About that $180 Million…

There’s a story hurtling around the Internet that’s taken on a life of its own. But it’s not entirely accurate, and I’m trying to get to the bottom of it. Republicans are working up a good head of steam — as was I for a while — over a statement by Del. Lacy E. Putney, I-Bedford, the incoming House Appropriations Chairman. In a letter distributed by the General Assembly Republican leadership yesterday, he asserted:

[Gov. Timothy M. Kaine] plans on diverting $180 million from the Transportation Trust Fund in Fiscal Year 2008 so he can fund new or expanded non-transportation programs.

Similar claims were made in electronic newsletters distributed by at least two Republican members of the General Assembly.

If that statement were accurate, it would represent an astounding about-face for Kaine, who campaigned on a promise to create a constitutional lockbox to prevent the legislature from ever raiding the Transportation Trust Fund again. The constitutional lockbox has since died a quiet, whimpering death — it crawled into a corner never to be seen or spoken of again. Even so, a raid on the Transportation Trust Fund would constitute a staggering betrayal by the Governor.

Well, it turns out the story isn’t completely accurate true. I checked with Gordon Hickey, Kaine’s press secretary, who categorically denies that Kaine is taking any money out of the Transportation Trust Fund. The $180 million, Hickey says, is coming out of General Fund dollars allocated to transportation. And the reason is that the transportation projects simply aren’t ready to be built. The Governor moved the money to 2010 because that’s when the projects will come on line.

Did the Republicans make a mistake? Well, let’s say they’ve back-pedaled some. They’re conceding that the money is coming out of General Fund, not the Transportation Trust Fund. But they’re still fighting mad.

Here’s how Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling explained the situation to the recipients of an e-mail exchange that I was privy to. I literally received this while typing this post, so this is fresh:

The money the Governor is diverting from the general fund transportation allocation is being spent on other things. Specifically, it is being used to help eliminate the remaining budget shortfall in the current fiscal year, along with $261M from the rainy day fund. While the Governor has promised to replace the money in 2010, the problem with that is twofold. First, we have to trust him to do it and not change course and redirect the money somewhere else. Second, he can only do it if his very optimistic revenue projections of 6.6% revenue growth come to pass, and many of us feel that those revenue projections are overly optimistic given the general economic downturn we are facing.

In the final analysis, our complaints against the Governor’s budget come down to the following:

First, we are concerned that he is trying to close the budget shortfall in the current fiscal year by taking money out of the rainy day fund and out of the general fund appropriation for transportation, rather than making additional spending reductions.

Second, we are concerned that his biennial budget includes hundreds of millions of dollars in spending on new and expanded government programs in the second year of the biennium, which appears to be financed by overly optimistic revenue assumptions and an excessive reliance on more than $3B in new debt.

Bottom line: This isn’t the political dynamite that I — and others — initially thought it was. But a strong case can be made against the maneuver. Here are follow-up questions I should have thought to ask Hickey: (1) Which specific projects were to be funded by this $180 million, and (2) what guarantees are there that a future governor (Kaine will be gone in 2010) will put the money back in?


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24 responses to “About that $180 Million…”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    Sometimes you wonder just how dense people can be.

    The Appropriations Act which moves the money out of FY 2008 will also reinstate the same money into FY 2010. No future “guarantees” are needed. It will be appropriated, if adopted as the Governor proposes. It is as solid as any appropriation can be. (Or at least as solid as it is now.)

    The reality is that these road projects take years to plan and build and the money won’t be needed during the remainder of FY 08 or perhaps even in FY 09. So the Gov will spend those GF dollars now and replace them with 2010 GF dollars. No project is delayed.

    The alternative would have been to hold the money in a capital reserve account, which would stay on the books in 09 unspent until needed. Do that, of course, and everybody shouts “surplus!”

    The problem created by what the Governor proposes to do will come if the downturn gets worse and the state faces a real shortfall. But in reality, that balance would be the first place they would look anyway — even if squirreled away. This is just an accounting manuever. It could be called a gimmick. But what is going on could be called hysterial overreaction.

  2. Anonymous Avatar

    It sounds like the money coming from the general fund and allocated for transportation should go into the rainy day fund until the projects are ready to start.

  3. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Sounds like the R’s are so convinced that things are going bump in the night.. that they’re acting like a cat in a room full of rocking chairs… ๐Ÿ™‚

    but those roads… what happened to on time and on budget?

    a road delayed is a road that gets much more expensive.

    By the time those delayed projects are ready they’re going to cost more than what they would have this year – the year the money was budgeted.

    We are just getting a two mile section of new state road complete – after more than 10 years “in planning” and it costs more than twice it’s original estimate.

    This is the big challenge for VDOT AND counties the build roads.

