Setting Goals, Measuring Results

focus8In its final section on building better transportation systems in an era of fiscal austerity, “The Innovative DOT” manual tackles the issue of how to improve internal DOT processes. The chapter makes a number of useful points but the one that stands out in a Virginia context is this: “Define acceptable and measurable goals, and identify the needed measurement tools.”

That point hits home because the Virginia Department of Transportation and the Secretariat of Transportation already have initiatives underway for measuring goals, and the General Assembly is considering legislation that would expand upon them. The focus has been mainly on congestion, safety and the economy. This is a good time to discuss what else we should be measuring.

“The Innovative DOT” suggests that performance metrics might include the following:

Employment and commerce. DOTs should create a database where local governments and employers can report on business expansion, new employment and changes in economic output directly related to a state transportation investment. Here in Virginia, the ideal entity to supply that data would be the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, which keeps track of major business expansions around the state.

Equity of access. There’s more to surface transportation than cars and trucks. DOTs should measure public transit and non-motorized transportation (a fancy way of referring to pedestrians and bicycles).

Environment. Performance measures can include fuel usage (which generates air pollution and greenhouse gases) and impact on ecological systems such as wetlands.

Community preservation. Projects might be measured for their impact on the character of a community, historic properties and property values.

I would argue that property values may be the single-most important metric of all, even more than congestion and safety. As the old saw goes, “location, location, location” is a prime determinant of property values, and transportation is a prime determinant of location. Over time, highway and transit projects can create or destroy billions of dollars of economic value. Impact on property values may be hard to measure, but without it, any cost-benefit accounting for transportation investment is incomplete.

— JAB

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25 responses to “Setting Goals, Measuring Results

  1. “I would argue that property values may be the single-most important metric of all, even more than congestion and safety. As the old saw goes, “location, location, location” is a prime determinant of property values, and transportation is a prime determinant of location. ”

    Damn Bacon! You got it. So, when you claim that mass transit always loses money don’t you have to add back the increases in property taxes coming from more development and higher property values which inevitably occur around those Metro stops?

    • “So, when you claim that mass transit always loses money don’t you have to add back the increases in property taxes coming from more development and higher property values which inevitably occur around those Metro stops?”

      Yes. Indeed, I have made precisely that argument repeatedly on this blog. I’m glad it finally sunk in! Just enter “value capture” in the key word search box and bask in the wisdom.

      • Sorry, I only speak English. Product of a public school education I guess. So when you say “value capture” in Punditese it means “higher real estate taxes” in English?

        I learn something new every day!

    • The problem with the Silver Line is that those obtaining great value from access to the new rail stations aren’t paying the bulk of the costs for constructing those stations that permit the added density that generates the higher value. The Silver Line is being built on the backs of DTR drivers, who aren’t getting any added value for their higher tolls.

      Heavy rail is so expensive that higher real estate values and taxes it creates by permitting added density cannot pay those costs. If they were so required, heavy rail would not be built.

      The concept can be better understood by one of the latest proposals by the Tysons landowners. To provide needed road and transit (non-rail) improvements for Tysons, Fairfax County divided the improvements into two buckets – within Tysons and outside Tysons (including all non-rail transit). The inside costs were allocated 90% to landowners – 10% to the public. The public bears 90% of the outside and transit costs – 10% going to the landowners.

      The landowners could not agree on a tax district, so Fairfax County imposed a service district that taxes all land in Tysons, both commercial and residential. Higher real estate taxes are paid in Tysons. Those taxes and proffers will pay the landowners’ share of the costs discussed above.

      The landowners are now gripping about the added taxes and are making the argument that all of the new regional transportation tax money raised in Tysons (e.g., the higher sales tax) should be counted as part of the landowners’ share. I don’t think this argument will prevail, but it shows the costs of infrastructure needed to support urban density at Tysons likely outweighs the value to the landowners, even considering the bulk to the total costs, including the Silver Line, are not being borne by the landowners.

      With the approval of the new Comp Plan for Reston, I suspect we will see the same results.

      While these are only two data points, they are very important data points that, in my mind, provide very strong evidence that turning suburban areas into urban ones, supported by substantial transit and road improvements, is not cost effective absent massive subsidies from people who don’t benefit.

      • re: ” The landowners could not agree on a tax district, so Fairfax County imposed a service district that taxes all land in Tysons, both commercial and residential. Higher real estate taxes are paid in Tysons. Those taxes and proffers will pay the landowners’ share of the costs discussed above.”

        how does that fit into this TMT:

        ” …Service District Ordinance Upheld: Nageotte v. Board of Supervisors of Stafford County

        By: Andrew McRoberts. This was posted Thursday, December 9th, 2010

        As in the Virginia Supreme Court’s November 4, 2010 FFW Enterprises v. Fairfax County opinion, the issue of excluding residential properties by classification from a special tax….

        http://valocalitylaw.com/2010/12/09/service-district-ordinance-upheld-nageotte-v-board-of-supervisors-of-stafford-county/

        • TMT – have you got any quick/dirty idea how much METRO costs folks in NoVa on a per capita basis?

          • I’ll be darned about the Service District case. The Fairfax County BoS told residents of Tysons that the Board had no choice under state law but to tax residents.

            WMATA costs – calculated by a friend of mine. “Table 4.16 of the 2013 WMATA budget lists the cost at $4.11 per passenger and the revenue at $2.87 per passenger. The revenue is 70% of the cost. Capital cost and depreciation (approximately 27% of the total budget) might not be included in this cost. “

        • The FFW case involved a tax district, which excludes residential landowners. It was not a service district case. The newest district in Tysons is a service district, imposed by the BoS without a vote of landowners and which includes residential landowners.

      • “but it shows the costs of infrastructure needed to support urban density at Tysons likely outweighs the value to the landowners”

        Arguing facts not in evidence, counselor.

        The gripes of landowners about taxes proves they are normal human beings. If you want to hear griping about taxes by landowners please come out to my place in Talbot County, MD where you will be treated to an anti-taxation tirade directed at Annapolis and (somewhat inexplicably) Baltimore.

        • It’s only inexplicable if you fail to take into account the amount of white people for whom taxes is “theft” that goes from them to “urban” (read, black) “moochers.”

          Without having been there, I’d guess the white population in Talbot County is somewhere north of 80 percent.

          • Maybe, but I doubt it. The attitude of Talbot County toward Baltimore is more like the attitude of many places in Virginia toward Northern Virginia. There is a sneaking suspicion that Baltimore / NoVa calls the shots in the state more than the state capitals. The path to the governorship in Maryland often leads through Baltimore. Martin O’Malley (who is despised by many on the Eastern Shore) was formerly the mayor of Baltimore. William Donald Schaffer (a few governors before O’Malley) was also the former mayor of Baltimore.

            In the same vein, Terry McAuliife is a Northern Virginian, his opponent was an Northern Virginian, the prior governor grew up in Northern Virginia.

            Finally, the heavy Quaker influence in Talbot County has made for some interesting history. Thrown out of Virginia when the refused to convert the Quakers made their way to Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Prosperous and hard-working the Quakers soon amassed great wealth. However, the Quakers in Maryland renounced slavery in the late 1700s and any Quaker who refused to free his slaves was not allowed to remain a Quaker. The neighborhood of The Hill in Easton, MD is considered by many to be the first villiage of freed slaves in America and the first black neighborhood in America.

            Talbot County’s most famous and revered citizen is Fredrick Douglass. A statue stands on the grounds of Easton’s courthouse where Douglass gave a rendition of his “self made man” speech in 1878.

            Just down from Talbot County was born Harriett Tubman. The Underground Railroad, often supported by Quakers throughout Maryland’s Eastern Shore, ran through Talbot County.

      • “While these are only two data points, they are very important data points that, in my mind, provide very strong evidence that turning suburban areas into urban ones, supported by substantial transit and road improvements, is not cost effective absent massive subsidies from people who don’t benefit.”

        Perhaps you should have prefaced that paragraph with, “Place your hand on the Fairfax County book of zoning regulations and repeat the NIMBY creed …”

        Suburban areas turn into urban areas whether we like it or not. The only question is whether that transformation will be intelligently planned or haphazard. The transformation from rural to suburban in Fairfax County (and Henrico County for that matter) was haphazard. We’re paying for that lack of foresight and planning now.

        For the first time since I was born Fairfax County has an aggressive vision for its future. If that vision pans out Fairfax County will be an economic juggernaut. If it fails, it will be an expensive fiasco. Personally, I’m in. Yes, I will pay too much on the DTR. No, I don’t own land in Tysons. So, yes – I am one of those who subsidizes others who will benefit. However, I will benefit too. If Fairfax County realizes its potential talented people will stay here. Talented people will be drawn here. New companies will come here. Property taxes will remain strong. The schools will remain good. And the property I do own will be more valuable.

        Moreover, I will have helped leave my hometown better off than it was when I got here so many years ago.

        Anybody who isn’t dedicated to the future of Fairfax County should probably start thinking about a new place to live. Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.

        • they have a saying down Fredericksburg Way.. you can even see bumper stickers… that say ” Don’t Fairfax Fredericksburg”.

          they’re often sported by “come here’s” who refer to Spotsylvania as Spotsytucky.

          😉

          you’ll find others who live in subdivisions that back up to National park land … a sort of govt-subsidized “buffer”.

          then we also have a good number of tea party types who.. work for the Federal government or Fed govt contractors! Usually military or law enforcement…

        • So far, Tysons has seen only one big new tenant, Intelsat, come on board. I think that is a very important development, but the rest of the commercial real estate transactions has been existing tenants moving within Tysons and/or consolidating space. The cutback in government spending and contracting is going to hurt Fairfax County for some time. Can the county attract people who are not dependent on Uncle Sam? Is George Mason University sufficient to attract non-defense/non-national security businesses? Those are the big questions. And positive answers are not assured by any means.

          Some of the new residential construction is coming on line. It will be important to see what happens – how many people move to Tysons and their demographics. Most of the landowners are expecting a different demographic than what Arlington has seen. Tysons will be more expensive, such that most landowners think there will be fewer younger people. Will younger people want to live in an area that will be dominated by extremely heavy traffic volumes for the next 25 years? Don’t forget that the Plan for Tysons contemplated doubling the number of jobs to 200K and front-loading commercial growth over residential. Most of the residential growth is expected after 2030.

          Fairfax County is attracting low-income people and losing higher income people. The Schools have a growing level of free and reduced price lunch students. It has a growing population of ESOL students and, for a number of reasons, students with very expensive special education needs. The county is highly dependent on foreign immigration for growth. But seems to be attracting more poor people than EEs. The county is full of illegal businesses and unlawful boarding houses. Entire neighborhoods are losing their attractiveness. Low-income residents require much more in services than they produce in taxes.

          We also have an aging population. Can the county continue to spend more than 50% on schools with a population that is growing much more gray?

          Fairfax County does not have a true vision for its future. Neither the Tysons nor the new Reston Plans were created with a true “this is what we want Fairfax County to look like 50 years from now.” The impetus was to give big landowners who make big campaign contributions lots of density, while having DTR drivers pay the freight. Due to citizen activism, the Tysons Plan was made semi-reasonable, but no one familiar with the details expect major benefits to flow to existing residents. Both Tysons and Reston will see more cut trough car traffic. The Silver Line generates more density, which, in turn, generates more auto traffic. It represents a huge transfer of wealth from the middle class to well-connected landowners. Traffic will get worse and residential real estate taxes will continue to rise higher than the increase in average income.

  2. one area that does not get well recognized for jobs and economic development is rail.

    We have a CSX line that goes through the county – and a good number of businesses including CVS and others locate next to that rail line and are attracted because of not only CSX but I-95.. which are particularly attractive to distribution centers that get their inventory from rail and then ship it out via 18-wheeler.

    these “suggested” criteria look to be not very objective and “gameable” depending on who is doing the rating.

    I’d say that they are probably susceptible to mis-use on both sides..

    one other thing.. relevant to this weeks weather.

    what kind of a value do you put on getting secondary and subdivision roads plowed when in other states – the county and local taxpayers are responsible?

    we have wailing and gnashing of teeth because VDOT prioritizes interstates and primary roads over secondary and subdivision – but they eventually get to most all of them within a day or so of a big snow event.

    think about your own location and if you had to pony up the dollars for a snowplow… they’re pretty pricey… but your fuel tax dollars pay for it.

    but I don’t see how you can “measure” economic development from a particular road.. roads are .. fugible… and businesses utilize a variety of factors besides roads in deciding location.

    In our area, for instance, GEICO located – not because of roads but because it was cheaper to put up a complex and a high speed internet trunk line was available.

  3. Are we sort of re-inventing the wheel a bit?

    Most major new roads require a NEPA study – either a full study or an assessment. NEPA is not just about the natural or historic environment, it also addresses the built environment including the BENEFITS of the proposed road:

    An EIS typically has four sections:

    An Introduction including a statement of the Purpose and Need of the Proposed Action.

    A description of the Affected Environment (including built)

    A Range of Alternatives to the proposed action. Alternatives are considered the “heart” of the EIS. (what are the different approaches to achieving the purpose and need?)

    An analysis of the environmental impacts of each of the possible alternatives. (often a comparison matrix of all the alternatives and all their benefits and impacts).

    Social and Economic impacts to local communities

    Cost analysis for each alternative, including costs to mitigate expected impacts, to determine if the proposed action is a prudent use of taxpayer dollars

    For example, the Federal Highway Administration has started requiring states to include a financial plan showing that funding has been secured for major highway projects before it will approve an EIS and issue a Record of Decision.

    Every EIS is required to analyze a No Action Alternative, in addition to the range of alternatives presented for study. Analysis of the No Action Alternative is used to establish a baseline upon which to compare the proposed “Action” alternatives.

    Most new roads in Va built with Federal funds require an EIS or an EA – an environmental assessment – and they do provide excellent opportunity for interested groups to address the issues they believe should also be addressed.

    I’m quite sure that VDOT will/would respect to such proposals as the “Innovative DOT” by saying that they already do much of what is suggested with their EIS and EAs.

    but there is a fly in the ointment of late because VDOT is doing some new roads with PPTA partnerships where a lot of this information that normally is available to the public – is submerged as “proprietary information”.

    I would see that aspect – as far more important than the innovative DOT suggestions… to be honest.

  4. It’s important to remember that the December 2009 TIA submitted to VDOT showed that, with the Silver Line, billions in road and transit improvements and high-quality mixed use development, no further road improvements were possible for Tysons once these were built and that, once Tysons reaches 84 MSF, no new SOV trips can occur or we have catastrophic transportation failure. Each new SOV trip requires cancelation by someone carpooling, using transit, biking or walking. Using the George Mason growth estimates (high growth), this occurs around 2030 or about the time all the improvements are completed.

    And in June 2010, the BoS approved about 30% more density potential than was modeled in 2009. This is all public record information created by Fairfax County.

    • The Fairfax planners probably view the added congestion as a desirable outcome for Tyson’s. At some point people need to ride those fancy new trains.

      • not sure I’ve every heard the term “catastrophic failure” with regard to “congestion either”

        normally what happens, is when you get to a certain point where it’s terrible an untenable – the congestion levels drop back to what is bearable… not saying it’s wonderful.. but it’s sorta like saying congestion levels in NYC are “catastrophic”.

        well .. actually no.. but you won’t do it more than once before you figure out some other way …. other than your SOV car…

        that’s what happens in most heavily urbanized areas… you move to mass transit or taxi’s or whatever.. but you still conduct business.

        • Does anyone really think the residents and businesses of Fairfax County and surrounding areas will think that, after spending billions on transportation facilities, including the Silver Line, widening the DTR by as many as three to five lanes, and adding an additional lane on the Outer Loop from Route 7 to I-66 (beyond the HOT Lanes), seeing total gridlock on the Beltway, the DTR, Route 7 and Route 123 every work day is acceptable? I think such a result would more likely viewed as catastrophic failure than a good idea. The devil is in the details and I’ve read the details.

          • well I look at other cities that have a lot of highway infrastructure and a lot of mass transit and subway infrastructure and there are places in those cities where automobile traffic is just not a smart way to seek mobility.

            Dense cities, all over the world, tend to max out on automobile traffic .. it’s not catastrophic failure.. it’s just that beyond a certain point- that it’s not realistic for folks to believe that they can commute like they would in less dense places.

            I think Tysons with that level of density is headed for that same outcome.

            Would it be any more realistic for.. say New York or Chicago to say they were not going to allow any more multi-story office buildings until the auto transport infrastructure could “handle it” without a catastrophic failure?

            Fairfax has a “plan” true enough – but is that plan funded or does it have a truly viable funding plan or is it just hopeful/convincing words on paper?

            I’d be the first to admit that I would never live in those kinds of settings.. I’d just leave – like many of the people who now live down this way – just left NoVa… because of the unrelenting traffic that they no longer had to deal with…so they left.

            I think that happens to a lot of people. They stay as long as they have a job and don’t retire but as soon as they retire – they get out of dodge and leave dodge to the younger and more flexible and tolerant.

  5. Larry- Tyson’s will always be suburban and auto-oriented though. Despite all the future gridlock, there will never be a point where transit and walking are going to be viable means of getting around, as they are in true urban areas like NYC and Chicago.

    The residential densities are never going to be there unless you start demolishing the surrounding single-family neighborhoods. This is why I believe that Tyson’s will be a failure. It’s a half-measure of urbanism in a overwhelming suburban environment. And for the enormous price tag I don’t see how it will pay off. The only winners will be the politically-connected Tyson’s landlords; I don’t think TMT should be called a NIMBY for arguing this. I think what Don means by “damn the torpedos” is “grab your ankles DTR drivers”.

    • re: ” there will never be a point where transit and walking are going to be viable means of getting around, as they are in true urban areas like NYC and Chicago.”

      but there was a time when NYC was like Tysons, in it’s evolution, no?

      how about Arlington?

      I don’t know.. I’m asking…

    • re: suburban – and urban

      if you take a google map and look at virtually any major city -there will be an area of extreme density – i.e. multi-story buildings that are a mix of commercial and residential – and city-streets that are simply not capable of handling auto traffic generated by one car per household.

      in these places, many people walk or ride transit – to/from work and other things.

      they were not always like that. for each city- if you go back far enough, there would be a time when there was not multi-story buildings but rather more traditional residential – that in time, over time, I presume, got demolished and replaced by multi-story buildings.

      What we don’t know very well is how that transition occurred and why.

      what motivated the tearing down of existing structures and replacing them with structures of much higher density? Was it explicit planning or was it sort of an Ad Hoc process?

      Further – whatever process that was – does it work the same way now ?

      Can we explicitly and purposefully DESIGN a city in today’s modern economies?

      I also do not truly understand TOD “corridors” that are premised, like Tysons on having the rail but also having significant auto traffic – as opposed to a more traditional urban core where auto traffic is present but seriously limited in terms of being useful or functional beyond taxis, limos, delivery trucks, etc..

      they seem to me to be very different critters.

      and for folks who say they are conservative – how could they view the Tysons deal as anything but government social engineering with tax dollars and ironically making exurban commuters the primary funders of the mass transit?

      From a political viewpoint – is Tysons a Conservative free market idea or something more akin to a government-inspired idea? Are other cities government-inspired ideas or free market ideas?

      in terms of NIMBY. The types of opposition that we see to Tysons is not that different to even the kinds of opposition in the exurbs that we see – that occurs for similar reasons.

      every time a new road is proposed – the people who will be adversely affected by it are often opposed – even though a great many others consider the road a benefit and the greater good – the folks in the path do not.

      isn’t that similar to the Tysons issue?

      the most effective opponents to such proposals usually succeed if they can demonstrate that the proposal is seriously, fatally flawed – rather than something that will have benefits but also impacts.

      the latter often succeed if with opposition while the former can actually stop a proposal.

      which is Tysons?

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