The CBT and the Battlefield Bypass

In an example of the kinds of land use-impacting decisions that the Commonwealth Transportation Board makes (see previous post for context), the CTB has voted to approve the controversial Battlefield Bypass around Manassas National Battlefield Park. Reports the Times Community Newspapers:

The purpose of the bypass is to reroute traffic around the battlefield. Route 234 and U.S. 29 are now so jammed that visitors have a hard time getting around the park; area residents have an even harder time getting to work. In 1988, Congress ordered the National Park Service to start considering whether it is feasible to close both roads inside the battlefield and reroute traffic onto a beltway instead.

Hundreds of residents have turned out to oppose the route, which they fear will open up development in the county’s Rural Crescent. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine has made it clear that he wants to curtail development in areas where the transportation system is inadequate to support it. But does he want to halt the practice of opening up new countryside for development when there is plenty of land closer to the urban core that could be re-developed more efficiently? We don’t know the answer to that question.

Right now, Kaine could plausibly disown the CBT’s Battlefield Bypass decision (if he wanted to) because other governors appointed most of the board members. After June 30, when the terms of five board members, it will be more difficult to disassociate himself from board actions.

As a footnote: The CBT didn’t grant any money for the project, so the road will remain “little more than a line on a map,” writes reporter Tara Slate Donaldson, “unless Congress opts to donate federal funds for construction.”

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15 responses to “The CBT and the Battlefield Bypass”

  1. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    This is a riot.

    Frequently we see people oppose development because it causes congestion or promote open space because it limits congestion.

    Here, we have a big chunk of open space that is causing congestion, because you cannot tear it up to go through it, and the neighbors won’t let you go around it.

    OK planners, please explain. Is the road in the wrong place? Is the open space in the wrong place? Are the neighbors in the wrong place? The road was there before either the battlefield or the park. The neighbors are there becuase we thought that was preferable to Disney.

    The battle was there mostly by accident and supidity, and here we are 160 years later, still fighting over the place.

    What version of linking land use and transportation could have planned our way out of this? After years of endlessly debating the issues, government finally had to make a decision.

  2. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    “But does he want to halt the practice of opening up new countryside for development when there is plenty of land closer to the urban core that could be re-developed more efficiently? We don’t know the answer to that question.”

    Jim, this is the kind of thing that allows you to state you are in favor of one position while pushing another. How does this square with your position that we need less land use regulation, not more?

    We don’t know that there is plenty of land closer to the urban core that can be redeveloped more efficiently. The evidence seems to be that it will be more expensive to redevelop there, and if you can overcome the costs, it won’t be any more efficient, and the taxes will be higher.

    If there is land available, it belongs to someone who may have other plans for it. Or it may alrady be excluded from the most “desirable” kinds of redevelopment as a result of zoning passed by previous planners.

    Many residents of Fairfax think it is nearing build out. That might or might not be true, but it seems to me that it is for them to decide, and iof there is anyplace where the roads are overused an inadequate it is more likely to be in Fairfax than PW.

    Assuming Kaine does want to “halt” the practice of openng up new countryside for development, what would you propose as an antidote for the inevitable transfer of wealth that will occur as a result?

    Let’s assume that halt does not mean regulate or enforce. We could achieve the same thing by providing incentives or subsidies to make changing your plans to include redevelopment in centrally located (not necessarily more efficient) places more attractive. Where would the money come from? How could you support such a plan and continue to argue against the supposed subsidies for sprawl?

  3. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Ray, There’s nothing inconsistent about my position. The decision to build a road into the countryside and open up new land for development is a very different kind of thing that a decision, say, to downzone property. The first entails the expenditure of tax dollars… the second entails the restriction of property rights.

    We’ll go over this one more time… I support free market principles consistently. Roads should be financed on a user-pays basis to the greatest practicable extent… Zoning codes should be made less restrictive, allowing developers greater freedom to deliver a wider range of development types to meet consumer demand… Property owners should be required to pay the location-variable costs associated with their decisions of where to build houses and commercial buildings.

