The Oregon Solution

The twin thesis of my latest column, “The Oregon Solution,” is this: (a) Virginia’s gas tax has a limited life expectancy before revenues start plummeting, and (b) that the best replacement, both from a policy perspective and a political perspective, is a “road user fee” that combines a mileage-based tax with congestion pricing. I’ve made similar arguments before, but I’ve never pulled them together in one strand. And this time, I’m buttressed by the fact that the Oregon Department of Transportation has reached exactly the same conclusion! (I hate to admit it, but ODOT reached this conclusion before I did — I just didn’t know about it in my previous writing.)

The road user fee should make the Business As Usual lobby happy because it injects more money into the system for road maintenance and construction. It should make market conservatives happy because it is based upon market principles: The more miles you drive, the more you pay to maintain the roads. The more you drive in rush hour congestion, the more you pay access scarce road capacity. It should make fiscal conservatives happy because the system is far more transparent and accountable than the politically driven funding mechanisms we have now. It should make conservationists/ environmentalists happy because it would drastically reduce funding for extending roads into virgin territory for the benefit of land speculators and green-field developers. Finally, it should make citizens happy because it would do more to improve mobility and access than any competing funding scheme out there.

In sum, the Oregon “road user fee” looks like the grand compromise that could unite Virginia’s warring factions and create a sustainable, long-term funding source for transportation that does not perpetuate dysfunctional human settlement patterns. The Oregon solution does not, repeat does not, address the need for achieving Fundamental Change in land use policies and governance structures. It’s only one piece of the puzzle. But it is a very big piece.

In a second column, “When All Else Fails, Try Capitalism,” I explore how congestion pricing might look if applied to Tysons Corner. Congestion pricing would have three huge benefits: (1) it would reduce congestion to levels that maximize throughput on arteries like Rt. 7 and Rt. 123, (2) it would incentivize people to carpool, ride buses, telecommute and employ flex-time, and (3) it would provide stream of revenue to finance mobility-enhancing improvements to Tysons Corner.

For assistance, I called upon Bern Grush, founder of Skymeter, a Toronto company that wants to get into the road-user-fee business, to describe how a congestion-pricing scheme could work. Anticipating the criticism that administration of a congestion-pricing scheme would absorb the lion’s share of revenue generated by the program, I spent more time than I should have outlining Grush’s credentials. I’m not endorsing his service — I’m merely noting that technology has matured to the point where satellite-based systems can make congestion pricing cheaper and more flexible than land-based systems using more primitive technology, like those in London, Stockholm and Singapore.

Oregon’s “road user fee” system represents a huge conceptual breakthrough that could provide the foundation for a lasting transportation-funding settlement in Virginia. I hope it gets the attention it deserves.

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36 responses to “The Oregon Solution”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    Dear Jim Bacon:

    I want to commend you for sharing with your
    readers some of the concepts being considered
    in Oregon to fund their transportation system.

    It would benefit Virginia if a delegation from
    our state of all interested parties would make
    a trip to out there. Such a trip should include
    a briefing about this funding concept, how urban
    growth boundaries can work, how a metropolitan
    regional government can help communities, how
    light rail and street car lines work and how new
    developments can be linked to such improvements.

    Best wishes, as always


    Rodger Provo

  2. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Rodger, I’m glad to see that we’re on the same wavelength at last! A trip to Oregon would be a great idea.

  3. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Actually… as I was reading Jim’s excellent article… I was aware that Jim was not locked in on what things will happen in what order – only that change is coming.

    So I had the thought that a companion tome from Rodger outlining how he thinks things might evolve – a different view – could be useful but then I’d be poking my nose in Jim’s business so I’ll just leave it at that.

    I HAVE gone out a read the articles that Rodger has written – but they leave be wanting to know a little more about where the thinks we could or should be going.

    I’d also hate to think that we Virginians have become so rigid in our ability to do problem-solving that we have to travel to Oregon or Utah to learn how to do it….

    just a tweak there .. Rodger.

