Greater Greater Washington

Was last year's Virginia transportation bill a bait and switch?

Last year, Virginia legislators passed a bipartisan transportation bill that promised to give Northern Virginia the authority to plan and fund its own transportation projects. Now that the money is flowing, a bevy of new bills seek to wrest control of funding from locals, and send it back to Richmond.


Dollar lure image from Shutterstock.com.

The issue is that some legislators feel the only way to solve Northern Virginia's transportation problems is by building and expanding highways, and they want to prevent local governments from doing anything else. To them, money spent on public transportation is better spent on ensuring that everyone has the "freedom" to only be able to drive to work.

But unlike many parts of the state, transit has proven its value in Northern Virginia. For communities that have tried for decades to raise their own taxes to implement their own priorities, these proposals are a gross violation of bipartisan trust, and a clear bait and switch.

Bob Marshall's bills

Delegate Bob Marshall (R-Bull Run) never wanted Northern Virginia to have its own money in the first place. He unsuccessfully sued to stop the process. Since that didn't work, he's now submitted a HB40, a bill to repeal the new funds.

But that's unlikely to pass, so Marshall is hedging his bets with HB41, a bill to have the statewide Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) pick projects that Northern Virginia is allowed to build, instead of the locally-controlled Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA).

Marshall also has a third bill, HB84, to remove state elected officials from the NVTA board. That would seem to give locals more strength on the board, but if Marshall's second bill to strip NVTA of its powers goes through, what would be the point?

Jim LeMunyon's bills

Jim LeMunyon (R-Chantilly) is trying the opposite tactic. Instead of cutting the NVTA's authority, his HB425 would increase the number of General Assembly legislators on NVTA's board, thus effectively weakening representation from the counties and cities.

A second bill, HB793, requires VDOT to suggest which projects NVTA will build. It does not ask for any input from Virginia's corresponding transit agency, the Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT).

Finally, HB426 would simply bypass NVTA completely, and require VDOT to widen I-66 inside the beltway, over Arlington's objections. The bill is written so that only an auto-based option could be considered. Even when 66 already has a transit option that could be improved and extended in any number of ways that could move more people than an extra lane.

David LaRock's bills

David LaRock (R-Sterling) is sponsoring HB635, a draconian bill that would block NVTA from funding new transit projects, instead forcing them to fund only projects that help highways.

And just in case NVTA can build a case that transit projects do help highways, LaRock also filed HB653 to restrict it to using no more than 25% of its own money on mass transportation projects, no matter what.

Finally, LaRock is sponsoring two bills attempting to override the local authority that sets toll rates on the Dulles Toll Road.

HB647 would outlaw use of any state money on construction of Phase 2 of the Silver Line, unless the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) matches the toll rate for its airport lanes (currently free) to the toll rate on the Dulles Toll Road.

This is seen as a move that would force MWAA to lower its overall toll rates, since it wants to keep its Dulles access lanes as free or cheap as possible.

Lastly, LaRock has also sponsored HJ84, a resolution that asks Congress to intervene and lower the tolls set by MWAA.

Others

Christopher Stolle (R-Virginia Beach) proposes HB2, requiring that all allocations to the Northern Virginia highway district go towards highway congestion relief projects. It's not clear whether that means only VDOT money, or all funding for Northern Virginia including NVTA money, but either way it would prohibit spending on things like safety or maintenance projects.

Finally, David Albo (R-Lorton) is sponsoring HB281, which stops NVTA from spending money on joint projects with DC or Maryland unless the costs are borne exactly equally. This would make it harder to fund regional projects like 8-car Metro trains, and could end up costing Virginia big money on projects where it would make more sense for Virginia to contribute less than 50%.

Stark contrast

These delegates, all Republicans, represent constituencies that are from the farthest reaches of the Washington metro area, or even outside it completely. Their legislative priorities reflect a desire to ensure that people living in far-out areas can quickly drive around the region. They don't think that it's possible that making sure people closer to the region's core have more transit options could even benefit those driving from farther away.

This flies in stark contrast with NVTA, which functions well and tries to accommodate the needs of everyone. NVTA allows outer suburban jurisdictions to build the roads they want, while also allowing the more urban ones to focus on transit, cyclists, and pedestrians.

It's ironic that Republicans who emphasize small government would support something that takes away power from local governments. If you'd like Northern Virginia to have control over its transportation future, you can tell them here.

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Canaan Merchant was born and raised in Powhatan, Virginia and attended George Mason University where he studied English. He became interested in urban design and transportation issues when listening to a presentation by Jeff Speck while attending GMU. He lives in Falls Church.  

Comments

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Great the corrupt CTB of highway builders and home developers will pick which transportation projects should be built.

The hypocrisy of the modern day conservative is absurd. They lambaste the federal government having too much control over the states, and yet are fine with signing over state wide control for things that should be decided regionally and by each county.

Absurd. What a joke.

by Navid Roshan on Jan 22, 2014 1:36 pm • linkreport

Republican hypocrisy? Truly shocking!

Other things "free-market" republicans love to hate:
road pricing, market-based parking fees, the elimination of parking minimums, relaxed height restrictions, etc.

My point is that there are many win-win policies that get trashed by scorched earth Republican tactics that go against the very ideological notions that claim to support.

by TransitSnob on Jan 22, 2014 1:45 pm • linkreport

NR - with the exception of Arlington and Henrico Counties, no Virginia county has any responsibility for, or control of, any streets within its boundaries. That means VDOT gets to decide. You don't get local control absent responsibility. Arlington was willing to step up years ago and take over its local roads. Fairfax County is not willing to do so. The only supervisor supporting a county takeover is John Cook. If Fairfax County was willing to take over its local roads, I'd be the first to agree with you - decisions over local roads should be made locally. But when VDOT is responsible for the roads in a county, it's pretty hollow to argue transportation decisions ought to be made locally.

I do share your absolute dislike of the CTB, but it's VDOT's board of directors.

The NVTA is acceptable, although probably unconstitutional due to lack of one person-one vote, because Fairfax County (Sharon Bulova) has a veto. It would be interesting to hear her views on these bills, as well as a county takeover of local streets.

by tmt on Jan 22, 2014 1:48 pm • linkreport

One thing to keep in mind though is that just about everything that Marshall and Hugo are putting forward are in response to the small but very vocal anti-BCP folks in their districts. Hugo even said his primary goal this session is to stop the road from getting built, and apparently this is the way they are going to go about it.

Which I can imagine would be a bit of a conundrum for readers on here who are opposed to the road as well. You have to realize that the local residents opposed to the road are doing it out of pure NIMBYism and not because they had some kind of epiphany on smart-growth or conservation. They want this road scrapped, and they don't care who they throw under the bus or what they bring down with them.

by Joe on Jan 22, 2014 1:55 pm • linkreport

TMT with the removal of funding from gas tax alone this should no longer be a road only question.

I drive only 2500 miles per year and yet I will be paying well over $100 towards transportation. My tax money should be spent on things I ALSO need like better bus service, better transit options, and non-sov infrastructure.

