Virginia Roads: The Fast and the Furious

The stories are flying fast and furious as the General Assembly prepares to convene again to discuss transportation. Among the more significant:

  • Congestion pricing pilot project. Garren Shipley with the Northern Virginia Daily writes about a legislative package filed by Del. Chris Saxman, R-Staunton, to authorize a congestion-pricing pilot program. On an interstate yet to be selected, the state would set up variable, time-of-day tolls to encourage motorists to drive less during periods of peak demand. Saxman would make the scheme “revenue neutral” by eliminating the gas tax in the transportation corridor for the duration of the pilot project, and he would allow voters to determine in a referendum whether to make the tolls permanent.
  • Tolls for Hampton Roads. Christina Nuckols with the Virginian-Pilot quotes House Speaker William J. Howell as saying that he supports the idea of a regional tolling authority to pay for Hampton Roads road projects. Howell predicts that the idea will pass the House.
  • Pilot Pundits Wrong Again. The editorial writers at the Virginian-Pilot are back to form, distorting the transportation debate beyond recognition. “The House’s leadership,” says the Pilot, “prefers a solution that includes almost no new revenue, which makes it no solution at all.” Guys, let me explain something. Tolls = new revenue! Read your own writer’s story!

Share this article



ADVERTISEMENT

(comments below)



ADVERTISEMENT

(comments below)


Comments

20 responses to “Virginia Roads: The Fast and the Furious”

  1. Garren Shipley Avatar
    Garren Shipley

    Not to be a nitpicker, but my story says Saxman wants to roll back the state gas tax, not the sales tax.

    I’m sure rolling back the sales tax in the toll corridor would be very popular, but it wouldn’t have much of a chance in the Senate — I’m not sure how well the gas tax rollback will be received, either.

  2. Jeez, if you make it revenue neutral, what’s the point? The congestion tax is supposed to hurt, otherwise it won’t work.

    Under this plan, so what if it takes longer and ZI waste more fuel, I’m paying less for it.

  3. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Ray, I think the point of making the congestion pricing revenue neutral during the trial period is to avoid generating a lot of political resistance. Some people would feel like they’re getting screwed if they had to pay gas taxes and a congestion toll — especially before the congestion toll had been proven to reduce congestion. Presumably, the gas tax would be reinstated if people vote “yea” in the referendum.

  4. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Garren, thanks for pointing out my careless mistake. I meant to say gas tax, but I was trying to do too much, too fast this morning. I’ll make the change in the original post.

  5. Garren Shipley Avatar
    Garren Shipley

    Actually, the GOP folks I talked to about this didn’t say anything about reinstating the tax afterward. They want to get the same amount of revenue in a different way.

    The thinking is this: if you can get cheapskates like me off of, say I-66, during rush hour, you still get the needed maintenance revenue from those who absolutely have to be there at 9 a.m.

    Everyone gets less congestion in the same lane miles, and in the big picture it doesn’t cost any more money. The only people getting hit with bigger “tax” bills are those who spend so much time on the roads at rush hour. And they get faster travel in exchange for their financial pain.

    GOPers have told me they seen data from Europe that suggests this will work well, ala the London Congestion Charge. It makes me wonder if there’s any way to computer model this and the associated second-order effects.

    I very curious to see if this works.

  6. What, so after the congestion tax is proven to reduce congestion people in that corridor still won’t think they are getting screwed?

    I’ve said before that the congestion tax is popular for the same reason Metro is popular: people think some one else will pay/use it. The gas tax, however, works to change the behavior of ALL drivers and so it naturally has more enemies.

    I have no problem with congestion pricing, and I have no doubt it will reduce congestion. Whether it will reduce traffic is something else, and I suspect that some of the traffic will simply go someplace else.

  7. What, so after the congestion tax is proven to reduce congestion people in that corridor still won’t think they are getting screwed?

    I’ve said before that the congestion tax is popular for the same reason Metro is popular: people think some one else will pay/use it. The gas tax, however, works to change the behavior of ALL drivers and so it naturally has more enemies.

    I have no problem with congestion pricing, and I have no doubt it will reduce congestion. Whether it will reduce traffic is something else, and I suspect that some of the traffic will simply go someplace else.