  4. Anonymous Avatar

    Dear Jim Bacon, Larry Gross:

    Western US states and Canadian providences are setting
    international standards in green development, sustainable
    development, growth management and innovative transportation
    concepts, funding means and great new developments tied to
    their systems, such Orenco Station near Hillsboro west of
    Portland, Oregon. California has just announced it is going
    to upgrade a rail system to be similar to those found in
    Europe which will require changes in state and federal laws
    and regulations.

    Orenco Station, a Reston-style community was designed to allow
    all of their residents to be within a 10 minute walk of a MAX
    (their light rail system) station. The train station and project
    development were linked (the community got the station contingent
    upon their approving the project). It has won awards and features
    an attractive Victorian business district.

    Portland and other communities out there often host visiting
    groups. Charlottesville has sent a delegation there to study
    street car systems as is proposed for their downtown.

    Utah’s program offers Virginia a concept we should use to pull
    together the various groups we have fighting over our growth and
    transportation issues. I want you to know I have offered to arrange
    a process to have the Urban Land Institute help us put together a
    program for Virginia such as the Utah effort. My offer still stands
    for I do not think we are going to resolve our problems the way we
    are currently dealing these issues. Nor do I think these matters
    are going to be solved until we create a means to tackle these very
    complex and difficult issues in a venue designed to tap the best
    and smartest talent in this field that can help us come together
    with a plan and program that will work for our state.


    Rodger Provo


    My wife and I have spent time in Portland, Oregon; Seattle,
    Washington and Vancouver, BC (we spent week there in October,
    2006. We have a son who received his PhD from Portland State
    University in Portland, Oregon.

  5. Anonymous Avatar

    Dear readers:

    Please pardon my typing …. I want to correct this line …..the last
    paragraph …… “for I do not think we are going to resolve our
    problems the way we are currently dealing “with” these issues.”

    Rodger Provo

  6. Anonymous Avatar

    Dear readers:

    Please pardon my typing … I want to correct the
    p.s. ……


    My wife and I have spent time in Portland, Oregon; Seattle,
    Washington and Vancouver, BC (We spent a week there in
    October, 2006.) We have a son who received his PhD from
    Portland State University in Portland, Oregon. Besides
    the ULI project I mentinoned above, I think VaTech, UVA
    and other colleges and universities have resources that
    should be used to help us resolve these issues.

  7. Anonymous Avatar

    I just returned from Portland and Vancouver and have studied the light rail, streetcar, and smart growth developments there fairly significantly. I have a couple of observations. First, although the rail system is nice, it has done very little to promote the use of public transportation. In fact, public transportation use declined between 1980 and 2000, the rough time frame that the current light rail system was built. Currently, the mode share for public transportation in the Portland region is only about 6 percent, signficantly worse than the DC region. If Portland is our model for public transportation in Northern Virginia, we are in trouble.

    Second, there is more mythology than fact associated with Portland’s streetcar and the smart growth that allegedly accompanies it. Take the Pearl District for example, which streetcar proponents often claim was transformed by the streetcar. Turns out that the Pearl District redevelopment began in the 1980’s and the streetcar opened in 2001. Recently, the head of Tri-met, which operates the streetcar, stated in the press that the streetcar, in fact, does not transform neighborhoods.

    Third, despite being held out as a smart growth model, sprawl is everywhere in the Portland region. Sure, they did a nice job with the downtown, but the region is sprawling just like everywhere else. So clearly a streetcar, light rail, and everything else that Portland has done does not do a thing to contain sprawl.

    I believe that if we truly want to contain sprawl and promote public transportation, we need new strategies. The light rail, smart growth, streetcar model of Portland does not work.

  8. Anonymous Avatar

    Dear Anonymous:

    I have different views about what we have
    seen during our visits to the cities in
    the Northwest mentioned in my earlier

    Urban growth boundaries, light rail and
    street car lines have played a role in the
    rebuilding of Portland, Oregon over the
    last 20 to 30 years.

    I visited thay city in the 1970s and the
    city that we visited recently is much

    There has been a decline of the use of cars
    in their downtown, a reverse migration of
    residents to the suburbs back into the city
    and they have a first class retail cluster,
    including a two city block downtown mall.

    Yes, they have suburbs, just like we have,
    but they have saved their city.

