More Roads, Worse Congestion. Could There Be a Connection?

Chesterfield County has 4,000 miles of roads and streets, and it’s adding new roads at the rate of 35 miles per year — more than any other locality in Virginia. Despite a massive gift of state General Fund dollars to pay for construction of the Rt. 288 circumferential highway, Chesterfield officials worry that they need hundreds of millions of dollars more. About $1 billion more.

Under the new transportation funding legislation, Chesterfield will get a little more money for new construction but not much: only $45 million over the next six years for secondary roads. According to Julian Walker with the Times-Dispatch, Chesterfield officials are considering raising some $300 million in local funds to play catch-up.

Some of the options: higher impact fees, issuing bonds through Community Development Authorities to be repaid through special tax districts, and issuing county-backed bonds to be repaid.

Here’s what’s not being considered, assuming that Walker’s article is fairly comprehensive in covering the spectrum of debate: Reforming land use patterns. Although the county has approved, or is in the processing of approving, a handful of major mixed-use, New Urbanism-style developments, it is responding to the initiatives of the development community, not making the changes proactively. There is no discussion of creating Balanced Communities. There are no moves, above and beyond the current modest initiatives, to aggressively re-develop aging districts of the county already served by roads. There is no discussion of Transit Oriented Development served by rail.

You’d think someone among Chesterfield’s leaders would ask: If we’re building more roads than anyone else, why are traffic conditions deteriorating faster? Could we be building roads in the wrong places? (Is Rt. 288 accelerating the pattern of leapfrog, disconnected, low-density development at the root of congestion?) Is building more roads really the remedy? How about making better use of the roads we already have? How about building communities where people can drive fewer, shorter trips in their cars?

Unless there is a breakthrough in thinking, traffic congestion in Chesterfield County will continue to get worse, not better, no matter how much money the County raises for new construction.

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8 responses to “More Roads, Worse Congestion. Could There Be a Connection?”

  1. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    time for a reality check

    …”and its $1 billion-plus in unbuilt road needs”

    I’d like to know where this number came from especially in terms of the criteria for “need”….

    the typical way.. is for someone to look at the projected population growth – and then the miles of road that will be needed as a consequence…

    so if they can do this calculation why can’t they produce a valid CIP for these roads (like they must do for water/sewer)?

    Instead.. they talk in terms of what they “might” need to do..

    “might” need to do?… jeeeze .. imagine using that logic for schools or water/sewer…

    Prince William County also has indicated a billion dollars worth of “needs” and their solution is to propose an impact fee of 30K per house to build the “needed” roads.

    Give them credit.

    They produced a number by looking at the roads needed as a consequence of new growth then dividing up the cost equally to the folks that needed the new roads.

    Why do Chesterfield folks think it is up to the General Assembly to essentially take money from other taxpayers outside of their jurisdiction to build roads for people who live in the county?

    This concept just blows me away not only in the inherent flawed logic but because it describes the ponzi scheme that Va Transportation has been based on – and went bankrupt on.

    now that – that option has been exposed for the fraud it was – many elected still insist that this is the “right” way that roads should continue to be funded.

    I don’t think these elected folks are stupid… it has been their intent all along.. to be able to make land-use decisions ..without being held accountable for the transportation consequences of those decisions.

    They preferred (and still prefer) to have an agency like VDOT to bear that responsibility and then they can “sell” the idea to their more gullible county taxpayers to assauge their fears of traffic from new development.

    Fortuately.. enough citizens have caught on to this ruse… even if they don’t quite understand why VDOT can’t build new roads.. they at least know. .they won’t.

  2. E M Risse Avatar
    E M Risse


    Great post!

    More roadways than any other municiplaity, and

    Faster growing congestion than any other municipality,

    In the Richmond New Urban Region.

    “That is Chesterfield’s stand, are you in good hands?”

    The scary thing is that the same story can be found in every New Urban Region in the US of A.

    The more you build, the deeper you get.

    More on that soon.


  3. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I don’t “know” Richmond but here are two links that show Richmond and Washington at beltway relative scales – which I found interesting.

    If you do tabbed browsers.. bring each one up in a separate tab and toggle them.,-77.486572&spn=0.231884,0.462799&z=11&om=1,-77.029266&spn=0.22767,0.462799&z=11&om=1

    the point I’d try to make is that someone commuting from the Chesterfield fringe of Rt 288 is reasonably comparable to say someone in the DC area commuting from somewhere near the I-495 beltway fringe. (maybe a 10 mile radius for both MSAs).

    But one of the big differences between the Richmond MSA and the Washington MSA (beyond the fact that the latter is 5 times bigger) is the number of homeowners who commute far, far beyond the fringes of beltways – 40-50 miles or even further.

    Even though Richmond is bisected by both I-95 and I-64 as well as several other major roads.. like 295, 76 and 288… it just appears to me that they don’t have anywhere near the number of 50-mile exurban commuters.