  8. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Ray, The experience of Singapore, Stockholm and London has showed that (1) some people shift the time of their commute, and (2) some people shift to shared vehicle systems. The arithmetic reduction in the number of travelers in a congested zone brings geometric reduction in congestion. You want empirical evidence? Congestion pricing has empirical evidence. We will see very soon whether the citizens of Stockholm like their congestion-pricing scheme enough to keep it.

  9. Toomanytaxes Avatar
    Toomanytaxes

    There’s an interesting quote from a spokesperson from AAA Mid-Atlantic on the proposed increases in tolls for the Dulles Greenway. He complains that private toll roads are placing the burdens on drivers.

    I’m not arguing that the proposed toll hikes are or are not reasonable. But it’s quite interesting to see opposition to cost-causer pays from the AAA. More to come?

  10. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I think we’re starting to see a major shift in the way legislators feel about how roads should be operated.

    My earlier pediction that TOLLs might be collected in excess of costs and re-directed to other transportation is NOT what we’re seeing here..

    this approach is a profound and fundamental change … that we have never seen in Virginia but as JB and others point out.. is already ongoing in other countries and.. coming to the USA…

    The gas tax will go away… and each user will pay for EACH use and yes.. the road operators can and will raise the tolls at rush hour so that only those who really must be there… will be there – and it will cost them dearly each time.

    It will be interesting how this plays out.

    There is an interesting story about the efforts to create a NoVa Regional Approach at:

    http://www.leesburg2day.com/articles/2006/09/21/news/news08trans092106.txt

  11. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Related to the flurry of new laws is the one about VDOT conducting Traffic Studies and they (VDOT) have released DRAFT Regulations for public comment.

    Entitled:

    Draft Traffic Impact Analysis Regulations
    Coordinating State and Local Transportation Planning

    located at:
    http://www.vdot.virginia.gov/projects/chapter527/

    Enjoy!

  12. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    A quick cursory scan of the VDOT Land Use/Traffic Analysis document…

    Pretty much describes a process very similiar to what was done for Loudoun.

    It includes not only analysis of individual projects (per traffic generation “triggers”) but the Comp Plan.

    If these regs are implemented – the way that development is done in Virginia ia about to change in a very major way.

    No longer will a local BOS have the ability to “hand wave” away.. a proposed developement’s transportation impacts NOR will the developer be able to provide their own funded “analysis” which usually tend to put the best face on their project and gloss over the impacts.

    Voters in those jurisdictions will have the opportunity to see and understand the impacts of specific projects AND the infrastructure dollars necessary to mitigate those impacts.

    BOS’s will ALSO be on the dime to tell voters where exactly the money for upgrading the transportation infrastructure will come from.

    Prior to this – many BOS approved the project knowing full well that nothing would be done about the impacts and that citizens would be subject to more and more congestion.. without a plan to deal with it.

    Elected officials will be held accountable for decisions about growth.

    If folks are “OK” with the idea of more growth and congestion and/or higher taxes to pay for infrastructure then those officials will be returned to office.

    If they are not.. out they go.. to be replaced by others .. who.. at the least.. will pretend to be more responsible… (I’m a realist) ๐Ÿ™‚

  13. You make it sound as if shifting in time and shifting to public transit was the only changes that occurred. I believe that in London small businesses saw a drop off in business while those outside the zone saw an increase. I haven’t seen any credible reports on the effect on commerce yet, but at lest one company is moving out of town because of the costs. I have seen reports that say the enforcement system is draconian.

    Stockholm made an enormous investment in new transit that didn’t pay off. Part of their experiment was an effort to increase their own cash flow. However, Stockholm is a special case all around. I have no doubt their system will be approved by voters.

    Singapore, of course, still has the worst congestion in the world, bar none.

    Congestion charging will result in new taxes, and much of the new tax will be absorbed by the new bureaucracy to run it. In London, more than 55% of the money goes to run the program, which makes the overall efficiency much less than you imply.

    You are correct in saying that after some critical point congestion increases geometrically or even logarithmically while traffic increases linearly.

    I still think that congestion pricing amounts to squeezing the balloon and some (not all) traffic will just go elsewhere. Higher gas taxes encourage everyone to drive less and drive more efficiently, but as you rightly point out they will do nothing for congestion because it is a local and specialized condition that needs treatment in addition to higher gas taxes. I still think higher gas taxes are a better way to get more of the users to pay for what they get, whether it is congested conditions or not.

