“People who live OR (emphasis added) work in Northern Virginia would pay steep new fees and higher taxes under a $578 million transportation plan being circulated by six Republican delegates from the region.” The opening sentence in a story headed “GOP Plan Would Raise N.Va. Taxes for Area Roads” WaPo for 27 June 2006. Metro section page 1.

“People who live and work in the Virginia portion of the National Capital Subregion would pay less in taxes and variable fees based their level of travel demand if they lived in Balanced Communities and the Washington-Baltimore New Urban Region evolved into a sustainable NUR.”

We start with a title that reflects the fact, documented by the recent and continuing rainfall, that for 60 years VDOT and the municipal jurisdictions have been building infrastructure that is deficient.

Instead of building first class infrastructure our governments have been expanding asphalt that enable the scatteration of urban land uses to dysfunctional locations.

Just Sunday “Parade Magazine” (of all places) had a cover story on what to expect from climate change. It looks like evidence arrived with the Sunday paper.

Citizens need to insist that the governance structure builds infrastructure to more than just 100 year flood standards but first we have to up grade what a 100 year storm really is.

One wonders if the hundred-year-old elm falling on the White House lawn will bring in to perspective the relationship between partisan politics and reality.

Next we rewrite that fist sentence of this important “transportation” story. Enough said on that.

Readers of our columns at Bacons Rebellions at db4.dev.baconsrebellion.com are invited to see how many errors there are in the original opening sentence.

Here are some clues:

Will more money improve mobility? See yesterdays column “The Free Ride is Over.”

Is this a “transportation plan”? See “Regional Rigor Mortis,” 6 June 2005.

Where is this place called “Northern Virginia’? See “Where is Northern Virginia,” 11 August 2003.

There are several more.

Note that these “GOP” taxes and fees hit enterprises hardest.

Will MainStream Media or pandering politicians ever catch the boat?


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11 responses to “MISSING THE BOAT”

  1. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    If people in NOVA have to pay still more taxes, then it will be one more disincentive for people and businesses to live and operate there. It will also be one more piece of evidence that urban areas are NOT more efficient than other places.

    As EMR points out, they might eventually become more efficient when they are closer to being balanced. But before that happens we are going to have to buy and mount an awful lot of counterweights. There is no evidence that higher taxes and fees might not be a preferable and even less expensive solution than constantly rebuilding the planet in an effort to achieve a fleeting oment of “balance”.

    Sure, lets define a hundred year storm to be a three hundred year storm, and then lets demand that we build to three hundred year standards. There is an argument for affordable and sustainable living that really takes the high ground.

    Maybe, it is more efficient and cheaper to just lose or damage a few homes every hundred years or so than it is to take such extreme preventive measures. Not to mention what it would do to our viewshed.

    The average lifespan for trees in the urban area is only 40 to 60 years. Even if an elm is not attacked by disease it is mature at 100 and tending to decline anyway. What we need is an ongoing urban forestry program to plant new trees and harvest mature and degenerating ones so that they can be put to good uses other than firewood and mulch.

    When Henry ford was born 2 out of eight people lived in urban areas. By the time he died 5 out of eight did. We can argue just as easily that autos and roads created and enabled our great urban areas as we can argue that they create sprawl. After all, with all those people moving in, is it any wonder that urban areas take more space?

    Sixty years ago we were still reasonably close to the time when roads were still being built to enable more efficient use of rural areas, to now claim that we have been enabling dysfunctional urban uses is not only turning history upside down, but it misses the point that dysfunctional urban uses are just as dysfunctioanl, and even more expensive, when they are in urban places.

    Yes, more money will improve mobility. That is not the same as decreasing congestion. Increasing mobility means that more people will be able to move, not that they will necessarily be able to move freely. It is like adding more urinals at the ball club, you might still stand in line, but at least you won’t pee your pants.

    No transportation plan is going to please everybody. That isn’t the point. The point is to move the most people and goods to and from the most number of places at the lowest cost. As a rule of thumb, the louder EMR howls, the better the plan.

    Northern Virginia is generally understood to mean the cities of Alexandria, Falls Church, Fairfax Manassas and Manassas Park along with the counties of Fairfax, Arlington, Prince william, Loudoun and (horrors) Fauquier. Some people insist on obfuscating the issue and others are just geographically illiterate.

    If the GOP taxes hit enterprises the hardest than two things will happen, more businesses will move out and more GOP’s won’t be re-elected.

    When their boat comes in MSM and politicians will still be flying first class.

