VDOT PERFORMANCE

One of the excuses cited for the appointment of Mr. Pierce R. Homer as Secretary of Transportation is that this will insure continuation of the positive improvements that VDOT has shown over the past four years. But what has VDOT accomplished?

The first Secretary of Transportation and the first Commissioner of VDOT appointed by Warner came forward with good ideas but every year for the past four, mobility and access has gotten worse. The agency is still not working to achieve a balance of transport system capacity and settlement pattern travel demand. (See Mobility and Access: A Report Card at db4.dev.baconsrebellion.com 31 Oct 2005)

Because VDOT has never seriously considered achieving a balance between demand and mobility system capacity to serve functional urban areas, they are still stuck on 19th century concepts to provide vehicle mobility. The automobile (cars and trucks) and to some extent trains (commuter rail and “subways”) do not serve well the settlement patterns most favored by the citizens and the market. VDOT (as well as other state DOTs and US DOT) are decades behind the competition on the Pacific Rim and Europe. Can you say PRT?

The bottom line is that traffic congestion continues to grow worse just as it has been for forty years. While citizens are coming to understand that more money without a fundamental change in VDOT strategy (and Fundamental Change in human settlement patterns) will only make congestion worse, there is no sign that those in VDOT are planning to respond to reality. VDOT continues to plan for and build the wrong facilities in the wrong locations.

Well, you say, VDOT improved the percentage of “on-time” and “on-budget” projects. Yes, they have “improved” when measured by the simplistic “performance measures” used by MainStream Media. That is a PR success, not an improvement in mobility or access.

More projects are on time because VDOT has stretched out the contract periods. This allows them to also claim more projects starts. But is taking four or five years to add two lanes to an existing, straight, flat, Interstate within existing right-of-way and no major new structures a step in the right direction? No one is yet using objective criteria for what should be accomplished for the money.

More projects are on budget because current contracts leave out or weakened maintenance-of-traffic-flow provisions. Shutting down one half the capacity of an overloaded Interstate in midday would have been unacceptable a few years ago. We call this form of intentional congestion “personslaughter” in The Shape of the Future. From field observations it would appear that stormwater and sediment control provisions have also been weakened.

VDOT has done a better job of contracting out design work to compensate for loss of senior staff that the Allen administration forced out so it would superficially appear to be “conservative.” Fixing problems caused by the Allen and Gilmore administrations is a good thing but is that real progress?

Recent field work within R=15 in the Virginia portion of the National Capital Subregion indicates that the core problem is not what VDOT did not do in the 80s, 90s and 00s, it is what they did not do inside R=15 in the 60s and 70s. There are thousands of acres of vacant and underutilized land that was bypassed and / or is not being renewed because of lack of access and mobility. This is because there was and is no attempt to create a balance between transport system capacity and settlement pattern traffic generation. It is inside R=15 where a new commitment to improved access and mobility should focus.

Creating a sustainable New Urban Region by evolving Balanced Communities is not on any VDOT screen. The “More-money-for-more-facilities” advocates want roads and rails to open new land and further exacerbate scatteration of urban land uses and this will result in greater immobility and access dysfunction.

The 10-Times savings in total location variable cost (including savings from less Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) and energy consumption) that are possible from functional vs dysfunctional patterns of land use (aka, the creation of Balanced Communities inside the Clear Edge) are still there for the taking if there was an interest in innovation within VDOT.

All we hear about now are ways to mortgage or sell public assets to generate money that will make the problem worse. As we have noted again and again, more money will only exacerbate the problem until there is plan to balance of transport system capacity with the travel demand generated by the settlement pattern.

More money for the wrong facilities in the wrong locations will make congestion worse faster. (See the nine The Shape of the Future columns related to balancing transport and settlement patterns published at https://www.baconsrebellion.com/ between 24 May and 20 September 2004.)

EMR


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11 responses to “VDOT PERFORMANCE”

  1. Ray Hyde Avatar

    I’m going to take a wild flyer here and guess that when you say that over the past four years mobility and accessibility have decreased, that’s an opinion, not a fact backed up by data.

    I don’t doubt that you are correct, but I’d like to see the reference and understand who it is that is actually measuring accesibility and what their methods are.

    Based on his previous comments, i imagine Jim Wamsley would like to know also.

  2. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Ed, What’s your take? Do you think that Tim Kaine’s appointment of Scott Kasprowicz, a Piedmont Environmental Council board member, will bring a significant change of thinking into Pierce Homer’s office?

