A Step in the Right Direction

Land use — the missing piece?

This just in… The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) will conduct a “Super NoVa” study of commuting patterns to help determine transit and transportation demand management (TDM) enhancements for Northern Virginia. The study will disregard jurisdictional boundaries, and it will extend beyond the traditional definition of “Northern Virginia” to encompass the entire commuting shed of the Washington area, including points as far west as the Shenandoah Valley and as far south as Culpeper and Caroline counties.

The study will evaluate existing and future population and employment centers to identify potential transit and TDM improvements that will increase mobility and provide greater transportation choice in the northern part of Virginia, states a press release from the governor’s office. The study will produce concrete recommendations with a strategic regional focus.

“Every locality in Northern Virginia faces transportation challenges and most have developed jurisdictionally specific projects to address those challenges,” said Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton. “We must broaden our focus and find the most cost-effective transit and TDM services that have the biggest impact on a region-wide basis. The Super NOVA study will help us do that.”

Here’s what’s good about the study. First, it is taking a labor-market view instead of jurisdictional, planning-district or even metropolitan-area view. That means the findings will better reflect economic reality. Second, the Department of Transportation is expanding its focus beyond building roads, it’s main preoccupation until now, to include not only transit but transportation demand management. Both are important steps forward.

Here’s what’s lacking: Judging from the press release, the study will not make the land-use connection. Talking about transportation without understanding its interplay with human settlement patterns is like describing how to bake a cake with flour, sugar and eggs… with no reference how to mix them with milk and water. As described, the study will take existing human settlement patterns as a given and endeavor to fashion transportation policies to serve them. But human settlement patterns are dysfunctional and unsustainable throughout much of the Washington metropolitan area, especially in peripheral counties, and probably cannot be served economically with the resources Virginia has available.

But it’s too early to judge the study. If it concludes that much of the Northern Virginia commuting shed is impossible to serve with mass transit in the absence of dramatic changes in human settlement patterns, then it could prove to be well worth the effort. Here’s hoping that the authors take an extra-wide view of their task.


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29 responses to “A Step in the Right Direction”

  1. excellent commentary…..!

    but .. going back to Charlottesville – it’s not so much a settlement pattern issue as it is a wanton and irresponsible approach to co-opt roads for purposes other than transportation utility.

    when you say the world “bypass” whether it be Charlottesville, Lynchburg or the Western Transportation “bypass” – you’re admitting that you’ve spent a whole bunch of money on the original road – and then you crapped it up instead of preserving it for it’s original intended purpose – that justified it being built in the first place.

    the second thing is … if, in fact, more roads can be justified to serve rush hour solo driving. It’s a massive waste of infrastructure but if people are willing to pay for it then so be it.

    the problem is they want to drive solo at rush hour but they want someone else to pay for the infrastructure.

    at some point – people need to be told the truth that sits right in front of their nose…

    when someone says that they have “no choice” but to drive the same Point A to Point B route every day -twice at day at peak hour…. why do we think they really have “no choice”.

    they got choices…and they made them… they want to do what is convenient to them but if you say “you need to pay” they get surly.

  2. all in all.. depending on the quality of the study – this could be a good thing.

    Both the Washington Metro MPO and our local MPO have performed what they call Scenario land use planning where they judge the effect that more compact development would have on the need for more future roads.

    But what troubles me a bit is that as they do that.. they don’t really lay out the alternative infrastructure needed – i.e. transit… and it’s scope, scale and cost.

    and to give a good “for instance” – we are told that if we build more compact communities around the VRE stations – it will “take cars off the road”.

    but not so fast… VRE is ALREADY AT capacity – and VRE has laid out a strategic plan to expand/increase capacity and the costs of doing that are, if not staggering, pretty high..

    so we have an advocacy that says.. we don’t have the money to build more roads…so we should… develop more compactly and use transit but we have no more idea where the money for transit is going to come from any more than roads… and as far as any kind of meaningful cost comparison .. forget it.
    oh… and private commuter buses and vans and the carpool lots they need..?? they’re the proverbial black sheep… in this story…

    the 2.1% tax on fuel is to fund VRE – ONLY – not other kinds of mass transit… so we have a little game of transit funding called. “I’ve got mine..go find yours” … oh.. and the parking at the tax-payer-funded VRE parking lots is “free”…. another subsidy from people who don’t use it.