This bait and switch is absurd and threatens to create more outer beltway solutions instead of good town planning.

If VDOT and the state pull this then I say Fairfax should pull out and stop sending any tax money from this bogus plan to Richmond. Let richmond find its own funding for roads without its cash cow then.

by Navid Roshan on Jan 22, 2014 1:57 pm • linkreport

Really, Art. IV of the Constitution resolves this issue.... (tongue in cheek). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Article_Four_of_the_United_States_Constitution#New_states

by JDC on Jan 22, 2014 1:58 pm • linkreport

BTW, that comes out to an effective tax rate of $1.40 PER GALLON OF FUEL

Reconcile that thought conservatives. This is punitive and political, not based in proper and insightful policy

by Navid Roshan on Jan 22, 2014 1:58 pm • linkreport

Just one point of historical accuracy. Arlington and Henrico still control their local roads because they never ceded control of them in the first place. The state takeover of local roads occurred during the days of the Byrd machine and most counties willingly agreed to get state money for their woeful road networks. It was a faustian bargain, but in those days, "urban" counties were few.

by Paul on Jan 22, 2014 2:01 pm • linkreport

NR - There are plenty of transit projects under consideration for funding at all levels of government. Fairfax County has many transit improvements planned. DRPT funds transit projects from state money. But there are also many people in Fairfax County who want money spent on roads. No spending plan will please everyone.

BTW, Fairfax County tends to get about as much transportation money as it sends to Richmond, according to Senator Janet Howell, who has sat on the Senate Finance Committee for many years. Where we get screwed is on money for K-12 education. The LCI formula does not recognize differences in cost of living, so Fairfax County sends dollars and gets pennies for K-12.

Much of the support for the Outer Beltway (which I oppose and have testified against) is coming from businesses tied to Dulles Airport. MWAA has high costs at Dulles with a declining revenue base. Rather than cut costs and try to bring in low-price airlines, MWAA and associated businesses are looking for subsidies for Dulles' costs, such as the airfreight scheme and developing airport land for non-aviation purposes. Both of those schemes are tied to the Outer Beltway, which, of course, has other supporters.

Paul - thanks for the info. I was not aware of the details about Henrico and Arlington Counties.

by tmt on Jan 22, 2014 2:17 pm • linkreport

[Deleted for violating the comment policy.] DRPT? With its 64 million per year budget vs VDOTs multi billion?

[Deleted for violating the comment policy] MORE of your taxmoney going towards projects outside of Fairfax. Enjoy that, so that billy in Culpeper can get to work 5 minutes faster via a new highway.

This has nothing to do with roads this has to do with highways. The formulas all are biased for major highway projects. The CTB afterall was the entity that brought us such genius solutions as a 1+ billion 460 bypass, the outer beltway, and Coal fields expressways.

If this were to pass, I will move. It would be the final straw of idiot conservatism which sadly I used to be a part of. All of this anti-transit crap has gone far enough. Lastly, if FAIRFAX RESIDENTS want transit, they should get transit. Who is VDOT/Richmond to pull funding from 1.2 million people's choice for their use of funds?

Either remove all state collection all together, or stop stealing from Fairfax to fill the glut of rural Virginia.

by Navid Roshan on Jan 22, 2014 2:39 pm • linkreport

*Breath*

Thankfully, the bait and switch has little chance of passing a democratic senate and a democratic governor. Still doesn't mean these people aren't complete jokes and should be voted out of office (especially LaRock the home builder in Hamilton Virginia and David "Vote Against my constituents" Albo).

by Navid Roshan on Jan 22, 2014 2:46 pm • linkreport

NR - you really don't listen to anyone. There are many people who live in Fairfax County who want to see road improvements. Are their desires to be ignored? Where do you get the idea that people in Fairfax County only want transit?

The County's 2012 Dialog on Transportation's survey showed almost 79% of the respondents commuted in SOVs, with 10% taking bus or rail. While the survey was not scientific, the County thought it was representative. There was strong support for both road improvements and transit, but not just transit. The State and the County need to address all of the transportation needs within budget limits.

by tmt on Jan 22, 2014 3:14 pm • linkreport

@TMT, [Deleted for violating the comment policy.] I know one thing though, Fairfax residents want to decide the use of their own 6% sales tax (1% increase vs only a 0.25% increase elsewhere) which has nothing to do with how much they drive.

Why should the CTB (a crony group of home builders which disproportionately represent rural areas via VDOT districts instead of by population) have more say than our own voices?

You continue to fight strawmen though and keep thinking that the CTB will have any plans for any projects in Fairfax. There aren't any new highways here, therefore the CTB will see it as pointless to provide new roads. You think better streets, and more street grid are something that a state wide home builder organization will support?

[This policy] will see more and more of your money going to Suffolk county. [Deleted.] As I said it has a snowballs chance in hell of passing so I'm not going to stress about it anymore.

by Navid Roshan on Jan 22, 2014 3:27 pm • linkreport

PS, good stat on 70% SOV driving (btw I have lived here my entire life so I really wish you would stop the condescending teaching me about Fairfax speeches, not to mention unlike you I a transportation engineer who has actually designed roads). Here's another stat;

From the Washington Post 2010 poll

"29. Changing topics, in general, do you think government efforts to reduce traffic congestion in the Washington region should be focused more on expanding and building roads, or on providing more public transportation options, such as trains or buses?

Focus on roads Provide more options No opinion
3/29/10 30 62 8"

Seems Fairfax has spoken, despite you not liking the results.

PS your numbers are also outdated per that poll its 65% SOV. Not shocking you are pro-road only solutions though. Perhaps you need to listen and note that the trends are changing and you are lagging way behind in thinking about this in a better and new way.

by Navid Roshan on Jan 22, 2014 3:38 pm • linkreport

Sorry its hard to tell from that copy paste, but thats 62% of Fairfax residents who want more options vs only 30% that want to focus on roads. ;)

Buh bye

by Navid Roshan on Jan 22, 2014 3:39 pm • linkreport

Sorry edit button, that was Metro wide.

This was the survey I am speaking too

"At least 66 percent of people surveyed in the Fairfax County Transit Network Study believe transit infrastructure is vital for the future of the Washington, D.C. metro area’s future."

http://vienna.patch.com/groups/politics-and-elections/p/study-shows-support-for-county-transit-network-but-le5abe053294

As well as this tid-bit

Of the survey responders:

86 percent said transit options were either “important” or “very important” for reducing travel time
79 percent said transit was “important” or “very important” for increasing economic development.
Nearly 70 percent of survey responders also said that transit would play an important role in the development of mixed-use activity centers such as Tysons Corner, Reston and Baileys Crossroads.

by Navid Roshan on Jan 22, 2014 3:47 pm • linkreport

While I don't think that any of these bills will pass with the Democratic Senate and Governor, it is still important to keep the pressure on our representatives.

by Thad on Jan 22, 2014 4:17 pm • linkreport

"The County's 2012 Dialog on Transportation's survey showed almost 79% of the respondents commuted in SOVs, with 10% taking bus or rail... There was strong support for both road improvements and transit, but not just transit."

