more places." See Steven Pearlstein's column in today's (3/17) Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/03/16/AR2006031602160.html

He argues that development should generally be funnelled from the Metro D.C. area to Baltimore and Richmond, which have more infrastructure capacity and lower prices, while still retaining revenues within Maryland and Virginia.

The article speaks for itself, but a couple of paragraphs make especially good sense to me.

"We might use this moment to recall the First Rule of Holes, which holds that when you're in one, stop digging. It should be obvious, even to the most determined of local boosters, that we won't be able to grow our way out of the problems of inadequate transportation infrastructure, the overcrowded schools, the overtaxed local budgets.

"In many cases, the region finds itself at those tipping points in the growth process, where the next increment of desired capacity requires a huge, upfront investment. These are the points where increasing capacity on the subway line doesn't simply require a few new subway cars, and people to operate them, but an entire new track and all the tunnels that go with it. Or when it's not just a new wing on the high school but an entire new high school."

As I stated in an earlier post, why do we have a rule that, in order to succeed in life, young people must move away from rural areas. Richmond and Baltimore are hardly rural, but the point is still valid. Every new job in Virginia does not need to be in NoVA. Pearlstein gets it. I suspect that many others in this region do too.

 
At 8:14 AM, Blogger Larry Gross said...

Thanks for the link.

You may have noticed the census news for Virginia that shows tremendous growth in the exurbs south of No Va.

Growth rates exceeding 5% in almost all of the jurisdictions surrounding Fredericksburg.

And.. guess what.. the vast majority of this growth are NoVa commuters adding substantial traffic to I-95 northbound - that ultimately ends up on I-95 and I-395 and I-66 in the Wash Metro Area.

I'd bet a nickel that a substantial amount of the Wash Metro Beltway traffic on weeksdays is,in fact, folks from the exhurbs on the way to their Wash Metro Area jobs.

Low cost housing.. the quest for it ... is the driving force... excuse the pun....

So.. here we have NoVa fighting for funding in the GA to fix their regional roads... to.. essentially subsidize the exhurb commuters.

If I know this.. so do the GA folks you can bet.

 
At 8:31 AM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

I also heard a story on NPR concerning affordable housing and rental units. The conclusion was that in order to fix the present situation it would be necessary to ease up on land restrictions in the suburbs.

 
At 8:36 AM, Blogger Larry Gross said...

wouldn't easing up on affordable housing in the exurbs result in even MORE I-95 commuters?

 
At 8:51 AM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

Larry: I don't doubt gas tax revenues are decreasing, but I can't think of why since energy use and prices are up: it seems counterintuitive.

TMT: Maybe we need to reconsider whether our road network is subsidising those that live farther out or whether it is really subsidising the job centers and corporations that create the need to travel.

Is the anticipated drop in gasoline sales a result of the success of smart growth planning, or some other factor? Either way, it shows that reducing the use of roads makes them more expensive, something we might not have carefully considered in the smart growth master plans.

Since we need the roads anyway, and they are not going away, it seems that the right plan would be one that directs growth in such a way to get the most efficient use and not necessarily the least amount of use. Maybe Anthony Downs is right, and a certain amount of congestion is part of the best answer. Why should a crowded concert or sports event be a success and a crowded road be considered a failure?

 
At 9:02 AM, Blogger Larry Gross said...

gasoline prices are up... which means folks try to find ways to reduce the amount of money required to fill-up... which results in more gas-efficient cars that use less gas.. require less frequent fill-ups.. and pay less gas tax.

re: subsidy - yes.. it's doing both. We already know about commuters and affordable housing. What is less known is that companies are attracted to urban areas where there are large pools of qualified employees... AND other allied businesses....

Folks say... use incentives to attract companies to more remote areas where jobs are needed but companies don't want this... because it isolates them in terms of workforce and peer business opportunities...

re: directing growth

... I don't doubt that with the right incentives that there could be an effect but where would one direct it.. without an accompanying impact on infrastructure?

re: congestion - agree... congestion is a permanent condition and actually affects what people do or don't do.

