Increased Density, Increased Costs

Does Virginia really want roads like New Jersey's? Pictured: Hudson County, New Jersey's most populated area.
Does Virginia really want roads like New Jersey’s? Pictured: Hudson County, New Jersey’s most populated area.

By Carol J. Bova

Jim Bacon’s post on November 12th, “Too Little Density, Too Much Road Surface,” concludes that if local zoning policies encouraged higher density population areas, there’d be fewer roads, resulting in lower road maintenance costs. This is urban-centered thinking that assumes only nearby residents use the roads and that none are privately maintained. The idea also overlooks the need to transport locally grown agricultural products, timber and seafood over rural roads to more densely occupied areas. But in addition, we need to examine the study that led to that conclusion.

The Smart Growth America and New Jersey Future road study of New Jersey cited in the Bacon post suggests great savings in road maintenance if there were a minimum of 10 people on each acre. At first glance, that doesn’t seem very dense, but population density is usually referred to in square miles. With 640 acres per square mile, we’re talking about 6,400 people, more than any locality in Virginia except Alexandria.

This must not have seemed extreme for a place like New Jersey, where a 2006 study noted every New Jersey “county in the state is classified by the Census Bureau as ‘metropolitan.’” (Robert E. Wood, Farmland Preservation and Agritourism in South Jersey: An Exploratory Study. ) The Census Bureau uses metropolitan to describe “a core urban area of 50,000 or more population … as well as any adjacent counties that have a high degree of social and economic integration (as measured by commuting to work) with the urban core.”

So how did Smart Growth America and New Jersey Future come up with their numbers? They used different approaches, but in both cases, added the population of a given area to its employment numbers. Smart Growth America eliminated protected land like state parks or wetlands, and computed the amount of road surface per person. New Jersey Future took the population plus employment number and divided by developed square miles to get activity density– after eliminating undeveloped land and excluding roads maintained by the state.

Even without the exclusions, Hudson County, N.J., has a population of 13,731 per square mile. No surprise that Hudson County has the highest activity density in the Smart Growth America report and the lowest per capita road maintenance cost. But per capita cost doesn’t tell the whole story. There is an underlying assumption the New Jersey road maintenance level is adequate. Not true.

Endnote 8 in the Smart Growth America report states that the Reason Foundation said, “…the State of New Jersey spent $42,317 per lane mile on maintenance in 2012.” But the Reason Foundation also said:

• New Jersey ranks 48th in the nation in highway performance and cost-effectiveness, down from 46th in 2009.
• New Jersey ranks 50th in maintenance disbursements per mile and 50th in capital bridge disbursements per mile. in ”New Jersey Transportation by the Numbers” said, “Driving on deficient roads costs New Jersey motorists a total of $11.8 billion annually in the form of additional vehicle operating costs, congestion-related delays and traffic crashes.”

How did lower density Virginia do in Reason Foundation’s 21st Annual Highway Report?

• Virginia ranks 25th in the nation in highway performance and cost-effectiveness, down from 15th in 2009.
• Virginia ranks 32nd in maintenance disbursements per mile and 1st in capital-bridge disbursements per mile.

Overall, Smart Growth America’s recommendation to increase density to reduce the number of roads is more likely to have led to higher road maintenance costs because of the increase in average daily trips over fewer road miles. If rural areas with low density had been somehow induced to consolidate into areas of 6,400 people per square mile, it would have required development of municipal water supply and sewage treatment instead of the existing rural wells and septic systems which can only be used in low density situations. Not only would a municipal water supply be costly, there’s a larger question of where the water would be taken from, especially in areas where aquifers are already overused.

If we want to reduce road maintenance costs in Virginia, let’s find a way to get the Virginia Department of Transportation to adhere to their own guidelines, use proper maintenance methods and start performing preventive maintenance to extend the life of our roadways.

Carol Bova is author of “Drowning a County,” a book documenting VDOT’s neglect of its roadside drainage ditches in Mathews County.

