Too Little Density, Too Much Road Surface

Millions of square feet of underutilized pavement cost millions of dollars per year to maintain.

Millions of square feet of underutilized pavement cost millions of dollars per year to maintain.

by James A. Bacon

It goes without saying that New Jersey is dissimilar from Virginia in many ways, so it’s hazardous extrapolating conclusions from one state to the other. But a new study about New Jersey roads co-authored by Smart Growth America and New Jersey Future implies that the Old Dominion could have saved hundreds of millions of dollars yearly in road maintenance expenses had higher-density development been allowed to occur instead of the scattered, low-density sprawl that characterized so much of the state’s growth after World War II.

Using a novel technique for estimating the surface area of road pavement per capita, researchers found that the most densely developed areas of New Jersey maintain about one-third the pavement surface per capita — about 130 square feet of road surface compared to 423 square feet — as the least densely developed parts of the state.

The conclusion is counter-intuitive. Cities seem to be chock-a-block with streets in a way that rural and suburban areas are not. The key is to look at the space devoted to roads on a per capita basis.

States the study, “The Fiscal Implications of Development Patterns: Roads in New Jersey“:

If for the same population and employment levels, New Jersey had directed development into a smaller land area with at minimum 10 people or jobs per acre (still not very dense — single-family homes on quarter-acres lots would meet the criteria), we estimate that the total area of road New Jersey and its municipalities need to maintain would have been reduced by 36 percent, or approximately 1.9 billion square feet. And assuming an average cost of $0.25 per square foot to maintain the roads, the result would have been a $470 million savings statewide every year.

The analysis draws two broad conclusions: (1) local road maintenance costs per capita decrease as activity density increases, and (2) low-density communities have the most to gain by permitting more density.

Bacon’s bottom line: To get a rough (very rough) idea of what a similar analysis would yield for Virginia, consider that the Old Dominion has about twice as many total lane miles as New Jersey (162,000 compared to 86,000) and that the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) is budgeted to spend $2 billion a year in 2015 (including city and county street payments) on maintenance.

Of course, it’s impossible to go back and tear up the development of low-density areas of Virginia, so the study is academic to some degree. On the other hand, this kind of analysis should guide future investment. Just as Virginians today are paying for poor policy decisions made over the past five decades, future Virginians will pay for our decisions.

I do quibble with the way the authors state their case: It says these savings could have been achieved had New Jersey “directed” development into denser development patterns. I don’t like the idea of government directing how and where people should live. But that doesn’t change the larger point that denser communities cost less per capita on road maintenance than low-density communities. The way to frame the issue in Virginia is this: Had local zoning policies not directed growth into low density areas, average population densities would be higher, less road would have been required, and maintenance costs would be lower.

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37 responses to “Too Little Density, Too Much Road Surface

  1. This is an important issue in an era of declining gas tax revenue and the technology that is coming down the pipe. Not sure we can afford to subsidize low density development. Interesting and related article below.

    “How Many American Cities Are Preparing For The Arrival of Self-Driving Cars? Not Many.”
    http://techcrunch.com/2015/11/09/cities-self-driving-cars/#.d7tru0e:d1uB

  2. well it’s not zoning – it’ subsidies for subdivisions.

    the govt is actually doing the opposite of “directing” – they ARE – incentivizing single-family home subdivisions by not requiring them to be HOA or county-maintained as is the case in most other states.

    that’s what you should be looking at in terms of comparative lane miles.

    People in Va who live in apartments -their gas taxes go for public roads . People who live in single-family subdivisions – their gas taxes – essentially go to maintain their subdivision road.

    When VDOT tries to make subdivisions have two entrances – both for safety and also to disperse in and out traffic – all hell breaks lose because what people want is cul-de-sacs – owned and operated by the state – not them via HOAs.

    When VDOT talks about devolution – there is little taste for it because the counties would then have to actually deal with adding lane miles for subdivisions…

    I’d assert that if VDOT turned subdivision roads over to the counties the “sprawl” and “zoning” issue would evaporate.