That's a classic logical fallacy. That's like saying that "79% of people who can only eat apples prefer apples to oranges." I am sure there are many people who commute in a single-occupancy vehicle because they have no other choice, and the same goes for people who take transit. However, that doesn't mean that people who currently drive to work would not like to be able to take transit.

by Adam Lewis on Jan 22, 2014 4:39 pm • linkreport

Is that the same David LaRock who is a home builder out in Loudon County?

by thecharlee on Jan 22, 2014 6:12 pm • linkreport

Yep, he needs my money via the CTB so that the outer beltway can be built because after all Loudoun county tax payers aren't numerous enough to generate the capital necessary, so he has to steal money from Fairfax to pay for it so that he can make money selling homes 50 miles away from any commercial business district.

by Navid Roshan on Jan 22, 2014 6:48 pm • linkreport

Tea Party Socialism again !

First they cut taxes on fuel (which was already WAY too low to pay for roads & highways) and raise sales and hotel taxes.

Now they want to steal the extra NOVA sales taxes for what they want.

A thought. Why not repeal the NOVA only sales tax and replace it with a NOVA only gas & diesel tax ?

by Alan Drake on Jan 23, 2014 7:08 am • linkreport

@tmt: you're arguing a straw man. The current process will *not* produce only transit projects for Fairfax, and nobody is seriously arguing that there be no road improvements. The sole "my way and the highway" approach is by those pro-road advocates who are attempting to prevent any spending on anything other than new road initiatives.

by Mike on Jan 23, 2014 8:56 am • linkreport

[Deleted for violating the comment policy.]

I'm not arguing against transit. I support it and use it. But there are many other county residents who want road improvements as well. Most residents want to see money spent on projects that reduce traffic congestion be they transit or road projects. For example, every large community organization in northern Fairfax County is working to get money to widen Route 7 west of Tysons for both auto traffic and expanded transit. I don't think they would be supporting this expenditure if it was only road capacity or only transit capacity. They want to see both.

The big problem in Virginia has been that money has often been spent on projects that enable more development rather than improve people's ability to get from point A to point B. By forcing all projects to be evaluated against standards, there is an attempt to stop subsidizing developers. Some of this is road-related, such as the Outer Beltway and some is related to Dulles Rail. There is no evidence whatsoever that the Silver Line and the added density it enables will result in any reduction of traffic congestion. Indeed, all public documents show the opposite. (NR, I realize you believe these documents are wrong, but I know at least 20 engineers who think they are correct. Please give them the same respect you want.)

The transfer of the DTR to MWAA and the imposition of extremely high tolls to fund the Silver Line is viewed by many as the same type of transfer of taxpayer (driver money) to landowners. Another big subsidy. The landowners who received unlimited FAR, subject to overall caps, should have been required to pay billions, not millions for the construction of the Silver Line.

I know how the NVTA works. Fairfax County has an effective veto over any project because of the county's size. The County has killed projects it didn't like. Source: Tom Biesiadny, director of FC DOT. So if the 70% of the additional tax money raised in NoVA and controlled by NVTA is spent on any projects, it is done with the approval of Fairfax County elected officials.

It's time to ensure that public money is spent on transportation projects that benefit the people who pay the taxes and fees whether the projects are road or transit or bike or pedestrian.

by tmt on Jan 23, 2014 10:34 am • linkreport

I'm not arguing against transit. I support it and use it. But there are many other county residents who want road improvements as well. Most residents want to see money spent on projects that reduce traffic congestion be they transit or road projects.

Which is why it's important to oppose these specific bills. Because they mandate that the various orgs responsible for transportation planning ignore transit options. Someone who is generally agnostic about mode should be worried that legislators want some modes to be ignored outright.

by Canaan on Jan 23, 2014 10:44 am • linkreport

I have little doubt that northern Virginia delegation, including all from Alex, arlco, and inner parts of FFX, and all dems from outer parts of FFX, will oppose these bills, which will likely die in the Senate or be vetoed.

Residents of Fairfax county who do not like the choices made by FFX county should vote for new leadership in FFX, not use Richmond to hobble what FFX and NoVa can do.

The only way to address congestion in FFX is with a fully multimodal approach, that in addition to selected road capacity, integrates transit, pedestrian and bike access. That is the vision of most jurisdictions in Nova - and our delegations would not have voted for the transport bill if that vision had been excluded.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 23, 2014 10:56 am • linkreport

Bingo,

I still don't understand where TMT gets the idea that I only want money spent on transit. That is not supported by anything I said above. In fact I would love if Fairfax would have some money to start building very specific road projects like the Jones Branch Drive connector which will arguably solve more traffic problems in Tysons than Route 7 widening ever would. How about some more street grid roads like that?

I'm also in favor of the Braddock Road project, the 28 interchange project, all sorts of projects that make sense for intercity travel.

But I am sure as heck not in favor of the following

1) Someone in Richmond removing all ability from people in Fairfax in deciding which improvements they want (be they road, walkway, transit, or teleportation). Richmond should but out, they've done enough damage as is with their one solution fits all mentality

2) Someone in the exurbs demanding that ONLY highway projects be considered for the use of those funds, which basically would mean that all of the money would?... GET FUNNELED TO ONLY EXURBS. Especially from someone who wants to spend 1 billion dollars on an outer beltway (David LaRock) so that he can sell homes as a sleeping community in Hamilton Virginia.

by Navid Roshan-Afshar on Jan 23, 2014 11:01 am • linkreport

@Navid: not all of the money would be funneled to the exurbs, some would be spent to bulldoze the inner suburbs to create roads to the exurbs. It's a win-win.

by Mike on Jan 23, 2014 11:09 am • linkreport

@ AWalkerInTheCity

"The only way to address congestion in FFX is with a fully multimodal approach, that in addition to selected road capacity, integrates transit, pedestrian and bike access. That is the vision of most jurisdictions in Nova - and our delegations would not have voted for the transport bill if that vision had been excluded."

Basically agree. We need all modes as well as more telecommuting. We would be well served if more work was done on increasing network security so more work could be done remotely.

All - I don't think there is a full appreciation as to the amount of corruption that exists with respect to the entire most of the burden on DTR drivers. This is a huge and unfair transfer of wealth from ordinary people to the Silver Line funding, most especially to the imposition of Tysons landowners and Bechtel. It is not only the drivers and some of their employers who are pushing this issue, but also residents of the neighborhoods that are experiencing substantial increases in cut-through traffic by drivers seeking to avoid the higher tolls on the DTR. The unfair and economically unreasonable subsidies are causing great problems that will get only worse.

The pro-transit groups have ignored this situation largely, IMO. It needs to be addressed. IMO, the best approach would be for everyone to push for legislation that protects against future subsidies to land speculators and construction companies, whether they are involved in roads or transit. Forcing every project to meet standards will provide more benefit in the long run.