    Virginia would benefit by using some of their
    concepts, as is taking place in Norfolk and
    been done so well in Arlington County over the
    last 30 years.

    Northern Virginia’s growth patterns and lack
    of a transportation system to support it are quite
    different for our problems there are all suburban,
    just as you find in southern California.

    But we would benefit from a state mandated effort
    to encourage new development to be used to rebuild
    our older suburbs, clustering development near our
    existing and future rail and transit stops and more
    money invested in our transportation system there.

    Northern Virginia also needs help in working with
    the federal government relative to such things as
    the BRAC plans that will displace large numbers of
    workers from employment centers near mass transit
    stations to areas without such service. We are
    going to need to expand METRO and VRE.


    Rodger Provo

  9. Ray Hyde Avatar

    The more you drive in rush hour congestion, the more you pay access scarce road capacity.

    Great. But since there is zero possibility that more road capacity will be added in such areas, where will the money go? What is the point of having the user pay when he isn’t getting what he pays for?

  10. Ray Hyde Avatar

    I was in Portland last year. I spent a week in a meeting sitting where I could watch the empty busses and light rail patrolling the city in search of passengers.

    The one thing they did have which was excellent, was a bike rack on the front of the busses. Good idea, although I can’t recall ever seeing a bike in one.

  11. Anonymous Avatar

    Dear Ray Hyde:

    My wife and I visited Portland, Oregon a number of
    times from 1999 until 2005, while our son John was
    working and getting his PhD at their Portland State
    University. He is now on the staff at Virginia Tech.

    We have used their light rail and street car lines
    often. Our experiences were quite different from
    what you expressed in your postings.

    Quite the contrary, the city’s light rail system has
    a capacity issue at times, as does METRO and VRE. We
    used the light rail lines for trips to the Orenco Station,
    zoo, Japanese Garden, Rose Garden, Lloyd Center (a major
    suburban retail mall)and other points in the Portland
    metropolitan area.

    Because our son, his wife and their daughter lived close
    to the downtown at the time, all of us used the street car
    line for shopping trips to Nordstroms, a downtownmall and
    the famous Powell’s Bookstore.

    Portland has a unique shuttle system for buses that brings
    buses in from the suburbs and provides a fast-moving shuttle-
    connector system on a major downtown street for connections
    and additional movement in their downtown.

    I attended a conference in Richmond on November 17th about the
    development of light rail and street car systems in Virginia.

    A speaker who manages the Portland street car lines discussed
    the net gain in population the city has enjoyed because of their
    mass transit system. New office, retail and residential buildings
    have been constructed along that system. The street car system has
    been extended into an area near the river there and a major new
    redevelopment area. We stayed at the Residence Inn in that part
    of their downtown. More than $3 billion of new development has
    taken place in the Portland metropolitan area along their light
    rail and street car lines, according to this gentleman.

    Norfolk is about to build a light rail-street car line from Virginia
    Beach into their downtown and out to their large regional medical center.
    The city has seen a massive amount of new, upscale development take
    place along the route of that line. New office, retail and residential
    buildings are under construction and planned along that line near the
    stations. Their system will be operational in 2009 or 2010.

    The people of Virginia who are employed in all levels of government,
    CBDs, office-industrial parks, our hospitals, schools, colleges and
    universities, retail centers, lodging industry, construction industry,
    etc. that make our economy and society work need a good transportation

    Your attitude about this need is not responsible nor fair.


    Rodger Provo

  12. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    I’m all in favor of light rail — if it can pay its own way. Or if, at the very least, it can be demonstrated that building and maintaining light rail will do more to ameliorate traffic congestion than spending a comparable investment on road improvements or intelligent transportation systems.

    However, I think we need to be realistic about the light/heavy rail option. It works well if you can put into place a system, like that in Manhattan, that can get you any place you want to go at any time. It works less well if you use it as a way to get commuters to work and back, and even less well as a substitute for automobiles for purposes of general living.

    On the other hand… there are ways to finance the up-front construction costs that Virginia has not explored. I am talking about Community Development Authorities and Tax Increment Financing. Insofar as rail increases the property values of landowners located along the lines (or near the stations), why shouldn’t those landowners help finance the construction costs? CDAs represents a vast, untapped pot of money to build these projects.