  3. Groveton Avatar

    Every day I wake up and thank God that Bob McDonnell is our governor instead of Little Timmy Kaine. Creigh Deeds may have been a good governor, who knows? But the difference between Kaine and McDonnell is absolutely striking.

    Too bad you can’t run for consecutive terms.

    However, I have a suggestion for Bob McDonnell – draft Terry McAuliffe into the circle as the “jobs guy”. Yes, I know Bill Bolling is supposed to be that guy. It isn’t working. Yes, I know Terry is a Democrat. So what? In fact, I think McDonnell’s future would be greatly enhanced if he demonstrated that he was willing to work “across the aisle”.

    As for Jim Bacon’s land use commentary … I wouldn’t be so sure. Connaughton may not have all the verbiage ready for reporters but he was agitating for a moratorium on curb cuts in Charlottesville and even a closure of some of the existing curb cuts. Something tells me that Ole Sean gets the human settlement patter thing better than some may think.

  4. Groveton Avatar

    While I applaud McDonnell et al – there is one big problem with this study …
    DC and Maryland. As EMR has tirelessly pointed out, NURs cross state boundaries with impunity. Culpeper and Caroline Counties are interesting. Montgomery County and Washington, DC are fascinating.

    I’d suggest that McDonnell try to deal with Martin O’Malley but I doubt that would work. As a homeowner in Maryland I must say that I have very little regard for Maryland’s version of Little Timmy Kaine. Paris Glendening you could work with, Bob Erlich you could work with. But Martin O’Malley? I doubt it.

  5. re: curb cuts and settlement patterns…

    what Sean is doing is called Access Management – and it’s fundamental premise is that a road is primarily designed and built to provide mobility – and access but every time you put an access (curb cut) – you degrade the road.

    think of it this way. a one mile stretch of road has a house every 100 feet and each one has a curb cut…

    would that road be a good road for people trying to get through that area and not stop at one of those houses?

    Rt 29 in Charlottesville has too many curb cuts for it’s intended use.

    Rt 29 in NoVa has the same problem.

    The Route 29 curb cut problem in NoVa was solved with I-66.

    there is no planned interstate “solution” for rt 29 in Charlottesville.

    Even after they build that bypass – if they don’t do something about rt 29 north of Charlottesville … same up around Warrenton… then curb cuts are still going to be the bane of that road.

    I don’t think Sean C cares about human settlement patterns at all.

    I think what he cares about is rehabilitating Rt 29 for it’s original purpose and then preserving and protecting the bypass from having the same fate.

    I respect him for that… I don’t think “jobs” Bob has much to do with it other than staying out of the way and letting Sean do his thing.

    In other words.. if Sean takes a job somewhere else, “jobs” Bob is in trouble.

    Sean could even go to work for Terry M.. or Creigh Deeds.. eh?

    In fact if Sean worked for Tim Kaine – we’d NEVER hear the end of Tim Kaine taking Virginia into bond debt for roads… he would have been pilloried for his “tax”…..

    don’t mistake virtue for dumb luck.

  6. re: Md … and roads of nationwide significance verses state roads of significance.

    at the national level they are called: NHS High Priority Corridors


    here’s that map:


    tell me where that Va road crosses into Maryland….

    bonus question – if there is no NHS road in Maryland on that Map… what does that mean?

    double triple bonus – if there is no NHS corridor there does that mean Sean is a chump?

  7. Connaughton *may* get the land use piece. It’s just not evident from the press release. As LarryG points out, “access management” is only one small piece of the larger land use picture. We’ll see.

  8. Richard Avatar

    A cynical response (perhaps I’ll be surprised).