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29 responses to “Increased Density, Increased Costs”

  1. Not all density is created equal. And we are missing huge part of the equation for the conversation – Revenue.

    1. Basil, you are exactly right. We need to compare cost per acre/square mile with revenue per acre/square mile.

      1. Perfect illustration that there is no quick and easy answer. How do you factor in the revenue from oysters, crabs and fish that need to be moved quickly from the Bay to multiple areas when all start moving over rural low density roads? There’s relatively little revenue to the rural areas from urban recreational use of low density roads, but what’s it worth in quality of life to escape urban hardscape? There’s no revenue stream from clean air in low density areas, but it has a value.

        1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
          Reed Fawell 3rd

          Here you are hitting many nails on many of their heads. And thanks for your excellent article.

          In my view, The Smart Growth America and New Jersey Future road study of New Jersey is sheer nonsense, utterly divorced from reality.

          Hence its irrelevant to any workable solution or insight. The problem is that it cannot be dismissed. The goal here is to control people, force them into living lives that comport strictly with the self righteous mandate of these largely ignorant ideologues.

          Hence these folks want to tear up symbols of freedom – the automobile and open road, and human habitation in open spaces.

          Thus their Jihad is akin to the Rampant Rape Epidemic on College Campuses, and all the bonus private and government studies that “prove” a total fiction with fantasy spun in the disguise of fact analysis. This wing of the Smart Growth movement and its minions are working very hard 24/7 to forge working alliances with the Federal Government, and local governments as well.

          These are cabals modeled after the Campus Rape Movements allegiance with the Department of Education and elements of the New Administrators of the today’s Colleges and Universities. All are totally and grossly incompetent to solve real problems, both in whole and in part. But when harnessed into a Cabal working in tandem to gain power over others, they can easily become very powerful. Thus the grossly incompetent come to rule the world. This is one of histories oldest stories and lessons. It’s been a never ending plague on cultures, societies, and people everywhere since before time began.

          We see it everyone today. ISIS being only one example. Animal Farm is the omen.

  2. Carol, A clarification: While I did say that higher population densities mean fewer roads per capita, resulting in lower road maintenance costs per capita, I do not advocate zoning policies that encourage density. What I advocate is zoning policies that do not encourage low density. In other words, I think market forces should drive density.

    Ed Risse, author of “The Shape of the Future” and a former contributor to this blog, talks of a density “sweet spot” which optimizes the cost of building and maintaining infrastructure and providing public services of all types — not just roads but water/sewer, as you point out, and many others. That sweet spot, I suspect, will vary from location to location and circumstance to circumstance. It would be helpful for all concerned — state government, local government, developers — to know what that sweet spot is.

    1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      “Ed Risse, author of “The Shape of the Future” and a former contributor to this blog, talks of a density “sweet spot” which optimizes the cost of building and maintaining infrastructure and providing public services of all types …”

      Wonderful concept and practice – of course, we have much to learn from the British and Europeans in this arena – the English Cotswolds and Italian Dolomites spring to mind – how ancient wisdom and husbandry helped create masterful open spaces rightly populated. Done right density enhances these remarkably landscapes.

      We here in America must learn to do a far better job with our abundant gifts. Our remarkable blessings too often now encourage us to build throwaway human settlements. These work to our great disadvantage. With all our gifts its astounding how foolish and irresponsible we have been, and continue to be. Oddly our government and culture has driven much of this desecration.

  3. It’s stunning to me how bad some of the research is that gets produced by Smart Growthers. I credit Carol with her observations of these flaws and wonder why basic stuff like controlling for variables (something most of us learn in 8th grade science class) gets neglected by the folks that do these studies.

  4. LarrytheG Avatar

    how much of a role should govt play for country roads and what level of govt – State or local/county?

