Friday, March 03, 2006

Transportation Authority Devolving to Localities?

Nature abhors a vacuum, and so does power. If the Virginia Department of Transportation can't fix Northern Virginia's transportation problems, expect municipalities in fast-growth sections of the Washington New Urban Region to fill the void. The Kaine administration, according to The Washington Post, appears to be resigning itself to the inevitable -- at least in Prince William County.

Prince William will ask voters this fall to approve road bonds for projects that include adding lanes to Routes 1 and 28 -- part of a larger plan to spend $1.6 billion in local money on transportation projects over the next 15 years. The couty would create, in effect, its own transportation division within the Public Works department. Senior Kaine administration officials appear to be OK with that.

"The growth of Prince William has outstripped the ability of the commonwealth to provide transportation infrastructure," said Virginia Transportation Secretary Pierce R. Homer, who served as a former deputy county executive in Prince William before moving to Richmond.

Said Dennis Morrison, Northern Virginia administrator for the Virginia Department of Transportation: "There just haven't been enough transportation dollars to deal with transportation in this region."

Perhaps VDOT should consider ways to devolve even more responsibility to the county. If the county assumed full responsibility for funding transportation within its borders, it would look very carefully at the transportation impact of its land use decisions. Judging by the experience in Arlington and Henrico Counties, two counties grandfathered long, long ago when VDOT consolidated control over state road programs, the idea of planning transportation and land under one roof has worked out pretty well. In my observation, both localities provide better mobility than their neighbors. I live in Henrico, and other than the royal screw-up at the Short Pump interchange, the county is pretty easy to get around.


At 11:56 AM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

I wasn't aware that Henrico and Arlington funded all their own roads. Do they get a lower state tax rate in exchange, or do they pay for their own roads in addition to paying for other people's roads? Arlington's roads are pretty much built out, so new (road) infrastructure is not much of an issue, but they still provide a good deal of state revenue.

As for the idea that PW growth has outstripped the commonwealth's ability to provide infrastructure, that is nonsense. It may have outstripped the comonwealth's willingness to do so. Maybe the state could help out PW with some of the excess money they collect from Arlington.

It seems to me that we will have a problem if localities get the responsibility for funding transportation, if the don't also get the obligation to provide for it. With control of land use and roads, they could just say; screw it, we are not going to change any land use. Then their neighbors would be stuck with both the growth and (for now) the transportation problem.

It is OK for PW to pay for facilities that benefit PW. But it is the same as the case in Norfolk, growth in PW benefits the state. If PW repairs the 29/66 interchange, that benefits people in counties south and west. Those people should pay part of the cost.

At 1:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Prince William's problems are with the interstates and regional roads such as Routes 1, 15, 28 and 29 that carry traffic THROUGH the county. The State has done nothing to improvement the mobility of interstate and regional traffic, even though the County is sepnding more money to increase the mobility of traffic within it. In other words, the County is getting traffic moving better to the interstates and regional roads where they come to a complete halt. Prince William has gotten so fed up it is now owrking to rebuild even the interstates, such as I66. Where all this ends up nobody knows ...

At 5:09 AM, Blogger Larry Gross said...

We're starting to see a confluence of events that could drammatically change how transportation is done in Virginia.

I hate to keep harping on the JLARC study but it's good food for thought ESPECIALLY if the folks in the GA and VDOT are reading it.

Here's a couple of exerpts:

"Highway construction funds should be allocated proportionally among the statewide, regional, and local road systems based on need, and within systems the construction funds should be allocated based on factors that serve as good proxies for need, such as registered vehicles and highway mileage. These changes will result in more construction funds for major roads."

"The current system should be replaced by a system that classifies roads based on their functional purpose. The proposed system should be a three-tiered system with statewide, regional, and local roads. The statewide system would be comprised of the highest-level roads, which would be roads of statewide significance. Virginia’s portion of the National Highway System, which is comprised of roads that Congress has designated as significant components of the national highway network, can serve as the basis for the statewide system. The statewide system would include the interstates and major arterials.

"Almost Three-Fourths of Construction Funds Should Be Allocated to the State and Regional Systems"

Here is another fact:
"VDOT will have no funds in the year 2011 to match the funds available from the federal government."

So... I AGREE that Prince William and other counties (including Spotsylvania) WILL start to deal with their own county roads and yes, they will try to funnel traffic to the Interstate and Primary Roads ... but if you read between the lines on the above exerpts from JLARC - you'll see that they are recommending that VDOT ... KEEP 3/4 of the state funds to maintain the interstates and Primary Roads.

So, where does that leave Prince William and other counties?

It leaves them with LOCAL Bond Referenda for LOCAL roads .. AND ..YES in my opinion - since it will be THEIR DIME... they'll pay much more attention to land use issues especially when there will be high potential of shooting themselves in their own feet if they don't use careful planning.

AND... the final nice touch - ELECTED officials will be held accountable... vice the unelected faceless bureacratics at VDOT.

Flash back to VDOT... what are they going to do?

Well... TOLL Roads - with high-speed electronic tolling via transponders in autos.

Not only will they collect more money but they'll be able to price the useage and essentially help "shape" the demand according to congestion levels.

AND.. VDOT will have other options with electronic tolling besides making peak hr trips more expensive, they can (and I predict they will) expand the tolling so that they can overall collect more money for roads in general.

Perfect solution? No.. I think there certainly will be a lot of bluster and whining about it and about how drivers are being abused and ripped off.. and we'll see how that plays out....over the long run.

But.. this is MUCH better than taxing ALL drivers or worse all taxpayers to essentially continue subsidizing those that have chosen to drive solo vehicles over long distances at peak rush hour.

I think what citizens WILL accept is a true equitable allocation of costs that directly relate to one's own useage of the highways and highway capacity.

It's just going to take some time for everyone to adjust to this new way of thinking and I'll admit.. there is PLENTY of opportunity for VDOT and others to screw it up and cause a massive backlash...


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