    I don’t believe in forcing people to do what they don’t want to do. But I don’t believe in subsidizing them either.

  4. Anonymous Avatar

    “Hundreds of residents have turned out to oppose the route, which they fear will open up development in the county’s Rural Crescent.”

    This statement is untrue – there was little opposition to the road from the locals. The regional no-growth groups oppose it but even they had an impossible time getting people out at the public hearings. At the end of the day, less then 25 people said they opposed the road.

  5. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Anonymous 12:46, I’ll take your word from it. I was just quoting from the article.

  6. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    Jim, I’m willing to accept what you say. But asking such a question allows you to put the onus on Kaine, while raising the issue yourself. To a casual reader it might *sound* as if you are promoting the idea.

    For myself, if I have to choose between “halting” A or providing an incentive to B, I think the latter is preferable. Those who are opposed to A can get their wishes for free through regulation. If the alternative is B and they have to pay for what they want, then I would count that as a plus on the basis of “user pays”. In addition, in order to defray the costs as far as possible, promoters of B now have a real incentive to get concensus, whereas if they can simply halt A by fiat, then they have demonstrated real power and get B by default for free.

    I’d have to say subsidies (oops, incentives) are preferable precisely because the DO involve tax money.

    I think an awful lot of discussion here is really a matter of determining what is an incentive for a desired result, and when that incentive amounts to swilling a dead hog.

    Once an investment gets started, it is hard to eliminate it, even when the original promoters are long gone along with the original purpose. The March of Dimes didn’t end with polio, as you have pointed out.

    But at least with subsidies there is an ongoing reason to eliminate them. Once a prohibition gets put in place, it is next to impossible to undo it.

    If we could just agree on the real value and extent of location variable costs, I think we could generally agree.

    Then all we have to do is figure out how to rationalize offering incentives in one place and demanding proffers in another.

    The other way of looking at it that you don’t have to choose between free markets and subsidies. You can promote free markets and agitate against excess regulation and subsidies. That pretty much empties the toolbox as far a getting anything changed goes, let alone creating fundamental change.

    It seems to me that is what is inconsistent with your position. You apparently want to get things done in certain preferred ways, but without creating restrictions and without spending money.

  7. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    Ray – I’d argue that it would generally be easier to change a regulation than to stop a subsidy/incentive. For example, the “deal” between the feds and Arlington County to keep I-66 at two lanes in each direction has been changed. As circumstances change, land use plans can be and are modified. The question is: have the facts and circumstances changed such that the existing regulation is no longer effective or fair.

    On the other hand, look at the federal, state and local programs that keep being funded even when the need for them ends/changes or when they have been proven failures. These appropriations abuses occur in every area of government activity, from defense to education to social welfare programs.

    Give me a good old, inflexible regulation any day. I’d much rather work to change that than to try to close access to the public spigot.

  8. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    OK, you would rather have someone tell you what you can and cannot do than to be able to do what you like, and have someone else get part of the benefit.

    Your argument that old programs are hard to end has merit. Anyway you look at it, government is non-responsive. I guess it is the nature of government: laws you can change at will have no force of law.

    But regulations have a life of their own, too. We have been killing the federal estate tax for ten years and it is still prophesied to resurrect itself in 2011.

    I don’t like paying taxes any more than the next guy, but I figure it is part of the price of freedom.
    If we, as a society, agree that we want to encourage a certain activity, then we should be willing to pay for it. If we are not willing to pay, then we don’t really care very much to support it. Our views are then just so much hot air and imposition.

    If Jim Bacon thinks it is worthwhile to redevelop Fairfax, and if he is willing to spend enough money to turn it into such a garden spot that people will flock there to pay the high rents, and if he is able to convince enough people to agree with him, so be it. I’ll chip in an extra couple of bucks to help make it happen.

    And I’ll vote against the incumbent next time around.