    In most States there is not VDOT that is responsible for local roads.

    you can see this in those states because the signage says CR for county road….

    my observation is that in those states that most CR roads are not maintained anywhere near what VDOT standards are for Secondary roads in Va.

    but what role should be played by govt with roads to start with?

    should it be exercising eminent domain to take land from folks to build roads that everyone else can use?

    Should the state do like electric utilities and cable companies and not build roads below a certain density ?

    1. States no longer play any meaningful role in people’s lives. America could have three states, 50 states or 300 states and it wouldn’t make a drop of difference. Does there need to be a counter-weight to the federal government? Yes. Does that counter-weight need to be the 50 states formed by accidents of geography and history? Of course not. Virginia should pass all power and responsibility to about seven autonomous regions. The regions should decide how much to tax, how much to spend, etc. There should be no wealth transfers from region to region. If you don’t like the region where you live … move. The state government should spend its energies on things it can adequately accomplish – like picking the state fish and the state song.

      In Virginia …

      Political corruption is idolized as “the Virginia Way”,
      Dillon’s Rule = Socialism,
      Republicans engage in a level of wealth transfer that would make Bernie Sanders blush.

      I travel all the time. I see lots of governance models in action. Different models work in different ways for the citizens. High taxes in California don’t stifle innovation – regardless of what the right says. Low taxes in Wyoming don’t result in third world conditions – no matter what the left says. Since success in governance depends on the desires of the governed, there are may ways to succeed. The best way to fail at governance is to have an opaque, crooked, wealth transferring, shambolic country club of a government that monopolizes power by eliminating effective checks and balances. Guess where that is most evident. You got it – the Old Dominion. The worst run government in North America.

      Of course localities should manage their own roads. What kind of ineffective, collectivist, socialist nonsense is it for the Imperial Clown Show in Richmond to try to pretend that what is right for Alexandria is right for Abingdon? Let the people in each region decide what they are willing to pay for and they want to make those payments.

      If Virginia was really anti-tyrant there would be 140 corpses under the foot of that half naked lady on the flag – one for every seat in our infinitely corrupt and tyrannical state legislature.

  5. Ms. Bova – There is no place for you on this blog. People like you, who are obsessed with facts and logic, need to go away. More seriously – good for you! I am sitting right now in the East Village of Manhattan contemplating the smart growthers theories of how high density lowers costs. Apparently the smart growthers spend most of their time blogging from their bedroom in their parents’ house.

    High density makes everything more expensive. It costs $75 per day to park a car in Manhattan. The combined federal, state and city tax rate is in the stratosphere. I don’t know what the smart growthers are smoking but it must be good.

    The smart growthers will, no doubt, counter the plainly observable fact that high density = high costs with the belief that high density = high incomes so the costs are relative. Apparently, nobody informed the residents of the 16th Congressional district (right here in New York City) –

    You might wonder where the richest Congressional district is located. Right here in New York City – on the Upper East Side. The richest and the poorest of 435 Congressional districts right here in the same high density utopia of the smart growthers’ dreams. Guess what else high density seems to breed? Income inequality.

    Personally, I think people should live wherever they want to live so long as they pay the full costs of their lifestyle decisions. If you want to live in high density Manhattan – great, dust off your wallet and move on in. If you want to live in Hooterville – also great. The problem comes from corrupt political regimes like the state government in Virginia who use Dillon’s Rule as a socialist crutch to subsidized economically failing communities. I own a place out in the country and I love it. However, I own another place in urban Virginia because I need to live there in order to make a living. I see no reason why I should expect people in urban Virginia to subsidize my rural fantasy. The taxes my neighbors and I pay on my rural home should be sufficient to pay for all of the roads, schools, law enforcement, etc that are required. If I don’t like that, I have an option – sell my house in the country and move.