  2. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    Clearly, this tax proposal is more fair than other ones that have been proposed since it raises revenues from a variety of sources, including commercial real estate. Keep in mind that NoVA’s real estate interests have generally been in the van for higher revenues for transportation. As my father used to remind me regularly: “Put your money where your mouth is.”

    With the real estate tax generally around or less than 90 cents in NoVA, a 30 cent increase seems to constitute a rate increase of about 33%. Then, of course, there is the additional commercial real estate surcharge to build Metrorail for certain properties in Fairfax County. (At some point, will more business interests begin to act in their self interest and oppose the extension of Metrorail to Dulles, which clearly does not reduce traffic congestion?) At some point, other locations for business expansion would seem to look desirable. But that’s not necessarily a downer for all since the majority of people residing in Metro Washington are not involved in the local economy in the first place.

    While the details are yet unknown, the residential impact fee seems way too low. The bill proposes $5000 for a single family home; Prince William County gets more than $17,000. Of course, when viewed from a Fairfax County perspective, where Connolly and his cohorts have no target proffer for transportation from new residential construction, this bill looks better. However, operating at Fairfax County standards simply constitutes a string of sweetheart deals.

    Another major question is: What protects NoVA against having other state funds shifted from NoVA? Lots of questions need to be answered, and I still think that, given a choice, residents of NoVA would rather have the GA enact Adequate Public Facilities legislation than raise taxes, even though many would not necessarily oppose these tax increases.

  3. Anonymous Avatar

    Fair? Only if you hate the business community, which is a growing theme with the formerly great Republican party. There is not one element of the revenue plan where the person or company who drives 100,000 miles a year pays more than the person or company who drives 5,000 miles a year. Fair?

  4. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    8:15 It’s quite interesting that the “business community” found sales tax increases for transportation to be acceptable in 2002 and in just about every year since. Where’s the relationship between the sales tax and the number of miles driven each year?

    Improved transportation facilities would make commuting to and from business locations in NoVA easier. They would also make it more attractive for companies to move to or expand in this area. Those would seem to be economic benefits to the commercial real estate industry and to other local businesses that want to sell their products and services. So why not have beneficiaries of the better transportation facilities pay some of the costs for constructing those same improved facilities?

  5. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    The gross state product and the number of miles driven track each other almost exactly, including the dip that occured during the gas “crisis” in the 1970’s. The link between sales tax and miles driven *may* be closer than we care to admit.

    I recently spoke to a friend who is an activist for the Democratic Party in Fairfax. When I asked her what Fairfax’s biggest problem was, she said with out hesitation, Transportation. And she said that in her talks with people involved in politics, that was a nearly universal opinion.

    When I asked her what she thought the answer was she said we needed a much better Metro, more like Paris or London, she said. I pointed out to her that London has been working on their subways for almost a hundred years, and asked her if she would sign up to a 37% value added tax to support such a plan here. “Well, no.”

    It didn’t take but a few minutes before I convinced her that Fairfax and the district needed to shed a lot of jobs: that an overabundance of employment was the primary cause of recurring traffic congestion.

    It turns out,that she has recently changed her behavior and now rides Metro to work. The tipping point was that she now has to pay commercial rates to park downtown, but her employer offers $90 a month in Metro checks. So she eliminated a $200/month parking fee, trimmed $500 a year off her car insurance, and saved $12.00 a day in operating costs for her car (10 miles each way times $0.60/mile for her high end car.) One factor in her decision was that her drive is unpredictable, it might be 30 minutes or it might be 90 minutes. Her metro trip routinely takes 45 minutes.

    Sounds pretty good, right? Total savings of $32 a day.

    But her best Metro trip involves driving five miles the wrong way, and the trip costs $10 including parking, so her savings drops to $16 per day. She still has to walk six blocks to get to her office. We’ll see how long that lasts in winter when it is dark and cold. And one way or another, the $90 her employer pays comes out of her paycheck.

    So what this boils down to is that she still uses the car and a parking space, and her employer pays for her to use public transporation part of the time. This works for her because she travels a lot and her tips to the office are about half a normal schedule.

    Her real savings comes from using a subsidized public lot instead of a privately operated lot. And the time is a wash, on average. Not including her walk, the drive to Metro parking the car, and the walk to the station. Her total time is close about an hour. And now, what she pays for her trip is only one third of what it really costs.

    She could use the bus and then Metro but the frequency is not sufficient, and usually seats are not available. By driving to springfield station, she is guaranteed a seat. She could get closer to her office but it involves four more stations and a transfer of trains. Convenience is a real issue.

    I have another friend who gets a Metro subsidy. He uses it til it runs out, and then he drives the rest of the month.