Moderators - thanks for being even handed.

by tmt on Jan 23, 2014 11:12 am • linkreport

Interestingly enough the most vocal politicians against the Outer Beltway are Republicans:

Tim Hugo
Frank Wolf
Dick Black
Bob Marshall
Richard Stuart
Rich Anderson
Jill Holtzman Vogel
Scott Lingamfelter
David Ramadan
Randy Minchew
Michael Webert
Pete Candland
Maureen Caddigan

And who can forget Cuccinelli, who was rallying against the Outer Beltway when McAuliffe was still not taking an official position on it (but claimed to support it during a Dulles Chamber of Commerce meeting).

For these folks it's more about taking the power away from an appointed board which clearly supports the road, more than it is about taking power away from local jurisdictions to implement transit (though I suspect many of them do support roads over transit).

by Joe on Jan 23, 2014 11:16 am • linkreport

"But when VDOT is responsible for the roads in a county, it's pretty hollow to argue transportation decisions ought to be made locally."

They need to be made cooperatively. If VDOT is doing mtnce, Fairfax can't dictate when the streets are closed for repair, what materials should be used, etc. But in terms of transport policy, there is no reason VDOT should be deciding infra priorities, say. Its up to Comm leadership, ultimately coming from the Governor, to ensure VDOT cooperates with local goals on complete streets, etc. I am sure VDOT will prove flexible in that regard/

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 23, 2014 11:16 am • linkreport

"I don't think there is a full appreciation as to the amount of corruption that exists with respect to the entire most of the burden on DTR drivers."

We've been hearing this complaint for a very long time. Personally I believe the silver line will (indeed already has) improved values of residences along the corridor (which did much better through the bubble than the rest of the region) and that the toll is thus a value capture mechanism. I understand you disagree. That's okay. But it does not need to be brought into EVERY discussion of the silver line, every discussion of Tysons, and into a discussion of Va Legislation that does not specifically address either the Silver Line or Tysons.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 23, 2014 11:21 am • linkreport

@tmt: that all sounds good, as long as you talk in the abstract. in concrete terms, at VDOT, it seems to mean picking standards that justify the projects already chosen, and ignoring other concerns as not relevant in the standard. If there's a real desire to discuss standards that incorporate the concerns of non-SOVs, then we can have a real conversation. That would be a huge shift in mindset, however.

(Examples: VDOT worries quite a bit about how long motorists have to wait at stop lights and stop signs, but has no requirements concerning how long pedestrians have to wait to get from one corner to another. VDOT prefers not to force motorists to make multiple right turns rather than putting in multiple left turn lanes [which are extremely hostile to non-motorized users trying to cross a street], but has no problems making cyclists cross a street multiple times to follow a bike path which changes from side to side.)

by Mike on Jan 23, 2014 11:23 am • linkreport

My report from Richmond: House Transportation Subcommittee #4 rejected Hb41, 84, 425, 635, 653, 824

Both Repubs and Dems didn't want to reopen last year's transportation deal. Supervisor Marty Nohe, who chairs the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, did a great job defending NVTA.

However, HB426 (LeMunyon) passed out of House Transportation. It's a study now but still presses for 2 to 4 lane widening of I-66 inside the beltway.

by Stewart Schwartz on Jan 23, 2014 11:29 am • linkreport

@tmt Every transportation project will benefit some property owners and not others. The main beneficiary of the Outer Beltway would be the landowners who could develop land along the route - the same ones who are pushing for the project in the first place, paid for by many Virginians who would see no benefit. By American standards this isn't corruption - it's how transportation projects get built (not that it is the right/most efficient way to do things).

DTR drivers are being asked to subsidize the Silver Line because they will directly benefit - higher land values, an alternative route to work, and less congestion on the DTR itself. From a rational perspective there is absolutely nothing wrong with this because people living in Loudon already receive massive subsidies to support their exurban lifestyles. They don't pay the true cost of the roads they drive on, the congestion they create, the infrastructure (and maintenance on said infrastructure) to serve their sprawling developments, the gas they use, the pollution they create and energy they use to heat their inefficient homes. Subsidies that city dwellers don't receive and have to help pay for. A year of driving on the DTR won't even come close to paying for the transportation subsidies personal auto drivers receive, let alone all the other suburban subsidies. We shouldn't be subsidizing inefficient, wasteful, and negative externality-creating modes of transit and urban forms.

by nbluth on Jan 23, 2014 11:36 am • linkreport

TMT it might surprise you that I am also against the current raising of the toll road (I think it should be tied to inflation only and not used to fund the silver line).

However, it was the only option available because at the time and still to date the State refuses to fully implement its obligations to even handed transportation issues.

I agree that the only people that should pay for Silver Line are land owners near the stations (via special tax including the airport itself) and the state/counties through their standard taxing.

Unfortunately, many people stonewalled that at the time of the financing discussions because they are anti-transit.

If you want DTR relief you should be angry at the fact that transfer to MWAA was the only way that the project was being allowed to be built because of people who refused to see transportation money finally be evenly split in this state.

Either way, the silver line was the highest priority in Fairfax to all people, for congestion relief of the growing Herndon to Tysons corridor, for future commercial growth to help offset residential taxes, and to help mobilize Dulles as an international hub. It was and still is the centerpiece to bringing northern virginia into it's modern identity as a tech hub.

Either way. If the decision were to be left only to Richmond (to get back on topic as to the point of this story) it never would have been built AND THAT is the problem at hand.

by Navid Roshan-Afshar on Jan 23, 2014 11:48 am • linkreport

The silver line/DTR situation was pretty unique, no matter if you think it was a good or awful idea. I don't really see those circumstances being repeated in any future project. MWAA probably isn't going to build anymore metro lines and it's unlikely that Transurban will want to use its HOT lane money to build a metro line somewhere.

by Canaan on Jan 23, 2014 11:52 am • linkreport

@ AWalkerInTheCity

I bring up the funding issues regarding Tysons because they are a key motivator of the legislation at issue. It is driving the legislators and their agenda. I am on an email list which includes these legislators and people pushing them on this legislation. I've received hundreds of emails over the years where these issues have been discussed. I assumed discussion on this blog would be advanced if the participants knew what was driving these bills. You may agree or disagree with the underlying positions; I'm just sharing what I know from reading the emails and talking to proponents of the legislation. By ignoring this, does it make the motivation go away? The transfer of the DTR to MWAA and the subsequent imposition of high tolls to fund the Silver Line is behind much of these bills. I've been told so by some of the patrons over the years.

VDOT has been working more closely with localities, which is good. But so long as Fairfax County does not take over responsibility for local roads, VDOT will call the shots. You can talk to anyone at FC DOT and get the same basic answer. Ditto for county supervisors and state legislators. The statutes make VDOT responsible for the roads and it attempts to do so. Does this mean local concerns are sometimes ignored? Yes. If Fairfax County were in charge of local roads, might different policy decisions be made in some instances? Yes. But the bottom line is Fairfax County strongly opposes any devolution of its local streets to the county. As such, it can only work with VDOT to achieve mutually acceptable results. It seems to me to be wasted energy to rant against this situation absent a push for the County to take responsibility for its local roads.

