288 Chickens Coming Home to Roost

Braawwk! Braawwkkk!

It didn’t take long. Route 288, the circumferential highway running around the south-western quadrant of the Richmond New Urban Region, opened in late 2004. Already it is changing development patterns for the worse and causing localized traffic congestion around its exits. The Richmond Times-Dispatch tells the tale today about the impact on the Huguenot Trail in Powhatan County.

Traffic has more than doubled in one section of Huguenot Trail since 288 opened, reports Will Jones. Speeding and accidents have surged as well: 17 accidents have been reported near the intersection of Winterfield Road so far this year, up from 12 for all of 2004.

Dale Totten, resident engineer for the Virginia Department of Transportation, noted that VDOT would four-lane the road for about $13 million if it had more money. Of course, VDOT has no more money for road construction in the Richmond region. One reason is that VDOT, at the behest of local politicians and boosters, spent all its friggin’ money on 288!

Where’s Homer Simpson when you need him? This is a major “D’oh!” moment.

As we predicted, Route 288 is generating residential development in scarcely populated areas all around its exits, overtaxing the local country roads. While the limited access highway might provide limited traffic relief for people driving back and forth between Chesterfield and Goochland counties, other people are making choices about where they live and work, and they are creating traffic congestion in new places. The only thing that surprises me is how rapidly this is happening. Even I thought there might be a lag of three or four years.

If Route 288 has already created a $13 million road-construction in just this one exist, think of the liability it has created for all of its exits!

Here’s another prediction: After a few more years of scattered subdivision development and approval of mega-commercial projects at major 288 intersections, the need for new road improvements will soar. Before the end of the decade, we may well see the unfunded liability zoom well past the original $400 million it took to build the original highway. To the brainiacs who thought Route 288 was such a great idea: Thanks for nothing. I think we could have spent the $400 million better elsewhere.

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16 responses to “288 Chickens Coming Home to Roost”

  1. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    I don’t think you can blame 288 for creating those people. If there enough of them to create new traffic congestion in new places, then what is the alternative? Additional traffic congestion in old places?

    Now you understand how people like TMT in Fairfax feel.

  2. Virginia Centrist Avatar
    Virginia Centrist

    I’d usually take the pro-road position – but with the glaring needs in other parts of the state, 288 was definitely excess…

    You have a city, Richmond, that has virtually no traffic. The rush hour is 30 minutes long…And you give them a beltway through a largely rural area. A road to no where…

    Just think if this money had been spent on another potomac crossing or road improvements that are desperately needed in NOVA?

  3. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Virginia Centrist, To add insult to injury, the rest of the state helped pay for 288 in last year’s budget deal — wiped the slate clean of debt. It was very nice of y’all to oblige us. Didn’t make much sense, though.

  4. Anonymous Avatar

    It’s the same old problem. If you get out ahead of the need you are accused of causing sprawl. If you build where the need is already acute, then the claim is you can’t pave your way out of congestion.

  5. Virginia Centrist Avatar
    Virginia Centrist

    Anonymous –

    That’s a fair point.

  6. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    5:26 makes a good point. However, this situation hammers home the validity of the state auditor’s report finding that the CTB and VDOT fail to fund transportation projects based on a comprehensive state transportation plan, but rather, based on whoever does the best job of lobbying. I submit that this is a disgraceful situation that should not be tolerated. Moreover, Senator Chichester and his toadies would make this worse by pouring more money into this flawed institution. What is the purpose of transportation-related expenditures? In Virginia, it’s to benefit private business plans and not to serve the public interest.

  7. Anonymous Avatar

    You all are dead wrong.

    No less than Walter Stoch stated that 288 money was intended to be paid from economic development money.

    Come on folks!!

  8. Anonymous Avatar

    TMT: I don’t understand your point.
    when was the last time you were stuck in traffic that you weren’t on your way to or from some sort of business? It seems to me that the whole point of roads is to facilitate the public interest in getting to and from private businesses.

    Then, of course there is the sunday drive, the trip to grandma’s, and the soccer games, but still, the overwhelming need is to support business.

