Henrico Nixes Regional Transportation Boondoggle

Henrico County has spurned one of the worst public policy ideas in Richmond history: creation of a regional transportation authority to fund regional transportation improvements. Not entirely for the right reasons, mind you. But I’ll take a victory any way I can get it: Without Henrico, a regional authority would be rump organization that could accomplish little and do little harm.

As proposed, the Central Virginia Transportation Authority would provide a way to raise more than $108 million annually for transportation road projects through the collection of new and increased taxes and fees, reports the Times-Dispatch. Melodi Martin quotes Henrico County Manager Virgil R. Hazelett as saying that Henrico’s position came down to two things — that the state should remain responsible for its transportation system and that now isn’t the time to increase taxes for residents.

Poor logic on both counts. Metropolitan regions should take a regional approach to transportation planning and funding, rather than gaming the system politically to get other regions to pay for their improvements. As for the time not being right to raise taxes, the time is never right.

Here’s the real problem with the transportation authority: To be effective, a regional transportation authority needs to synchronize transportation improvements with land use policies. If a regional authority makes transportation investment decisions in a land-use vacuum, it won’t do any better job than the state does. But there is no mechanism in the proposal — at least, not as described in the press accounts — for coordinating transportation and land use planning, much less for the more esoteric idea of creating balanced and contiguous communities inside a clear edge.

Furthermore, there appears to be no mechanism to ensure that users pay for the improvements they demand. As this proposal appears to be structured (and I confess that I have not seen a copy of it), the transportation authority would simply raise taxes on those too politically impotent to resist, perpetuate dysfunctional human settlement patterns (which are worse, believe it or not, than sprawling Northern Virginia or Hampton Roads) and further undermine Richmond’s regional competitiveness.

Share this article


(comments below)


(comments below)


10 responses to “Henrico Nixes Regional Transportation Boondoggle”

  1. “Metropolitan regions should take a regional approach to transportation planning and funding, rather than gaming the system politically to get other regions to pay for their improvements.”

    Granted, the system is overly gamed right now and ROVA is using NOVA as a piggybank. But, what about the opposite case?

    What would happen if this principle had been strictly adhered to for the past 50 years? Would that mean Interstate 95 would become a dirt road when passing through Greensville County? Because, surely, the hick areas aren’t going to be able to afford expensive infrastructure. (On the other hand, they will be able to afford shiny new sheriff’s cruisers to issue tickets to the passersby from the other “New Urban Regions.”)

    There will always be areas that can’t afford anyhing on their own. Cf. the entire state of West Virginia. Is there not an important role at the state level?

  2. Jim Bacon got it right.

    The question from Bob – is there not a State Role?

    well, yes there is but first some data.

    How come of the 50 states, the 37th largest in size and 12th largest has the 3rd biggest in terms of highway miles?

    The answer is that most states do not maintain local..or sometimes even Regional roads unless they are function links to Interstates or state-wide roads.

    In those States it is up to the localities to decide the scope and scale of their road system and this has a very beneficial effect – it forces them to consider land-use in their decisions.

    Unlike Virginia localities that have for years.. made decisions without regard to the impact on the transportation grid – their stock answer has always been “It’s VDOT’s job”…

    those localities in other States.. if they make dumb land-use decisions that screw up their road system – voters are going to have a say in it.

    In Virginia.. local elected lusting after development and growth… love to point fingers at VDOT .. AND the STATE for not adequately funding transportation…..

    So now.. the party is over… and the localities in some regions are freaking out about the “lack of funding” .. and they want to create – unelected transportation authorities that will collect new taxes for slush fund road building – and the citizens will have no recourse if the transportation authority becomes just a subsidy of Development Incorporated.

    The handwriting started get written on the wall back when Mr. Schucet was VDOT .. and it continues .. as it has become clear that VDOT’s funding is going to shrink…

    Just a month ago.. VDOT issues a new series of cuts barely a year after cutting others.

    What is left in most localities is barely enough bucks for one or two projects.. the rest having been flushed.

    So.. Richmond, Charlottesville, Fredericksburg and other Virginia MPOs have decided that they are going to go the Virginia GA and ask for tax power for transportation authorities though of late they have changed the nomenclature to “transit authorities” in hopes that folks will think this is merely a run-of-the-mill regional bus system.

    We need a system – where the land-use decisions and transportation decisions are coordinated AND where there is direct accountable to the voters.

    Right now.. these MPOs are attempting an “end run”, low profile.. under the radar screen of citizens.

    Here’s a final data point with respect to Henrico that plays into this…

    ….”Henrico County is one of only two counties in Virginia that maintain their own roads,”

    all the more curious in the context of their statement “roads are the State’s responsibility”…

  3. Anonymous Avatar

    What is Henrico doing to support mass transit?

    Henrico loves getting the City to pay for amenities, but does little to solve problems.

    I understand the arguments against MPOs but I am not hearing anything that lends itself to alternatives.