    1. So then would the fair thing to do be to charge road tolls for non-residents and businesses using our rural roads? That would take us back to 1772. Check out VDOT’sA History of Roads in Virgina. Somehow, I don’t think that would fly today.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        I’ve read “A History of Roads in Virginia” and have found this part interesting:

        ” By 1930, a total of 386,664 motor vehicles were registered in the state. The license tax produced $6,564,000 in revenue, and the gasoline tax produced $7,251,000. The state highway system had been increased to 7,191 miles.

        The counties, however, still were plagued by problems of improving and maintaining the local roads for which they were responsible.

        Most of those roads remained in extremely poor condition. Few counties had engineers on their staffs, and not many had the necessary equipment.

        And yet about two-thirds of the state’s workers earned their livelihoods from the land and faced the continuing need of hauling farm products to market. The Depression that swept the nation brought more serious problems, and most rural Virginians had little
        money to pay the property taxes that had continued as the main source of income for the county roads.

        In Richmond and in the district highway offices that had been established around the state, adjustments were made in road operations to aid as many families as possible during the economic crisis of the Depression years.

        During the fall of 1931, the commission found that under normal work schedules it could provide employment and wages for only a few additional workers. But a “stagger system,” providing jobs for one force of men one week and another force the next week and continuing the procedure through the construction season, made jobs and income available for 8,000 additional workers. The commission kept this system in effect throughout the Depression

        It was against this background that the General Assembly in 1932 approved a means by which the counties could be relieved of road construction and maintenance responsibility. The “Byrd Road Act” inspired by the former Winchester senator who two years before had completed a term as governor, authorized the establishment of the state “secondary” road system. It permitted each county, if it wished, to give its road responsibility to the Highway Commission.

        One economist estimated that this action would reduce rural taxes by $2,895,102 annually.

        Four counties – Arlington, Henrico, Nottoway and Warwick – chose to keep the responsibility; the other counties joined the new secondary system. In 1933, Nottoway reversed its earlier decision and joined the system. Years later, Warwick gave up its
        county status to become a city that eventually merged with Newport News.

        Arlington and Henrico counties continued to operate their own local roads. When the secondary system was established, it totaled 35,900 miles. It included 2,000 miles hard-surfaced, 8,900 miles with soil or gravel surfaces, and more than 25,000 miles, or almost 70 percent, of largely unimproved dirt roads. Some counties had no
        hard-surfaced roads at all.

        Within a decade, the amount of hard-surfaced roads had tripled, the mileage of soil or gravel roads had doubled, and the unimproved roads had been reduced by almost half.

        With the arrival of the secondary system, the main roads for which the state had been responsible became known as the “primary” highway system.”

        so to point out a few things;

        1. – local, county roads were the responsibility of the counties originally and, in fact, still on in well over 40 states.

        2. – Va did not “take over” the roads. It offered each county – the option of keeping and maintaining it’s roads or not. In fact that option still exists for those who are not satisfied with the State’s job.

        3. – Counties have a number of options in taking responsibility for their roads including requiring all subdivisions to be HOAs and not the responsibility of county taxpayers.

        4. – Clearly when Va offered to take responsibility for the roads – it was a huge expansion of government – including the ability of the the govt to take land from private owners for the good of others – a very socialistic concept in my view.

        5. – I think today -in Va we take for granted that the State “is responsible” but that’s still an option for the counties – and when you cede that responsibility – then the State gets to decide to what level they want to maintain the roads and the documentation is just a reflection of their policies – which do change especially with regard to funding allocated for secondary roads.

        VDOT has indicated more than a few times that it would be quite happy if the counties wanted to take back their roads and maintain them to THEIR desired standards according to their own funding priorities.

        I just find it more than ironic that folks – at the same time – decry the expansion, power and authority of govt – are demanding more of it… while ignoring their own ability to take more responsibility themselves. It’s a amusing conflict.

        So we sort of find ourselves “demanding” that since we pay taxes – we are ENTITLED to as much as we think we are entitled to – for those taxes and if we don’t get as much as we think we are entitled to – it’s the govt’s fault…


        do we or do we not want VDOT to maintain the roads TO THEIR STANDARDs (and THEIR interpretation of their own standards) or not?