    Naturally, I’d prefer to be on the receiving end. If Jim Bacon is willing to open the coffers and actually pay for conservation, so much the better. I might even vote FOR the incumbent.

    Either choice is better than simply being legislated into conservation serfdom as a means of transferring wealth elsewhere.

    As you point out, land use plans can be and are modified. You are exactly correct in asking if circumstances have changed so much that the existing regs are no longer fair.

    But the fact that land use plans can be changed is also exactly why conservationists are resorting to conservation easements, historical districts, and now the Journey through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area. It is specifically to take change out of the legal equation by placing control under other governances. Also, where one regulation isn’t enough, pile on overlapping regulations with different convening boards and you can eventually achieve a strategic stalemate.

    Your argument makes sense, but at least the public spigot will run dry some day. I’m afraid the fount of likely prescripts will run forever.

  9. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I think folks are expecting WAY too much from Kaine with respect to land-use/transportation.

    Where is HIS plan? How would we implemement it?

    That’s where the issues we see debated here in this blog including whether we subsidize or incentivize, materialize (or not) and then the follow-on fallout which I would predict would be turbulent.

    But the thing that struck me about this article was this “The CBT didn’t grant any money for the project, so the road will remain “little more than a line on a map,”

    Folks – what happens to the cost of a project that is so far into the future that it does not have a start date?

    Also, what happens to the prospective route if no money is available to preserve the required right-of-way?

    Finally, ask yourself this. Would that bypass even be possible conceptually if the land had not been preserved as a Battlefield to start with?

    I want to ask what good does it do – to approve a project without funding or a construction timeline?

    Why is VDOT expending financial and human resources on this venture and why is the CTB wasting their time on it?

    About the ONLY way this road will be built is if a private investor builds it as a toll road – and THAT calculation would depend on whether people who live in the area would pay a toll to use it.

    And here’s an obvious question also.

    What if it was determined that people in the area would NOT pay a TOLL to use that road – or at least a TOLL sufficient to pay for the construction and maintenance of the road?

    Wouldn’t that indicate something about just how much that road was really “needed” or not?

    That’s the beauty of Toll Roads. We take VDOT out of the equation especially the part about determining “need”.. ranking and prioritization and we basically put it to the public? “Would you being willing to pay to use this road”. A “yes” means we need it. A “no” means we don’t.

    By the way – private investors are looking a roads the same way that WalMart looks at different profit margins on what it sells in that they don’t need to make a big or an immediate profit – just a consistent one over time.

    The moral of this story is – if folks think the Battlefield Bypass is needed – then there actually is a law that encourages private investment. Let’s see how this plays out.

  10. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I wanted to relate a somewhat similar issue for folks.

    Last November, my county, Spotsylvania approved a $144 million dollar transportation bond referenda.

    Most of the projects that would be funded would be – you guessed it – projects that VDOT said they would build on their 6yr Plan – except that 6yrs had become 10, 15 and 20 years plus – so voters decided to approve the county taking over the funding – not too different from Prince Williams practice.

    I’m illustrating that this is also an option for the Battlefield Bypass but I also wanted to point out that Spotsylvania County recently made decisions about going forward on funding their transportation priorities and what they found out was two very important things:

    1. – The $144 million decreases in Value each year that goes by without a project being built.

    2. – If they had decided to build all $144 million worth – they would have had to raise their tax rate by 36 cents to be able to stay within their debt limit.

    Now – back to VDOT and the Battlefield Bypass which has been estimated to be over 200 million.

    How much do you think that road will cost – in say – 10 years? 20 years (and assuming the right-of-way has not been developed by that time)?

    This illustrates our “broken” system where we essentially draw lines on a map using.. totally unrealistic cost estimates – NOT adjusted for inflation nor do we acquire/preserve the right-of-way.. which means if we ever get the money .. it will cost far more to acquire developed right-of-way.

    Assuming that building this road IS a good idea (I’m not sure it is, but let’s assume it is) – THEN the very first step that should be done without delay is to acquire and preserve the right-of-way.