    Developer-proffered roads in our area – two of them – each 2 miles long were each built in about 2 years.

    but you R types.. it sorta sounds like ya’ll are wishing for a “hail Mary” type scandal so you won’t have to come up with your own ideas about the budget?

    ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Rtwng Extrmst Avatar
    Rtwng Extrmst

    The real scandal to me is that the GA went to the trouble to appropriate the funds when people screamed about traffic and now VDOT’s not ready to spend the money! Larry has a point about the cost of the roads going up. Just who is running VDOT that they can’t do the job even when we give them the money to do it?!

  5. I can not believe that a republican is saying anything about an economic slowdown. I guess he didn’t get the memo from Big W in the white house that the economy is strong and growing and it is the dems who are pessimistic.

  6. Larry,

    With regards to projects that are supposed to be funded in the next budget and are not ready to be built, look at the Six Year Improvement Plan put out by VDOT every year. In it you will see that many projects receive funds for several years in advance of when they are supposed to be built. Instead of putting all of the money into a project in one fiscal year, they save up over time, estimating how much it will cost to build the project in the future.

    For example, the Huguenot Bridge Replacement has been scheduled to start construction in 2010. The total allocation (state & federal) to this project to the present is $11.3 million. In FY 2008 there is an allocation of $2.66 million, FY 2009-$8.20 M, FY 2010-$6.0 M, FY 2011-$10.73 M, FY 2012-$7.15 M, and FY 2013-$4.5 M. Thus even though this project is going to receive funds in the next biannual budget, it was not planned to begin construction until the very end of FY 2010.

    This project is a more extreme case but this is how VDOT programs the funding all of their construction projects.

    As for developer proffered roads, much of the process is streamlined. Often the developer owns the land and is giving the right-of-way to the state, saving months of negotiations with land owners. The developer then funds a good part of the cost of the road, if not all of it, years are saved in this step. Finally, developers have the political connections, both locally and at the state level, to get projects greased through faster. Of course, when these projects get preferential treatment, all of the other projects get bumped back further in the schedule.

    Kyle
    Byrd Park

  7. Anonymous Avatar

    We’d all be better off if Governors of both parties concentrated on simply running Virginia’s government effectively and efficiently and not to establish their “legacy.” Instead of worrying that no one would remember him because he didn’t expand health care or create some new pre-school funding program, Kaine should simply manage state government as well as he can with the resources he has.

    It would also be nice to see Governors stick to their campaign promises. Walter Mondale might have been a dud, but he at least had the courage of his convictions. If you are going to promise to protect transporation money from raids, do it — or don’t promise it. If you want to raise taxes for roads or whatever, campaign on it.

    TMT

  8. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Kyle – thank you for further enlightenment.

    I’m somewhat familiar with 6yr plans but confused with the way they work.

    I think anyone can see that roads go through multi-year processes and they are “programmed” on a milestone schedule and one would presume that each years activities would need to be funded

    … but we all know that before Schucet came along that the 6yr plans were not being used for “programming” as much as they were being used to promise projects – far more than there was available funding for.

    But even after the reforms, we see delays that appear to be because of a lack of funding and not programming.

    which is curious given the “give back” for other projects. Why not reallocate to the ones that can be accelerated because all they need is the funding?

    With respect to developer roads… well.. they beat VDOT on two counts. First of all.. they will pay more than the appraised value if the “time is money” rule is invoked

    and second.. they can and do appeal to the locality to condemn and do a “quick take”… while VDOT … well basically.. they seem either by regulation or predilection to NOT abide by the “time is money” rule.

    We have dozens of roads 10 years or more on the 6yr plan and developers come along and slam, bam, thank you man… INCLUDING right-of-way and condemnation…

    and every one of those roads that has been 10 years or more in the 6hr plan has gone up tremendously in cost.. to the point where it’s amusing listening to the VDOT reps telling the BOS that the good news is that they got some more funding for a road and the bad new is..that the price of the road went up higher than the funding they got…

    so every year.. the VDOT guy comes back and says “we’ve almost got the 75% (I believe) … like Lucy and Charlie Brown with that football.

    ๐Ÿ™‚

    Schucet had it right – on time and on budget… job number 1.

    right behind that would be to modernize/streamline VDOT’s road building processes and ask the hard question as to what the “value” is of VDOT roads that take longer than PPTA roads.

  9. Spank That Donkey Avatar
    Spank That Donkey

    Now let me get this right… We had a transportation crisis that had to be funded now! (2004 – 2007) so we get ‘Abuser Fees’… but of course it can’t be spent?

    So the money that is being appropriated is the $250M set aside from the surplus in 2006, that of course was not given to VDOT but let to roll over in the budget?

    Is this just a giant shell game, and btw the formerly GOP controlled Senate Finance Committee killed any so called ‘Lock Box’ for transportation, so all new taxes they could have brought in would go to growing govt… and diverted for the next crisis?