If it gets bad enough.. people change their behaviors when the time/money trade-offs become less and less bearable.

That's the exact concept behind electronic toll roads that seek to "manage" congestion by putting a price on what kind of congestion one is willing to pay for and how.

ride in the lower congestion lanes for a price ... or save money and drive in more congested lanes.

 
At 11:47 AM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

Sure, companies want to be in the center of a large labor pool, and near allied businesses, if there are any. In the old Detroit model this was a big issue, but probably less true today.

Attracting companies to more remote areas probably won't happen. But at the same time the center of that large labor pool is moving. While a lot of people move out to get an inexpensive townhome in Centreville, then later, Manassas, and then later Gainesville, there are also more affluent buyers picking up McMansions, farmettes, and whole farms, still farther out. These people are likely to be decision drivers for those companies. AOL may have gone where it did partly to be near Steve Case's farm. And didn't these people move out there as much to avoid congestion as for lower price (or larger for the same price) homes?

I think it is not so much incentivizing companies to move to rural areas that is an issue, or even a good idea, necessarily. However, like housing, office locations are durable, so there is a big lag in where the companies are, vs where they would choose to locate if they had to do it over again today. How much of that growth around Fredericksburg is going to happen before companies startl locating in Fredericksburg?

Business follows housing, and apparently, roads follow housing as well.

We assume that those exurban livers are all commuters, which may tend to be so, but not exclusively. They may also figure they can live farther out because their jobs are already located on the fringe, or even the other direction. I have neighbors that work in Winchester, and therefore commute 40 minutes the wrong direction, go figure.

But if we say we are subsidizing those that live farther out, where do the subsidies stop? Is someone who lives in close in Arlington or Alexandria really less subsidized than people like myself that get NO services except schools and transportation? How about Merrifield, on the Metro Line? How about the Metro West people whose living arrangement is apparently going to be enabled by government in spite of opposition?

What if all those exurb commuters moved in, wouldn't you still need to fix the roads in inner areas to handle the same people?. Wouldn't you need more of them, in the areas they are exactly most expensive to build? If that happened, then who would be getting subsidized? What about schools? Arlington pays some teachers up to $90 grand. Don't more people mean more infrastructure, no matter where you put them?

I'm not arguing against anything you have said, but we may still be seeing things too simplistically. If lawnmowers emit 20 times asw much pollution as cars, the beneficial effects of more urbanization might be higher than we think. But urban areas have 100% run off, and runoff filled with nasty stuff. And urban areas have high energy costs so what we save in gasoline we may spend on AC. Then there is the fact that a lot of people just don't want to live in highly urban environments, so they move out and then slam the door behind them, so they don't get urbanized again.

BTW, high gas prices affect more than driving behavior. I heard a story on increasing mortgage deliquencies, primarily in the adjustable loan category. High energy prices and Katrina took much of the blame.

There may be many good answers, and diferent ones in different places, but I'm pretty convinced that any good answer anywhere is going to cost a lot of money.

 
At 1:35 PM, Blogger Larry Gross said...

One of the reasons that housing costs more close in because the level of infrasture is more mature and costs money.. to include
storm water runoff, and a panopoly of other higher level services like specialty medical, advanced EMS, etc.

One of the reasons it cost less in the exurbs is the same reason.

The first thing that happens when folks move to the Fburg area realize is that our 911 is nowhere near what it is in No Va and quess what happens? They want it upgraded - not soon - but now.

That costs big money.. and that's one of the reasons why taxes are higher in the more urban areas.

So folks are moving out to buy more affordable homes.. which are more affordable because the exurbs do not have more expensive and more extensive infrastructure and services.

Would folks do something this dumb in search of cheaper housing?

In a word. Yes.

 
At 2:54 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

Larry, I love it. You are exactly right.