    If the landowners balk, it’s a strong signal that the alleged value of the rail line — increased property values — does not, in fact, exist.

  13. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    warning – this is a rather long “tome”. I apologize in advance and recommend that folks skip it if it’s not useful to you.

    I don’t want to join the “rain on Portland” comments but it struck me that Rodger was talking about them “saving their Downtown” while acknowledging that they have the same typical suburbia dynamics. [I won’t use the “sprawl” term].

    I’ve traveled ALL around this country. In recent years, we’ve spent as much as 60 continuous days in our truck camper. Our motivation is to see what the USA IS – good and bad. National Parks – yes but also rural Nebraska and Urban Indianapolis, Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta, Cleveland, Boston, et al – literally.

    I don’t see what is going on in NoVa and HR as unique. Most every substantial urban area is very similiar – fact almost homogeneous with virtually identical templates of interstate/beltway/spurs.

    The original premise for the Interstate system was to CONNECT the country. Lots of books and lots of history but Eisenhower saw the Autobaun and then in a rather famous event – the military took a convoy on a transcontinential trip that took – not days or weeks but months. That clinched the deal and the Interstate system came online and has defined this country since then.

    Our entire culture revolves around the Interstate System. Most eople 40 years old and younger do not remember a time when there were no interstates. They grew up with them.

    So the motivation for the interstates was mobility of goods and services. Back then – the idea was to take the interstates THROUGH the centers of the downtowns. A guy named Moses attempted to do this in New York City.

    To this day, there are die-hards that say that some of NoVa problems are because they never completed the interstate through the middle of DC.

    Once folks realized that this strategy was [pick your version] wrong or had too much opposition – the beltway concept came into being.

    The idea was to “go around” the cities. Leave them alone but give folks a way to not get trapped in the downtown area as they attempted to go cross-country.

    No one – at that time – realized the impact that beltways would have on land-use and settlement patterns. It was not on the radar screen because the emphasis was on moving traffic.

    People thought THEN, that the grid patterns and the SPOKES – roads today that we refer to as the OLD Route 50 or whatever… would be were folks would continue to build and live. The term “Outer Beltway” did not exist as a phrase or even a concept at the time the original beltways were conceived and built.

    I’m not ranting about why beltways are (or are not) harmful.

    I’m just pointing out that most every urban area in our country has a beltway and/or spurs off their interstates and that in every case – development and settlement patterns have been very much DIRECTED by them just as it was with SPOKES.

    But no one ever sat down and calculated the “build-out” potential of land adjacent to the beltways in terms of traffic generation – 10 trips per home.

    If they had – they would have realized that interstates and beltways around the urban areas would have had to been at least 3 times wider than originally envisioned.

    No – we could not have afforded to build it all – but we could have easily designed the future corridors to prevent growth from subsequently developing in those corridors. Most beltways were moved out to “fringe” areas – raw land.

    Ironically – this WAS Done for interstates like I-95 BETWEEN the urban area and you can see it clearly with their wide medians and wide shoulder area buffers.

    I’m very much in favor of preseving downtowns, more efficient land-use and “smarter” development including New Urbanism and compact development but we cannot “undo” the beltways. They are here and our landscape – and the way we “do” land-use is permanently changed forever.

    But the essential truth is – we can’t go back – and in my mind, nor should we try.

    The “vision” of compact growth – beyond central downtown – but within access of beltways and interstates – actually will result in even MORE traffic –

    No matter what we do about restoring downtowns, and/or building compact development – we are not going to tear up the interstates and beltways and replace them all with grid-patterned streets and spokes.

    What’s done – is DONE and I think restoring downtowns and building “smarter” is NOT going to fundamentally change the overwhelming influence of interstates and beltways – on other land.

    With all due respect to EMR – the beltway-induced landscapes are not something we can easily pick up and move around like LEGOS.

    I also think the transportation “gridlock crisis” is HYPE in part.

    For instance, we do not have folks shouting that “something … MUST be done about the terrible crowds and delays at air terminals”.