  3. Ray Hyde Avatar

    At least he is in favor of ride sharing, which is a whole lot better and more economical solution than heavy rail.

  4. E M Risse Avatar

    Jim:

    I have no infomation upon which to base an answer to your question.

    If, as NVTA states, Ralph Davis was brought on to do VTRANS 2025 and if Davis is proud of that work, and if Kasprowicz understands the need to balance transport capacity with the travel demand generated by human settlement patterns we know Kasprowicz will be outgunned 2 to 1.

    For those who want a brief summary of what is wrong with VTRANS 2025 see “Spinning Data, Spinning Wheels” at http://www.baconsreblellion.com.

    This column also provides an overview of shortcomings of current efforts to measure tarffic congestion. The most widely cited summary of “urban area” congestion for the years 2003, 2004 and 2005 are not yet public. However, the data upon which the congestion index is based determine the results. These data are are avaliable. It is not a “guess” that, has been the case for the past 40 years, every year (including the last four) congestion grows worse. Further, the bigger the New Urban Region and the more prosperous the New Urban Region, the faster congestion grows.

    EMR

  5. Ray Hyde Avatar

    I agree. I was just wondering if anyone ever actually measures accessibility. It seems to me that the equation that defines it is monstrously complicated. I read your article and decided, again, that it had more spin than data.

    I’m really easy to convince if you have metrics that work and datat to back them up.

    We agree on the empirical observation, but absent the numbers we can’t say for certain whether accessibility has increased or decreased. If the number of useful locations to go to increases faster than the time it takes to get there, then accessibility has increased.

    The usual purpose for traveling has something to do with commerce, or else sociability. Certainly the number of Starbucks, nail salons, CVS stores and WalMarts, have increased, and they all run on money. It would seem that increasing prosperity might be linked to accessibility, in spite of congestion.

    I can’t prove it, because I don’t have the numbers.

    It is a little harder to make the connection between the size of the urban area and congestion. Surely, if there is one central or dominant area and everyone from a larger area is trying to get there at the same time, then you are correct, congestion can only increase in that area.

    But the area is increasingly polycentric, with multiple centers of congestion. To the extent that the urban core is de-powered, and becomes less dominant, congestion will decrease, or at least move someplace else or more places. It is pretty obvious polycentricity is occurring and prosperity is up. My conclusion is that people are probably rational and find they are better off under this pattern.

    Bacon’s recent post on the increase of telecommuting makes that point in noting the decrease in miles traveled.

    The idea that you can reduce congestion by putting more people in less space seems laughable to me. It certainly doesn’t seem to be true in any city I ever visited. As you correctly point out, traffic and prosperity seem to be related. Some researchers who actually went out and got the numbers have concluded that traffic is more closely related to income than it is to neighborhood form or shape.

    If you want to reduce traffic, all you have to do is make people poor or put up a forest.

    The price of urban land is closely associated with the cost of travel, but if telecommuting and other forces decouple the economy from the need to travel, then people will be free to choose whether to pay a high price for accommodation or a low price. They will have more options about where to live.

    “Some of the chief complainers about the Washington region’s notorious traffic jams are business leaders who blame congestion for delayed deliveries, missed meetings and employees sapped of energy from stressful commutes.”

    If these leaders don’t get the transportation services their companies need, then they too will move. Congestion pricing will only increase their costs and hasten the exodus.

    Probably 60% of R15 is in another state, so we have little ability to affect the process there. Much of the rest is in Fairfax which already has a land use plan that defines exactly how many houses of what density they will have, how many acres of floodplain, etc. Those thousand of acres you talk about are already spoken for.

    Fairfax, like almost everyplace else is populated with people like TooManyTaxes who are opposed to more development, well planned or not. Since you and I no longer live in Fairfax, his voice counts more than ours.

    Taken all together your plan to increase population, congestion, pollution and expense inside R-15 seems unlikely to succeed. Even if that happens, due to market forces, it won’t change conditions outside R-15.

    Oregon has tried that idea for thirty years. Over time, the result was so much privation an hardship that citizens resorted to the referendum to change the law. They succeeded by an overwhelming majority – twice. Both times their efforts were defeated in the courts by environmental activists, and the second round of court action reached the state supreme court today.

    I don’t see any reason for Virginia to follow that failed example.