  3. For a point of reference, in 2012 dollars, the Fairfax County BoS approved a funding plan that included $865,000,000 for a grid of streets within Tysons and $1,226,000,000 for Tysons-wide road improvements. Also, adding sidewalks, trails and bicycle facilities that improve access to the four Metro stations in Tysons came to $77,000,000, and improving non-rail-related transit for Tysons came to $953,000,000. The figures do not include the necessary road improvements needed outside Tysons to support an urban Tysons. The total sum (again in 2012 dollars) is $3.1 billion through 2051. Total residential and worker population for Tysons will ultimately be 300,000 (100,000 residents and 200,000 workers). That’s roughly $10,300 in costs, excluding maintenance, per person for the 40 year period.

    I’m offering no comments on these figures. They are just a point of reference.

    • TMT, you raise a good point, even if you refrain from commenting upon it.

      Comparing road costs alone is not fair. Smart Growthers want to build “complete streets” that are friendly to bikers and pedestrians. Pedestrians require sidewalks and other streetscaping, which, though not as expensive as roads, to carry an up-front and a maintenance cost. $77 million for sidewalks, trailers and bicycle facilities in Tysons is not chump change. Rural/suburban roads often do not incur those costs. Fair is fair , we should compare apples to apples.

    • re: ” That’s roughly $10,300 in costs, excluding maintenance, per person for the 40 year period.”

      that’s also the cost of one park and ride carpool slot.

      it’s important to not only know how much something costs – but where the funding actually is coming from.

      many denser developments these days – build their own parking and sidewalks …. and those costs go to those who buy/rent.

      in states where the DOT does not pay for local roads – those costs ened up being calculated and considered between the development folks and the county folks using property taxes for all property owners.

      Virginia has a tradition of attempting/succeeding in passing costs onto VDOT – who, in turn, never has enough money for true public roads that benefit all travelers.

      • Larry, I am under the impression that a number of states with local control of non-primary roads get significant state aid from gas and other taxes. But local property and other taxes often are required.

        • @TMT – I think some state money is kicked in but it’s more along the lines of how devolution would work in Va… expansion of local roads – and local subdivision roads would fall largely on the counties…

          • Fairfax County DOT has said that, when the County considered taking over local roads, it was informed by VDOT that the County would receive state funds for both capital and maintenance expenses. What killed the deal was the belief County residents would demand better maintenance than VDOT would deliver to the tune of about $ 40-45 million – two cents additional on the real estate tax. Fairfax County already issues bonds and uses proffers and special taxes to build roads and other transportation facilities.

        • ” The Unique Situation in Virginia

          Three factors differentiate the coordination of transportation and land use planning in Virginia from that in most other states.

          First, only four other states in addition to Virginia (Alaska, Delaware, North Carolina,and West Virginia) leave maintenance and construction of county (generally secondary) roads
          with the state; other states generally leave some degree of responsibility for these roads to the county.”

          FINAL REPORT
          OPTIONS FOR IMPROVING THE COORDINATION OF TRANSPORTATION
          AND LAND USE PLANNING IN VIRGINIA

          http://www.virginiadot.org/vtrc/main/online_reports/pdf/04-r14.pdf

  4. Sounds like yet another wealth transfer from NoVa and Tidewater to elsewhere in Virginia.

    • Insofar as most of NoVa is more densely populated than RoVa, you could make that argument. You could also make the argument that densely urbanized areas across the state (regardless of region) are subsidizing the less densely urbanized areas.

  5. what might be interesting would be to see how many subdivision lane miles there are – per county , per capita…

  6. same complaints – everywhere!

    ” City Council members want the legislature to reduce or eliminate tolls at the Midtown and Downtown tunnels, but local lawmakers told them to temper their expectations.

    State legislators “are going to be looking for us to find our own long-term sustainable source of funding to take care of ourselves,” state Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, said Tuesday when the council presented its legislative wish list to state lawmakers.

    “I think we are pretty much stuck with” the toll contract, added state Sen. John Cosgrove, R-Chesapeake.