    Since our road expenditures nowhere near match the increase in business or state domestic product, it is no wonder we suffer congestion problems. If we recognize that roads primaarily benefit businesses then we should do two things: let business pay for more of our transportation bill, (which they will pass to us, of course) and incentivize them to locate where they put the least stress on the system, even if that means more overall travel.

  9. E M Risse Avatar
    E M Risse

    Why is it so hard to understand?

    The solution is functional human settlement patterns and a balance between transport system capacity and land use generated travel deman.

    All else is spin.


  10. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    TMT said “In Virginia, it’s to benefit private business plans and not to serve the public interest.”

    I don’t see the point of this statement because it appears to demonize private business plans and put the public interest above all else. I think they are so tightly intertwined that they are virtually one and the same. Obviously there are local problems because this cookie dough is lumpy, but in the aggregate if we demonize business long enough we will eventually find out we all work for the Devil.

    I don’t see there is any point in claiming as “a solution” a balance that is dynamic and ever changing in nature. Even you see rail to Dulles as a positive because Dulles is a job center that promotes bi-directional demand on the rail.

    I agree. In fact that may be sufficient reason to build it, all by itself.

    All I’m saying is that the exact same logic should apply to roads: they should have destinations at both ends in order that we get maximum use out of our investment: we need more places in order to get closer to the balance you say we need.

  11. Anonymous Avatar

    Reality check here – I drive past Watkins Landing every morning and evening. I commute back and forth to work on the Huguenot Trail.

    I’ve never seen anything remotely resembling a “flood” of traffic. It’s a 55 mph zone – 75 to 100 cars in “a morning” – over how much time?

    The Huguenot Trail road widening was already planned, due to the heavy demands of development on the Chesterfield side, the new schools, and a whole bunch of existing developments that were zoned years ago and at that time funneled through Robious Road.

    288, for those of us that actually use it, is wonderful – instead of Powhatan and Western Chesterfield being bottlenecked by lack of roads, we can actually get some commercial development and have the ability to work closer to where we live.

    You may think that’s not rational land use. I have no desire to live in any city, I will not work in a downtown area, I will not use mass transit, which is not safe for female commuters that work long and irregular hours, and I happen to LIKE large lot development. How exactly I’m supposed to keep horses on a 1/4 acre lot is beyond me.

    Gas could go to $10 a gallon and I’d still pay to live in the country.

    Many people have legitimate preferences – horses, hunting, gardening, certain types of small business – that makes them NOT want to live in an urban core. This infatuation with city living truly baffles me.

  12. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Anonymous 6:37, You have every right to live in the country if that’s where you wish to live. But you don’t have a right to have the rest of the state to underwrite construction of a $400 million highway to make it easier to shop and get to work. What’s consistently overlooked in the debate ovre 288 is what else that $400 million could have been spent on. How much traffic congestion could have been alleviated had the money been applied to other pressing road projects or, god forbid, even non-road projects.

  13. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    Ray Hyde – My comments were directed at investors who lobby to place roads near where they own property and the incompetent system that funds these requests without regard to their link or lack thereof to a master transportation plan. Check the following. http://www.nosprawltax.org/media/releases/2002-10-01Robbery.html and the associated map.

    I think that it would be difficult to demonstrate that funding the desired projects illustrated on the map would be the best use of transportation revenues. Even those of us who are isolated from the NoVA local economy understand the need to have transportation facilities so people can go to and from work. But that would seem to argue for improving congestion hot spots and not enabling more development.

    Note that I discuss transportation facilities and not roads. We need to judge rail by the same engineering and economic standards as pavement.

  14. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    OK that is a little different from the way I first read it. But I still think lobbying is OK, both for the developers and for NoSprawlTax.org. If it is wrong to look out for our own interests, then we should ALL shut up and let our officials do the job they were hired to do.

    If there is blame to be placed for bad expenditures, let it fall on the officials. NoSprawlTax.org and Jim Bacon are looking out for what they perceive to be their own financial interests, just as the developers are, so arguements based on inflammatory statements about others (“speculators” “short term profits” “windfalls”, and that sort of thing) fall on deaf ears to me. Claiming that those financial interests are for the betterment of all doesn’t improve the argument in the least: it is the same argument diluted.

    With respect to the website you posted, I’m not impressed. The site shows a map of land plots that have been assembled by “developers”. It purportedly shows how they would benefit by new roads, most of which already exist, as far as I can tell.