    The original, statewide land use law included an agreement that would find a way to pay landowners for the losses associated with eliminating their formerly guaranteed development rights. But when it came time to pay the bills, support could not be found.

    That is likely to change. Even the environmentalists have now concluded that they will have to compete financially with the developers: that landowners cannot be expected to forgo the cash benefits of orderly urban development that is denied them by the urban growth boundary. Those benefits are going to have to be shared.

    When we decide to pay enough to make conservation profitable, we can stop wasting our conservation dollars disseminating disinformation abuot bogus ways to solve the problem..

  6. E M Risse Avatar

    Clarification:

    What was I thinking?

    With reference to our prior comment that the 2003 numbers are yet to be released. The TAMU numbers for 2003 are out and have been for seven months.

    See “Regional Rigor Mortis,” 6 June 2005 at db4.dev.baconsrebellion.com

    And, yes, they show congestion grew in 2003 as we stated in the original post. And yes the VDOT et. al. numbers for 2004 and 2005 indicate that congestion continued to grow the last two years as well.

    EMR

  7. Ray Hyde Avatar

    I agree about congestion: It’s easy to see and measure. What I was mostly wondering about was accessibility, which is hard to see and hard to measure. I haven’t seen any studies that measure and describe the numerical ratings of accessibility in different places, even though I have seen studies that consider the results.

  8. Tom James (aka Brave Hart) Avatar
    Tom James (aka Brave Hart)

    Can someone please explain how Gov. Warner put an amendment in the State budget to provide $17,000,000 in (FRANS)dollars for a private company Atlantic Rural Exposition dba State Fair of Va?

    http://carolinejustice.blogspot.com/2005/09/state-and-governor-behind-push-to.html

    http://carolinejustice.blogspot.com/2005/12/still-no-answer-even-from-top-dog.html

  9. E M Risse Avatar

    Tom:

    Someone might be able to but no one at VDOT so far as we know.

    EMR

  10. Ray Hyde Avatar

    Stolen shamelessly from the central VA real estate blog:

    The North Grounds Connector will be open for traffic Friday. The new route connects Massie Road with the 29/250 Bypass. The University used its own money to build the Connector, which is opening five months ahead of schedule.

    Evidently somebody knows how to build roads.

  11. Tom James (aka Brave Hart) Avatar
    Tom James (aka Brave Hart)

    http://carolinejustice.blogspot.com/2006/03/state-fair-info-emailed-to-me-by.html

    State Fair info emailed to me by a concerned citizen
    Tom, I can fill in some of the blanks in the state fair’s actions and actions of alot of the parties involved.

    The trail to Mark Warner looks like it came throughTim Kaine’s law firm. They handle a lot of the fairs affairs. There appears to be a donation made to Warner’s PAC (political action committee). The fair has about $36 million to seek favors with.

    The money from VDOT appears to have come from not doing maintenance on a lot of roads in Richmond and Fred. area. This is where a bulk of the cash was transferred from.

    A word of caution about this maneuver. This occurred before Caroline Supv got involved. Not that it mattered a whole lot.

    The whole process started in 1999 with Henrico County. Henrico realized that the fair was a tax exempt racket. They wanted the fair to pay some of the expense of moving to a new location and fair said no way. We don’t pay taxes and taxpayers deserve to pay our expenses.

    Supposedly, the fair then went looking at 20 or more locations. The only location they were interested in was to find a bunch of suckers on planning commission and Board of Supv. to give them tax money. They found it wrapped with roses and ribbons in Caroline County. Have you noticed that some members of the board of supervisors lied throughout the process. I give you three guesses.

    When the vote for planning commission was held, only three members voted. Our Reedy Church rep was MIA. If you want to cry, I’ll send you the proffersthat Acors said was the deciding factor for him. It’s totally amazing.

    The fair people are very good business people and must be laughing all the way to thebank on how they are getting a 17 million dollar driveway and county tax moneyto assist them with police and fire.

    County tax payers are screaming about the rise in assessments. A lot of that money will go for the state fair. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.

    The arrangement with the state police still is a puzzle because the fair rents the cops but VA tax payers hire, train and pay retirement for the police.

    According to the proffer statement, the fair people won’t seek tax exempt status with county (just wait).

    I’ll send you my take on this because I broke down the list.

    F,T,A should be run out of town for voting yes on this crap. They never broke down the numbers.

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