    Mayor Kenny Wright said the tunnel tolls were becoming a lesson on “what not to do” nationwide.

    “It’s great that we are all using this as the baseline as the worst in the world,” Wright said.”

    you can bet your sweet bippy that the folks down Hampton way are paying close attention to what happens on I-66 in Nova!!

  7. Driving around the my Tidewater area you’ll note quite a bit of fill-in residential and commercial construction even in what I’d call the nucleus areas of Suffolk, Chesapeake and The Beach. This possibly would tend to significantly lower the per capita initial pavement costs.

    However, since the resulting increase in traffic from fill-in new population will of necessity eventually require higher maintenance and later lane addition construction there may be really no free lunch. Ergo, More folks = More cost any way you slice it.

    Jim, is there a difference between fill-in vs. sprawl?

    • In appropriately dense environments there are effective ways of moving more people than just adding lanes. Especially in an area like Hampton Roads where – and this is a reality that escaped most of the people I knew when I lived down there – you are going to be constrained by the sheer amount of water that needs to be designed around.

    • John B, There is more to sprawl than just low density. The land use pattern we think of as sprawl usually takes the form of pod-like development strung along roads radiating out from the urban core. Those pods are single use (residential, retail or office), and they disconnected from one another, forcing people onto connector and arterial roads, they typically have no amenities for pedestrians or bikers, and they are often built in a leap-frog manner with large spaces in between.

      In-fill does develop the empty spaces between scattered pods. But it typically does nothing to improve connectivity or improve walkability. People still use their cars to get anywhere, and they still have to go from an empty-most-of-the-time cul de sac road to an overloaded connector or arterial. Mass transit is never an economically viable option.

      We are seeing new forms of in-fill — with more density, mixed-uses, grid streets, and walkable sidewalks. They are an improvement over traditional sprawl, but they cannot fundamentally change the character of a place. They are disconnected islands of sanity in a sea of sprawl. Among other critical attributes, they cannot support mass transit (unless massively subsidized).

  8. I think it is a fair question to ask how much of this low density development in exurbs and rural areas is due to people trying to “escape”integration? There’s no disputing that initial integration in Richmond did cause massive flight to Henrico and Chesterfield. I imagine a lot of lower density development is due to white flight during initial integration as well as when areas became more diverse in the late 80s-00s…people again ran away from “poor schools.”

    • When you add it to the effects of redlining almost all of it.

    • In recent years? IMHO, not much at all. I agree with the history, but not today.

      For the inner counties, most of it is running to good public schools more than from bad ones. Richmond city has great citizens and a city government that IMHO fails its schools. Badly. The inner counties have decent schools and are better governed.

      For the outer counties, most of what I see is a desire for a rural lifestyle while staying within commuting distance of a decent job. A high percentage of people I know in the exurbs are either originally from there, are from rural or exurban areas elsewhere in the state, and/or enjoy rural pursuits such as raising some of their own food, raising horses, or similar interests.

      BTW, per Wikipedia, Henrico is 61.3% white, and Chesterfield 65.4%. They’re fairly diverse.

  9. well it’s not white flight in Fredericksburg/Stafford/Spotsylvania..

    it’s “affordable housing” of the single family detached -subdivision

    people who work in NoVA and want a traditional subdivision home with a front/back yard on a side street/cul-de-sac .. both black and white workers.

  10. Fredericksburg does have a “black” section of town – it’s historic – literally across the railroad tracks and next to a manufacturing plant (now closed).

    and of course – churches in all areas are largely effectively segregated – by tradition.

    but new black folks with jobs in NoVa typically buy in the same subdivisions that white NoVa workers buy in.

    this is different than what you’ll find in Henrico and Chesterfield – and for that matter NoVa…where there are older subdivisions that are somewhat reflective of older demographics…

    Whites in NoVa schools by the way – are a minority…!!!