        I’m not defending VDOT here – I’m pointing out the conflicted nature of our own views.

        1. Larry, I’m not going to engage in a tedious rebuttal of your statements. I will say, yes, the Commonwealth did take over the roads with the Byrd Act in 1932, except for the localities that opted out. You mention the gasoline tax revenue, but missed the point it was established in the 1920’s to finance the building and maintenance of the secondary roads; the available revenue was divided equally among 8 districts, and subdivided among the counties within those districts. (The same type of division holds true today, but with 9 districts.)

          In rural areas, like Mathews County, new road construction might be limited to as little as 1 mile per year, based on its population. The land for those roads was not taken, it had to be freely given to the Commonwealth by the landowners through a petition for a public road along with the consent of all involved landowners and pass a necessity review–or the secondary roads didn’t get approved by the Board of Supervisors and recommended to the State Highway Commission. Sometimes, it took 10 years to get a third of a mile of road approved by the Commonwealth and another year or two to be constructed.

          And there is no conflict in expecting a state agency to abide by its own clearly defined standards without word games, misleading statements and outright inventions of factoids that go against the Code of Virginia.

          1. LarrytheG Avatar

            re: ” You mention the gasoline tax revenue, but missed the point it was established in the 1920’s to finance the building and maintenance of the secondary roads; the available revenue was divided equally among 8 districts, and subdivided among the counties within those districts. (The same type of division holds true today, but with 9 districts.)”

            well actually I was quoting verbatim from the History of Roads in Va that you referenced.

            I did not see the earlier gas tax for county roads verbiage. I thought the VDOT districts were explicitly to maintain State Roads and it was not until 1932 that the State started accepting county roads.

            can you direct me to where it says the State was maintaining county roads prior to that?

            It was my understanding (and what I thought was in the History) that prior to the Byrd Act that the state did not have any connection with county roads at all. It would certainly be an area where I have it wrong if that’s true and I’d appreciate the reference to further educate me.

            This was on page 6:

            ” … the first highway legislation in American history,
            an act providing, in the language of the day, that, “Highwayes shall be layd in such convenient places as are requisite accordinge as the Gov. and Counsell or the commissioners for the monthlie corts shall appoynt, or accordinge as the parishioners of every parish shall agree.”

            The first legislation also required each man in the colony to work on the roads a given number of days each year, a custom dating at least from the feudal period of the Middle Ages in England, or to pay another to work in his place. This labor law, to remain in effect for more than 250 years, provided the main source of workers for road and bridge construction.”

            didn’t know if you have seen this:

            “VDOT History Highlights”


            Here’s my thing. I think we need to be accurate about the history and not make it up to suit our own beliefs – that’s why I do read the history ….

            If I have it wrong – I need to be corrected because my goal is to deal with the actual history and reality – …

            I always had thought that the State did not take the county roads until 1932 and before that the state only maintained state roads.


          2. LarrytheG “Here’s my thing. I think we need to be accurate about the history and not make it up to suit our own beliefs – that’s why I do read the history ….

            If I have it wrong – I need to be corrected because my goal is to deal with the actual history and reality – …

            I always had thought that the State did not take the county roads until 1932 and before that the state only maintained state roads….”

            I do hope you’re not suggesting my statements are fabrications. The State Highway Commission was established March 6, 1906. My information on the early years comes from official reports. The first report to the governor said about the start up, “Much preliminary work had to be done by the county authorities before they were actually ready to begin work. The problem of raising the necessary funds to defray the counties’ portion of the expense was, in most instances, a difficult one, and met with many obstacles and delays. The machinery and equipment furnished by the counties has been in several instances very inadequate for the proper handling of the work.”