    I would posit that if VDOT cannot do that – that approval of the road and the work/study associated with it are a tremendous waste of taxpayer monies.

    Unless Prince William is willing to buy the right-of-way .. OR a private investor is .. for ultimately a TOLL Road – this illustrates quite clearly what is wrong with VDOT.

    Giving VDOT more state-wide taxpayer money will only perpetuate their flawed , no.. fiscally irresposible .. approach to transporation.

  11. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    Excellent comments, Larry.

    With respect to the bypass, if you look at the map you see that the proposed route goes entirely around the park on a circuitous route that winds up paralleling and apparently even crossing rout 234, three times!

    Route 29 meanwhile goes stright through the park like an arrow. It would be much cheaper and faster to widen 29 through the park, but that option is off the table.

    The result is that, in the name of conservation, we will eventually spend some multiple of $200 million and route thousands of vehicles miles out of their way.

    The park is a great asset, but….

  12. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    There are some different ways of looking at Battlefields and other “set aside” areas.

    First, there are folks that claim that beyond their value as green space that even though they don’t pay taxes – that if that land had been developed as residential then it would have – like the rest – used more in services than it pays AND would generate much more traffic.

    Second, the Park Service is very relunctant to allow VDOT to encroach because once they do it for one property, they will use it as justification to obtain FHWA approval to go through others Battlefields – no matter how significant since “significant” is not the criteria but instead – just “historic” NPS land.

  13. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I’m off on vacation for a month or so but you’ll hear from me when I get back! 🙂


  14. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    You’re off for a whole month? I thought you’d just gone canoeing for a week. I thought only Europeans got that kind of time off.

    Have a good one.

  15. Anonymous Avatar

    The Bypass was opposed by locals, lots of them. The new bypass is not going to help, the transportation folks will confirm this. Ask them what the purpose is and they will tell you “to get traffic out of the Park”. The new route has so many engineering faults it is laughable (that subject is another ten paragraphs). If the CTB wants to fix things this is not going to do that. The solution that makes sense to just about everyone on all sides of this issue except VDOT was to route traffic to the south – VDOT made a stand on not co-locating the two roads and stuck with it in the face of arguments that really should have won the day, VDOT was stubborn. The study was done to reverse engineer the desired outcome and the CTB was made a fool of when they rubber stamped the route they did, “D” to the north. Locals worked hard to offer a ‘can do’ solution to the traffic problem in the Park. Some said the costs of making slight improvements to the existing 234/29 would be all we need or can afford. Others said that a southern route would reuse land that has already been compromised by I66. The selected route not only opens the area for development but it takes the noise and pollution of I66 next to rural battlefield scenes to the south and multiplies it to make a complete circle around the Park – how nice! An alternative to the study group solution to the south was proposed and actually made the final cut – imagine that, a citizen proposal getting attention! The Alternative “G” Modified as the citizens presented it actually did fix the problem, and uses existing Park land rather than taking land.

    This Bypass issue is so much more involved that ‘opening up rural land for development’. Smart growth folks characterize it that way because their view of things is from high altitude. On the ground, there is a problem with traffic in this Park and it needs to be fixed. If that solution helps correct a traffic problem AND improves the visitor experience that solution needs to be given serious review. As it is the CTB was fooled into selecting the route the traffic officials and the Park created by committee. Their needs were not consistent and the result of picking “D” shows it.

    The Study assumed there would be both the Eastern Tri County and the Western Transportation Corridor. The CTB nixed the eastern TCP so now all of that traffic will be on the WTC. This change in the model was not resolved, the “D” solution will have to be 12 lanes or more to handle all of the traffic that would have traveled on the east TCP and Featherbed within the Park. The “D” solution is an engineering joke and the CBT and citizens were the ones that got nothing out of the solution. There also is no money for this so we wasted all that money studying a route that will likely never be built and the Park traffic problem remains … and the beat goes on. and for more

    Greg Gorham, Sudley Springs, VA

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