  11. These kinds of studies are why watching the “no cul-de-sac” rule that was passed a few years ago in the GA get chipped away and walked back was so frustrating. It costs real money to push snow and it costs even more when you have to take a simple travelling salesman problem and complicate it by making the plows shovel out a bunch of dead ends. To say nothing of the increased costs of delivering mail and running school buses through a Byzantine series of disconnected subdivisions.

  12. the cul-de-sacs are what people want though – and they totally are opposed to “their” subdivision being used as a ‘cut-through”.

    it’s a powerful political issue that the Board of Supervisors will roll over on without hesitation.

    so these subdivisions are actually “anti” grid streets… they oppose the concept and purpose of grid streets. They want what boils down to private enclaves – paid for by the state.

    Each one of these subdivision “entrances” become an issue when people want to get out and need to turn left.

    they all want median cross-overs which VDOT is actually trying to close/reduce and not open new ones. Then that means they have to turn right – then turn left at the next crossover or traffic light and do a u-turn.

    between the higher use and costs associated with these – combined with the fact that many of the folks who live there – are also longer distance commuters – using I-95 to get to their jobs – these citizens are much more voracious consumers of transportation resources than say someone who lives in an apartment a few miles from where they work.

    I’m not advocating for or against the choice of lifestyle – only that we should recognize the costs and fairly allocate them.

  13. I’m a big believer in Smart Growth, but this study tells me next to nothing, except for the threat Smart Growth in the wrong hands poses to humans.

    Instead I am reminded of how the Mormon Wizards at Marriott used to sit around a table each year figuring how many ways they could save Bill Marriott money the next year.

    And every time the wizards would calculate yet again how, if they thickened their short glasses of Scotch on the Rocks another eighth of an inch so each glass then would take one less quarter ounce of scotch to fill – Why By Golly – it’d save Bill Marriott world wide another “so many millions of dollars” next year.

    Being non-drinkers, and also being very guilty about the truth that they’d tossed out their own religion to make more bucks at their business by serving booze, it never occurred to them, and/or they repressed the notion, that scotch drinkers would stop using their hotels altogether by reason of their being cheated on every Scotch on the rocks at a Marriott bar. That 8th cost 200 bucks a night.

    This is a holistic world we live in. That’s why accountants, if left alone for long without supervision will kill all life on Earth quick as we know it.

    Smart Growth is about human synergy at work – imagination, interaction and inspiration, bold initiatives and cumulative impacts, not about penny wise / pound foolish nonsense.

    Smart Growth is a threat to humans if it’s ruled by logic and self righteousness taken to their logical extremes, and you can be sure that a certain percentage of any group of people will always impose these extremes on other people if they get their chance and do it without fail – these are society’s ideologues.

  14. Smart Growth is a dumb phrase co-opted by all sorts of folks to mean a barrage of ideas and concepts – some unrelated to each other, others actually in direct contradiction – and it’s use actually abused as a kind of political language for some.

    density per se is also a tortured concept when folks essentially believe that density is more about physically arranging living and work spaces rather than logistics and infrastructure – necessary to support density.

    for instance – you cannot plop down a Tysons corner without consider water and sewer – not plumbing but what size pipes are needed to bring water to Tysons and transport waste away. You just can’t quadruple density and use pipes that were designed decades ago for a much less dense footprint of development.

    you do not have unlimited drinking water capacity nor unlimited sewage treatment capacity – either.

    there is no way in heck you could substantially build out most of Fairfax to a uniformly more dense settlement pattern without huge changes and costs to water/sewer infrastructure.

    and that’s essentially “infill” to the existing water/sewer network unless you are at the current limits and adding greenfield water/sewer – even then those pipes connect back to larger and larger pipes that eventually go back to the treatment plants.

    It’s not that you can’t add – it’s that you have to know WHERE and HOW MUCH you plan to build something that will need water/sewer infrastructure.

    what you CAN’T do – is draw more “dense” things on a map – then go build it… and do so in a time-frame that is totally not in recognition of the changes needed to water/sewer – the timeframe and costs to bring them up to the specs needed to serve the contemplated development.