    But ask yourself, how were those parcels assembled? They were purchased from landowners and citizens who were ready and willing to sell at the offered price. If the smart growth coalition wants to keep “cars few and open fields aplenty” they can raise the money and put themselves in the same position the former and present landowners are in. We have a perfectly legal system for doing just that, and by the way, it is heavily subsidized.

    NoSrawlTax urges taxpayers to reject these new roads. In doing so they are making enemies out of people like Anonymous 6:37, and several others who have posted here. In doing so they are also proposing that the costs of keeping those open fields aplenty be absorbed by someone else. In other words, they want their wishes subsidized by someone else.

    That someone else is a taxpayer, and maybe a developer. They are in exactly the same boat as everyone else: their assessments and their taxes are going up. Why are they going up? because all of the rest of us are not paying our share, and because of demand that is not in anyone’s control.

    Now, the assessments are based on what the land can be sold for on an unbiased exchange. How can we assess property on that value and then prohibit the sale? What NoSprawlTax.org is suggesting is that we bias the exchange. If we do that, then we destroy the basis for making the assessment. Say the land was taxed only as its value for growing crops. That value is actually negative, in this area.

    At best, if NoSprawlTax had their way the tax collected on those properties would fall and everyone elses would go up. But to be fair, if we are going to eliminate all opportunity for those people other than the negative opportunity of growing crops (supposedly for our own tax benefit) then they need to be compensated, and our taxes will go up even more.

    Conservation is expensive, and what NoSprawlTax.org wants is no different from what they claim the developers want: something at someone else’s expense.

    There are hundreds of parcels indicated on the map, and they will one day be owned by thousands of taxpayers. When built, the roads will be there for all to use, so how can we claim that the roads are being subsidized by taxpayers for the benefit of business interests? They are going to take their profits and move on, but the taxpayers will still be there, and still be paying or the roads they need. You and I may or may not use the roads to go visit for a weekend poker game, or make a service call, but we can;t claim that the roads don’t benefit us: we all participate in the economy. Building is something like 20% of the economy.

    To be sure, they are not paying enough. None of us are, and to the extent we are not, all of us re being subsidized. And where does the money for that subsidy come from? From the businesses we demonize and work for. Until we have a tax structure where each of us pays our share, we can’t very well complain about the newcomers or subsidies for someone else.

    Schwartz’s claim that the new roads will do nothing for 99% of the drivers in the region is a classic bad argument. Under that criteria, nothing will ever be built anywhere.

    That is pretty much the situation we have backed ourselves into: build ahead of time and you are promoting sprawl and someone else’s profits, build late and you are not solving the problem.

    What Anonymous 6:37 hasn’t figured out yet, is that special interests are actively working to make impossible what she has: they would prefer that there be nothing there other than undisturbed and unmaintained land. And she is making the same argument I have prevously made: some commercial development makes it possible for people to work near where they live. Sprawl, if you choose to call it that, makes it possible for more people to own and maintain, and pay the taxes on, what remains of our rural landscape. To the extent that occurs, people like her won’t need to travel much farther to work and clog roads that are already overdeveloped.

    So, lets get off the schtick of blaming everybody else: it is not productive. Our officials are stuck with the unenviable position of balancing opposing interests. Nobody likes sprawl and everyone supports conservation, but it is going to be expensive to achieve goals we all say we want.

    Our officials are stuck with making their decision in the absence of any measurable criteria, and the special interests on both sides are so entrenched in their positions that someone will always be unhappy.

    I frankly don’t think we know anywhere near enough to decide what the best use of transportation revenues is. Even EMR says we know next to nothing about how we settle and live. We should be working to give our oficials tools they can use to dispassionately make decisons that are best for all. But using bad arguments against others that could equally well apply to ourselves does nothing to help the situation.

    We should spend the energy and money studying what works and what doesn’t and understanding why and how to measure. We can look at what works and what doesn’t and measure the characteristics of those places. We should duplicate the ones that work and not duplicate the ones that don’t. And we should expect to pay.