    No doubt improved transportation facilities would make things easier. It turns out that taking VRE from Manassas costs about the same as taking Metro from Springfield, so fair charges for distance don’t apply to transit either.

    How many people actually drive a hundred thousand miles a year? Truck drivers, yes, but for most people 20,000 miles is a lot, and 15,000 to 17,000 is about average.

    If we are going to make these arguments, we need to make them realistically. Yep, her employers policy change from paying for parking to paying for Metro, changed my frieds habits, and it took one car off of Shirley Highway for ten days a month. She is slightly better off out of pocket, and no worse off for time, and she can read on the Metro. She still drives her car just as much for every other purpose, and now she competes with outlying commuters for parking space at Springfield. Her Metro trips are costing the county at large something like $10 to $14 per day.

    Is it worth it?

  6. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    Ray – Just did a couple of quick calculations over lunch. I used state and federal data for 2005 to calculate per capita sales tax revenues for Alexandria, Arlington, Fauquier & Stafford. I don’t have any per capita mileage figures, but it’s probably reasonable to assume (I think) that residents of the first two local jurisdictions drive less than residents of the latter two.

    Following the same order, the per capita sales tax figures are: $174.58, $158.03, $101.64 and $79.49. One could argue that, because of commuting patterns towards D.C., sales tax figures for Alexandria and Arlington are somewhat higher. However, there still seems to be a significantly higher payment of sales taxes in the two inner jurisdictions. I’m not sure that your argument that “The link between sales tax and miles driven *may* be closer than we care to admit” is correct. But, again, my analysis is quite limited in scope.

  7. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    I’m sure we are both right. My information was aggregated across the entire state. The graph of mileage vs gross state product over many years is convincing. However, gross state product is not all subject to sales tax.

    How much of the sales tax collected in Alexandria and Arlington was collected from Fauquier and Stafford residents shopping or eating on their lunch break? How much of the increased tax is due to the fact that things just cost more in Alexandria?

    Planners have historically considered transportation demand as a derived demand for economic activities and have assumed that travelers will change their behavior as their desire to engage in alternative activities changes over time.

    “Transportation is a “derived” demand rather than a “pure” demand because the need to travel is a result of people wanting to move themselves or goods. Accordingly, in order to forecast travel emand, one should forecast the socioeconomic phenomena that nspire this demand, such as opulation and employment growth, changes in household size, and increases in personal income. Knowing these socioeconomic rojections yields a rough indication as to how much aggregate travel will be needed in future years.”

    “Virginians living in an urban cluster spent an average of 80 minutes per day in a personally owned vehicle. The U.S. Census defines an urban cluster as a densely populated area with a population between 2,500 and 49,999; examples of urban clusters in Virginia include Abingdon, Chincoteague, Bluefield, and Staunton

    · Virginians who lived in urbanized areas averaged almost 64 minutes per day in personally owned vehicles. An urbanized area is a settled area of 50,000 or greater; Virginia urbanized areas include Virginia Beach, Roanoke, Winchester, Northern Virginia, and so forth.

    · Virginians located outside of urban areas, that is, Virginians who lived in neither an urban cluster nor an urbanized area, spent approximately 76 minutes per driver per day.”


    Have not found any exact data for miles driven, but from what I can tell it is not a lot higher, probably 10 to 15%. The best information indicates that this is partly due tothe availability of lane miles per person (less congested, so travel is “cheaper”). Also higher average speeds are available for the same travel time budget.

    The real issue is how much congestion in Arlington is caused by people from Fauquier, and who is footing the bill? Conversely, if all those people actually chose to move to Arlington, what would that do to housing costs in Arlington – and who would foot the bill?

  8. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    “The real issue is how much congestion in Arlington is caused by people from Fauquier, and who is footing the bill? Conversely, if all those people actually chose to move to Arlington, what would that do to housing costs in Arlington – and who would foot the bill?”

    It would be both interesting and informative to see data with respect to where do people live who work at a specific location, say Rosslyn, Tysons Corner, Reston Town Center, along with any available demographic information. What are the public costs associated with these workers and what benefits do they generate for the “hosting community”? Then, there are, of course, my favorite questions: Who benefits; and who pays?

    For example, do Arlington residents save money on schools because many people who work in the county do not live there? Similarly, are local sales or commercial rents higher in Rosslyn because of commuters? Would commuting times for local residents be less if some of the jobs found in Rosslyn were located in Warrenton or Fredericksburg? Etc. Etc.

    If we knew more about some of these fundamental questions, especially who wins and who loses, I’d feel better about some of EMR’s proposals about density.