But even if Fairfax County were to take over local roads, VDOT would control major roads and would still be bound to follow federal rules for those roads that are part of the national highway system. Decisions about Routes 7 and 123, for example, are controlled in significant part by federal rules. And I agree, those rules (as well as VDOT's) are heavily focused on automobiles.

by tmt on Jan 23, 2014 11:54 am • linkreport

"Decisions about Routes 7 and 123, for example, are controlled in significant part by federal rules."

@TMT except when it goes through McLean, Vienna, and Falls Church of course right?

The feds only seem to get involved when its Tysons. Strange strange strange.

By this point I assume you are all for Route 123 being widened to the same width as in Tysons then in McLean right? In your neighborhood?
Afterall the traffic on 123 isn't in Tysons (mind you I drive this EVERY SINGLE DAY) and the lanes are essentially free flow until you get to the pinch at DTR heading into McLean proper and when you get to the pinch before the Westwood Country Club in Vienna.

If you don't believe me I'd love to put a dashcam up and show you anytime you'd want.

by Navid Roshan-Afshar on Jan 23, 2014 11:58 am • linkreport

what canaan said. The DTR situation is unique. Its not relevant to anything else. Its understandable people who see their tolls go up are pissed, its understandable that they do NOT attribute the strong market performance of their houses to the Silver Line, and its understandable that pols propose bills to assuage their anger. And that such bills are then defeated. It does seem though that several of these bills went far beyond DTR and SL.

VDOT may "call the shots" but they are answerable to the legislature and the Governor. Who are in turn concerned with what leaders of a populous locality think.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 23, 2014 12:07 pm • linkreport

"VDOT would control major roads and would still be bound to follow federal rules for those roads that are part of the national highway system. Decisions about Routes 7 and 123, for example, are controlled in significant part by federal rules. "

We've been over this before, the widenings were not due to FHWA requirements.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 23, 2014 12:08 pm • linkreport

hmm, irony? I don't know. Republicans in Virginia and in many other places have never hidden their preference to use state legislation as a way to bludgeon local jurisdictions and transit and sustainable transportation specifically.

You mentioned Albo. He bludgeoned ArCo's position on HOT lanes through Arlington by eliminating their ability to collect a hotel bed tax to fund tourism.

Although I think that it is fair to criticize Republicans for _hypocrisy_ on their ostensible pro-local control position, which in practice, isn't how they act and legislate.

2. DTR is somewhat "unique." It happens that the drivers are extranormally taxed to fund the Metro. But that happened because the State of Virginia wasn't willing to pay into the subway expansion at the amount required and so this because the second best solution financially. But it isn't fair, sure.

I am not sure how the funding for the Silver Line construction works. For the funding of the NOMA _infill_ Metro station, nearby property owners pay about 1/3 of the cost through a special tax district. Each of the other thirds was paid by the city and the Federal government.

Note that probably that special tax district could probably have been made larger, but at the time (late 1990s) it was a pretty novel approach and probably there was opposition, especially from (slightly) farther out property owners who didn't see the value.

by Richard Layman on Jan 23, 2014 12:26 pm • linkreport

@ Richard Layman - Silver Line funding, Phase 1. The landowners' share was capped at $400 M. Uncle Sam's contribution was limited to $900 M. I believe Virginia contributed $50 M in cash, with it holding the bag for the remaining costs. The Kaine administration addressed the issue by transferring control over the DTR to MWAA, and MWAA's agreement to impose tolls to cover the remaining obligation. Everyone was capped except for the DTR drivers, and, as you recognize, there is considerable anger over this situation. This opposition and anger is driving much of the legislation being discussed on this blog.

Tysons landowners will tell you it was very hard to get the Phase I tax district organized. Without a cap, it probably would not have been approved. The landowners were not able to reach agreement on a second tax district to fund other road and transit improvements, which is why the County imposed the service district on Tysons that also caught residential owners. That too has created a great deal of anger among those affected. Anger does not need to be rational. But it often drives human behavior. And anger over the DTR tolls is driving quite a bit in the public policy arena. That anger and pressure on elected officials will continue so long as the tolls are high.

Local control. I am sure Fairfax County could be successful in taking over control of its local roads through legislation. The County opposes this for two reasons: 1) fear the money sent up from Richmond would not be as much as VDOT spends in Fairfax County; and 2) supervisors and FC DOT believe county residents would expect more from FC DOT than from VDOT. The county estimates it would need an extra $60 M per year to meet expectations. That's about three cents on the tax rate. Supervisors don't want to get into that one.

I don't think the GA would repeal the Dillon Rule in exchange for home rule. I've heard a number of legislators, including Democrats, fear local government would create a bad business climate if it had home rule. I think many legislators from Fairfax County would support giving the county more authority on administrative topics.

by tmt on Jan 23, 2014 12:53 pm • linkreport

@TMT

The idea that some how Fairfax gets more from the state than it gives is outdated based on 10 year old funding levels for both education (as you noted) and now transportation. The state has all but abandoned any local capital projects the past 2 years and the 2014 and 2015 budgets amount to a negligible amount. Hopefully that will change with a new governor.

http://thetysonscorner.com/my-governor-the-socialist-an-introspective-of-gop-virginia/

by Navid Roshan-Afshar on Jan 23, 2014 1:16 pm • linkreport

To summarize the link

We(NOVA) send over 11 billion to Richmond and receive back 2.2 Billion.

The reason why fairfax is against county maintenance of roads is because the state will still take the tax money and we will get the double whammy of also having to pay for all maintenance and capital. VDOT and Richmond wins, Fairfax gets more autonomy but at the cost of massive losses in tax revenue. Then they will have to raise taxes to pick up the states obligation, and people will kvetch about how those crazy NOVA liberals are raising taxes again.

by Navid Roshan-Afshar on Jan 23, 2014 1:19 pm • linkreport

BTW,

Hybrid tax just got repealed. I love when elections actually mean changes in policy. Hence why I am not to afraid of these bad proposals by (R)s from NOVA. They dont have any chance of passing.

by Navid Roshan-Afshar on Jan 23, 2014 1:23 pm • linkreport

"That anger and pressure on elected officials will continue so long as the tolls are high."

over time the population will consist of people who moved in after the tolls had increased. They are less likely to feel the anger. Of course they also will not be the beneficiaries of the relative increases in home values in northern Fairfax and eastern Loudoun.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 23, 2014 1:27 pm • linkreport

Just checked the General Assembly's Legislative Information System. It should be noted that all three of Bob Marshall's bills were tabled by the subcommittee. One of Lim JeMunyon's bills died (HB 425, increasing # of GA legislators on NVTA board), but one passed committee: HB426 which requires VDOT to add widening I-66 inside the Beltway to the 6-year-plan.