    People Adapt. If it takes 6 hrs to get from point a to point b – they deal with it; they don’t go running to the government to raise taxes to let them get there in 3 hours. They buy a more expensive ticket if it is really important and be done with it.

    If they cannot afford it … a movement does not start to make tickets “more affordable”. No one tells the airlines to set aside 10% of the tickets to be “cheap tickets” for those who cannot afford regular tickets.

    We also don’t propose to raise taxes on everyone so that we can build more airlines or be able to offer cheaper tickets to fly.

    The whole idea is absurd on it’s face and yet that’s exactly how we approach road congestion and affordable housing.

    People DO have choices and if/when congestion gets bad enough – people do react.

    People don’t drive 300 miles to work even for double or triple their current salary because there is not enough time.

    The same holds true if you look at the equation in reverse.

    People will not drive to work if it takes 5 hours – even if “work” is 50 miles away. It’s NOT a distance issue. It’s a TIME and MONEY issue.

    Let the markets work. Folks should pay for the full locational costs of their Choices.

    If someone wants to live 50 miles away and get to work in one hour – fine.
    Build the road and charge the price necessary to offer the service.

    I would, however, charge extra for polluting vehicles – based on EPA numbers.

    But I’ll end by asking a simple question.

    What IF we DID .. just charge TOLLs – what would be the impacts of doing so – good and bad and finally – why would charging TOLLs not result in net improvements on a number of fronts?

  14. Anonymous Avatar

    Rodger is presenting some fine concepts, but we cannot afford to finance unproven concepts. If heavy rail, light rail, BRT, etc. can get commuters off the roads at a reasonable price, let’s do them. Paying for solutions might even be worth paying higher fees or taxes. But let’s see the business case first.

    We are proposing to spend billions for heavy rail in Fairfax County that the Commonwealth says won’t fix traffic. Why? Our Governor wants us to chip in to help pay for HOT lanes on the Beltway that private industry cannot afford. Why?

    We need reform first.

  15. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Rodger – we all have ideas and opinions.

    I’d be the first to admit that some of mine may be considered by others to be wrong…

    but let’s not impune folks character for expressing opinions…

    let’s discuss and debate IDEAS not people.

    (and if someone finds something I said to violate what espouse above – bring the hammer down on me).

  16. Anonymous Avatar

    Dear Larry Gross:

    I am not making character attacks about you
    or others who write for this blog ….. but
    I do take strong exception that we should be
    short sighted, as I think some of your are.


    Rodger Provo

  17. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Rodger –

    You wrote this in response to Ray’s post on Portland:

    “Your attitude about this need is not responsible nor fair.”

    this is not a big deal… but as of late, we’re seeing comments like this and worse.

    a fine point – but we’re not talking about Ray’s attitude – right?

    One would presume that he would not be espousing opinions/ideas that he considers “irresponsible” himself – so let’s give him the benefit of the doubt that his input is legitimate even if you don’t agree.

  18. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    With respect o road fees:

    “Commonwealth Transportation Board shall assess and impose reasonable impact fees to be collected by the Virginia Department of Transportation on new development or new subdivisions that are situated on an access road which has become, or which is to become, part of the primary system of state highway.”

    Note th fee goes to VDOT.. not the locality.. and so one presumes that VDOT will continue maintenance.

    Del Marshall is the Patron.

  19. Anonymous Avatar

    Dear Larry Gross:

    My purpose in joining in this blog’s
    discussions has simply been to share
    my different experiences and views
    that I think are relative to all of
    our needs.

    We have a need to improve how we
    handle growth. We have a need to
    improve our transportation system.

    I do not think others who are not
    interested in finding solutions to
    our problems, blind to the needs of
    others and so critical of others are
    being helpful to us.


    Rodger Provo

  20. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Jeeze – Rodger:

    “I do not think others who are not
    interested in finding solutions”

    How could you or me or anyone fathom what a person’s motives are?

    why not let “out of the box” comments stand or fail on their own merit?

    One of the reasons we have “gridlock” about growth and transportation is that we do not have agreement about what the problems and what the solutions should be.