I've even seen neighbors who move out to farmettes out here and are then shocked to learn that their lawnmower is going to cost $15,000.
Pretty soon they figure out they don't have the personal infrastructure, or skills, let alone the public infrastructure.

Then they find out their neighbors have guns, and use them. They learn that farms use pesticides, etc. etc.

Pretty soon they are either trying to change things, or else they are gone.

In some places, newcomers are required to sign a sort of MOU or memorandum of understanding as part of their purchase contract/deed recordation. The MOU explicitly points out all of what some people might consider to be shortcomings, and the (new) buyers agree to accept them without complaint.

 
At 3:25 PM, Blogger Larry Gross said...

MOU or memorandum

oh I do love it! :-)

Mr. & Mrs.. John Doe -

.. you do of course realize
that it will take 20 minutes
for an EMS to get to you and
oh by the way... the medic
is the same guy who works
at the local feed store...
and takes EMS training.. when
he's able...

:-)

 
At 4:17 PM, Blogger Toomanytaxes said...

Ray & Larry: Just a few months ago, I had a very similar conversation with a Fairfax County supervisor. The growing areas will soon face demands for increased services that come (rightly or wrongly) with large and diverse populations. While one can certainly criticize much about the more developed NoVA suburban jurisdictions, at least the bulk of their services "infrastructure" has already been established.

The next ring of suburban jurisdictions will soon be facing the need to build both physical and service infrastructure. Yikes! Perhaps, this place (NoVA) will not be as attractive in the future because of high taxes and declining quality of life. California, here we come?

 
At 5:01 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

I thought the MOU was a great idea, too. It is actually in use in some places. I'll see if I can find the sample.

TMT: wait a minute. Haven't you previously argued that the reason that Fairfax should not be expected to take on still more growth is because the infrastructure is maxed out? (or outmoded, I might add.) If the basics are there, they must not be adequately funded, otherwise, why is my Fairfax tax going up 20% a year?

Part of my argument with EMR and Bacon is that they are grossly overestimating the savings to be had from consolidation. By the same token, the outmovers are grossly overstimating the savings to be had by moving out.

All of which circles around to my real argument, which is that we don't really know anywhere near enough to ever settle the argument based on what JAB calls rational empiricism.

If we are going to have a high quality of life, it is going to be very expensive. So rather than go the Fairfax route and try to buy up land for parks after it has already been developed, we need to get ahead of the curve and buy it while it is still open space. That kind of thinking means that you have to agree on what level of density will provide a quality life, what level of road density is needed to support it, etc.

In other words we have to agree on priorities, but that can't happen as long as we have a winner take all mentality, based on pre-supposed ideology and mantras. It can't happen with policy based on homilies and platitudes.

At present, we are placing a great deal of our future needs on the backs of developers. We now expect them to set aside land for open space, provide a percentage of affordable housing units, pay proffers for infrastructure, make a profit, and still provide reasonably priced homes exactly where we want them to be. that seems an unlikely way to get what you really want in the end.

So, how are we going to raise the money for undeveloped areas to get ahead of the curve? They have neither the population, the funds, or the knowlege to know what they are up against. Meanwhile, we still need to rebuild a bunch of aging infrastructure, housing, infill, job management, etc. The funds to plan and develop the new areas and to redevelop existing areas are going to have to come from existing areas, one way or another.

When you hear people talk about regional planning, that is what it boils down to. Otherwise we can ignore the outlying areas and let them bumble into the future just as previous area have. Fairfax, PW, and Loudoun all had their slow growth eras, and now Western Loudoun, Fauquier, and other rural areas are following the same failed example. Fauquier has been planning on 1% growth for ten years, and the actual growth has been much higher. How long does that go on before you wake up one day and discover through rational empiricism that you have a bad plan?

But, if you are faced with a no new taxes reality, then what other choice have you got but to bumble into the future?

 
At 7:15 AM, Blogger Larry Gross said...

re: "I had a very similar conversation with a Fairfax County supervisor. The growing areas will soon face demands for increased services that come .. at least the bulk of their services "infrastructure" has already been established."