            Go to Google Books. Search for: Report to the Governor Virginia State Highway Commission. Volumes 1-9 (974 pages) start with the year ending September 30, 1907. There’s also Volumes 10-29 (1031 pages) starting in 1917. Two volumes are missing from each set.

          3. LarrytheG Avatar

            Carol – what is the argument against Mathews taking over it’s own roads (like Henrico and Arlington and all 33 cities and towns in Va) and doing them the way it wants them down instead of arguing with VDOT?

    2. I merely wish that VDOT would, as Carol notes they do not, abide by its own rules and guidelines. Observers and watchdogs of Virginia agencies like VDOT can’t do a darned thing about malfeasance resulting from the documented failure of these agencies to follow their own written guidelines unless there is a competent forum to complain to.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        @Acbar – I suspect the guidelines are …. heckfire – guidelines

        AND subject to available funding…

        AND -YES – VDOT – WILL CHOOSE to maintain a state road first and use what is left over for counties

        Some of these “complaints” strike me as:

        1. – ” you’re not spending our tax money the way we think you should”

        2. – ” you’re not giving us all our money back

        3. – ” we don’t think you are providing full value for our money”

        Let’s assume for the sake of argument that in reality – ALL 3 are TRUE…

        how would you realistically fix it?

        It seems like we could make the same exact complaint with regard to expenditures for education, and other govt services, right?

        Don B thinks the govt is totally corrupt and we ought to revert to independent self-funded autonomous enclaves..

        He says this even as he uses public roads that span jurisdictions to get to airports obtained via govt – both here in the US and around the world to the countries he travels to.

        I listen to the folks who are deeply unsatisfied with govt – but over and over I find myself just agog at their “solutions”.

        In my view – the thing that makes this country the most powerful on the face of the earth – is things like govt roads, airports, ports, etc.

        I call this Commerce Infrastructure and it is the backbone of our economy.

        in my view, of course.

  6. LarrytheG Avatar

    Of course Don has also RAILED bitterly about how the real “makers” in Nova subsidize those rural country roads in Va… where the local folks don’t pay for their own roads..

    he’s even suggested that rural roads be tolled to pay back the state for originally building them for “free”.

    So the question is – remains – who should pay for roads and should we build them everywhere no matter the density?

    are public roads the epitome of socialistic government… ?? i.e. socialism?

  7. LarrytheG Avatar

    re: ” Go to Google Books. Search for: Report to the Governor Virginia State Highway Commission. Volumes 1-9 (974 pages) start with the year ending September 30, 1907. There’s also Volumes 10-29 (1031 pages) starting in 1917. Two volumes are missing from each set.”

    Carol – that appears to be at odds with what is in the “A History of Roads in Virgina” .. is that wrong?

    How about this one:


    ” The Byrd Road Act of 1932 “relieved” Virginia counties of all rights, powers, duties, and authority over their county [secondary] roads, transferring responsibility to the then-Virginia Department of Highways. Under the Code of Virginia, as amended, “The Boards of Supervisors or other governing bodies…shall have no control, supervision, management, and jurisdiction over…the secondary system of state highways” (§33.1-69).”

    here’s the code – note the date:

    ” Control, supervision and management.

    A. The control, supervision, management and jurisdiction over the secondary system of state highways shall be vested in the Department of Transportation and the maintenance and improvement, including construction and reconstruction, of such secondary system of state highways shall be by the Commonwealth under the supervision of the Commissioner of Highways. The boards of supervisors or other governing bodies of the several counties and the county road board or county road commission of any county operating under a county road board or county road commission shall have no control, supervision, management and jurisdiction over such public roads, causeways, bridges, landings and wharves, constituting the secondary system of state highways. Except as otherwise provided in this article, the Commonwealth Transportation Board shall be vested with the same powers, control and jurisdiction over the secondary system of state highways in the several counties and towns of the Commonwealth, and such additions as may be made from time to time, as were vested in the boards of supervisors or other governing bodies of the several counties or in the county road board or county road commission in any county operating under a county road board or county road commission on June 21, 1932, and in addition thereto shall be vested with the same power, authority and control as to the secondary system of state highways as is vested in the Board in connection with the State Highway System.