    No wonder the voting citizens are getting fed up… The Pubs won’t stick to principles.. and the Dems.. are just shucking and jiving their way to bloating govt. with out accountability…

    I am sure the MSM will expose all of this soon enought right?

  10. When you say dozens of roads on the Six Year Plan for ten years or more, what projects are you referring to? I don’t think that there is anyone in VDOT that wants to delay a project so that it costs more. Just like any other entity, VDOT allocates its limited resources (fiscal and manpower) to the projects that are deemed to have the highest priority. If a developer is going to come along a fund and project, VDOT is going to try an use that money as best it can.

    With regard to having projects ready to be accelerated in case of a “give back,” VDOT does do this, but for a different reason. Every year the feds redistribute money that has not been obligated by the states that were supposed to receive it to other states that have obligated all of their money and have additional projects ready to go. This year VDOT received $33.9 million in additional funds from the feds because we had projects ready. Read more about it here : http://www.virginiadot.org/news/newsrelease.asp?ID=CO-0776

    It used to be that if VDOT did not expect to receive federal funding on a project, it was not planned according to federal guidelines leading up to construction (mostly paperwork). Within the last several years that has changed so that every project must meet the federal guidelines. This way, if the opportunity comes, federal money can be applied to that project.

    Schucet may have been the first to emphasize on time and on budget, but it is no less important today then when he was commissioner. If you look at the “Dashboard” on VDOT’s website, you’ll see that the percentage of on-time and on-budget projects is much better today than it was in 2000.

    The “value” of PPTA roads over VDOT roads is that some private third party has decided that they can make money off of the road and is willing to make a significant investment. An investment that the General Assembly does not have the intestinal fortitude to make, but would still like to benefit from having the road.

  11. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Kyle, I’m going to use this project as an example:

    http://syip.virginiadot.org/LineItemDetail.asp?syp_scenario_id=123&line_item_id=28257&pf=LineItems.asp&pfn=Line+Items

    and I’m going to point out that part of this project was completed last year by a developer as a proffer condition and not only was it done in about 18 months but it was done according to modern access-management standards.

    Meanwhile.. back at the ranch.. this project has been ongoing for a decade.

    and then I’d like to illustrate just how useless Dashboard is.

    I would like for you to tell me how to find this project on Dashboard.

    don’t send me the link – just the steps you did to find it.

    Dashboard is basically in my opinion a great example of how to frustrate and discourage the public from actually finding out what the status is of a project that they’d like to find out more about.

    citizens have no idea whether to look under “engineering” or “cost estimation” for their project… how would they know? and yet this is apparently how Dashboard works.

    Dashboard looks like something created by engineers …for .. engineers..

    I’m quite sure this is not what Schucet had in mind because he was actually trying to better connect the public to the process and all this thing does is the opposite.

    If VDOT wants DASHBOARD to be a success with the public.. it’s got a ways to go.. and the real problem is that I suspect they are proud of it as it is and totally unaware of just how user UN-friendly it is.

    By the way.. if you can.. what is the difference between DASHBOARD and the online 6yr plan?

    Are they not dealing with the same info?

    I have something to say about “developer roads” in the next post.

  12. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: developer roads

    Kyle said:
    “some private third party has decided that they can make money off of the road and is willing to make a significant investment. An investment that the General Assembly does not have the intestinal fortitude to make, but would still like to benefit from having the road.”

    If a locality has a comp plan that designates intended development uses – then what comes first – the roads to serve the future development or the development then the roads.

    The second way is the way it works with VDOT. Be honest. And VDOT’s response is not to work with the developer to get the infrastructure for that project built “on time and on budget” but instead VDOT actually acts as an agent of delay.. holding up the work while they make sure it’s VDOT-approved.

    VDOT does not view these as financial and construction partnerships to get the infrastructure online ontime and on budget as a benefit to the public.

    VDOT, instead, has their own idea of what on-time and on-budget means and believe me it’s not the same as the developer nor the public’s idea.

    PPTA allows rational and timely planning to occur in a proactive manner. The developer buys and owns much of the land up-front including r/w and then sets up a CDA for funding and VDOT STILL cannot do their part of the work in the same timeframe that the developer can and does.

    If the developer out to make money?

    Of course?

    But here’s the difference.

    The infrastructure comes online when the development does – not put on some list where it will languish until VDOT finds the time and money to do it.

    VDOT, instead, acts like they could care less.. because it’s “not their road”.

    VDOT is NOT nimble, not proactive ,the very essence of bureaucracy and NOT customer focused in their road planning and building in my view

    How can VDOT get better? (assuming that they want to).

    It’s really simple.