    I don’t buy Larry’s argument that those in rural areas don’t need to pay as much because “their” roads cost less and they are not congested. All that says is that we have over invested in roads in rural areas, probably with money that came from NOVA.

  14. “No longer will a local BOS have the ability to “hand wave” away.. a proposed developement’s transportation impacts NOR will the developer be able to provide their own funded “analysis” which usually tend to put the best face on their project and gloss over the impacts.”

    Both of those are good things. But VDT is going to have to come up with an analysis that is truly comprehensive. If we wind up making decisions only on road impacts with out considering housing impacts and all the rest, then we will make bad decsions.

    “Voters in those jurisdictions will have the opportunity to see and understand the impacts of specific projects AND the infrastructure dollars necessary to mitigate those impacts.”

    Yes, and they will also be able to vote for their own interests just as described in Thomas Sowell’s Article and the Boston Globe article, Glaeser’s paper, and other sources.

    The pendulum will have swung from greedy people willing to develop anything and pass the external costs on to others, to greedy people willing to protect their own interests and pass the external costs on to others who came later.

    I can’t see that discrimination based on time is any less onerous than that based on color, age, or sex.

    I can’t see that you can argue that residences don’t pay their own way, and then turn around and argue that all these residences that aren’t paying their way are somehow footing the bill for windfall profits for those who came later.

    Sooner or later those voters will be looking for homes for their grown children and when they can’t find them “Elected officials will be held accountable for decisions about growth.”

  15. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: I don’t buy Larry’s argument that those in rural areas don’t need to pay as much because “their” roads cost less and they are not congested.

    hey.. let me know when you hear that Farmville needs it’s own 700 million dollar Springfield Interchange.

    ๐Ÿ™‚

  16. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: ..greedy people willing to protect their own interests and pass the external costs on to others who came later.

    A good question might be: who rightly “owns” those external costs”

    And another: why should some folks pay for their own infrastructure and then additional for others?

    We don’t expect others to pay for our drain fields, furnaces, driveways do we? Then why should others pay for our other infrastructure needs when the only difference is that they are offsite but necessary for each of us.

    Shouldn’t each of us pay our own share?

    Isn’t this about equity?

    Isn’t this why each person has to pay a set and uniform fee for water/sewer rather than older residents pay an addtional fee for newcomers?

    re: argue that residences don’t pay their own way, … residences that aren’t paying their way are somehow footing the bill for windfall profits for those who came later.

    I think we’ve been using “fuzzy” logic on infrastructure issues.

    At the state level:

    Some folks believe that it’s fair to tax all Va taxpayers.. then “redistribute” monies to localities NOT in proportion to what they contributed.

    Similarily – there is a perception that in the past … people had their infrastructure needs paid for by folks who were already there and that it’s reasonable and FAIR to continue on that path as places grow…..

    Advocating that existing residents pay for new residents infrastructure needs sounds a lot like a giant ponzi/pyramid scheme – the same SCAM that VDOT ran.. until it collapsed.

    We’ve reached the point where the concept of everyone paying their own share of the infrastructure IS fair and equitable.

    And if one thinks about this everytime a bond referenda is approved – the net result is that all residents – both long-term and new ones will pay an increased tax to pay off that debt.

    So existing residents actually DO pay for new residents infrastructure needs already as such referenda would not be needed for existing residents.

    The other model is the “availability” fee model where two separate funds are maintained. One for operating expenses (that ALL users pay) and one for capital (new infrasructure) funds that are paid by new folks hooking up to the system.

    Isn’t your argument essentially that there should be only one fee and that it be high enough to include (in addition to operating expenses) …raising monies for new infrastructure to serve new residents?

    FYI – “proffers” and “impact fees” ARE, in fact, availability fees -wouldn’t you agree?

  17. Larry, it is true that roads in rural areas cost less, it is also true that they are uncongested, whihc means we have overinvested there and underinvested where there is congestion.

    So, rural areas have been blessed with adequate funds for their highway needs. Where did the funds come from?

    Rural areas have fewer people using them so the lower costs are spread among fewer people.

    Therefore your argument that those in rural areas don’t need to pay as much might or might not be true. It is certainly true on a gross level: rural areas don’t have to pay as much. It might or might not be true on a per capital level.