Building new/more infrastructure in the exurbs for new growth verses accomodating new growth in NoVa.

The high-growth exurbs will eventually catch up on LOCAL infrastructure ... through higher assessments on property and property tax increase.

It just takes time and money.

But the clinker what to do about the road infrastructure on the way to their NoVa jobs.

There is a dataset that VDOT generates called AADT. It basically consists of traffic counts on roads (including I-95) at each of its interchanges.

http://www.virginiadot.org/comtravel/resources/AADT_PrimaryInterstate_2004.pdf (page 281).

AADT in Caroline county on I-95 south of Fredericksburg is on the order of 70,000 cars a day.

North of Fredericksburg, it climbs to almost 200,000 cars a day.

The Fredericksburg Area has close to 300,000 people and about 150,000 registered vehicles.

The AADT tells the story with respect to how many folks commute from the Fredicksburg Area.

The Fredericksburg Area is, in most respects - a bedroom community of NoVa employed commuters.

Those commuters easily double the "background" I-95 traffic on weekdays - and worse - they do it in a compressed timeframe - peak hour.

The more growth that the exurbs experience - the more traffic gets on I-95.

So... one might observe that there are THREE primary impacts of exurb growth.

1. - local jurisdiction infrastructure and services.

2. - I-95

3. - NoVa infrastructure - primarily roads.

Now..just suppose.. that ALL exurb commuters suddenly decided to chose NOT to commute but
.. Live AND work in greater NoVa Region.

(this is essentially the "smart growth" .. increase density by redeveloping infill...et al scenario)

You'd probably still have folks commuting regionally to work on both interstates and surface streets - but clearly not as en masse stampede up I-95 at peak hour in the mornings and back in the evenings.

What would happen to No Va if this scenario actually happened.

It appears to me that it would not have any more traffic than it now has - just shorter duration commutes that probably would be a balanced cross flow across the region.

Would No Va essentially become more like a centralized city such as New York or Chicago - which clearly were able to provide adequate infrastructure for their respective high-density settlement patterns? (i.e. I don't see NYC or Chicago "gridlocked").

How much more infrastructure would No Va have to build to accommodate higher density .. or to put it another way.. what does No Va LACK in infrastructure that would allow it to function much more densely and similar to New York City or Chicago?

Not storm water... because the higher you go on the same footprint - the amount of runoff stays the same - one roof - same rainfall - same runoff.

Surface streets? Well, I doubt seriously that NYC and Chicago Metro areas have MORE surface streets than NoVa and instead would argue that NoVa probably has MORE surface streets already than either NYC or Chicago.. right now.

More schools - yes.

More water/sewer - yes.

More hospitals - yes.

what else?

but would these things cost any more in more-dense - (multi-story buildings) NoVa than the exurbs (growing out rather than up) on a per-capita basis?

I doubt it and, in fact, would think that economies of scale would apply.

And consider that the scenario exurbs building more dense by growing up rather than out STILL would generate a mega commuting pattern.

This is the Smart Growthers argument that IF NoVa built more dense and more "up" that it would be more efficient and less costly than building "spread out" in the exurbs.

and that the more the exurbs grow, the more commuters they generate, and in turn the more they overwhelm No Va roads - because their commute is longer and they spend more time on the road than if they lived locally and used surface streets, regional interstates and transit.

So its a public policy inter-regional question about whether or not it is .. in the public interest - to build more roads for long-distance commuters from the exurbs - AND who should bear the financial consequences of paying for that infrastructure - if public policy is - to let people choose where to live and whether or not they want to live in a high-rise apartment or on a detached SFH on a 1/4 acre.

Who is responsible financially for the consequences of "choice"?

Is it good public policy for ALL citizens to pay whatever infrastructure is required to serve the interests of those that choose NOT to live in a high-rise in NoVA.

Should the general public, regardless of whether they commute long distances or not - pay for more "commuting roads" or more "commuting transit"?