    And people think you can just use the existing plants – just build bigger pipes. That’s not true either. You may be at the limits for a water source – it’s called “yield” – and you may be at the effluent limits for a sewage treatment plant – and the “tipping” point necessitates a much higher level of treatment for all sewage is the effluent limits are to be not exceeded – or you may need to build a new plant and re-jigger the existing network.

    the point here is that you can’t just draw density lines on a map.

    we’ve already talked about transportation – that’s more obvious – but water/sewer is just as much an issue.. that’s not so obvious.

    Density requires infrastructure and services – it’s not “free” and it’s not necessarily “smart growth” by the sole criteria of density. It has to be “smart” fiscally and physically.

  15. Bumping my own pavement per capita drawings for VA: http://www.mappingvirginia.com/2014/03/more-pavement.html

    Alternative thought (sorry if somebody’s already brought this up): While it’s difficult to go back and redo the development pattern of much of Virginia, we can focus instead on redoing the roads.

    Suburban roads (and minimum standards for them) are incredibly overbuilt, causing safety concerns, polluted water runoff, and extra expense. Rather than say “you can’t live in a single-family house far away from people,” how about we say: “we’re not going to pay to build a super wide street out there.” Smaller rights-of-way, fewer curbs, and more gravel in rural areas can go a long way.

    Texas has dealt with $$ shortfalls by converting more rural roads back to gravel and reducing the paved area of the state. It’d be tough in VA – Virginia has a strong tradition of centralized VDOT control and state funding of local roads mostly because of the power of rural voters in the 20th century. But in an increasingly urban Virginia, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to think that localities could be pushed to pay more of the costs of road maintenance, and think twice about how much road they build.

    • How right you are. Now we’re talking Smart Growth. Back in reality.

    • The Tysons landowners could not agree on a tax plan that would cover their portion of certain road, bike and ped improvement costs. Thus, they did not propose a tax district. Instead, the County imposed a service district where both commercial and residential property owners are taxed. Many property owners are angry. But they need to pay their fair share of the benefits they receive from an urubanized Tysons.

      Fairfax County is looking at adding much more density at other rail stops and activity centers. Landowners, both commercial and residential, should be taxed to fund the additional transportation facilities that give them density. Fairfax County is largely built-out so adding density is the only way the County will grow. Just as exurban developers should pay for new infrastructure, so should urban developers. We might see less of both if this is done.

      • I agree with you here. Residents derive great benefit from smart growth and should do their share, including preexisting residence under some formula that does not drive original residents out of their homes. And bike riders should not get free rides either. Like all else, the practical utility of and essential need for such bike infrastructure – cost v. need v. benefit – should be weighted with a gimlet eye like all else.

    • Very interesting idea. However, you touch on something that I have long posted about: How long can Virginia keep subsidizing rural Virginia?

      Every Governor in this state (and even the failed candidates) seem to have an irrational affection for rural Southside/Southwest Virginia. They all seem to hold this belief that “my policies will turn these places around to the Glory Days.” It doesn’t matter the party, every Governor seems to be guided by this belief.

      Your proposal is fiscally sound. However….I can’t imagine the reaction from rural Virginia if it was ever enacted. West of Richmond and South of 64 is already well behind….such a proposal would put that area further behind. That’s fine if you are truly making a decision on what’s best for Virginia from a fiscal standpoint. You’re right that increased local contributions to transportation maintenance is probably the best policy choice. If you’re going to build houses in the middle of nowhere, you should have to pay for the infrastructure rather than taxpayers in Fairfax or Richmond. However, I imagine such a policy choice will go nowhere until the political class is ready to let go of its romantic notions of “turning around” Southside/SW Virginia.

      • How many subdivisions are there, really, in rural counties? An awful lot of rural homes are directly off of the secondary roads, in denser areas they’re likely to get to that road via flagpole lots, and the (often long) driveways are gravel.

        For actual private subdivisions, in counties that haven’t zoned it out of existence, many of those are already on gravel subdivision roads.

        The move to require hardtop roads in private subdivisions, in more remote counties, appears to be driven by a zoning standard of accessibility to emergency vehicles, rather than something the citizens asked for.

