On January 8, VDOT has scheduled an open house to discuss the North South Corridor at the Four Points Sheraton next to the Manassas battlefield (10800 Vandor Lane, Manassas), 6:30-8:30pm.
Here are some questions to ask at the meeting:
- since funding for new construction is tight, what is the return-on-investment (ROI) of the different projects proposed for Northern Virginia?
- what is the relative cost-effectiveness of the proposed road segments to be built in the North-South Corridor, in particular the Tri-County Parkway segment, compared to other projects that might reduce congestion in Northern Virginia?
- how is cost-effectiveness measured by VDOT and the Commonwealth Transportation Board, when prioritizing proposed projects such as enhancing I-66 vs. building Tri-County Parkway?
- how many travelers will benefit each day from the new road?
- from where will those travelers come, and where will they be going (especially how many trucks carrying air freight from Dulles will use the road)?
- based on VDOT’s origin-destination studies, how many current commuters going from Gainesville to their jobs will drive on the Tri-County Parkway, and what percentage of current commuters is that?
- what is the cost of the proposed road segments to be built in the North-South Corridor, in particular the Tri-County Parkway segment?
- if those segments are funded as toll roads, what will be the toll (based on cost to build and the projected number of vehicles)?
It would be nice if there was a rational, analytical basis for building the Tri-County Parkway vs. other proposed projects. VDOT says the road is needed to “ensure adequate capacity and access to allow for projected growth in the Dulles area” (see p.8) That might justify the project, even if the road requires more government debt (and transforms traditional landscapes).
We’ve been through much debate regarding Obama’s stimulus funding for economic development. How is this different? In particular, why should the taxpayers go into debt for this project? Who will benefit from new roads that spur new development at Dulles (UPS and FedEx?) and who will pay for the infrastructure that spurs new profits at Dulles? Are the taxpayers getting a good deal here?
Sadly, it appears the taxpayers are being treated as sheep to be fleeced. VDOT is going through the motions of public involvement, but unless the decision process addresses return-on-investment alternatives, like a Business 101 decision on where to invest for future benefits… this is just an exercise to retroactively justify a decision.
VDOT reveals North-South Corridor Master Plan Study on Wednesday, December 19 – and hopes no one will come to meeting
How do you hold a public meeting, but minimize public participation? Hide the announcement on a rarely-visited website, hold the meeting during the December holidaze, and cut off public input on January 2.
That’s the game VDOT is playing with the Northern Virginia North-South Corridor Master Plan. There is a meeting Tuesday night in Loudoun County at the Stone Bridge High School, and Wednesday (December 19) from 6:30-8:30pm at the Four Points Sheraton Manassas Battlefield (at 10800 Vandor Lane, Manassas, VA 20109).
Yeah, as if, no one has any other activities scheduled this time of year. If VDOT wanted public participation… well, it’s obvious this is just an exercise to meet the legal requirements for public involvement.
After all, the proposed road does nothing to reduce current congestion on I-66. The North-South Corridor is designed to crack open the Rural Area in Prince William, the Transition Area in Loudoun, and the agricultural reserve in Montgomery County across the Potomac River.
Instead of investing scarce funds in expanding the capacity of VRE or existing roads to speed up commuter traffic headed towards DC, VDOT’s priority is… to help trucks get from Dulles Airport to I-81, leaving commuter fixes unfunded. Is that the #1 traffic problem to solve in Northern Virginia?
The VTrans 2035 Update to Virginia’s Statewide Multimodal Long-Range Transportation Policy Plan is supposed to highlight the best way for the state to invest funding from taxes/tolls/fares into the transportation network of the future. VDOT is slowly revealing its closely-guarded secret – that road priorities are disconnected from cost-benefit analyses.
If VDOT was investing for cost-effective performance rather than politics, it would be unable to justify using public funding to subsidize profits for private businesses at Dulles, or for developers of the private parcels along the road corridor.
VDOT is wise to fear that low-tax advocates might figure out the governor’s push for higher gas taxes is driven by so-called “unmet needs” as the North-South corridor. Better hold the public meeting at an inconvenient time…
According to the September 3, 2012 Washington Post, the fix is in for building the Outer Beltway/Western Transportation Corridor/Bi-County Parkway (now North-South Corridor) in western Prince William/Loudoun counties. It would connect Interstate 66 to the west side of Dulles airport, extending Route 234 north through areas planned for low density development.
Advocates for the road argue it will generate jobs, and enable Dulles to become a hub for freight traffic. How could anyone oppose such an investment in the future?
Right now the sustainable “smart growth” leaders are questioning the rationale for the project – but advocates for low taxes may catch on soon that the cost-benefit ratio for a public investment is badly skewed.