    First, VDOT needs to LISTEN to it’s harshest critics .. and here is the most important part:

    instead of “responding” with a point-by-point “explanation-rebuttal” that essentially disses the feedback by
    showing how much the critics don’t know about “the process”

    ….

    VDOT’s GOAL is to ENSURE that the public DOES KNOW and does understand … not that they had it “explained” to them.

    Second. If a developer can build a section of road that has been on VDOT’s 6 yr plan for more than 10 years .. in 18 months.. then VDOT needs to be able to do the same – no excuses – even if it means that VDOT needs to partner with a PPTA (rather than treat the PPTA as a competitor).

    Third – traffic signal management. Everybody has their favorite stories of DUMB traffic signals in a computer/wi fi communication age – we see traffic signals as congestion generators… they back-up traffic when there is no good reason to do it.. some actually CREATE traffic jams.

    what the heck are VDOT engineers thinking when they themselves sit at one of these “can’t help but do it dumb” devices?

    I’m going to finish on a high note because I know that VDOT is a 10,000 employee organization that has many, many excellent and commited people working hard to “deliver” – especially when it comes to dealing with snow and of late.. their responsiveness to potholes and safety issues like low shoulders and sight distance…

    but I really would like to know the difference between DASHBOARD and the 6yr Plan and how to use the two to find info about a particular project status.

  13. Larry,
    you brought up a lot of issues and I will try to address them as best I can.

    1. Finding a project on the Dashboard. This can be a non-intuitive system to access information about projects, but I think that it represents a good faith effort to provide transparency. There is a VERY extensive (28 pages) user manual that will explain every thing you would like to know about the dashboard, but admittedly the system can be difficult to use. VDOT recognizes that changes are needed and is almost finished developing an update of dashboard. The next version has already be released internally for testing and is going to be rolled out publicly early next year.

    To find your project –
    a. Go to virginiadot.org
    b. click on the dashboard logo in the bottom right corner
    c. The engineering category deals with everything that happens on a project before it is advertised for bids, then construction is every thing that happens after bids have been received. For your project click on engineering.
    d. This screen shows the current status for all the studies, projects in the Design and Advertisement phase, and projects in the Cost Estimate Phase. You can click on those titles to bring up all of the projects that apply under that category, or you can narrow the field down by District, residency, county, city, road system, or date range. Since your project is in Richmond County choose that from the drop down list.
    e. Click on design & advertisement and choose your project from the list by clicking the status button on the right (definitely not intuitive). Also at this point you can search by route, zip code, key word, etc, which is convenient if there is a lot of projects listed.

    2. Dashboard is the tool that VDOT uses to make information about projects available to the public. The Six Year Improvement Plan is the document created by VDOT and approved by the Commonwealth Transportation Board that estimates the amount of funding that will be available and decides where the money should be spent. The Six Year Plan is updated every year and thus projects can be on the plan more than six years depending upon the priorities of VDOT and the CTB.

    Some of the information from the Six Year Plan is shown on the Dashboard, but they exist for separate purposes.

    3. I think you used my quote out of context. I was specifically talking about PPTAs which are VERY different from roads involving developers. PPTAs (the NOVA HOT lanes, the 460 corridor, the Pocahontas Parkway, etc.) are projects that the state wants to build but does not have the financial resources to do so. Through the PPTA, VDOT can enter into agreements with private entities to construct, improve, maintain and operate transportation facilities. This is an innovative program created to get projects completed sooner. Virginia was one of the first states to use this type of program. VDOT does not compete against PPTA, it is a tool for innovative finance. PPTA stands for the Public Private Transportation Act of 1995.

    3. Development vs. Infrastructure : Which should come first?
    This is the ultimate transportation chicken and egg question. Without the roads the development is under-served and without the development the is no justification and/or funding for the roads. I have seen this issue from both VDOT’s and the developer’s side (I did private design before I started with VDOT). My personal take on the situation – until construction on a development is FINISHED construction there is no guarantee that the development will be built as planned. There are probably hundreds of acres in Chesterfield County that have been rezoned and a plan of development has been approved by the county and yet they will not be built for years. Some will never be built. How can VDOT decide which future developments deserve infrastructure improvements? County Comprehensive Plans are subject to change every five years and are based on the whims of the local elected officials. If it was money coming out of your limited bank account (which it is) how would you spend it?

    4. Developer built roads. I would like to get more information on the roads that you refer to that have be built by developers. I don’t doubt that it has happened but it has been my experience from both the private and public side that developer built roads are crap. Subdivision roads are even worse. They are built on the rush, under designed, constructed by minimally qualified contractors who cut corners at every turn. After they build the roads, they frequently run heavy construction equipment on them, damaging the asphalt. Developer built subdivision roads cost much more to maintain than VDOT built roads.