  9. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    It is a real problem. We have some trip to work data, but it is generally based on one-day surveys and it accuracy is highly problematic. We know in a general way how many people from Fauquier commute to which other jurisdictions, but not exactly where. We have almost no information about the 80% of travel that is not work related.

    The questions you raise are exactly the kinds that need answers before we can consider ANY proposals whether EMR’s, Governor Kaine’s or even mine.

    I agree with EMR that we need more balance. I agree that we need to preserve open space. But EMR’sidea that we can best do that by radically increasing density simply flies in the face of any kind of simple observation. I liken his writings to JRR Tolkien’s: imaginative.

    Even people in densely populated areas want more open space. So, it might well be that we need both higher local densities and lower average density. But in order for that to happen, we are either going to buy the open space and hold it in common through the government, as we do with parks, or else we will have to resort to some form of private enterprise that pays landowners to maintain it for us.

    Since we already see that governments are selling off land because they can’t afford to keep it in the face of other priorities (like affordable housing or economic development), since we already see that planned communities are having difficulty maintaining their open space, since we already see that the National parks are grossly understaffed and under maintained, then it is hard to see that government is going to be able to help much. We are simply not willing to spend what it will take to get what we say we want.

    So, what we do is simply forbid the landowner from disposing of assets he can no longer afford, either. Their fundamental problem is no different from that faced by several levels of government: they need to make more money from what they are doing, or else do something else. We do that by regulation and by demonizing developers and land speculators and by romanticizing all those things we would like to keep. But at the same time we are promoting land speculation in other areas of certain “desired” types.

    Since we are doing that without the answers to your questions or the data to prove that our hypotheses will result in a good solution, and since we have not one single extant example that proves the point that urban areas are better places or more efficient (read less expensive), then what exactly do we think we are doing?

    I hate to see NOVA continuing to send money to Richmond and then tax themselves some more on top of that, but I can’t see people in Wise contributing very much to solve NOVA problems either.

    Arlington and Fairfax get tremendous revenues from their job factories: and they also get high home prices and a lot of traffic from other places. Fauquier claims that its farms are a primary driver of the county welfare, but 95% of them rely on off farm income. Everyone wants to save the farms and forests, the watersheds, the habitats, and the Bay, but no one wants to provide the transportation that makes those off farm jobs possible. Our children will want places to live, places to work, and places to play, and all those places are in competition for the same old dollars.

    Balance is going to have to mean more than just jobs and housing balance, and more than just road capacity/demand balance. We are going to have to balance environmental and economic justice as well.

    And we are going to have to do that without big brother’s “help”.

  10. Anonymous Avatar

    “According to the 2000 Census, only 21 percent of the jobs in Arlington were held by Arlington residents, with 30 percent of the workforce commuting across the Potomac River, from DC and Maryland, either by bridge or Metrorail, and nearly 40 percent entering Arlington from adjacent Northern Virginia communities, including Fairfax City and County, Falls Church, and Alexandria.”


  11. Anonymous Avatar

    From the same document:

    “The County should develop a research plan to recommend methodologies to collect the required data for a periodic State of the Commute Report, such as recommended by the Victoria Public Transport Institute. The plan should be used to develop baseline data and recommend periodic surveys to measure change, such as every two to three years. The plan also should include travel data pertaining to both residents and employees, whether County residents or non-residents, and should detail the survey approaches, sample sizes, and geographic and demographic segmentation. The data should include both work and non-work trips, take into account the reasons for individual travel choices, and be capable of measuring other reasons for changes in travel behavior over time, such as new development or changes in development patterns, and external factors such as economic conditions or gas prices. It should measure not only “what” is occurring, but also “why” and “where.” Utilizing this scheduled report and comparable community analysis, the County’s TDM policies should be reviewed periodically by a designated working group, with recommendations made for updates, as appropriate. Information collection should include the following:
    • origin/destination;
    • mode and reason for choice of mode;
    • frequency of trip;
    • purpose of trip, and
    • consistency of time and mode “

    Now that is a very ambitious plan. Elsewhere in the report it is stated that the biggest current problem with TDM management in Arlington is its lack of continuing dedicated funding. It is also stated (without proof) that TDM is saving the county, county residents, and county businesses millions of dollars.

    It would seem that while they are collecting all the data requested in this report that they might also attach some cost and benefit analysis to try to find out if the whole effort is worthwhile.

    When you start off with a goal to encourage a balanced usage of
    many modes of travel and less dominance of our communities by the automobile, then you ought to have some idea of how much money you want to spend pursuing this goal and how much the results, if any, are worth.

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