    I think.. my opinion… as long as someone is willing to engage the issue in dialgoue… that we all benefit… even if we disagree because one of the most important things we DO NEED TO KNOW..

    is WHY the ‘other side’ thinks the way they do…

    if we understand THAT – we’re on our way to the next steps – collaboration and compromises…

    we simply cannot get from here to there if we diss those who disagree agree with and refuse to listen.

  21. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    NOW .. I’m CONVINCED that at least one Delegate in the GA “gets it”:

    “Establishing a joint subcommittee to study the desirability, feasibility, and possible benefits of replacing administrative classification of highways with a functional classification system, building upon the analysis and recommendations put forward by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission in 2001. Report”
    Patron – Michèle B. McQuigg – County of Prince William (part)

  22. Anonymous Avatar

    Dear Larry Gross:

    Virginia needs the program used in Utah to get
    all of the players to the table involved in our
    growth and transportation issues to work with
    the best talent we can find to create a program
    we can all support to meet our needs.

    Failing that, blog postings, election posturing
    and press conferences about bills that claim to
    tackle these problems, but result in stakeholders
    in these issues declaring war on such proposals
    will get us nothing.

    Think about it, Larry. We need solutions that
    will work, not more blather !!!!!


    Rodger Provo

  23. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: “Virginia needs the program used in Utah”

    “We need solutions that
    will work, not more blather !!!!!”

    Rodger – I cannot tell you how encouraged I am that you have the answers and that the real job for the rest of us is to get in line to support your view – and with our spare time – go to Richmond and tell all those guys that we’ve charted a buy to Utah.. and for them to stop “blathering” and get on board.


    Rodger – .. I know this sounds a little screwy… but opening up your mind to other ideas won’t destroy it nor make you impotent.

  24. Anonymous Avatar

    Dear Larry Gross:

    Now who is engaging in rude, personal attacks.

    I have said all I care to say about Jim Bacon’s
    piece about Oregon. I am sorry you don’t have
    the ability to consider the thoughts of others.

    Good luck, good day, God Speed !!!!


    Rodger Provo


    The readers need to know “blather” is a word you use
    often in your postings when you want to shoot down
    someone else’s ideas.

  25. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I do fess up to the use of “blather”.

    In my defense.. as Roger states – “shoot down ideas”.

    but I accept responsibility and will try to behave… better

  26. Anonymous Avatar

    Interesting op-ed in the Washington Examiner. Here’s a link. http://www.examiner .com/a-498090~ Wendell_Cox_ _Mass_transit_ does_not_ reduce_congestio n.html

  27. Ray Hyde Avatar

    “I don’t see what is going on in NoVa and HR as unique. Most every substantial urban area is very similiar – fact almost homogeneous with virtually identical templates of interstate/beltway/spurs.”

    I’ve noticed the same in my travels, with some variation. Do you suppose there is a REASON for this? Do you suppose it has to do with economics and preference?

  28. Ray Hyde Avatar

    Great Post, Larry.

    I would never dream, looking at our usual banter here, that so many of our ideas are actually in tune.

    “I don’t see what is going on in NoVa and HR as unique. Most every substantial urban area is very similiar – fact almost homogeneous with virtually identical templates of interstate/beltway/spurs.”

    My observation from my travels is the same, with some variation from place to place. I notice that the variations seem to have a great deal to do with the alternate value of the land: is it REALLY valuable as farmland. Otherwise, I tend to believe that there are uniform economics and values at stake that drive the situation.

    “People DO have choices and if/when congestion gets bad enough – people do react.”

    Yep. They move away from congestion. If they can, and if it is economic, they find jobs away from congestion.

    “People will not drive to work if it takes 5 hours – even if “work” is 50 miles away. It’s NOT a distance issue. It’s a TIME and MONEY issue.”

    Yep, and that is why transit works only for a few: transit takes a lot more time.

    “What IF we DID .. just charge TOLLs – what would be the impacts of doing so”

    I think it depends on what you mean. If it is universal tolls everywhere, then surely we would think twice before we go somewhere, especially if it is farther.

    If it is tolls only on the major routes and most congested routes, then some people will get a free ride, mostly those in the rural areas where it is not efficient to set up the tolls.

    One result will be that we are more captive to our local businesses, and so prices will risse. (Sorry, Freudian slip.)