The road project is primarily designed to subsidize developers who seek to convert the Rural Area of Prince William and the Transition Area of Loudoun into the equivalent of Centreville. The public justification is that the road will increase commercial activity at Dulles. Either way, the taxpayers will get the costs, and someone else will get the benefits. That sound like good public policy to you, or like a bailout-in-advance for a few private businesses?
The recent Planning Commission work session on Purcell Road brought out some important points that could prove to be instructive as we move forward in this process and in future planning in general.
The main driver for this project is not local community traffic. The total new housing possible from undeveloped land in the area under current county recommendations is approximately 300 homes.
This is certainly not enough to require a new four lane highway when the Parkway already serves most of the undeveloped parcels. The driver is projected long term regional traffic increases.
There is already cut-through traffic on Purcell Road between Route 234 and Hoadly Road. Common sense dictates that four-laning Purcell and connecting it directly to the Parkway will only increase this cut-through situation, since faster speeds and a more direct path between Route 234 and the Parkway will be the result. Basically, build this road and they will come. Read more…
Topic: start of Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on multimodal transportation improvements within I-66 corridor, between Route 15 and I-495 Capital Beltway
Time: Wednesday, June 8, anytime between 5:00-8:00pm
Location: Four Points by Sheraton motel, 10800 Vandor Lane, Manassas VA 20109
The cure for congestion requires tackling the basic problem – politicians continue to rezone land for new housing far, far from locations where those new residents will work. The math is simple: more people commuting to jobs = more congestion. More of the same ol’ same ol’ development pattern will not solve the problem.
However, there is no “stop growth” solution. Government agencies and private-sector businesses are creating new jobs, people are moving to Northern Virginia – and our region continues to grow. Economic development is a good thing; many regions would love to have problems like ours.
Still, no one wants our traffic nightmare. There are two solutions to our congestion headache:
1) increase the number of jobs near where people live, to reduce commute times
2) locate new housing next to employment centers, to reduce commute times
Doing both makes sense. Doing nothing about the basic problem makes no sense. Just building more roads, without solving the housing/employment disconnect, does nothing to solve the problem. Treating the symptom by widening I-66 or extending VRE to Haymaarket might provide short-term relief… but treating symptoms does not cure problems. Putting a band-aid on a cancer does not cure the disease.
Right now, the roads are still getting expanded. Construction equipment, orange cones and new asphalt is a constant presence at the intersection of Hoadley Road and Prince William Parkway, and elsewhere in the county.
Hmmm… think Virginia can afford to widen existing highways and build new roads forever?
The answer is revealed in the FY2012-17 Six Year Secondary Road Plan for Prince William, which sets priorities and allocates funding for the roads with numbers greater than 600 (such as Route 619). Key language is in Section II B of the plan that the Board of County Supervisors is scheduled to adopt on June 7:
VDOT Estimates The current estimate for the FY12 Annual Allocation is $0. There are no funds allocated to future years, so the plan will be used to re-prioritize projects within the plan with prior allocations.
There is no money for new secondary road projects for FY2012. There is no money in FY13, FY14, FY15, FY16, or FY17.
New housing that will be built in the next 15 years, such as the Avendale development, will add more traffic to existing roads. After this last spending surge and road construction, however, there’s no money in the pipeline to expand those roads ever again. Congestion will just get worse and worse.
How did we get into this mess?
On May 18, this Wednesday, the Virginia Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) will grease the skids for building a new 6-8 lane highway on the western edge of Manassas National Battlefield Park. The CTB will designate a new North-South Corridor of Statewide Significance (CoSS) that – surprise! – aligns with the preferred route of the old Tri-County Parkway. (A better name would be BiCounty Sprawlway.)
This North-South CoSS is more than just a line on paper; the fix is in to build this road. The 2011 General Assembly approved a $4 billion pot of mostly-borrowed money to finance one final surge of roadbuilding. VDOT has already warned that in a few years, the income from the gas tax will be inadequate and VDOT won’t have enough money for maintenance of existing roads – but hey, let’s build a few more before anyone pays attention.
Our streams and natural areas are being blasted away by new development spawned by new roads. Fortunately, people who understand the link between land use, transportation, and conservation are expressing concerns, especially the Loudoun Board of County Supervisors. People who care about the size of government and rising taxes are starting to object to the long-term costs of the traditional roadbuilding game in NOVA’s suburbs.
The developers who will benefit from this project have tasked their lobbyists and political friends to sell this road to the citizens of Northern Virginia. What’s wrong with their sales pitch? Several things stand out:
- all roads are not equally good for reducing congestion; a north-south road will not fix an east-west commuter problem. We need to fix the existing headache of getting from Gainesville to Fairfax/DC. A road from I-66 to Route 50 (west of Pleasant Valley!) won’t help the problem.