    EMR would claim that rural residents need to pay 10x as much.

    I don’t know the answer, just that your argument doesn’t float on its own: needs more data.

  18. “We don’t expect others to pay for our drain fields, furnaces, driveways do we? Then why should others pay for our other infrastructure needs when the only difference is that they are offsite but necessary for each of us.

    Shouldn’t each of us pay our own share?

    Isn’t this about equity?

    Isn’t this why each person has to pay a set and uniform fee for water/sewer rather than older residents pay an addtional fee for newcomers?”

    Now you are talking sense.

    “The other model is the “availability” fee model where two separate funds are maintained. One for operating expenses (that ALL users pay) and one for capital (new infrasructure) funds that are paid by new folks hooking up to the system.”

    Even better.

    I think you have misread my arguments. We are actually on the same boat. Now, if the county said your impact fee per home is $xxx, and this is how it is calculated, then I can live with that.

    If the county said you have x building rights, but you can only use one per five years, then I could live with that.

    If the county paid for new stuff with bonds but set a cap so that existing residents taxes could be raised only 5% per year, thereby shifting the remainder to new residents, I could live with that.

    Any of those models could work on a reasonably equitable basis. But what I see is outlandish comments about windfall profits made by greedy developers preying unscrupulously on those existing residents struggling to get by on fixed incomes who can’t possibly afford another penny in taxes and who paid full price for everything that was perfect before the newcomers arrived. Nonsense.

    What I see is not a fair and equitable agreement that newcomers should fund their own actual costs, but an all out war to see that they do not come at all, ever.

    If you have an impact fee that is fair and equitable, then you don’t need downzoning. Set the impact fee on a sliding scale, the lower the density the less the fee, if you like.

    In my case the proffer is that I have to agree that 85% of my property will never be used for anything, regardless of whatever else may change in the future.

    Since I am not allowed to build on that 85% anyway, I see no reason to hold the other 15% hostage to an agreement that has no bearing on what I’m allowed to do, and doesn’t change what I’m not allowed to do.

    The only thing that “proffer” does is disallow future governments from changing the rules. I can’t sign up to that: I don’t have the right, and I don’t think my current government does either. But, if I refuse to sign something that I believe is clearly wrong, then the county gets what it wants which is nothing. Catch 22.

    And let’s be realistic. I live on a rural road where you can ordinarily play softball without interrupting traffic. I’d like to build one house here, and most of the rest of the neighborhood is “built out” at one home per fifty acres, unless the rules change someday. That road was built across 60 acres of property my family once owned in order to provide infrastructure to others. The county says I am now paying tasxes at three times therate I receive services. I can’t see any reason to hold me to the same standard as someone who is plunking 400 townhomes down in an already congested areas.

    So fine, tell me what my impact fee is and how it is calculated. But don’t blow smoke about what is fair if it is only a ruse to keep people out or collect for costs previously incurred or deferred.

    I have never said that new people shouldn’t pay for new infrastructure, when the need is demonstrably caused by them. But the argument has been way overblown, and it appears to me that frequently they are actually being charged extra for things that the previous residents let slide.

    This is exactly the case in somme planned communities were the homeowners have not contributed enough for the association’s responsibilities. Costs have gone up faster than the members dues. So now, new residents in the community pay the dues, plus an initiation fee. This fee isn’t for new infrastructure, it is to make up for previous payments not made by the existing members.

    I’m not saying this is always the case, but if it is the case, where is the equity in that?

    It is unfair to have a sytem where existing residents don’t pay their full costs, but new residents are expected to do just that. In such a case it is possible to set the impact fees so high that newcomers are actually subsidizing existing residents.

    And it is unfair to insist that they pay up front for things that are traditionally financed over many years. That is why bond referenda coupled with a rate increase cap for existing residents works. The money is borrowed, but the costs initially hit the newcomers disproportionately, because existing residents are protected for qquite some time from the effects of the borrowing, but eventually, the infrastructure benefits all, and all pay.

    Even with your example of a tap fee plus usage fee, normally the tap fee can be paid in installments along with your bill.

    So, you want to talk fair and equitable funding mechanisms, that’s OK.

    You want to talk exclusionary zoning, zoning for self aggrandizement, faux environmental zoning, and status quo for its own sake, then the tables are turned and you are ramming your desires down someone else’s throat without paying your share of the costs.