    If we take Bacon’s suggestion and toll those that use the streets most in demand, then it will further accelerate the desire to go someplace else.

    I think it is backwards to toll those that use the streets most in demand. They didn’t create the job situation: the jobmakers and the planners did, so let THEM pay. Fairfax is exporting its cost of housing, let THEM pay. Maybe if Loudoun and PW were getting paid for being bedroom communities they wouldn’t mind. Maybe if I was getting paid for providing open space, I wouldn’t mind.

    But, whether you tax drivers through tolls, or tax jobmakers for creating congestion, the result is the same: people will try to escape the expense by going someplace else.

    And that is on top of the dynamics that ALREADY exist: urban areas are more expensive, and there is less upside, all around.


    With regard to Portland, I just described what I saw, and I saw only a few blocks, mostly from a window. I’m sure there are capacity issues on some lines: I just didn’t see it. But that only points out the essential problem with transit: peak capacity for transit is even more expensive than peak capacity for autos, and we can’t really provide real peak capacity for either, and especially not both, as long as everyone wants to go downtown at the same time.

    And let’s not forget Measure 37 and its forbear, in which Oregonians repudiated, twice, the more draconian of land use regulations. In the future, new land use regulations will be required to compensate those that are damaged for the public good, whether the regulations are for environmental reasons, or social reasons, or economic reasons.

    In other words, after thirty years of “groundbreaking” and forward looking land use regulations, Oregonians have rediscovered the concept of fairness.

    Portland has spent a huge amount of money promoting transit, and some claim their highways have suffered as a result. In spite of the claim, openly made by transit supporters, that “Congestion is our friend.” Portland has as much or more congestion than ever.

    Maybe that claim is a self fulfilling prophesy. Who in their right mind would promote congestion as a means of “selling” transit? How far have we come in missing the point?

    Like Larry said, its time and money. Why would we wish that our neighbors waste more of either?

    What we have is what we’ve got. That doesn’t mean we can’t do better. But we can’t expect to do better if we paint everything with one brush. Life is more complicated than that, and hopefully, more colorful.

  29. Ray Hyde Avatar

    Maybe I’ve just got a distorted view of things, but look what we do.

    We build big terminals, like Vienna Metro, or Broad run VRE. People drive to them. Then they ride the train for half or less what it cost to operate to go downtown. Then they walk as much as a mile to work, trundling their computer cart behind them.

    It is stark raving crazy.

    For what it costs to build and operate the trains, we could put office parks at the terminal locations – and give the office space away for free to anyone who wanted to operate a business.

  30. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Ray, Interesting idea — “put office parks at the terminal locations.” Isn’t that what air rights are all about? Isn’t that what they did at Ballston? I wonder why more people haven’t considered that possibility.

  31. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Bev Fitzpatrick is vice mayor of the City of Roanoke and co-chairman of the Virginians for Better Transportation. I replicate this e-mail correspondence, with proofing edits, with his permission:

    Your latest issue online is tremendous. I really do think the Oregonians have put their fingers on something and wish more Virginians could see your information. … As a Co Chair of Virginians For Better Transportation, I am pleased to see a lot of ideas, creativity and logic coming to the forfront as we try to address this very tough issue. It is to quote an earlier statement I made: “It’s not all about transportation in the Commonwealth, it is about leadership!” We must do a better job of being on the cutting edge as our economy, as we know it is changing and with the advent of things like Maersk/SeaLand’s Craney Island terminal coming on line, with NOVA continuing to explode and yes, even I-81 challenging even on a good day, we are looking at loss of jobs because we cannot move freight or people the way we have to in order to keep companies coming to Virginia, expanding current industry just keeping the ones we have that are stable.

    Too many words and perhaps too much emotion but it is important and I wanted you to know how much many of us appreciate your long standing commitment to assisting each one of us in efforts to broaden our horizons as we all love Virginia.

  32. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Bern Grush, founder of Skymeter, provided much of the background information for my two columns about congestion pricing. Here is his reaction to “The Oregon Solution,” replicated with his permission.

    The Bacon Solution: This was Alastair Darling’s fall back plan (ex UK Secretary for Transport).