    B. Nothing in this chapter shall be construed as requiring the Department, when undertaking improvements to any state secondary highway system component or any portion of any such component, to fully reconstruct such component or portion thereof to bring it into compliance with all design and engineering standards that would be applicable to such component or portion thereof if the project involved new construction.”

    can you extract the quotes from the references you have that contradict the above?


    1. @CrazyJD Thanks for the chuckle!

      @LarrytheG. Look at page 19 of the VDOT history. Nothing at odds there with the Reports to the Governor by the Commissioner of Roads. For the rest of it, I’ve done my homework. You need to do a lot more reading to catch up on yours if you truly want to dig into the history, written records and actual practices of VDOT. I’ll give you two quick facts:
      1. The Boards of Supervisors couldn’t and can’t tell VDOT (or whatever name it had at a given point of time) what to do; they only recommend and request, then and now.
      2. Even if other improvements are being done, VDOT will not retrofit an existing road to current standards.
      To paraphrase an ancient statement, “Go now and study.” *s*

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        I think we continue to have some confusion here.

        ” While the counties kept the responsibility for actually making the improvements, they now had a new state agency to which they could turn for help. For example, they could apply to the commissioner for civil engineering advice, and if he concluded that a proposed project would be permanent and on a main road and that it was practical,
        his office would prepare detailed plans and specifications and, at the county’s expense, assign a civil engineer to supervise construction.”

        that’s also clear as to who has responsibility for the roads in the counties.

        keep in mind also when it comes to density and roads that cities and towns in Va ARE responsible for their own roads and do make decisions that counties must let VDOT make.

        VDOT uses a traffic analysis protocol called a TAZ – which basically looks at how much traffic such a zone generates and from that they size and configure the roads accordingly.

        The State also incentivizes what are called UDA – Urban Development Areas where they will assign higher levels of priority and funding to those areas –

        this may be interesting:

        ” Urban Development Areas–Linking Transportation and Land Use in Virginia: Part I

        ” BlogTransportation
        Post navigation← oldernewer →
        Urban Development Areas–Linking Transportation and Land Use in Virginia: Part I
        1 Reply

        Urban Development Areas (UDA) have been a big topic of discussion and debate recently among Virginia localities, Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPO) and Planning District Commissions (PDC) as it relates to transportation and the HB2 project prioritization process. The HB2 process, enacted in 2014 by the General Assembly, creates a new framework for the way in which the Commonwealth Transportation Board selects and prioritizes projects.

        The Virginia Multimodal Transportation Plan (VTrans2040) contains a pre-screening for the HB2 process. This filter, if you will, ensures that a project application must fall into one of three categories: Corridors of Statewide Significance (CoSS), Regional Networks and Urban Development Areas. The focus on this, and a series of future articles, is the UDA.

        As way of an introduction, let’s start with some fundamental facts about the legislation (§15.2-2223.1 of the Code of Virginia):

        Any county, city or town may amend their comprehensive plan (and future land use map) to include UDA(s).

        UDAs are designed to handle a locality’s projected residential and commercial growth from 10 to 20 years.

        The Code recognizes that UDAs are designed to be ideal for high-density residential and commercial uses, due to their location to transportation networks.

        UDAs must be zoned in order to accommodate a minimum development density of:

        Four single-family residences
        Six townhouses
        12 apartments or condominium units
        Floor area ratio of at least 0.4 per acre for commercial development”

        so the point here is that VDOT incentivizes density – and presumably because they consider UDAs to be cost-effective.. in terms of roads and transportation.

        re: Crazy – good lord guy… what I questioned was the references and I did indeed frame it in terms of my own potential lack of knowledge… and understanding… was more than willing to go read some more – other things that perhaps added to my understanding.