    You asked why a developer can take a VDOT project that has been on the Six Year Plan for over ten years and complete it in 18 months. With out knowing the specifics of that project, I would say it is very likely that most of the engineering for that project was complete and VDOT was just waiting for the money to come around. When the developer came up with the cash VDOT was more than willing to move ahead sooner with the project.

    5. VDOT Bureaucracy – I completely agree that VDOT has trouble with bureaucracy, but it is a problem that is getting attention. The question that is more important is: how ‘nimble’ should VDOT be considering the permanent and critical nature of road construction? When you are building a bridge that has a 100+ year service life it probably is beneficial to spend an extra couple years to get it right.

    You said that VDOT should be proactive, how so? Some examples of VDOT being proactive would be community meetings to discuss upcoming projects, using preventative maintenance like slurry seal and latex modified asphalt to economically add years to the life of asphalt, and partnering with contractors to find ways to save to time and money during the construction process.

    6. Customer Service – This past summer I was the construction manager for a project in Chesterfield County. To say that the residents along the project were opposed to the construction would be an understatement. But my staff, my boss and I did not let that affect how we treated those people. One woman on the project had many concerns about the project, and would frequently call me. Three or four times a month I would meet with her on her property and answer all of her questions. These meetings rarely lasted less than an hour and several times were over three hours. This time was important for me because I wanted to make sure that she understood the technical information I was sharing with her, and I wanted her to know that VDOT wanted to do the right thing for her. Another resident along the project verbally assaulted (shouting, fingers pointed in our faces, etc.) my boss and me over the right of way agreement she signed but apparently did not understand. We had every right and motivation to say, “suck it up lady, you signed on the dotted line.” Instead we worked to find a solution that would make her and VDOT happy and in the end she said to me “when you finished the extra work in my yard, that was the first time I ever smiled when looking at this project.”

    Several months ago VDOT held an informal public meeting to discuss the Huguenot Bridge Project. It was “informal” in that there was no speaker in front of the crowd “explaining” the project. VDOT set up several stations around the room with information about the project. At each station there was knowledgeable VDOT employees to talk with and answer questions directly with the citizens. The meeting lasted four hours and over 350 citizens attended.

    These are not isolated incidents! Most of the people who work in VDOT take pride in the fact that they serve the public and truly want to help. I don’t know if you have ever tried to contact VDOT for with a concern or question but I will give you a tip that will help – treat the person you are talking to with respect and they will likely do the same to you. Every day, EVERY DAY at my residency we receive calls from irate people who demand to have something done. Often they will yell over the phone and then hang up with out giving enough information for us to solve the problem. Then they call back complaining that VDOT didn’t do anything. On the other hand, people who call and are courteous and patient often get same day service from a person who is willing to bend over backwards to help.

    7. Traffic Signal Management is the deus ex machina of congestion relief. I am by no means an expert, but I have taken a class about signal management and it is much more complicated than it appears on the surface. In a system like Rt 3 in Fredericksurg, a single change in the timing of one light at the far end of the system can affect traffic on the other end two miles away. Even when you do all of the proper simulations and consider all of the different variables involved, your timing might fail and cause more traffic because you can not fully account for the human variable in the system. The truth is that stop lights by their very nature are intended to cause congestion. They stop traffic, stopped traffic causes congestion. VDOT does review and adjust the timing and sequence of its traffic signals, but rarely does a change in the timing significantly relieve congestion.

    The absolute best intersection control system to prevent congestion for nearly all intersections is a roundabout. Find one and watch it for a while. Few people have to stop and when they do it is not for long. Roundabouts can be used safely for large intersections, it just takes public education and acceptance.

    8. VDOT and Critics – Listening to your harshest critics and doing what they say are two different things. Just because someone says you are doing something wrong doesn’t make it wrong. For example, Green Peace doesn’t want SUVs on the roads, should the Federal Gov’t outlaw SUVs because Green Peace says so? While many of VDOTs critics have beneficial ideas that should be considered, many critics have motives that are contrary to the purpose of VDOT as directed by the Commonwealth.

    There are many way to criticize VDOT, and there is a formal process for reviewing every complaint that VDOT receives. Not to be rude, but comments posted on a blog are not considered or looked at by VDOT. To get any opinion heard you have to go through official channels.

    I know that this posting looks a whole lot like the point by point rebuttal that you were complaining about, but I in no way represent VDOT, all of this is my personal knowledge or opinion, and I had to organize it somehow. I hope that I have helped to answer some of your questions.

    One last thing about developers, they can be good and beneficial to the state, but more often than not they will sweet talk you one day and then screw you the next in order to make a buck. The reason I choose to work for VDOT is that even though they do not have the entire process smoothed out, their motivation is in the right place. Developers have one motivation, profit.