    One thing we can be sure of, is that prosperity is a requirement of whatever works. NoSprawlTax.org takes Til Hazel to task for his developments. What they don’t point out is that Georgetown sits on the site of a former Hazel family farm. They don’t point out that Hazel owns substantial property that is under conservation easement. That is something you cannot afford to do without prosperity behind you. While NoSprawlTax rails against Hazel’s developments on the basis they are not wanted and they are bad for taxpayers, the fact reamins that they are all sold to taxpayers.

    When you look at the Ballston Corridor, those high rises were essentially subdivided from property formerly owned as single family homes. Those homes were sold because the owners could no longer hold on to them at the prices being offered and taxed at. The situation is no different fo people that previously owned the parcels on the NoSrawlTax.org map.

    I have no doubt the same thing will happen to me eventually. The same thing may be happening to TMT.
    When the time comes, both of us will sell to the highest bidder, and I don’t expect NoSprawlTax.org to be on the bidders list. More likely, someone like Anonymous 6:37 will be.

    Right after she buys, she will probably join NoSprawlTax.org.

    There might be some other alternative, but whatever it is is going to cost money. I sure hope it doesn’t come out of my pocket.

  15. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    Ray – I’m not endorsing anyone’s agenda by my reference to the web page and I surely don’t begrudge anyone the ability to lobby for what they want. I do, however, think that elected officials need to be willing to say “no” when they don’t think something makes good sense. One of the most refreshing experiences is to have an elected official honestly tell you that he/she simply cannot support your request because It’s too expensive or because he/she simply does not support the request.

    What I and, hopefully, quite a few other Virginians want to see is our elected officials walk their talk. This problem flows from the top on down. Right, wrong or indifferent, Tim Kaine won office because he said “we cannot permit more development where the roads cannot handle the traffic” and “we cannot pave our way out of this mess.” Yet, once in office, he jumps to the other side. Reasonable people can argue that Kaine’s position that would limit the ability to develop one’s land was stupid or plain wrong. But we should all agree that his running away from the very position that put him in office is disgraceful.

    My engineer friends tell me that one can prioritize transportation projects based on what expenditures would produce the most improvement in traffic flow, etc. Yet, that’s not how Virginia funds transportation infrastructure. We do it based on lobbying the CTB. What the NST map does show is that the goal of the sales tax referendum was mainly to build or expand roads near landholdings. That is not improving transportation, but a group of investors seeking a subsidy. (I have a good friend who attended a meeting in Richmond where a famous developer stood up and told the crowd that he built things and its was the taxpayers’ job to pay for the infrastructure to support whatever he built. That’s the Virginia way.) These landowners could offer to build or expand the roads near their properties. Look at the roads that Disney and others built in Florida. I don’t fault the landowners for trying. I do fault those elected officials who fail to say “no” to projects that would not fix traffic problems. My criticism is not just for roads, but also for extending Metro to Dulles at a huge cost that will not improve traffic congestion based on the state’s own evidence. The table shows several roads with LOS F that, after spending billions on Metro, are still LOS F. Fixing traffic problems? Hardly.

    Likewise, if we are in a transportation mess, why aren’t our elected officials — especially the Senate — addressing VDOT’s total lack of internal cost controls? Walk the talk.

  16. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    OK. Now we agree.

    Lobbying groups should be free to lobby. But they had better bring an argument that is supportable as in “prioritize transportation projects based on what expenditures would produce the most improvement in traffic flow” and not as in “its was the taxpayers’ job to pay for the infrastructure to support whatever he built”, and not as in “new roads will do nothing for 99% of the drivers”.

    And officials should be free to say no when it doesn’t make any sense. That goes for lobbyists on both sides of the fence.

    Now, if we can just find some agreement on what does make sense….

    I agree that Metro to Dulles won’t do a thing for traffic congestion, but I’m not so sure it doesn’t make some sense by some other measure. But clearly, using tolls to pay for Metro (instead of road improvements) while simultaneously claiming that cars and roads don’t pay their way is both nutso and egregiously unfair.

    Those that benefit should pay, but at the same time, we can’t make egregious statements about who benefits, or who doesn’t. At some level, everybody benefits, but the benefits probably decrease rapidly with distance.

    Whatever formula we come up with is going to be complex, but we ought to be able to come up with something that is a) measurable and b) makes enough sense so that all but the nut cases can see the sense in it.

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