        I know what I read I am more than willing to go read someone elses references that they say back up their understanding but it’s kind of hard to do that when the reference is not readily provided.

        1. @LarrytheG. If you notice, I have not been discussing urban roads beyond the initial context of the NJ report. It’s not my area of expertise. I’ll leave that to the urban dwellers. Secondary roads are not main roads.

          For the 1906-1936 history of Virginia’s involvement with the secondary roads of the counties (not towns and cities with larger populations who maintain their own roads), as I said before: Go to Google Books. Search for: Report to the Governor Virginia State Highway Commission. Volumes 1-9 (974 pages) start with the year ending September 30, 1907. There’s also a book of Volumes 10-29 (1031 pages) starting in 1917. Two volumes are missing from each set. These are free e-books you can read online or download. All the details you could want are there.

          1. LarrytheG Avatar

            Carol – these are roads the State is building in the counties – but they are State roads – the precursors to Primary Roads.

            these are roads that went through the counties to serve travelers and commerce through the state.

            The secondary roads came in 1932 when the state took over the country roads that primarily served each county.

            You can see this on Page 3 where it says:

            ” 3. To conform to the requirements of the Federal aid road act, we would recommend the establishing of a State system of roads by the next General Assembly.”

            These roads are what we now call State Primary Roads:


            you can see that one of them is Route 14 in Mathews but it goes through a bunch of counties all the way to US 360 and St Stephens Church.

            Virginia’s Secondary road system is usually roads with 3 digit numbers that begin with 6xx …sometimes 7xx.

            These are the roads that Va took over in 1932 and started maintaining.

            you can see the secondary roads in Wiki also

            just GOOGLE “State_highways_in_Virginia” and skip down to Secondary roads.

          2. Thank you, Larry, I am familiar with the difference between primary and secondary roads. The state hard-surfaced Route 38 from the Gloucester County line to the Mathews Courthouse, between about 1926 and 1928. It is now Route 198. It was the first hard-surfaced road in Mathews County. Some of the road numbers were changed as the state system evolved.

            Your quote on #3 was from 1916 or 1917, wasn’t it? Do check out the annual reports. With your love of detail, you’ll be fascinated with all that’s in them.
            As interesting as this has been, I need to sign off and return to work now.

  8. In place of the somewhat veiled ad hominem attacks found in this otherwise very fine thread, I think I prefer more straight forward attacks in the manner of “Jane, you ignorant slut”

  9. LarrytheG Avatar

    oops – forgot the reference:

    and perhaps some would disagree with VDOT’s thinking on UDAs – but it’s a pretty powerful policy because it’s now in their HB2 prioritization process… which is on it’s initial round and will select projects based on scores which I can supply if anyone is interested.

  10. LarrytheG Avatar

    re: ” Your quote on #3 was from 1916 or 1917, wasn’t it? Do check out the annual reports. With your love of detail, you’ll be fascinated with all that’s in them.”

    these ARE interesting and I do thank you for showing them.

    and yes it was from 1916 and 1917 when the State was just beginning to put together the State system of primary roads… that -yes – were intend to connect the State so that someone in Mathews could go to Winchester, etc…

    it was later on in 1932 when the State then decided to take over the rest of the county roads which were basically internal roads.

    again – appreciate the book references.. I think I’ve seen those photos in more recent VDOT “history” docs. I think I’ve actually got these books – some folks at VDOT that work on history sent them as a result of an earlier inquiry.

    somewhere is some of this is the role of the Church in the earliest roads that pre-date the State putting together the State system.

    and yes. back then – the landowners would argue for roads to go through their property – rather than oppose them!

    have u seen this:

  11. Virginia VDOT could start doing what some cash strapped states are doing. They are abandoning some roads and bridges leaving people who use them hanging. They are concentrating their funding for maintaining to the greatest use roads and bridges.

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