  14. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Kyle, thank you for your illuminating note. I am very pleased to have informed commentary from a VDOT perspective on this blog. I hope you’ll continue to participate.

  15. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Before I comment on specifics, I would like to echo Jim Bacon’s comments.

    Please consider sticking around and helping all of us better understand the issues.

    Some of us are pretty critical at times and some of it might well be as a result of a lack of enough understanding of what are complex and difficult public policy issue.

    So I do thank you twice. First for providing valuable information and second for your tolerance on my sometimes harsh assessments.

  16. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I’ll address the “harsh critic” area first.

    ..”this posting looks a whole lot like the point by point rebuttal that you were complaining about, but I in no way represent VDOT, all of this is my personal knowledge or opinion, and I had to organize it somehow.”

    You organized it EXTREMELY well.

    My comment about “telling people” comes from NOT your comments but from other behaviors that I have seen – but most central – the way that VDOT has handled responses to JLARCs and VAPC and especially with respect to issues such as using better financial and planning practices.

    VDOT’s districts are not aligned with MSAs nor MPO boundaries and because of that HOW they do business by trying to balance really disparate geographic priorities is a problem sometimes especially when dealing with Regional MPO issues.

    JLARC pointed this out. We all know that the GA has to do a change but what has been missing (or perhaps out of public view) is the necessity for VDOT to get in that game and make the appropriate recommendations to legislators to move ahead.

    VDOT .. COULD HAVE responded to JLARC/VAPC in more proactive.. “agree and let’s set in place a way to evolve” instead of what they did do… OR .. if they disagreed..

    deal with the substance of the reasons behind their recommendations vice simply not agreeing or not even responding.

    But I’ve seen this same type of behavior with regard to controversial projects and so the perception is that this is an institutional behavior – one that reinforces a public perception of a taxpayer organization telling the public that 1. – they don’t understand and 2. – that they have an important job to do and responding to “inane” public questions is a real bother.

    I will admit – that I AM seeing positive changes and you are one of a number of individuals who represent a refreshing and welcome new direction (per the examples of some of your dealings with the public) and if I could do nothing else..but convince you and the folks higher up… to continue on this track – it’s a pain in the butt to take time.. to deal with citizens.. but it is so very important for your organizational reputation. It makes ALL the difference when you show up to deal with controversial projects that you people KNOW that you ARE professionals.

  17. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: PPTA, developer roads, land-use/transportation planning and VDOT “nimbleness”

    PPTA exists on different levels if not mistaken. Localities can enter into PPTA agreements that can include transportation elements.

    VDOT see’s PPTA as a way to get major state and regionally significant projects accomplished but localities can use PPTA also.

    PPTA allows localities to do roads and to NOT even use VDOT and there is no mistake that some are doing this because they want a higher level of assurance on cost and schedule.

    They want a risk-management based approach that assures that even unexpected or unanticipated issues are resolved explicitly to maintain the schedule and bound the costs.

    The PPTA principles establish a reputation that allows the buyer to NOT use them or not according to that reputation. With the advent of PPTA VDOT becomes subject to the same criteria.

    With VDOT, you get excuses and a shoulder shrug that basically it’s not their fault that delays and cost overruns happened.

    It ought to be 99% on time and 99% on budget – as a practice not a goal.

    It’s pretty simple – if you give the same funding to VDOT – their cost and schedule ESTIMATEs are often higher and longer than if you let a PPTA entity bid and construct – TO VDOT Standards (so it should not be crap).

    The NIMBLE comment has to do with the apparent institutional inability to reconfigure and adapt 6yr plan projects to evolving conditions…

    and part of this goes back to how long it takes to do the original 6yr plan project. Delays KILL the original premise of some projects and projects designed with the idea that they won’t be delayed and cannot change even if there is delay is.. not useful.

    Time IS money and if a PPTA can build a road in 18 months and VDOT not only takes 5 years but they can’t change the plan either and if there are alternatives available – localities are going to pursue them.

    Having said that – it IS vitally important that VDOT standards for design, construction and access management, et al be the standard but they must be willing to also adapt and change with regard to accepted industry standards – like access management, roundabouts vice signals , etc.

    When I look at some of the stuff in the 3202 legislation..I find myself wondering WHERE the elements such as Access Management came from..

    because I didn’t see VDOT’s support of such things in their response to VDOT and VAPC recommendations..

    so did VDOT .. pro actively PROMOTE such changes or did they just have JLARC/VAPA recommendations imposed on them?

    and one final point in this tome.

    Localities and MPOs get to designate the projects but VDOT decides what to fund… they have enormous control over the 6yr plan and they COULD use this power to adapt, reconfigure, respond pro actively to evolving conditions and it appears that they choose not to as I’ve seen projects with one half the AADT and 1/10 the trending AADT funded over the obviously more immediate needs.