    Roads are the tried and true moneymakers, and all the players have been in business for a long time and know how the game is played.

    But how do you get past local opposition who argue that big new roads aren’t the answer, they tear up the countryside, they create higher taxes, and they just make things worse? You get Richmond to steamroll the locals, and the first step is to put together some sort of [bogus] commission to provide cover for what had been planned from the begining.

  9. re: ” You get Richmond to steamroll the locals,”

    exactly right – if the local elected dare to use eminent domain for a new road – they are often toast…. at the next election…

    which goes back to what Richard is saying..

    this is another reason I support toll roads – because “in theory” there is a better chance that a private company does not want to get into a protracted legal fight and they have no such constraints like VDOT on the dollar amount.

    The private company makes a time vs dollar calculation and gets the deal done and moves on and because tolls will not use tax dollars then there is no drop-dead max number for parcel prices.

    Private companies can also negotiate for the whole parcel – and then later sell off the remainder or develop it.. whereas that appears to be a “no-no” for VDOT…

  10. Transportation’s demand management enhancement?

    What kind of newspeak is that?

    We need enhanced methods to artificially prevent people from traveling?
    Settlement patterns are dysfunctional, especially on the periphery? And yet the study will consider employment patterns as far away as culpeper?

    Wake up, Jim. It is over.

    I predict the conclusion of this study will be that the way to reduce transportation is to create more peripheral cities.

  11. Tolls will not uses tax dollars? Are you completely nuts? Tills are tax dollars, levied by a private enterprise that adds its overhead and profit to the government cost. The private enterprise is a non-elected taxing body wiith zero interest in the people it serves. It is a government sanctionrd monopsony with all of the worst features of both unelected Dictatorial government and crony capitalism.

    This form of road funding is a colossal mistake we will grow to hate.
    Just imagine ilf you gave METRO a Road to run.

  12. used in your context then HOAs also levy taxes, eh?

    the difference for me is that no one gets “taxes” who is not using the facility.

    A tax that is levied ONLY on people who use the infrastructure has a better NEXUS than one where everyone has to pay even if they never use it.

    whether you call it a tax or a toll – I think the one that has the closer nexus encourages people to be more conservative in their use and not waste it.

    and another good example is a car itself where you do not pay one tax no matter how many cars you have.. you pay PER CAR and that encourages people not to have multiple cars unless they actually do need them. Same deal with auto insurance – even though you only drive one car at a time – you have to pay additional insurance…if you own more than one.

    in terms of a “colossal” mistake, the Chesapeake Bay Bridget Tunnel and the downtown Powhite Parkway in Richmond have been tolled a long, long time with no apparent ill effects.. as well as much of the northeast of the country.

    tolls are a way to build new infrastructure based on true need and actually preserves the limited gas tax money for roads than cannot be tolled.

  13. Groveton Avatar

    ‘re: ” You get Richmond to steamroll the locals,”’.

    At least Richmond is steamrolling something.

  14. Larry, the only reson you are in favor of tolls is because you are retired, most of your travel is local, and you figure this way only OTHER people will have to pay.

    Besides which, if fewer people have to pay a lot more for road use, then a lot less roads will get built, which is your second goal.

    Never mind any consideration of what is the optimum amount of roadbuilding to be done, how to optimizes the selection of where it is done, and how to optimize the collection of money to do it with.

    In short, never mind what is best for society and the economy, and the environment, but only mind what is best for good old skinflint automotive prohibitionist Larry himself.

  15. .. as well as much of the northeast of the country.
    They took down the tolls on 95 and many other projects many years ago, and for good reason.


    you pay PER CAR and that encourages people not to have multiple cars unless they actually do need them. Same deal with auto insurance – even though you only drive one car at a time – you have to pay additional insurance…if you own more than one.

    You are right on this one, and it is a complete screw job. I own six vehicles, each used for one special purpose and each one insured even though I only drive one at a time. Here is an area where, if the states wanted to help out the farmers and help preserve our farms, they could fix this nonsense.