        Secondary roads in rural areas are often narrow, without much if any shoulder – just a hardtop road, small strip of gravel, and a ditch.

        If you’re building a house in the middle of nowhere off of an existing road, that really isn’t doing much to increase road maintenance expense.

        Is there data on actual breakdowns of costs, by type of road? Obviously if 64 or 250 goes through your county, maintaining it seems to be a state expense – is the data broken down by county by type of road, by number of miles of road, by who maintains it?

        Does anyone have a history as to why zoning is pushing for hardtop roads in rural private subdivisions, rather than allowing gravel roads?

        • ” … in rural counties? An awful lot of rural homes are directly off of the secondary roads, in denser areas they’re likely to get to that road via flagpole lots, and the (often long) driveways are gravel.”

          We all know those kinds of places. They work great, but are easily spoiled. For example:

          Sometimes a “long gravel driveway” can end in an asphalt cul-de-sac. These can serve one or more single homes. Assume an asphalt driveway serves one home, how can one such driveway go wrong?

          Here’s a few among many ways:

          Far too often that cul-de-sac has got way too much asphalt. And what it has got is far too often in the wrong shape. And it is in the wrong place. So now it is largely not necessary, and its ugly and it is high maintenance. It is now a costly, value and place destroying, eye sore.

          For example, an ill conceived and ill built single home cul-de-sac can destroy numerous view sheds within and without that single home. It can damage the view of the house from the visitor’s approach. It can damage the river, wood, and/or field views surrounding the home, whether from inside the house or from the outside.

          It can also turn a driveway into a parking lot. This can also spoil a dozen different views from inside and or outside the house, including those of neighbors, even those from across the river.

          Plus asphalt wrinkles and it buckles up. Asphalt also collects oils and it collects engine fluids. Oil stains the asphalt. Engine fuels streak asphalt. Rains come and then the asphalt collects and directs the rain, and flushes that water off into torrents made from pools of oily water. This is poison then. It kills grass, it cuts ditches, and it erodes yards and farm fields, and this broken and abused earth then carries the poison off into rivers and bays, estuaries and inlets.

          It is remarkable how blue stone gravel thoughtfully deployed cures most all of this. And doe from start to finish – from its installation, to its use, and its maintenance – so it almost never wears out.

          Here, one is reminded of how we long ago abandoned mud brick adobe buildings. How instead we came to make those buildings from concrete and steel and glass. How, in so doing, we saw only the benefits of those revolutionary materials and how that blinded us to their otherwise obvious draw backs and how it also blinded us to the great and many benefits that we had so long enjoyed from adobe mud bricks, lumber and sod, and now so thoughtlessly tossed away.

          The very same thing of course can be said about how we design and build our big roads and cities. Let’s touch briefly on that next.

  16. New Jersey’s transportation system’s yearly costs include $2 Billion for transit operations and $1.2 Billion for transit capital improvements.
    “Smart Growth America researchers found that the most densely developed areas of New Jersey maintain about one-third the pavement surface per capita — about 130 square feet of road surface compared to 423 square feet — as the least densely developed parts of the state.”
    The transportation needs of these most densely developed areas could not be met by roads only, thus the existence of the transit system. Only apples to apples transportation cost comparisons are meaningful. This SGA comparison lacks that.
    With that said: the inefficiencies of the suburban sprawl have long been established. We as a society, however, created economic and political frameworks that keep on supporting sprawl. Seems to be another problem we’ll pass onto our children.

    • How do you explain the extremely high transportation-related costs for Tysons to support significant levels of urban development that will occur in top-quality mixed use buildings? If the government had not forced Dulles Toll Road drivers to pay fees sufficient to pay the plurality of the capital costs for the Silver Line, Phase I, it would not have been built and the massive Tysons density would not have been granted. In other words, had Tysons development been forced to pay the costs for the transportation infrastructure necessary to support an urban Tysons, neither the infrastructure nor the urban density would ever be built.