    Where is the equity in that?

    Yep, tell me what my impact fee is and how it is calculated, then get out of my way.

  19. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: “Larry, it is true that roads in rural areas cost less, it is also true that they are uncongested, whihc means we have overinvested there and underinvested where there is congestion.”

    this goes WAY BACK .. to when rural areas had dirt paths, no phones and no electric … and how, over time, there were efforts to provide real roads, phone and electric.

    Remember phone and electric co-operatives? Some of still around. I bet you get your electric from REC as I do – right?

    I’ll be honest – I’m not sure exactly how Virginia’s rural roads evolved from dirt to minimal-standard asphalt (and still gravel in quite a few areas but VDOT now maintains them) – and I’ll presume your probable assumption – that the folks who actually lived in those rural areas could not afford for that infrastructure to be upgraded and it was done on the same concept that we also have done schools – that everyone pays – to ensure minimal and uniform standards state-wide.

    These roads – now built – I quess can be referred to as “legacy” roads.

    But I think the emphasis was and is minimal. For instance, rural roads often are narrow and dangerous… they are the bare minimum and they cost no-where near what urban roads cost and the accident rate is twice more modern urban-standard roads.

    I would posit (without absolute proof) that most non-urban areas in Va now generate gas taxes revenues that are adequate for local maintenance with perhaps a little left over for improvements – as opposed to significant money being taken from the urban areas.

    That’s HOW the allocation formula is supposed to work… the way it’s claimed to work.

    I think what you might be advocating is the reverse – now that we have urban areas – that it is justified for everyone in the state to contribute towards maintaining and improving the roads in those urban areas – obstensibly because they are net tax donors to the state coffers – which then allocate the “extra” to less urban localities.

    what we’re blogging is…. conjecture… though.. right… we need real data before we ever get to the part about what is fair and eqitable policy.

    From a practical point of view though – it won’t work – even if true – because most of the 8 million folks in Va live in the urban areas. Getting significant money out of folks in the non-urban areas is going to be blood from a stone.

    If you choose to live in an urban area for whatever reason and the usual one being more money – then like your fellow commuters – that asphalt you’re on is not free .. and that guy in Farmville with a 89 chevy pickup is not likely to give you more than a couple of dollars to do so… and, in fact, would promptly vote his farmer/neighbor General Assembly legislator out … first chance if he agreed to any such plan.

  20. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: “Any of those models could work on a reasonably equitable basis. But what I see is outlandish comments about windfall profits made by greedy developers preying unscrupulously on those existing residents struggling to get by on fixed incomes who can’t possibly afford another penny in taxes and who paid full price for everything that was perfect before the newcomers arrived. Nonsense.

    What I see is not a fair and equitable agreement that newcomers should fund their own actual costs, but an all out war to see that they do not come at all, ever.”

    two issues:

    1. – In an infrastructure-deficit situation – what is a fair/equitable way to catch up
    2. – what happens in the interim… while growth continues and no decision made about catching up… or worse.. the more growth you have the further you fall behind.

    I have fairly simple idea about this whole issue. It’s about inadequate infrastructure not growth or development nor greedy developers nor militant landowners nor anti-growth nimbies.

    All of these things are reactions to the first item.

    People essentially don’t care about “growth” as long as they live in a nice community and can get back and forth to work in a reasonable period of time.

    I also don’t believe that your land will NEVER be developed. It surely will but maybe not in your lifetime unless and until.. policy decisions are made with respect to how to ensure that infrastructure keeps up with growth.

    The issue about connecting land-use with transportation is central because the cost of infrastructure (which dictates how much you can build over time) is tied to scope and scale and cost.

    In essence – if we build dumb – it’s very expensive. If something is very expensive then we cannot build as much as we need.

    It’s like someone choosing to build at the very back of 100 acres and then complaining about the cost of the road or someone building in a place that requires hundreds of feet of septic lines… rather than locating the house near the lines – and then complaining that you have no money for the road out front.

    When localities and regions do this… the short answer is to restrict development… slow it down.. so that the infrastructure is not completely overwhelmed. The easiest and most direct approach is to keep houses from being built.

    Is it right? No. Will it change if we don’t figure out the infrastructure quandry? I don’t think so.

Leave a Reply