 
At 7:36 AM, Blogger Larry Gross said...

There are two other concepts worth adding to the conversation:

* Reality Check - a regional exercise that presumes that the Wash Metro Area will experience robust job growth for the next 20 years - and where to put the increased population.

Their report is a good read at:
http://www.realitycheckwashington.org/pdf/RCfinalLR.pdf

* The concept of "Cross Acceptance"
which basically is a cross-jurisdictional regional planning concept where goals and priorities are established for the region are agreed to by the local jurisdictions that make up the region.

You can find MANY links for this concept by GOGGLING "cross acceptance".

Cross Acceptance is a concept employed currently by mostly "home rule" states and jurisdictions within those states.

One can get an interesting perspective on this by GOOGLING the term:
"cross acceptance" "dillon rule" which produces a grand total of 9 links!

 
At 8:26 AM, Blogger Toomanytaxes said...

Ray Hyde: I must not have made my point clearly enough re social services. I was trying to make the point that Fairfax County already has in place services that are generally found in larger communities. These include day care for elderly, a 911 center, a poison control operation. etc. From what I've seen, unlike Fairfax County's roads, parks, schools, these operations are not maxed out and can handle growth with incremental increases in funding.

Many of the fastest growing counties will see a need to add these types of services, along with physical infrastructure, to meet the demands of citizens. That was my only point. Sorry I was not more clear.

 
At 4:21 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

Larry: The AAST numbers are astonishing. If there are 150,000 vehicles in F'burg, and the I95 traffic grows by 130,000 vehicles from south to north of Fburg, then there are only 20,000 vehicles left in F'burg during the day.

Obviously there is something wrong with that, but the implications are enormous, if they are close to correct.

I'm sorry, but I have a problem with the Reality Check Report. Since it is put together by the Urban Lnad Institute and the Smart Growth Alliance, you can't really expect the results to be anything other than what they were planned to be. At least one participant stated that reality was checked at the door.

The single most frequently cited principle was to "Preserve and protect natural areas, green spaces and waterways (cited at all 30 tables)" That is certainly an admirable principle, but nowhere is there any discussion of how to do that and protect the people who live there. That is, to include them in the economic benefits of having growth deliberately planned to happen someplace else. If you come up with a plan that cuts them in on the benefits, it makes the rest of the plan look a lot less economical.

When you look at the map of job density, you first see the strong urban core. But on closer inspection you can easily recognize the Dulles job center, Tysons, the I270 corridor, The BW Parkway Corridor, the I66 corridor, and Leesburg. Surprisingly, there is very little along I95 south. There is also a strong concentrtion of jobs along the Maryland waterfront. After further consideration, you realize these are only the high paying jobs, and that although there re more dispersed, there are far more of them outside the District than inside.

In other words, it is not a realistic map. The dots have a tendency, as all map symbols do, to exagerate the conditions, a better representation woould be a color gradient map that showed the total dollar contribution of all jobs. It is likely that far more jobs will be created outside the core area than inside, and wheter they will be distributed primarioly to existing job centers is highly problematic.

"What brought this disparate group of homebuilders,environmentalists, civic leaders, developers,business leaders,elected officials, regional planners, and academics together
was their growing concern about the social, environmental,and economic costs to the region of its current pattern of development." Well, that's fine, except that there is no evidence that the pattern of growth has anything to do with those costs, nor is there any evidence that the "desired" solution will provide results that are any better.

Furthermore, MWCOG suggests in its planning model that we may be able to influence the location of only 15% of new homes and jobs. "In comparison with the Reality Check results, the COG analysis generally predicts a region that will have fewer houses close to transit, fewer inside the Beltway, far fewer inside the region’s larger urbanized areas and substantially more housing on the suburban fringe. While this analysis represents current trends for the region, most Reality Check
participants insisted that these trends need not be the region’s destiny."