Two of David LaRock's bills (HB635 and HB653, both dealing with NVTA funding transit projects) were also tabled.

There has been no apparent progress (but no tabling either) on the remaining bills listed in the article.

by Froggie on Jan 23, 2014 1:39 pm • linkreport

Re: These bills don't stand a chance to get anywhere

1) The Dem control of the Senate currently hinges on the 9 vote lead the Dem candidate has in the special election for Northam's seat. If the recount reverses the result, Repubs control the Senate.

2) McAuliffe has plenty of ties to auto-oriented developers and campaign contributors. His Transport Secy Aubrey Lane is an apartment and commercial real estate investor who has been one of the chief backers of the US 460 project. In 2013, Layne actually donated more money to Republican candidates than Dem ones but he clearly straddles the fence to maximize his influence.

by Falls Church on Jan 23, 2014 2:43 pm • linkreport

@Navid

Don't the Silver Line pylons at 123 & DTR preclude 123 from being expanded? Each side of 123 has a massive concrete pylon abutting it. Prior to Silver Line construction, the ROW seemed to be there for an additional lane from DTR to Old Dominion (and from Chain Bridge Rd. to GW Parkway) - was always paranoid the state would try to step in a expand 123. Was very happy when I saw those 123-bounding pylons going up.

by nbluth on Jan 23, 2014 3:25 pm • linkreport

That is a new consideration for sure, but prior to that McLean was very much against 123 being widened anyways, hence why it never was.

I'm not for 123 being widened in either Vienna or McLean btw, my point was to highlight the hypocrisy of those who are pro road widening (ie many conservatives in McLean) except when it is in their neighborhood (ie many conservatives in McLean).

And also to point out that millions were spent to widen 123 in Tysons which did absolutely nothing to actually dissipate the congestion source (the bottlenecks at McLean and Vienna). So now we have a pointless 10 lane wide cross section at intx in Tysons that does nothing to improve traffic, but it sure made some NIMBYs in the surrounding communities happy I guess.

You are correct about the pylons today. It would be very difficult (without splitting inbound directions by a secondary access road lane) to get another lane on 123. I'm sure that makes many McLean residents happy... just for the wrong reasons.

by Navid Roshan-Afshar on Jan 23, 2014 3:32 pm • linkreport

NR- My source for my statement that, in transportation, Fairfax County has been receiving more money than it has been paying in taxes that go for transportation is Senator Janet Howell, who sits on the Finance Committee. I've heard similar statements from Fairfax County officials. e.g., Biesiadny, Bulova, Foust, Smyth. It's quite possible that this will shift, with the completion of major projects in NoVA and the beginning of more projects in Hampton Roads. I've heard confirmation of this from the same public officials. What is your source on transportation only. I would agree with you that, overall, we send much, much more money south than we receive in benefits or state funding.

Moreover, the Mark Warner tax increases were passed by votes from Fairfax County and from Democrats to boot. Chap Petersen and Steve Shannon were holding out for more money for Fairfax County Public Schools (and Warner needed their votes). After making a great effort, they finally caved and the bill passed. I asked Senator Howell the net cost to Fairfax County for the higher taxes. For the first year, it was slightly more than $107 M ($117 for the next year). FCPS informed me the new revenue for FCPS was about $7 M (first year - no projection for year two). How is this the fault of Republicans? The Democrats did not even insist that new school funding for K-12 be on a per-student basis. They made the fiscal relationship between Fairfax County and the Commonwealth worse. This is a fact.

I agree with your statement that McLean opposes widening 123 north of the DTR. Your characterization of this opposition being from conservatives is incorrect. McLean is pretty well split between the parties and most Democrats I know also oppose the widening. On the other hand, I have not heard any desire by VDOT to widen 123 north of the DTR. Whether that is based on studies, opposition or both, I do not know. As you know, there is strong support for widening Route 7 from Tysons west.

AWITC - Over time, people may become more accustomed to the higher DTR tolls. I don't believe people angry about tolls to build the Silver Line will be comforted about higher values for their homes, as that also results in higher real estate taxes. People under water might have a different view. Keep in mind DTR drivers are being forced to pay for much of Dulles Rail Phase 2 as well. Moreover, the existing tolls are pushing more drivers off the DTR and into neighborhood streets, which, in turn, is generating more anger about the tolls.

There may not be too much that can be done about the DTR tolls, but I think we will see more legislation that would prevent future funding of rail or road projects from high tolls on existing facilities. I don't think home values enter into the equation despite the logic of your argument.

by tmt on Jan 24, 2014 8:57 am • linkreport

At this point, about the only thing that could be done for DTR tolls would be for Virginia to pump more state money into the Silver Line, thereby reducing/negating the need for major toll increases to pay for the Silver Line. But the General Assembly isn't willing to do that.

by Froggie on Jan 24, 2014 9:52 am • linkreport

@ Froggie - Correct across the board.

But this also explains the anger. It was well-known among those following Tysons and Silver Line issues before any final decisions were made that, a transfer of the DTR to fund much of the Silver Line's construction costs would result in extremely high tolls. So where were the elected officials from both parties? Silent. No one, except for Cuccinelli and a couple others, had the ____ to stand up and say "the emperor had no clothes."

And, of course, the media figured anything with tracks and lots of steel girders had to be good. They did not report the truth. When anyone argued the official position was incorrect, they were ignored or contradicted. The goal was to keep the public in the dark so they could not derail the big deal (no pun intended).

The public should have been told before the Silver Line was finally approved that DTR drivers would pay extremely high tolls to fund the Silver Line, instead of modest 25 to 50 cents per use increases. People were lied to and information purposely withheld to get approval of Dulles Rail and the rezoning of Tysons. Irrespective of what one thinks about the value or importance of the Silver Line or an urbanized Tysons on the merits, the process used to keep the public in the dark was wrong. A grand jury should have been summoned.

by tmt on Jan 24, 2014 10:26 am • linkreport

@TMT the problem was Cuccinelli and the others opposed it by saying it shouldnt be built. That was stupid. It needs to be built, they simply didn't provide adequate alternatives to both keeping tolls at adequate rates AND building the system.

Thats throwing that baby out with the bathwater; and sorry but the investment in the Dulles Corridor is too important to just throw up your hands and say, oh well.

by Navid Roshan-Afshar on Jan 24, 2014 11:33 am • linkreport

And btw, while the price increase in the short term has been significant, it is no where near the fear tactic reports of immediate changes to $8.50 tolls. Considering almost every toll road in america averages HIGHER per mile tolls than the DTR, I think one should re-examine the whole "emperor has no clothes" situation to see who the real emperors are.

http://www.ncsl.org/documents/transportation/NCSL_Comparison_of_Tolling_Rates_Feb_2013.pdf

by Navid Roshan-Afshar on Jan 24, 2014 11:35 am • linkreport

NR - I understand and respect your views. But the problems with Dulles Rail remain: 1) the project was not cost-justified under federal standards, which, in turn, means there are some economic problems going forward; and 2) the funding plan did not collect enough from the benefiting landowners. As Mr. Layman notes, the NOMA station is being funded 1/3 by landowners. If the Silver Line had been funded the same way, there would be much less need for the higher tolls and the resulting reactions.