    It is indeed a serious contender for the best compromise. It is not wrong, but I point out three weaknesses in decending order of concern:

    1. It diminishes the acuteness of the pricing signals like hiding the tax inside the price of a gallon of gas. I prefer the naked truth.

    2. It deflects traffic on non-charged roads. This is documented and can be neutral, good or bad depending on many things.

    3. It dilutes the utility of use-data to be used for funding allocation and planning.

    The Grush solution: Toll all roads at all times — highly variable, of course. Offer alternative payment schemes:

    – Meter to datacenter (regulate data use relative to privacy) VOLUNTARY ONLY meter to in-car payment capability – more expensive start-up cost to motorist but 1000% private. (VOLUNTARY ONLY.)

    – fixed payment (daily, weekly, monthly, annual)- expensive per permit, nuisance, no tech issue, no privacy issue, expensive to administer. Motorist simply takes chances and gets citations as and when caught.

    EACH method must be financially self-supporting — i.e. the group of motorists that prefer method #3 (for example) pay the entire system that administers #3. Those elected #1 (the preferred solution) would pay the least. BUT no one, NO ONE, is forced to have any meter or buy any permit. Unfortunately, if you do not pay your citations, your plates will be denied, or your car towed, depending on what each jurisdiction says…

  33. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Speaking of UGBs.. and Virginia experience.

    Doesn’t Va Beach have a “Green Line” UGB?

    I think it was done 20+ years ago.

    What is it’s status?

    Has it “worked”?

    HOW has it “worked”?

  34. Anonymous Avatar

    Straw proposal (not even sure I like it). Would it be simpler to tax parking spaces at all “work/commercial locations”? The tax would vary depending on the need for revenues and the congestion in the general area. We would, for example, tax parking spaces much higher in places such as Roslyn, Tysons Corner, Ballston, than we would in less congested areas. All vehicles, regardless of their fuel, use parking spaces. If the tax were extended to retail and commercial establishments, the costs of transportation could also be passed along (as permitted by market conditions) to people not working in Virginia (e.g., retired, visitors, interstate travelers stopping for lunch).

  35. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I had also suggested this concept… of the government NOT allowing private parking but instead it would be done by an Authority and each business would pay a pro-rata share cost of the facility.

    And it would work .. much like water and sewer – a capital fund maintained by “availability/connect” fees and an operational fund – maintained by per space fees.

    That concept would actually give a locality more control over what is built where…. AND it would free up the developer from having to build and maintain parking.

    The “hook-up” fees would be passed on to buyers/leasers – and then .. per space fees allocated to whatever hierarchical level (developer or individual business) as appropriate.

    The fee structure might also included some kind of relationship with METRO cards (or not)…

  36. Ray Hyde Avatar

    Jim, you missed the point.

    The idea was that if you HAD put office buildings at the terminal locations and if all the same people drove to thos locations THEN you would not have needed to spend the money on the terminal or the trains.

    But, as Larry pointed out, now we have what we have. If you now put office buildings at the terminal locations, you do what is happening at Vienna – wipe out parking spaces. with the parking spaces goes all of the utility for those people who now drive to the station, in order to get someplace else.

    If you now put office buildings and residential at the terminal locations, presumably the peopel that live there will also want to work there. Not all of them will be able to. The rest will either drive to one of the many new office buildings sprouting up someplace away from all the congestion caused by the Vienna Metro, or they take the Metro to some other office complex.

    The Ballston situation is different from Vienna or White Flint or New Carrolton because it it not at the terminus of the line.

    If you try to recreate Ballston at Vienna, you will wipe out the utility of the Vienna station for the majority of people who use it.

    Do you suppose that the result will be LESS traffic? I don’t think so. So, how is the traffic reduction promised by Metro West going to be calculated? If they measure only the traffic generated by those that live there, it may be one thing. But if they calculate all the traffic that was diverted to make it possible, it could be someting else.

    So the question is if rail is THAT musch more expesnsive, as reflected above, is there ANY place where it makes sense. Probably there is, but according to some, the rational and economic amount of rail travel is only around 2%. We only get 5 or 5% through herculean and probably uneconomic efforts as exhibited by Portland.

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