    For instance, in Fredericksburg, almost exactly 50 miles distant from both Washington and Richmond, virtually ALL of our commuters go north.. only a handful go to Richmond.

    Beyond that, when I look at Chesterfield and Rt 288 on a map… Rt 288 does not take commuters to Richmond but AROUND Richmond.

    Hull Street and the Powhite Parkway do.. but both of them have been there quite some time..and there already exists quite a bit of residential and commercial development (and in fact… all along Hull Street all the way out).

    So.. where the heck are the folks in Chesterfield who are using Rt 288 headed to?

  4. Andrea Epps Avatar
    Andrea Epps

    The issues with transportation facing Chesterfield are to a large degree, the result of poor zoning decisions made decades ago, and amendments to those cases that only exacerbated the problem. I can see the argument made by those that reside in other localities about priority funding. I would ask that you consider the average Joe who didn’t make the decision but is forced to live with the consequences sitting in gridlock at signals that are too close together on Hull St or Route 10. We need a comprehensive transportation plan and CIP. We need a long range plan based on where the county needs to direct its resources.

    They have built roads and other public facilities, in poor locations based on politics rather than sound proven principles of planning or sustainable growth patterns. The mistakes of the past are made. We need to attempt to fix them and recognize what they were so we don’t repeat them. We need many things.

    However, we do have a few. There is discussion, (with a department and a committee to boot) that focuses on community revitalization and sustainability. They recognize the impacts (social and fiscal) of blight and deteritation and are making positive progress.
    I think if we use the recent legislation (flawed as it may be) and update some policies that are no longer effective, we could change development patterns by promoting proper infill, save public funds, promote greenways and connectivity, make the system of funding infrastructure somewhat equitable, and move forward.
    I understand it’s a tall order but I for one, am willing to try. The alternative is to do nothing and that is not acceptable to me.
    Let me know if I’m delusional?

    Larry- The people on 288 are headed to work in Henrico…for now. FYI…not one person that I can find had any idea 288 would be at the capacity level it is at now. I believe the projected date for the current volume was 15 years away.

  5. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I am sympathetic on the issue of “poor planning” but would point out that this is indemic across Virginia including where I live.

    It’s a very familiar refrain.

    And I’m convinced, it’s roots are planted firmly in the practice of localities doing land-use decisions and leaving the transportation consequences to someone else – namely VDOT.

    It’s an insane way to plan and I’m continually amazed at hearing elected officials publically OPPOSE being responsible for their own local roads and I’ve even more amazed that when local citizens hear this – they don’t see it for what it is – abdication of responsibilities.

    How many places do we know where local officials willingly approved commercial on a transportation corridor until it was so degraded that a bypass was built and then they started all over with the bypass.

    It’s driven by business interests.

    Now they call it “mixed-use” but it’s the same thing in different form.

    This is exactly how we get “bad growth”. The local officials want the business growth but they don’t
    want accountability for the roads. That’s why they like VDOT as their favorite whipping boy.

    They go back to their citizens and say: “it’s not our fault that VDOT is screwed up and the State won’t “step up to the plate” on transportation funding.

    … and they go right back to making land-use decisions with minimal regard to transportation impacts.

    Folks need to ask themselves – what is the BENEFIT of growth – mixed-use or traditional to existing taxpayers if the net result of that growth is more congestion on their roads.

    Why does it have to be this way?

    If local officials are not willing to deal with the road issues – then my view is toss them out and get some folks that will.

  6. Spank That Donkey Avatar
    Spank That Donkey

    telecommuting will have its impact over time… but short term.. build another city southwest of Chesterfield.. all business zoning.. change the commuting pattern…

    residential units only allowed above commercial (business space). Service it with light rail… all the open space around it strictly for Cows A-1… Property taxes from commercial development eliminates taxes on farms… they can stay in business and supply us with food and milk…

    Kinda utopian… but could it work? Tim Kaine preserves farmland and open space, while commerical development with light residential development as before on the same footprint as the commercial…Subdivisions are not allowed…

  7. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    “build another city southwest of Chesterfield”

    🙂 !

    Or put more jobs in our existing ring cities.

  8. Anonymous Avatar

    I just do not undertand the lack of accountibility on this issue. The Board continues to pin its financing hopes ofn the State which has demonstrated Chesterfield is far from a priority given NVA and Hampton Roads while not looking at the very memebers of the General Assemby of the very party they belong and asking for accountibility. The Board plays pawns the State legislators off as the issue, well why haven’t Martin, Watkins, Waddell and the others delivered in Richmond with funding for Chesterfield? Maybe cause they do not live there. Voters should not only look at the Board in its inability but those Delegates and Senators as well.
    I recall VDOT was to expand Hull Street to eight lanes, approved, then withdrawn a bit later due to state shortfalls. At least Waddell got the funds marked for Huguenot Bridge, which though in the City is used by quite a few residents of Chesterfield. I guess Watkins was too busy with his I don’t know Watkins Centre project and getting that deal done.

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