    VDOT needs to DEFEND their funding allocation decisions… rather than “delivering the news”.

    I think it is totally arrogant behavior to “tell” the public and localities via a paper document what the allocations are and then inviting comments without raising a finger to justify those decisions publically. This way of doing business says VOLUMES to the public.

  18. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “1. Finding a project on the Dashboard. This can be a non-intuitive system ….

    represents a good faith effort to provide transparency. …

    but admittedly the system can be difficult to use. …

    Some of the information from the Six Year Plan is shown on the Dashboard, but they exist for separate purposes. “

    Nice try but no cigar though I do acknowledge and appreciate your effort to help find a project but your efforts prove a fundamental reality.

    You cannot argue that on one hand it’s a good faith effort at transparency (I assume for the public) and then say that not only is it hard to use but that Dashboard and the 6yr plan are there for different reasons…

    all ostensibly for public consumption – at great expense to taxpayers .. millions I believe.

    I invite anyone reading this to go to the VDOT webpage and attempt to find out the status of a project that you know is going on in your area and come back and let all of us know if my assessment of this is unduly harsh or wrongheaded.

    ANYONE should be able to cross-reference from one plan to the other or use the project code to obtain ALL details on that project.

    Being a retired software professional, I strongly suspect what happened here. You had VDOT employees do this – to insular VDOT specs and not outside the organization.

    And I totally distinguish between meeting and greeting the public in PR mode and this – which is a demonstration of VDOTs commitment to PROVIDE the public with information as opposed to spoon-feeding selective info.

    The project I was actually looking for was the widening of Route 3 which has been more than a decade in planning and which part of has already been done by a developer.

    I wanted to know:

    1. – when the project started
    2. – what was the initial estimate
    3. – what is the current estimate
    4. – has the project been reconfigured (shortened and made less expensive)
    5. – the build date

    this is what any ordinary citizen would want to know and it’s what any ordinary citizen would use to talk to their BOS INTELLIGENTLY at the 6yr Plan Hearings to give feedback as to priorities for CITIZENS.

    Kyle..I’ll give credit where credit is do and especially so on your willingness to participate but this is exactly why I’m such a harsh critic and exactly why.. I suggest that VDOT listen and respond with concrete actions – promised and fullfilled vice telling the public that they “will be told” when a new version is ready.. that new version ALSO not coordinated/validated as a tool – for the public.

    you need a team of citizens and harsh critics to tell you what they want to see… and you need as an organization to WANT that team, indeed, deem that team as CRITICAL to the success of Dashboard and the 6yr Plan .. AND the CLRP and/or longer term projects outside the 6yr window.

    I’m going to stop here.. and have deleted about 200 more words that would do no good purpose other than to illustrate the depth of my frustration with why the public is entitled to this basic information.

  19. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “7. Traffic Signal Management is the deus ex machina of congestion relief.”

    I understand the complexities.
    I use to work with computer modeling and the related work of using those models to accurately predict not only outcomes but to use it to generate optimization scenarios.

    You have to have that model if you are going to be successful with traffic signal management.

    Otherwise, you’re going to be limited to limited applications and even though are going to fail – as both infrastructure and real-time conditions change.

    This is not a field for traffic engineers. You need the engineers for “real-world” validation but the actual work has to be done by those schooled and trained in modeling.

    Route 3 in Fredericksburg is the perfect example (so is route 1).

    What happens is VDOT expends a great deal of time and money getting the existing light properly timed .. and then a new light is installed NOT as part of the others but stand-alone.. until people start complaining.

    This is part of what I mean about being proactive.

    Why do something that you know is not going to meet expectations… in the first place.. why not do it right in the first place?

    why not be …customer focused.. as an institutional ethic?

    If the cell phone companies or the airlines or even water/sewer folks did business the way that VDOT does – we’d have the biggest mess you ever seen.

    They’d put a new tower in KNOWING that it did not talk properly to the other towers and mayhem would result for the calls that tried to transfer to/from that tower but that is almost exactly the way that VDOT treats signal timing it seems.

    I sit at a light in the left turn lane with no oncoming traffic and I can see the next light on the mainline holding back the traffic.

    My light never turns green and the light down the mainline turns green and of course my light stays red and meanwhile behind me the traffic has queued up so much that now they’re backing up into the through lane.

    A simple 60 second green at the time the light down the road stayed red could have prevented not only congestion but the risk of an accident.

    When you tell VDOT this, their response is along the lines of “this is very complicated” and we’re always looking into it.

    It’s like they’re telling you that they have more important things to do… that is until there’s an accident caused by it and then they’re all over themselves trying to PR themselves out of taking responsibility for NOT acting when they should have.