"For example, at every table, Reality Check participants
increased the amount of households that would be located near transit stations, expressing a common desire to take advantage of the existing public investments in the Metro, MARC, and VRE systems and to make alternative forms of transportation more accessible as a means of alleviating chronic traffic congestion."

Again, that's fine. But there is no evidence whatsoever that transit has redced congestion. Furthermore, both Metro and VRE have capacity and congestion problems of their own. The exercise makes no mention of what it might cost to have their vision occur. Finally, transportation analysts who have considered the best overall economic benefit of transportation systems suggest that for the best economic benefit, rail transport would only carry 1% of traffic and only in the very best traffic corridors. But instead of planning for the best economic benefit, the number of jobs within a half mile of a transit station will be from 19 to 28% of all jobs, depending on whose numbers you believe. That means that based on current usage somewhere from O.5% to 3% of all jobs will be occupied by people who actually use Metro to get there. Since commuting is only 20% of traffic, the best we can expect is that our ten billion dollar initial investment in Metro offers a net reduction in congestion of around one half of a percent, and only in the Metro area. Remember, if you are carrying 3% of traffic on Metro, you are probably spending five or six hundred percent too much, based on a rational economic expenditure.

"One explanation for the COG prediction is that the cost of living in close-in, transit-oriented developments may prove to be too high for many area residents, pushing them instead to lower-cost locations on the eriphery of the region. Denser housing near transit often is more
expensive than conventional greenfield development because
the demand for such housing is high and because both regulatory obstacles and community concerns must be overcome to build such housing. Moreover, the cost of land
generally is higher, as is the cost of developing structured
parking and high-rise buildings."

"If the Reality Check principles were actually to be implemented, they would result in a huge increase in the number of households near transit – nearly 241,000 more...."

So, in order to make this happen, we have a $10 billion inital investmentin Metro, that may well need to be tripled. And we are going to expect people to pay more for their housing, expect that existing residents won't complain, expect that the existing rules will be changed, expect that all the infrastructure increases accordingly (and like the more expensive Metro housing the infrastructure will be more expensive, too). We'll expect that people will choose to live in high rises, expect them to keep their motorhomes, ski-doos, motorcycles, catamarans, skis, scuba gear, and wood-working shops, and garden plots someplace else ( and drive to get them). We'll expect the existing streets to carry the 93% of new traffic that does not travel by Metro.

There is no doubt about what the reality check participants said they want, but no one asked them how they would pay to get what they want. Reality check recognizes that the costs will be high, but costs were not an issue in the exercise. It might very well be that we have the sprawl solution because it is the least cost solution, not just for new homeowners buying where land is cheap, but for everybody. They hold up the spcre of havig to build a bunch of new stuff if we continue as we are, but then they conveneintly omit to mention and certainly don't compare the costs of the proposed alternatives.

The article starts off with a list of "warning signs". That is rhetoric that sets off all my personal warning signs, but the ones they list are traffic congestion ; Air pollution ;
Housing demand that far exceeds supply, ;
Deflection of growth outward to
second- and third-ring counties; Increasing costs to taxpayers to provide the infrastructure needed to support this increasingly
dispersed development pattern;
Steady deterioration of water quality in the Chesapeake
Bay; Tax and other economic ramifications for a region in
which individual jurisdictions too often compete; and
Rapid loss of farmland, forests, wetlands, wildlife
habitats, and scenic vistas.

But the report says nothing about how these warning signs will be resolved:
1)Metro has not and will not reduce congestion
2)Putting more people in one place creates higher energy needs and concentrates pollution, making it more dangersous. Most of those people are still going to drive cars.
3) Housing is already expensive there and in limited supply, the plan does nothing to change that situation, and only makes it worse.
4)Who says deflection of growth otward is a warning sign? Maybe it is a natural event, like penecillin on an agar plate.
5)Increasing the living costs for close in living is equivalent to increasing taxation costs, and there is no evidence that areas closer in have lower taxes, so taxes will go up as well.
6) The jurisdictions are still going to compete.
7) The rapid loss of farmland is a fraction of the land available, And keeping the farmland from lossis far from free: it is going to cost as much or more than development, otherwise conservation won't hapen because there is more money in development.