  4. The alternative IMHO is to put the proposition to the voters and one important element of the proposition would be the direct election of of the voting members of the authority.

    We do need Regional approaches but we need it to be accountable to citizens.

  5. E M Risse Avatar

    Jim Bacon:

    Great post. except:

    “But there is no mechanism in the proposal … for coordinating transportation and land use planning, much less for the more esoteric idea of creating Balanced and Contiguous Communities inside a Clear Edge.”

    There is nothing “esoteric” about Balanced and Contiguous Communites inside a Clear Edge.”

    That is elementary, primal and basic not esoteric.


    “We do need Regional approaches but we need it to be accountable to citizens.”

    That may be your best comment ever.

    How about Antipartisan accountability?


  6. Larry —

    Good description of what the state should not be doing. Yes, it’s quite silly that VDOT does the hedge trimming in Fairfax County (it’s contracted out, anyway). So, does the state have any role at all?

    The cover of Washingtonian magazine this month is about NOVA seceding from ROVA and becoming the 51st state. This seems to be a logical next step for the Balkanizers.

  7. I think the proper role for VDOT is the same role done by DOTs in other states which is the care and feeding of the interstates and roads of state significance (roads that “connect” the State).

    Like I said.. for most other states.. this is the norm for the role of their DOT – and the reason why their DOTs have far less roads to maintain (and to pay for )…..

    To me..it makes perfect sense for VDOT to be responsible for making sure that a decent road “connects” Danville with Richmond or Farmville with Ferncliff.

    But even if funding were available and it made “sense” in some folks minds for VDOT to support whatever land-use plans that Fairfax has – no matter what the consequential cost of “good” or “bad” plans in terms of the scope and cost of the roads needed.. at the end of the day – we’ve demonstrated quite conclusively that localities can easy bury VDOT with needed projects.. if they believe that they have a blank check for any/all development no matter what.

    And IMHO – that is what has been missing with land-use planning in Virginia and has played a distinct role in having insufficient transportation facilities for the growth that WAS approved.

    Note… what happened in Loudoun recently when.. VDOT did something it normally would not have done in the past. It laid out clearly the road impact that a major contemplated upzone would have and the pro-growth Loudoun supports basically said “butt out” …but it was too late.. the cat was out of the bag with respect to the public.. who was going to pay the price either in heavier congestion and/or higher taxes to play transportation “catch up”.

    I think the issue of “balkanization” could have some merit in some circumstances but the idea that the opposite of balkanization might be a State level pot of money for transportation and some process other than proportional allocation back to the localities … that invites political decision-making rather than needs-based decision-making … and it perpetuates the practice of localities making irresponsible land-use decisions with expensive infrastructure consequences.. and instead of those elected who did it being held accountable.. they accuse VDOT and the State of not coming in and cleaning up their land-use messes…

    And they have got away from being held accountable – for years – because the public was led to believe that the problem was not the land-use decisions but instead that VDOT and the State was “failing to perform”.

    We can argue about who should pay the cost of growth at the local level but there ought not be a disagreement about who is responsible and should be accountable for the land-use decisions.

  8. Anonymous Avatar

    “As for the time not being right to raise taxes, the time is never right.”

    Uuh, not really.

    It is possible that you find yourself in a situation where te tax structure is too low. This kind of absolutist thinking leads to errors as often as correct action.


  9. “There is nothing “esoteric” about Balanced and Contiguous Communites inside a Clear Edge.”


    Now, how do you balance the economic benefits and opportunities, without creating economic windfall for some while resigning others to permananent economic stagnation?


  10. What I have found interesting is the provisions of 3202 that related to land-use (not the abuser fees) and survived.

    Basically ..they offer the communities the ability to levy comprehensive impact fees in return for taking more responsibility for their local roads (not the Primary and Interstates).

    Here's a Power Point that give a little bit more detail.


    this is an alternative to raising taxes OR.. it can be used in tandem with smaller tax increases (for existing residents) and an equitable contribution from new growth.

    In other words.. it does not have to be a black & white tax discussion.

    The incentive offered by the state/VDOT is a better deal than originally given to Arlington and Henrico when they decided to just accept the (higher) urban money allocation for taking responsibility for their roads.

    So.. these attempts at transportation authorities to obtain the right to tax to get more funds… not a word about taking advantage of the 3202 incentives for better alignment of land-use decisions with transportation infrastructure.

    What this tells me is that this is not really about transportation infrastructure on a "needs" basis but rather a no-strings slush fund to be allocated politically for economic purposes rather than upgrading/improving transportation infrastructure based on needs metrics.

    Further.. these transportation authority proposals want to tax – without direct accountability from those that are being taxed.

    If these efforts succeed – we'll essentially be agreeing to moving the transportation slush fund approach from VDOT to these Regional Authorities.

    I hope that enough folks have their ears on straight and make it clear to their GA reps that folks see through this and recognize it for what it really is.

Leave a Reply