    “The absolute best intersection control system to prevent congestion for nearly all intersections is a roundabout. Find one and watch it for a while. Few people have to stop and when they do it is not for long. Roundabouts can be used safely for large intersections, it just takes public education and acceptance.”

    I totally agree and is dismayed that our local VDOT apparently refuses to approve them.. and insists on traffic signals…

    so they not only are opposed they apparently have absolutely no intentions to try to sell them to the public.

  20. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    as luck has it.. sometimes the news coincides with blog discussions:

    Headline:

    Retiming Lights Could Help Motorists in Virginia

    Now the GOOD news is that Virginia scored pretty good on this compared to other states and NoVa scored even better…

    but here’s what caught my eye:

    “Right now, we re-time our signals every four years. We are going to be re-timing every two years,”

    okay.. 4 years and even better 2 years… no matter how much growth or numbers of new traffic signals have been added?

    See this sounds like a static (engineering standard…inspect bridges every 2 years… re-plow the ditches every so often, etc…}

    that assumes.. no changes.. that could indicate changing the tempo…

    the 4 may be actually too short a period of time for Wise Va.. and 2 may even be too long for Bath County but 2 years is quite a period of time in the faster growing areas where the pace of AADT quickens enough to require new signals.. new stop signs, etc… so the tempo for timing lights in these areas needs to be event-based and not a fixed schedule.

    We got a second signal on a minor arterial 4 years ago.. one block from another signal.

    To this day – those two signal have not been coordinated even though it’s been reported.. and the response has been that they will be “looked at”….

    People don’t want it looked at. They already looking at it – every day. They want it fixed and the response is “we’ll take a look at it”.

    You can bet – if Walmart was in charge of that signal.. it WOULD be fixed.

  21. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Here’s yet another:

    Headline: Price of finishing the Fairfax Parkway almost doubles

    by the numbers:
    2 miles of road designed in 2004
    intial cost $89 million
    2007 cost: $174 million

    reason: VDOT and Feds could not agree

    http://www.virginiabusiness.com/edit/news/20071220_buzz.shtml

    where did the extra money come from?

    well other projects would be delayed .. and guess what happens to the cost of those projects when they are delayed?

    who was held accountable for the delay and cost increases? No one.

    so we have this big dust-up over $180 in transportation funding between the D’s and R’s
    and here is ONE project that went over budget by 80 million.

    Get the picture?

  22. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Kyle.. this is not way you can respond to all of this nor should you have to.

    I apologize.

    and I hope that you do stick around… I’d hate to see you go because of my rants..

  23. Seriously Larry, where do you get the time to write all of this.

    Two things I do want talk about –

    Dashboard vs Six Year Plan – The dashboard is an internet based system used to report how VDOT is doing in certain metrics. Dashboard 3.0 will include travel times on major commuter routes (NOVA), VDOT sponsored public survey results, fiscal information, project development, and construction metrics. The Dashboard is a recent creation that was developed to make it easier for the public to access information.

    The Six Year Plan is a legal document that, when approved by the Commonwealth Transportation Board, is the funding mechanism for projects. The website associated with the Six Year Plan only contains the actual funding information. I understand your criticism that they should be cross referenced (you can get to the six year plan from the dashboard but not vice-versa).

    I still think that the Dashboard is a good faith effort. It is a step in the right direction and like any software system, once you learn the kinks, it will give you what you want. I have no special training on Dashboard, it is not a part of my work at VDOT, and I have been able to use it without trouble. That is not to say that it could not be better, but I do not think it impossible to use. My directions above however, are imperfect, in step d. I should have said that you have to click on the title “Design & Advertisement” in order to search for a project.

    Traffic Signal Retiming – Just from my personal experience, any construction project that adds a traffic signal or modifies an intersection with a signal will have the light cycle retimed in the area it affects. I’m sure there are projects where it doesn’t happen, but it is something that is supposed to happen.

    Don’t worry about your rants scaring me off, you get used to it after working for the state. Time on the other hand does limit my participation. That and I type like a 5th grader.

    I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a peaceful New Year.

  24. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    and good holidays and a better New Year to you too!

    p.s. – I’m retired.. I have a full life but I think it is a duty for folks to know and understand their government and how it works and to participate in all venues effective government.

    Transportation is critical to our economy and to ordinary people’s lives and thus my interest.

    re: dashboard – you need ordinary citizens input into how that software should operate – the user interface level if you will.

    I just do not agree on the usability of Dashboard and I challenge VDOT to let 10 ordinary citizens use it to find the status of a local project they know about and then we both abide by their verdict.

    It does not matter what the engineers purpose of Dashboard or the 6yr plan is. What matters is that ordinary citizens can access that data quickly and easily.

    This goes to the heart citizens understanding and being able to participate – i.e. make substantive comments at 6yr Plan hearings.

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