In short, the study is a poster child for making policy based on homilies and platitudes.

I would like to believe it, but I cannot. That argument is far from being complete. Not only that, but we can look at Oregon and see a thirty year experiment in this direction that failed.

It is going to be a lot cheaper to plan adequately for what we have got than it is to plan to change it, sell the change, make the change, and then discover that it costs more and it is not what people want.

 
At 5:12 PM, Blogger Toomanytaxes said...

Ray Hyde: Interesting analysis. I must question the breadth of your statement that there's no evidence that transit has reduced congestion. From an overall perspective that might well be true, but I think that, in certain areas, transit has helped reduce automobile congestion.

A network is only as good as its capacity to handle traffic during its "busy hour." I suspect that Metro going into D.C. during the "rush hour" time (peak travel period, not when WMATA charges higher fares) makes a big and positive impact on the reduction of traffic. Ditto for transit in New York and Philadelphia.

Having said that, I'm not arguing for Metrorail's expansion, but only its continued operation.

The more I think about the overall question -- what the devil can government do about the mess we are in? -- the more, I think that the answer is "not much." I don't think that we can pave or transit our way out of the problem. At least not until we gain some technological breakthroughs that would substantially reduce the cost for constructing and operating highways and trains. Likewise, I don't think that anyone is smart enough to plan our way out of the problem. Government is not very good at predicting developments in technology and markets.

Government can, however, take actions that stop making things worse. For example, we could fix the CTB and VDOT so that they were less susceptible to making decisions based who had the best lobbyist. Setting goals and measurements for the evaluation of projects would help. The preparation of business cases, with alternatives, for transportation projects would help. So would some good reporting by the press on the results of these studies. We could spend existing tax dollars more wisely and effectively if we shut down the small "P" politics of transportation.

I also don't see why we cannot come up with a set of rules that prohibit more development where the public facilities are clearly inadequate, if coupled with a mechanism that permitted otherwise lawful development to begin if the combination of new tax revenues and impact fees from the new development would pay for the necessary infrastructure. The economics would weed out lots of marginal projects.

But, as for long-term solutions, I just don't see any. NoVA may well have seen its high-water mark in terms of desirability, except for those businesses that need to be right next door to the Feds.

 
At 11:53 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

We built Metro thirty years ago and congestion is worse than ever. QED.

That is not to say that Metro is not worth while. But the correct way to measure it has got to be on the margin. What it does is allow us to carry people to work that we cannot carry on the roads.

So we have two questions to answer. Could our ten million dollar investment thirty years ago have bought us a better system? When you think better, think comfort convenience, speed, who pays for the trip, 24 hour service, cargo capacity, etc. Then factor in deaths, pollution, etc. When it is all said and done, and all the factors are considered, Metro and buses don't fare very well.

Not even on load factor, where you would think they'd win hands down. Cars take a lot of parking space, but they don't go anywhwere unless they are occupied. When you look at the total system, transit doesn't look so hot.

Even the claimed energy benefits are not real.

The second thing you have to ask is whether the ability to carry the additional people is worth the cost. Remember, that you could have carried a lot of them using roads built with the same money, so the real benefit is smaller than it appears.

Metro is a great system, so far as it goes, but we should recognize and credit it for what it iws and not what it isn't. One thing it is, is the DC areas most unrecognized monument. but if you think it is about transportation solutions, think again. We are stuck with it, and we should make the best of it.

We should do that with very clear vision.

I agree taht there are so many variables that anyone who claims to have the answers must be a charlatan. Smart growth, as I see it, is fiddling at the margins. Some small changes may be accomplished, but overall, we are still facing pretty much the same costs. And we don't even agree on whether the changes are desirable.