- designation of the CoSS will be followed swiftly by commitment of funds from the $4 billion transportation fund authorized by the 2011 General Assembly, so the CoSS designation is a key decision in the go/no-go process
- maybe a new road will bring jobs to Gainesville, but it’s more likely to create more jobs near Dulles airport. Prince William will continue to export its workers daily, commercial development will grow in Loudoun instead of Prince William, and residential property taxes in Prince William will stay high
- flinging unlimited funding to build every possible road is not realistic, so money spent on the BiCounty Sprawlway will cause some other worthy project to be left unbuilt.
Three questions to ask yourself, even if you don’t care one hoot about conserving streams:
The old “what to do about suburban traffic congestion” debate has a new term: the North-South Corridor of Statewide Significance (CoSS). The debate also has a new wrinkle, the recent political reaction to proposals for increasing public debt.
Right now, debate is white-hot regarding the national debt – do you think the government should borrow even more money now, in order to expand government services? – but many people do not realize the state of Virginia is still expanding its borrowing in 2011. The state is going deeper in debt, borrowing money to build new roads, while simultaneously manipulating the accounting to postpone paying for Virginia’s $17.6 billion unfunded liability for pensions.
At the end of the February 16th meeting of the Commonwealth Transportation Board, the Secretary of Transportation revealed plans to build the road known variously by state/local agencies as the Western Transportation Corridor, Tri-County Parkway, Bi-County Parkway, and the Road to Dulles. (The Manassas National Battlefield Bypass has been mixed up in the discussion as well. A better name for the proposed road might be Bi-County Sprawlway…)
The latest game is to for the Virginia Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) to designate a CoSS in western Prince William/Loudoun counties on May 18. A CoSS designation may allow the state to run roughshod over local land use plans, equivalent to the Federal government’s National Interest Electric Transmission Corridors (NIETCs) that allow Federal agencies to ignore state/local objections of new powerlines. In particular, the developer community and the CTB are looking for ways to overcome the resistance of the elected officials in Loudoun County.
We’re not talking about increasing government debt for expanding health care, welfare benefits, or any services to help current residents. We’re not talking about more debt to improve the work commute for current residents. We’re talking about increasing state debt to build roads in western Prince William/Loudoun counties in order to subsidize new development and attract new residents - which creates new congestion.
Is more debt to divert development away from the Route 1 corridor, so Gainesville gets the growth, really the best way to deal with our financial challenges today? Hmmm…. when do you think the government should stop borrowing money to subsidize more private developments like Avendale?
There’s a steady drumbeat of “reports” that always call for Virginia taxpayers to subsidize new roads. In the past few years, even a few transit projects have been added to the wish list. Proposals to extend the Virginia Railway Express (VRE) to the edge of the Rural Area at Haymarket, over objections of town officials, is one example of encouraging more sprawl through transit.
In TRIP’s Top 50 Surface Transportation Projects to Support Economic Growth in Virginia, the top 10 projects alone are projected to cost $30 billion (that’s billion, with a “b”). However, the VRE extension is way down at #22 on the list of “most needed surface transportation projects to support economic development in the state.”
Number 10 on the sprawling wish-list: spending $53 million to add two lanes to the eastern bypass around Warrenton.
Update: Board of County Supervisors has approved spending another $50,000 for a “new real estate market analysis” – see County Dusts Off Town Center Plans at Tech Park.
The Route 1 corridor and Innovation offer the greatest potential for smart growth in Prince William. Transit-oriented development is the only way to reduce future traffic congestion, as the county’s population grows by over 30% during the next 20 years. That’s a lot of extra cars, and growth=congestion unless we develop differently.
Prince William officials blather about smart growth, but speak with a forked tongue because they keep approving same-old-dumb-growth projects such as Avendale. Innovation offers a rare opportunity where the county might walk the talk, where housing really may be co-located with jobs and public facilities to create a live-work-play community.
In coordination with GMU and private landowners, Prince William County is planning another Comprehensive Plan Amendment (CPA) for Innovation, modifying the existing Sector Plan. In addition to the GMU facilities, under the “Anchored Town Center” proposal up to 900 residential units plus two hotels could be built between the current campus and Route 234 Bypass.
Look close, however, and you’ll notice in the consultant report that 646 more housing units are also being proposed in District 1 and 1,098 housing units are proposed in District 2 between the campus and Wellington Road. The current Sector Plan proposes Town Center Office/Research and Development in those areas – office development that generates local, do-not-need-to-commute-to-Fairfax-or-DC jobs. The town center was in the old Sector Plan; the Comprehensive Plan Amendment is necessary to transform a chunk of Innovation from a job location into just another housing development.
Also, as noted in the News and Messenger article, developers might ask for taxpayers to finance their housing project by subsidizing the parking. Taxpayers have already built the roads, stormwater, and other utilities at Innovation, but hey – why not ask for one more land use subsidy, since county officials seem incapable of negotiating for development that will create local jobs?
The four graphics below illustrate the proposals: