SOLs for Roads

While the MSM cyclops focuses its monomoniacal eye on the absolute level of transportation funding — will legislators raise another $1.2 billion a year, or only $1 billion — quiet progress is being made in other areas: in particular, the prioritization of funding.

As Peter Galuszka reports for the Road to Ruin project, there is increasing support for creating performance standards for roads — comparable in ways to the Standards of Learning for schools. These standards would measure outputs, not inputs: rating transportation projects on the extent to which they contribute to key goals like safety, congestion mitigation and economic development.

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine has already appointed, by executive order, a transportation accountability commission to recommend performance standards. And House Bill 3202, the GOP compromise bill, also contains language that would create a Joint Commission on Transportation Accountability to do much the same thing. Ideally, the two groups would work together, not squabble over differing definitions and standards.

The metrics have yet to be devised, although Kaine’s group has already started the process, having held its first meeting. Over and above the safety guidelines, which are well established, metrics might include traffic congestion mitigated per dollar spent, or contribution to economic development. By “economic development,” backers of this concept are not envisioning earmark projects like the $50 million interchange in Stafford County built to improve access to a little-used regional airport. That’s precisely the kind of low-return “investment” they want to prevent. Instead, economic development metrics might measure how a new road would increase the accessibility of labor to a major employment center like Tysons Corner.

Setting priorities is critical. Setting the right priorities is even more critical. This represents an excellent opportunity to align transportation with land use planning. It’s also an opportunity for the state, for once, to stimulate in-fill and re-development in Virginia’s urban core and aging suburbs instead of pushing growth ever farther into the countryside. It could even become a tool one day for building transportation systems that serve Balanced Communities.

There’s one issue that we did not have a chance to explore: the extent to which new priorities driven by new metrics actually would change current spending patterns. Virginia’s road allocation formula is fairly rigid, parceling out funds on the basis of antiquated highway districts boundaries, drawn in the 1920s, and between road classifications that haven’t been updated in almost as long. HB 3202 would require the Virginia Department of Transportation to reclassify roads, but I’m not aware of any measure that would redraw VDOT district boundaries.

Meaningful reform may require more than setting new standards: It may require tearing up the old road funding formula and starting over.

Share this article


(comments below)


(comments below)


9 responses to “SOLs for Roads”

  1. Jim Wamsley Avatar
    Jim Wamsley

    You must have a different version of the Compromise legislation then the one on the web page. Current practice requires a comprehensive review and a JLARC audit. This covers the review. Pierce Homer is a VDOT does not let the recommendations in the JLARC audit deter its program.
    The Commonwealth Transportation Board shall conduct a comprehensive review of statewide transportation needs in a Statewide Transportation Plan setting forth an inventory of all construction needs for all systems, and based upon this inventory, establishing goals, objectives, and priorities covering a twenty-year planning horizon, in accordance with federal transportation planning requirements. This plan shall embrace all modes of transportation and include technological initiatives. This Statewide Transportation Plan shall be updated as needed, but no less than once every five years. The plan will provide consideration of projects and policies affecting shall promote economic development and all transportation modes and promote economic development, intermodal connectivity, environmental quality, accessibility for people and freight, and transportation safety. The plan shall include quantifiable and achievable goals relating to congestion reduction and safety, transit and high-occupancy vehicle facility use, job-to-housing ratios, job and housing access to transit and pedestrian facilities, air quality, and vehicle miles traveled. The Board shall consider such goals in evaluating and selecting transportation improvement projects. Each such plan shall be summarized in a public document and made available to the general public upon presentation to the Governor and General Assembly.
    It is the intent of the General Assembly that this plan assess transportation needs and assign priorities to projects on a statewide basis, avoiding the production of a plan which is an aggregation of local, district, regional, or modal plans.
    § 33.1-23.03. Board to develop and update Statewide Transportation Plan.

  2. Jim Bacon Avatar

    I wonder if the left hand knows what the right hand is doing.

  3. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Or, maybe the CBT simply isn’t doing the proper job of rating projects by traffic mitigation, economic development, etc.

  4. E M Risse Avatar

    And lets remember that the goal should not be “economic development” if that “development” results in dysfunctional scatteration of the elemens of functtional (and thus transportable) settlement patterns.

    We need criteria that guage Balance of demand generated by the distribution of urban land uses and the capacity of the transport system.

    CTB has never even considered this issue.


  5. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Excellent Post from JW!!!

    Also – comparing to SOLs is not really the right comparision.

    I would add SOQs concept so that we have not on minimum standards but a certain percentage of state aid is used to insure a statewide minimum standard for all roads.

    Rodger says that we need a Statewide Planning Agency to find a better way for growth and development.

    My concern is that this issue already HAS a statewide Agency involved in it and bad stuff happens anyhow.

    What would convince me and others that yet another Statewide Planning Agency would do things any different than they are now?

    It would essentially be the same group of folks who are involved in the MPO decisions now.
    SOQs guarantee equal funding statewide of minimum standards for education then it is up to the localities to add to that with increased local funding.

    VDOT does something similiar with some “matching” programs for rural roads and even for some arterials.

    We won’t end up with ONE LIST statewide. There are currently more than a dozen different “pots” of money from different sources that would affect change.

    The passage from JW’s post –

    “It is the intent of the General Assembly that this plan assess transportation needs and assign priorities to projects on a statewide basis, avoiding the production of a plan which is an aggregation of local, district, regional, or modal plans.”

    has profound impacts to the current system –

    because it no longer allocates on lane-miles but performance measures that could focus on surrogates for need – such as LOS, accident rates, and Peak Hour HISTOGRAMs of LOS.

    Peak HOUR LOS – the SHAPE of the histogram is important.

    The top part of it can be a 30 minute spike (like in front of an assembly plant) or it can be 3-4 hours wide – indicating strong regional congestion.

    VDOT is not the one who would oppose this – they get to build roads and road improvements no matter what – it’s only WHERE that would differ.

    The folks who would oppose this are the folks who view road funding for their district as an important POLITICAL METRIC – only tangentially for voters – more for the growth and development community.

    Every locality believes that road funding is their ticket to prosperity.

    This is why Stafford County spent 50 million dollars on a new interchange when for more than a decade they have – and continue to have terrible congestion on Route 17, the Falmouth Intersection and Route 610 – all roads that they CHOSE to NOT fund congestion relief for – so they could build that interchange.

    The local MPO approved this.

    That interchange was put on the TIP long after those other projects were on the TIP – and that just goes to show folks that there is no prioritization process.

    Any project – can be put on the list but being on the list does not mean anything because it can sit there without funding year and year.

    Then a new project gets put on the TIP.. and it immediately starts receiving funding.

    There are other examples in the Fredericksburg area and I’m sure across Virginia.

  6. Jim Wamsley Avatar
    Jim Wamsley

    “It is the intent of the General Assembly that this plan assess transportation needs and assign priorities to projects on a statewide basis, avoiding the production of a plan which is an aggregation of local, district, regional, or modal plans.”

    This is the current code. Either vTrans2025 was supposed to provide this information instead of the “business as usual” information provided, or another study was supposed to be prepared. JLARC has pointed to this. No one has followed up on this and VDOT ignores any questions and instead brags about what it has done.

    The plan was designed by the General Assembly to provide data for adjusting the allocation formula. If the allocation formula is adjusted for all transportation modes intermodal connectivity, environmental quality, accessibility for people and freight, and transportation safety using the data an honest study would provide, the VDOT share would go down and the share for transit in congested regions, and for rail freight capacity would go up. VDOT has a dog in the hunt. The dog has been trained to lead the pack astray.

    Please follow the link to see what is in the current code and what changes were proposed. What comes out of conference may be different.

  7. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    whoa… I had NO IDEA that this was already code.


    and yes… who is supposed to implement this if VDOT chooses not?


  8. Jim Wamsley Avatar
    Jim Wamsley

    Here are the citations from the code page. (1985, c. 320; 2001, cc. 764, 772; 2002, c. 639.) Someone reading this may be able to help.

  9. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    This is OLD…. so old.. I’m having trouble deciding if this language was put into the code before or after the last gas tax increase…..

    and we have this wonderful play on words where the words

    …. “intent” are not the same as “shall”.

Leave a Reply