Of course, had the landowners' share not been capped at $400 million, there is a good chance they would have rejected participation in the Silver Line's construction costs. And if the landowners, who gain density both from the Old 1990s Comp Plan and the New 2010 Comp Plan would not be willing to pay 1/3 of the rail costs, there is a good likelihood rail would not have been built - at least not initially.

Most elected officials would tell you off the record the Silver Line stopped being about transportation and became a mechanism to allow for massive increases in density at Tysons and other spots along the rail line. The project was never cost-justified, but that did not matter. It was going to be built in any event. I agree the GA would never have funded the full cost of the Silver Line. But since it was going to be constructed in any event and the federal and landowners' shares were fixed, picking the DTR drivers' pockets was about the only available approach.

My view is that developers who gain massive increases in wealth due to replanning/rezoning due to infrastructure improvements should pay the bulk of the costs for such infrastructure. Stated in another way, profits should come from building great structures that are sold and rented for higher amounts than any existing buildings. If that rule would be in place, we'd see economically feasible development occur, along with cost-effective infrastructure. Tysons would have happened only if the higher sales prices and rents could recover all the infrastructure costs. Outlying development would occur only if the higher sales prices and rents could recover all the infrastructure costs, such as the so-called Outer Beltway. I don't think the landowners would fund it.

by tmt on Jan 24, 2014 11:59 am • linkreport

I dont disagree with what you are saying, however your focus remains on the big buildings. The big buildings are not the sole cause of traffic, nor are they the only ones making millions. For years we have allowed rampant housing development in subdivisions to essentially be done at no cost to those developers (outside of 1-3% contributions for rec trails and schools).

Those are where all the cars come from in the first place, but they get off scott free.

I agree Tysons land owners should have paid closer to 25-33% of the cost (about another 300 to 500 million more). But that difference of 8% should have been picked up by zones along the entire dulles corridor, not just commercial land developers (including the residential lots within 1 mile of the stations), and it should have happened decades ago as they were being built.

And at the end of the day, the real cost that we aren't seeing from the GA's hatred towards transit is the escalation of costs that occurs when a project has to go through finance backing bonds. It causes additional feasibility estimates that create a ground floor on price and escalates the final cost.

This project could have been built for 40% less if the state had simply moved forward as sole funder and instead taken payment back in terms of special taxes and fees on MWAA instead.

Either way, what is done is done, and perhaps people can use this as a poster child of why this whole getting fancy with private public partnerships on major infrastructure just over complicates and deteriorates the end goal (to reduce cost).

by Navid Roshan-Afshar on Jan 24, 2014 12:22 pm • linkreport

Most elected officials would tell you off the record the Silver Line stopped being about transportation and became a mechanism to allow for massive increases in density at Tysons and other spots along the rail line.

That's an awfully artificial distinction, isn't it?

What transportation projects are solely for the sake of transportation?

by Alex B. on Jan 24, 2014 1:02 pm • linkreport

@ Alex B By that is meant elected officials knew going in that the Silver Line would provide no relief in traffic congestion, but it would allow for the upsizing of Tysons and points west. At the same time, they were misleading the public into thinking the Silver Line would reduce traffic congestion. If a business sold stock with this level of misrepresentation, the SEC would be all over it. And if new transportation facilities enable denser land use, including SFHs, the developers ought to pay for most of the facilities' costs.

NR - your target of 25-33% would have been more fair (although the Route 28 landowners paid 75%) than the flat $400 million. But I doubt that, with a higher and uncapped (in terms of fixed dollars) funding liability for Dulles Rail, the Phase I tax district would have been approved. As I'm sure you already know, that district covers part of Reston near the Weihle station. Absent a tax district, the Silver Line would never have been constructed. If the District's development formula had been used in Virginia, Dulles Rail would never be built. The developers don't believe it would worth that level of taxes.

I agree with your conclusion that the state would never have funded the rail project with cash, but the NoVA delegation didn't draw a line in the sand either. I asked a few legislators from both parties as to why, if Dulles Rail was so important, did they not refuse to allow legislation important to other areas of the state pass, unless there was substantial state funding for Dulles Rail. The best answer I got is "Oh we cannot do that. We have an obligation to the entire state." What a sick joke. Fight for your constituents.

I strongly agree that exurban development needs to proffer a lot more. There is no reason to subsidize any development - urban, suburban or exurban.

Dulles Rail is a mockery of the public-private partnership law. Bechtel did not put up a dime in capital. Taxpayers and DTR drivers did all the funding. So why did our elected officials allow that to happen?

by tmt on Jan 24, 2014 4:07 pm • linkreport

" Over time, people may become more accustomed to the higher DTR tolls. I don't believe people angry about tolls to build the Silver Line will be comforted about higher values for their homes, as that also results in higher real estate taxes."

Somehow when the schools improve, or other good things happen nearby, and values go up, most people do not complain of higher assessments, and in reverse, when things happen to pull values down, they are seldom thankful for the lower taxes. I respect those who disagree, but my sense is that folks want to pocket the RE value increases without paying the higher tolls. In that they are no different from landowners who want to pocket the benefit, but not pay the cost.

In any case, I think over time anger will go down, becuase new people won't remember the lower tolls. Who complains that bus fares aren't a nickel anymore?

"Moreover, the existing tolls are pushing more drivers off the DTR and into neighborhood streets, which, in turn, is generating more anger about the tolls."

The same anger from the same folks who have been angry for several years. And who are getting a widened rte 7, by the way.

"There may not be too much that can be done about the DTR tolls, but I think we will see more legislation that would prevent future funding of rail or road projects from high tolls on existing facilities."

Irrelevant. THere are no more DTRs. Its already impossible to toll existing free lanes. The new express lanes are tolled based on flow conditions, and the financing goes first to pay for the managed lanes themselves, and then to profit for the private partner. The only transit subsidy is the free movement of express buses on the managed lanes which I have heard no complaints about wrt 495, probably because the managed lanes are new lanes, and the old conditions are still available on the regular lanes. There simply is no other place in NoVa that is comparable to DTR. The horse is out of the barn. Ban any new such arrangements if you like - you are banning what isnt possible anyway.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 24, 2014 4:31 pm • linkreport

Youve got a locally unprecedented trasnport contribution from the Tysons developers. You have additional development standards, community facility proffers, etc. You have a comp plan revised to meet the input of MCA. You have an MCA veto over FCDOT views on parking at the Tysons metro stations. And you will soon have a first class transit facility. And you have RE performance better than any other suburban areas in the region. As you have pointed out many times, MCA and RCA often do get their way by dint of the effort they put in. At some point the complaining about what you did not get, is unseemly.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 24, 2014 4:39 pm • linkreport

TMT - is the TMT who is attacking AG Herring on Bacon's Rebellion, also you?