As for infrastructure, I've said before I sit on both sides of the fence. I just got my lates Fairfax assessment: up another $50k with taxes to boot. did I get any more infrastructure or services? Nope.

But here in Delaplane, there are no services. None. As a result, my fire insurance here is half of what my taxses are in Fairfax, and yet my taxes are higher, too. Any infrastructure I want, I have to build and pay for.

And then I'll get taxed for doing that.

So tell me, where exactly is infrastructure inadequate, and what is the criteria? It must be inadequate in Fairfax, because they just slapped me with an increased bill to improve it. At Ashby Glen there is none, and the county concedes, even brags that they are overcharging me by 300%.

Then go to St. Martin, in the Caribbean. It is a tropical paridise, no property tax, none. And also infrasturucture that would drive Americans batty.

The answer seems to be that we are going to pay more and get less. Or, we can pay less and get nothing.

So, who are we subsidizing, people who are just dong the best they can with what they have to work with? Or is it really those businesses that have a need to be next to the feds?

 
At 4:05 AM, Blogger Larry Gross said...

re:
"The AAST numbers are astonishing. If there are 150,000 vehicles in F'burg, and the I95 traffic grows by 130,000 vehicles from south to north of Fburg, then there are only 20,000 vehicles left in F'burg during the day."

Sorry... fast and loose with those numbers. About 150,000 registered drivers in Fred,Spotsy and Stafford. But remember there are other counties generating traffic also..such as King George, Caroline, etc.

http://dmvnow.com/webdoc/pdf/vacrashfacts_03.pdf page 14

The AADT data is correct and I already provided that link.


re: reality check - hey you read it and good comments!

It was mainly an "exercise" to get the particpants to acknowledge the population increase numbers and to think about implications....

Big, diverse participation ranging from heavy-duty developer types to grassroots citizens groups - who, by the way were not happy with the premise nor the conclusions.

The point of providing the RC link was to show that the discussion about the budget and transportation is an ongoing hot topic with many, many folks with many, many different ideas about land-use, settlement patterns, transportation, etc.

and yes... lot's of inconsistent and contradictory views but one of the "products" of the exercise was to have all the players in one roon .. accepting the reality of population growth .. to have a group dialogue about ... what could be agreed on.. while acknowledging what folks did not agree on.

 
At 4:24 AM, Blogger Larry Gross said...

re: metro

Can anyone imagine NYC operating without subways or Chicago without Els even outside of rush hour but especially so at rush hour?

Would anyone advocate that buildings be torn down to allow for more roads in these cities?
(other than Robert Moses?)

Does transit in NYC and Chicago, et al have any better farebox recovery than Metro?

How is NoVa different from areas that have more mature transit?

Is NoVa.. in terms of land-use, growth, density.. essentially where NYC/Chicago were... 50 years ago.. when their transit was maybe comparable in size and scope to what Metro is today - and still growing?

I don't think transit will ever replace the auto but I also don't think there is any reality in advocating for a lot more roads in the NoVa area because the cost of doing so would be so astronomical as to be a non-starter unless folks are willing to pay much, much higher taxes... I mean on the order of thousands per year to accomplish that.

And the irony is that survey's show over and over that folks support transit and want to see more of it AND are willing to pay increases in sales tax to do it.

They don't buy that argument for roads. In 2002.. voters in NoVa gave a big thumbs down to using the sales tax for more roads.

one last observation about the term "mass transit" .. which conjures up in most people's minds subways, and buses and motivates clear dividing lines about whether such a thing is needed, too expensive, not cost-effective, etc.

But most folks don't consider at all the fact that airlines are mass transit... also... where folks experience the same cattle-car conditions that the do on land-based mass transit...

The government believes that - as public policy we cannot allow the airlines go into bankruptcy ... but others actually cheer for land-based transit to fail.

Why does our policy favor road and air solutions over transit solutions?

Cost-effectiveness of all 3 is not so great... on any of them and yet many feel that all 3 are vital - even worth subsidies.

 

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