    Other states have seasonal permits and other rules to reduce costs. There are farm use tags, but they are very limited and don’t solve the insurance problem.

    None of which has anything to do with the fact that tollsa re a terrible idea, with absolutely no redeeming virtue, and the same goes for a miles driven tax which is only a universal toll.

    The fuel tax makes sense because it covers miles driven, horsepower used, weight carried, vehicle maintenance, and bad driving habits all in one tax which can be set exactly equivalent to whatever money you intend to raise by any stupid method you can dream up, and foist on the public with a pack of LIES.

  16. You want to talk about NEXUS? lets look at how nexus has been defined in the law. Take Oregon for example: for corproarate exise and income tax purposes “Substantial nexus exists where a taxpayer regularly takes advantage of Oregon’s economy to produce income for the taxpayer and may be established through the significant economic presence of a taxpayer in the state.”

    Also considered is whether the business is protected by Oregon laws, has court access, uses state roads, benefits from Oregon’s educated workforce, or receives “police and fire protection for property in Oregon that displays taxpayer’s intellectual or intangible property.”

    In other words, if you do anything in Oregon, even if you do it from outside the state, you may owe them money.

    In Nebraska a trucking company must apportion income to the state if the company “owns or rents any real or personal property in this state, other than mobile property; makes any pick-ups or deliveries within this state; travels more than 25,000 mobile miles within this state or the total mobile miles within this state exceed three percent (3%) of the total mobile miles traveled in all states; or, makes more than 12 trips into this state.”

    So, wth Nexus defined that broadly, the fact that your street connects to a road that connects to a highway, that connects to a toll facility means that you have a nexus to that facility and you have an obligation to contribute to it.

    In short, the use of a highway is not the only rule that judges who benefits from a roadway and who should pay for it. There is the effect of the roadway on adjacent property, for example, even if the road provides no access, and even if the property owner never uses it. One reason we should all pay for roadways is tha we all get equal OPPORTUNITY to use them, even if we never use that opportunity, it is still a service available to us for which we should pay.

    Rather than having infinitely small tolls established for an infinite number of road segments, so we can calculate to a farthing who uses exactly what piece of roadway, so that god forbid someone might have to pay for something he does not use,—– we just take an average and pay it. Which makes a lot more sense than the ridiulous and sefish arguments Larry has promoted above.

  17. actually .. I have an EZ-pass and use it often… and prefer the roads that are tolled

    all the other “reasons” you give boil down to taxing people for different things besides mobility….

    taxes for roads are not to give someone “opportunity”..

    you speak of “opportunity”. There is a LOT MORE “opportunity” in a toll road project because they are not restricted as to how much they pay for a parcel and can buy the whole parcel rather than slice and dice it.

    remember.. I ALSO support HOAs for subdivisions AND I support local taxes for local roads…

    my position is consistent and has nothing to do with retirement….

    I believe the nexus is closest when you have to pay directly for the use… whether it be in the subdivision or local taxes for local roads or tolls.

    go fish Hydra.

  18. HOAs are another crazy idea. I would categorically refuse to buy in a location that has required membership.

    Your belief about the use nexus is simply wrong. Highways roads and streets are such an integral part of our economy that the benefits go far beyond the direct users. Check out the FHWA website to see what I mean. To the extent others get free benefits, charging only users of a few facilities concentrates the charges among a few people, which means less money is available, AND as you have pointed out, the money is frequently diverted anyway.

    There is nothing fair about this, and it is probably in violation of the Virginia constitution.

    Besides not being fair, based on who benefits, tolls and mileage taxes which amount to tolls by GPS are a truly, extraordinaarily BAD IDEA.

    None of these ideas offer anywhere near the advantages that a properly calibrated fuels tax would provide, while raising the same money.

    Where do you use an EZ pass? I may have paid a toll four times in the last year, and one of those times I saw a crash at the toll booth. I don’t believe society made any money collecting that particular toll.