I sympathize with your bad day in Richmond. The Silver Line won't be undone, the AG can determine the unconstitutionality of the marriage amendment without getting confused by red herring (pardon) arguments about polygamy. Hey, by next week we may even have a 3 foot passing rule for bikes.

The Commonwealth is turning to the new day.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 24, 2014 5:10 pm • linkreport

@ AWITC - Thank you for your lecture on an attorney's duties and constitutional law.

Your argument about increasing real estate values for property near rail has legs. But I don't think there is any proof that people whose real estate values increase due to proximity to rail are the same or overlap considerably with those who are paying the higher tolls. Could you direct us to your source? I suspect people objecting to the higher tolls don't believe they have seen any value for their higher tolls. They aren't riding the Silver Line. Volumes on the DTR are not decreasing, but will increase substantially over time. The Tysons landowners got a sweetheart deal on Dulles Rail.

We aren't dealing with an expensive transportation investment that will provide noticeable benefit to the DTR drivers. This is not like the Springfield exchange where it is clearly easier and safer to move from one road to another. This is not like expanding the tunnel capacity in Hampton Roads. This is not even like building Metrorail in downtown D.C., where the transit mode split hits 40% at certain stations. This is a project that is enabling more development that will generate even more auto traffic.

The situation is not unlike the service district that was imposed on Tysons residents without a vote. There is some benefit for those citizens from the added roads, transit, bikes and pedestrian facilities that will be constructed, but many feel the benefits go mainly to the landowners and to outsiders who come to and go from Tysons. Many complain that what they will see is even more traffic.

I think one could make a good argument their property values will increase from the projects funded by the extra tax, but people don't seem to be viewing that way.

I don't think it does much good to argue people shouldn't be angry when they are. The bulk of the costs for the Silver Line should not have been laid on the DTR drivers, even if that were the only way the Silver Line could be constructed.

by tmt on Jan 25, 2014 10:00 am • linkreport

A couple links to historical documents of possible interest.

https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B2BSw8ftUMm-bVNPU3EyNkJGZmc/edit

https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B64IfZTFiYIAQXA5ZEdxeTl5Y3c/edit

by tmt on Jan 25, 2014 10:46 am • linkreport

While I strongly prefer the continued VDOT maintenance of both primary and secondary roads, I do clearly see that Richmond having control of every penny of transportation dollars is completely absurd. The Republicans in particular clearly have had a strategy of trying to starve the road system of money so that they can get people to beg for county roads. This way, they can then steer the majority of the gas tax toward pet projects leaving next to nothing for the "freed" counties to work with other than raising county taxes. That's the real bait and switch. They'll claim to improve roads and lower taxes by devolution then you'll end up with higher local taxes and lower engineering standards. Because the counties won't willingly take the roads over, this is their way of punishing them. In NC, these problems do not exist since the state has consistently kept gas taxes high enough to do what they need to do, but a similar dynamic is setting up in NC to threaten that as well. Their secondary roads are fine so far. Virginia's are atrocious and about 40 years behind in design standards.

I see three ways to fix this problem, but it seems nobody is talking about stuff like this. The first way is to allow counties the ability to raise money for county-specific transportation projects without hanging the county road noose around their neck for doing so. Other states have fixed a huge backlog of road repairs and upgrades allowing counties to raise a 1 cent SPLOST tax by referendum. Yes, it is a regressive tax. However, in a county like Fairfax or Loudoun where people come to shop it would raise an insane amount of money to fix secondary roads as well as partially fund some bigger projects. I had proposed before that a bill should be created that frees counties to raise money without the state withdrawing local funding. In all, every county should be less dependent on VDOT. Let the state do the bare bones maintenance of the roads (which they already do) and let the county raise the cash to do major road projects so that the system functions as intended: a consolidated road system with high standards that costs less to operate than each county having their own road department. Perhaps if necessary Fairfax could experiment with a "captive county" model like Maryland once had where the county takes over ownership, but VDOT remains responsible for routine maintenance. While that is a slippery slope, it would be preferable to the alternative of wholesale devolution if VDOT does not provide any other option.

The second option is to experiment with something that hasn't ever been tried. Realign NVTA so that it is actually operated by each county's board of supervisors and then configure it into a regional DOT. The regional DOT would then function a lot like an independent city in terms of road responsibility. They'd take over construction and maintenance of both primary and secondary routes except that they would operate as a multi-county unit. The regional DOT would include Loudoun, Prince William, Fairfax and Arlington Counties and should also include the cities and towns as well. This would allow Northern Virginia to operate like it's own state pretty much stripping Richmond of a significant amount of power while not splitting funding and responsibility with VDOT. Perhaps the regional DOT could have the separate county forces assume all VDOT facilities and equipment for the purpose of maintaining both networks, but they would operate under the umbrella of the regional DOT with decisions made regionally in Fairfax instead of Richmond so that instead of county roads, secondary roads would be redefined as "regional roads". With the bulk of the state's population in Northern Virginia, it would not longer be subsidizing the rest of the state. In fact, it would be like a "state within a state". By establishing a full highway unit operating from a multi-county level, they could receive full money from the state and establish their own rules and local autonomy without drastically increasing costs. This would also allow the region to tap into additional revenue sources from each county far more easily than they are able to do today.

The third way to fix the problem is to reduce, but not abolish the secondary system. Clearly the secondary funding is sufficient to maintain major secondary roads. It is not, however, enough to pave and reconstruct every small, mostly residential road as well. The current ratio of primary routes in Virginia is about 13% of the road system compared to 80% overall. A simple way to handle this is to cap the VDOT-owned mileage at about 35% of the road network. This means that the secondary system will account for 22% of the road network instead of 67%. VDOT will select the secondaries of most importance placing all secondary funds into maintaining these roads. Counties will be left to raise their own funding for remaining roads, but will be allowed the option of contracting with VDOT to continue to maintain those roads deeded to the county through county funding sources. Fairfax would be able to use that to raise money to fix the lesser traveled roads while having the state prioritize fixing the more expensive roads that they are currently pushing to get VDOT to switch to primary (such as Braddock/New Braddock Road).

As to transit, it's a good pursuit but the heavy dependence on state funding in a state that is grossly underfunded for every transportation expense is not going to help the problem. Clearly if they want to pursue this further, the region has to gain enough financial power and control to handle everything. People are not going to be content with bad roads forever no matter how much we all want transit. It is becoming a Catch 22. I've driven in many cities in many states, and by far Northern Virginia's roads are the worst I have ever driven. I would like to see the Orange Line extended to Centreville, but I don't want to have vehicle damage, fall off an embankment or have a head-on collision from trying to dodge potholes on a road so narrow and treacherous that there is no margin for error since Metro is rather limited in what it can reach.

by JT on Jun 3, 2014 4:54 am • linkreport

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