      Moreover, all traffic studies show the availability of the Silver Line will not reduce traffic congestion on the DTR, but rather, the added density will require very costly expansion of the DTR even when rail goes out to mid-Loudoun County.

      Development of any kind requires costly infrastructure — most of which is subsidized by other taxpayers, rather than by the beneficiaries – whether they live in urban, suburban or exurban areas. Of course, some costs will be higher in some areas than in others. But Smart Growth should be regarded as a choice and not as a solution. I support giving people more choices in housing. But urban areas are also very expensive.

      • Of course, as I am sure you know, much of the problem with transport costs in Tysons is that those costs have been driven sky high by the failure to do things right (including location as well as design and uses) the first go round. That failure set bad results into stone starting in the 1960s. And costs now to fix problems are compounded by earlier cost overruns in inexcusable, indeed scandalous, amounts.

        In short, all involved up to and including the 1990s got away with murder. They built in island city surrounded by walls of other mismatched uses and capacities and hijacked an Interstate Highway and built little else for its our Main Street. This thief injected massive traffic into ill-built and designed city crippled itself plus an entire region.

        Hence everyone following in the train of this debacle ( whether local, regional or interstate) has been saddled with a huge mess that ever since, has done incalculable damage that far outweighs the benefit in my view.

        The damage and its ongoing cost can’t be fully fixed, absent starting over. That’s my opinion. And now of course there are highly inflated costs to fix strictly local problems. Whether it be to alter design and uses and /or shoehorn massive infrastructures into tight, awkward, constrained and difficult spaces without sufficient room in foreseeable future to breath to anyone satisfaction internally or externally.

        An analysis of Ballston to Courthouse city down the road leads one to a very different result – an dense urban area that successfully eats its own traffic. And helps to solve traffic problems for everyone else near and far at the same time. I’ll see if I can insert some references to earlier articles on this website that get into the issues and comparison between cities.

        Despite my harsh criticism of long past mistakes, I have nothing but admiration for those working so hard to fix Tysons Corner. From what I have read here on this website, I suspect that they recently are making very substantial progress on what has been an otherwise nearly intractable problem due in many cases to causes beyond their control.

      • Infrastructure costs in further out areas are driven in no small part by zoning. I know when we were looking for a larger piece of land, zoned for horses, the zoning appeared to have actively made that more difficult – particularly requirements to upzone the divided pieces, rather than keeping them agricultural, and requirements for VDOT grade subdivision roads rather than gravel.

        I do not see how I am taking a bigger risk being a quarter of a mile down a gravel subdivision road than I am living a quarter of a mile down a private gravel driveway. If I choose to take that risk, that it might slow down an emergency vehicle, that should be my choice.

  17. re: ” What killed the deal was the belief County residents would demand better maintenance than VDOT would deliver to the tune of about $ 40-45 million – two cents additional on the real estate tax. Fairfax County already issues bonds and uses proffers and special taxes to build roads and other transportation facilities.’

    demand better maintenance than what they’d get if VDOT did the maintenance itself?

    TMT – here’s another thing to show how many miles of roads the states maintain:

    Rank State Mileage Rank State Mileage
    1 TX 80,134
    2 NC 80,036
    3 VA 57,766
    4 PA 43,621
    5 SC 41,628
    6 WV 34,304
    7 MO 33,685
    8 KY 27,849
    9 OH 22,508
    10 CA 18,336
    11 GA 18,040

    http://reason.org/files/highway/state_controlled_highway_miles_2007.pdf

    as you can see Va maintains way more miles of roads than most other states other than Tx and NC – regardless of area or population.

    also – devolution can be maintenance alone or capital alone – also.

    It’s up to the county.

    The counties could easily reduce costs by requiring subdivisions to be HOAs… so what they counties are really doing is letting the State, in essence, subsidize subdivision roads with gas tax dollars paid by folks who don’t live in subdivisions – rather than the county have to confront that basic inequity.

    and as a direct result -the state has less transportation dollars for other roads… that serve everyone – not just subdivisions.

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