  19. If you are going to have tolls, then have universal tolling and be done with it. But if yu do that, the rationale for a fuel tax is even stronger: universal tolling is going to boil down to so much a mile, and so des the fuel tax.

    The advantage to universal tolling is that theoretically you could vary charges by location for transportation demand management (Which will encourag sprawl as people graviate away form the high demand and high cost areas). Practically speaking the endless arguing over which locations pay much would negate any advantages the plan could theoretically provide.

    I think people are going to have a lot of heartburn when they find out that one area charges a lot more per mile than another area does for using a similar facility.

  20. 46 other states already require HOAs and county taxation for local roads.

    I’m not advocating something that is unheard of. It’s common practice in the vast majority of states.

    people who do not live in subdivisions – end up having their gas tax diverted from roads they use to roads they don’t use.

    re: toll booths and universal tolling,

    toll booths are going away … and open road tolling takes over. There will not be toll booths on the HOT lanes … right?

    and HOT lanes toll MORE than miles. – they set the price according to demand.

    that’s going to be the de facto standard for urban toll roads.

    in terms of “sprawl” – it’s the opposite. .. “sprawl” is much less likely on a new road that has tolls because people would sit down and figure out that it’s going to cost them more to drive further… you know.. those mythical long-distance commuters… that down my way in Stafford and Spotsy are already kicking up a fuss about how such tolls will make it less feasible for them to live in Stafford and Spotsy. they might as well use the money saved on tolls to buy a house closer to where they work, eh?


    I SUPPORT the gas tax FOR Maintenance…. and I’m okay with everyone, everywhere paying for that purpose as long as the state has non-jurisdictional standards prioritizing maintenance on the roads that need it the most.

    It’s the new roads that have always been the problem…as long as the state doles out money to those with political connections .. and developers.., we’ll always spend what we have and more,.

    you need to look no further than a place like Tysons to see where developers work tirelessly to get the State to “fund” their project …which has everything to do with their profits and induced traffic and very little to do with existing and projected demand.

  21. Sprawl is less likely on toll roads because people will choose to sprawl someplace else.

  22. Sprawl is less likely on toll roads because people will choose to sprawl someplace else.

  23. Assume a road is built with zero developer input. Won’t the devopers still benefit?

    Blaming road costruction on developers is silly.

  24. If the gas tax is good enough for maintenance, it is good enough for maintenance from scratch.

    How much do we need to raise the gas tax to meet maintenance needs? Is that politically possible?

    What source of revenue should we use for new roads? Should we tax adjacent landowners who benefit? Of course we should. But only proportionate to what they gain, compared to everyone else, and considering the investments they make relative to everyone else.

    And, by the way, if we will charge people for govt improvements to their property, should not we EQUALLY, compensate land owners when government devalues their property?

  25. There are long distance commuters, BUT THEY ARE NOT THE BULK OF THE PROBLEM.

    The average commute is 26 minutes.

  26. Require HOA s?


  27. From roads they use to roads they don’t use.

    There you go, back to the phony and selfish argument about who uses what.

  28. Suppose that over many years dot accepts many subdivisions into the road system. Many people will then lie in subdivisions and all of them pay part of the cost for people in other subdivisions.

    And for people who don’t live in subdivisions.

    Where is the problem?

  29. re: ” they will sprawl elsewhere” – maybe not if the only choices are congested roads or toll roads – or at least they will not sprawl as far.

    re: HOAs – the fact is that the vast majority of states do not maintain subdivision roads and the county can either pay for them with property taxes or let the owners of the properties decide how to handle it and HOAs is one method.

    The same is true of many Condos and apartments where the parking is a cost paid for by the people who live there – not other taxpayers.

    the same is true of gated communities.

    the same is true of 46 other states.

    the states who do maintain subdivision roads and local county roads are among the most fiscally stressed also.

    I’ve never seen a cost but I’d bet that in states like Va where 3/4 of the road system is local county roads and subdivisions that a significant portion of the 17.5 cents tax gets spent on that purpose and not state level roads that would relieve congestion, etc.

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