Virginia plans new highways for 2035… or maybe not

The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) is gathering public input now for the next statewide long-range multimodal transportation plan (whew, that’s a mouthful of multi-syllabus words…).  You can take advantage of the “virtual open house” for VTRANS35 and submit your ideas now.

The next General Assembly in 2010 will go through yet another cycle of how-can-we-raise-taxes-to-fund-transportation.  If the problem is defined narrowly as “how can we finance additional roads/transit just to increase capacity,” then clever politicians ultimately will find a way to increase taxes to finance more infrastructure.

We went through this exercise in 1986.  Under Gov. Baliles, the General Assembly dedicated an increase in the sales tax to transportation, financing a major increase in highway construction  (see pp.65-70 in VDOT’s A History of Roads in Virginia).  After we built more lanemiles, we had to  maintain more infrastructure.   Before 2020, according to VDOT, increased operations and maintenance (O&M) costs will consume the entire budget… leaving nothing for new construction.

We could repeat the “raise taxes – build new capacity – run out of money – raise taxes” cycle again,  or VTRANS35 could put us on a different path.

After 20 years of building new roads (and a little transit) to subsidize more suburban sprawl, it’s time to shift our approach.  Let’s stop expanding suburbia further into Fauquier, Culpeper, Warren, King George, and Caroline counties.  If all we do is widen primary/secondary highways (and expand VRE/Amtrak service a little), we’ll will just trigger another set of demands in 20 more years to raise new taxes and build new infrastructure to reduce the new congestion.

The VTRANS35 plan is one place to start reducing the ever-increasing demand for widening highways and extending train tracks to the new suburbs.

Tell VDOT to highlight how the land use component of the plan is as important as the build-new-capacity component.  Encourage new development next to existing transit services, and minimize new construction to expand roads at the periphery of existing urban/suburban development.

Even a fortuneteller with a cloudy crystal ball knows what will happen if we build new roads into undeveloped areas.  New roads (and expanded VRE services) invite new subdivisions, and then the roads (and rail cars) are clogged with new congestion.

In 2030 another set of politicians will be trying to raise taxes again to support expanded transportation infrastructure in Virginia – unless VDOT, the Commonwealth Transportation Board, and the General Assembly decide now to locate new taxpayer-funded projects in existing developed areas and along defined transit corridors.

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1 comment so far

  1. Cavan on

    Thank you. Very sane analysis. It’s time we stop repeating the failed policies of the past.


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