Sunday, February 17, 2008

It's Time to Talk Transportation

At the end of this month the Fredericksburg Area Metropolitian Planning Organization (FAMPO) will release the region's 2035 Constrained Long Range Plan (CLRP). The CLRP is a list of transportation projects that can be constructed based on expected transportation funding through 2035. Unlike previous CLRPs this plan will be based on the development projections for the region and will include projects outside the requirement for financial constraints.

For the past one and a half years GWRC/FAMPO staff has been working with the planning offices of the member juristictions, including regular MPO members Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania, and Stafford, and Planning District (GWRC) members King George and Caroline, reviewing Comprehenisive Plans and development/demographic information to anticipate the region's growth patterns. The development models, in five year increments, have been turned over to VDOT for modeling future transportation needs and returned to the jurisitictions for review.

While by law we are required to complete a fiscally constrained plan FAMPO will include a list of all the projects, road, mass transit, rail. bike, pedestrian that will meet the minimum transportation requirements to accomodate our region's projected growth. The projects will be mapped, priced out, and listed in priority based on maximum impact on traffic congestion.

The plan will clearly show that under the current funding dynamics, post HB3202, we will not recieve sufficient funding to meet our transportation needs.

Discussions have begun at GWRC/FAMPO on how we will meet this funding gap. One solution under discussion is the establishment of a transportation authority. Such an authority would be comprised of local elected officials and would have taxing authority based on that granted to Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads. Such an authority would need approval from Richmond. The amount of revenue projected to be raised would be twice that we could expect from Richmond. And unlike Richmond, any money raised by the authority could only be spent on transportation. To date we have only had preliminary discussions about the authority option awaiting the completion of the 2035 CLRP.

If we are to meet our transportation goals as this region develops we cannot depent on on the current transportation dynamic. To be successful we will have to come together as a region and be prepared to fill the revennue gap.

Would you support the establishment of a Regional Transportation Authority with taxing powers, similar to those granted to the Northern Virginia anf Hampton Roads Transportation Authorities for the sole purpose of building and maintaining transportation infrastructure? What other options should be on the table for discussion?


Larry Gross said...

I think there is way too little information on a possible TA for the Fredericksburg Area.

What would be helpful is a list and a map of what projects will be built in the next 20 years - as is without a TA - and which ones that will be built WITH a TA.

For me .. there is an assertion that because we make a list of projects that exceed our budget - that we need more money.

If we are going to talk about more money for the REGION, then we should be talking about what the result of that money will be in terms of improvements for the REGION - as opposed to more money for the individual localities for their own priorities.

Most folks in our REGION wonder why we got 30 years talking about places like Falmouth.. and for 30 years of funding.. which amounted to more than a billion dollars - that was NOT spent on Falmouth...

Folks are also dismayed that we approve development that does not mitigate it's impacts properly - and then the improvements to go back and fix the problem comes out of funds that could have been used to improve the region.

Routes 610, 17, 3, 1 all are in local comp plans ... all have development that essentially harms/degrades the existing transportation utility - and then our meager transportation budget has to go to "fix" these problems.

If this is the type of thing the TA would seek to use the new taxes for, I would doubt support and, in fact, if there is not a clear plan for how the money would be used - you might actually see hostility like they are seeing in Hampton Roads where the citizens there don't trust their MPO to truly address the needs of citizens.

I think trying to go for a TA.. is pretty risky without a lot of work with the public - because - the chances of some citizens directly opposing a prospective TA to their elected GA could stop a TA in it's tracks.... and that would not be helpful.

Matt Kelly said...

LG--Public support is critical if this is the direction we go as the establishment of a transportation authority is subject to General Assembly approval.

As noted, we are going to provide a list of projects, costs, maps, and put them in context with regional growth patterns. This information will be brought before FAMPO at its next meeting on February 25th. We will have them on line soon thereafter.

FAMPO is also working on a plan to ensure maximum public participation in this discussion. Right now I am trying to gauge whether this is an option we, as a region, are prepared to discuss.

Larry Gross said...

Without a TA, we have about 30 million a year for new construction.

From a transportation infrastructure perspective, that is a piddling amount.

but from some folks viewpoint - that's good because it keeps destructive projects from getting rammed down people's throats ...

I think there is a steep uphill here because in order to sell a TA - you've got to convince folks that there is a change of attitude about local officials and VDOT "deciding" what will be done.. and then doing the obligatory hearing ....

You're gonna have to convince the public that there is a real live regional plan - that makes sense - designed to move people around and not designed to open up more areas for developers to put in more rooftops.

and I don't mean to make it sound trivial either.. no matter what you do.. you'll have someone unhappy..

the trick is .. can you get substantial support that outnumbers those that are not happy?

FAMPO has got a Citizens Group - a TAG - that has real live citizens on it.. a potentially valuable sounding board.. and linkages to other area citizens...

I would say that a good start is to convince the TAG of what is being proposed and to consider involving the tag to engage other citizens in the community.

Like I said.. you're gonna get opposition - they key is how much support you get... from citizens .. not the Chamber or local business luminaries.... :-)

Larry Gross said...

I thought the following paper pretty interesting...

The subject was a series of focus groups to determine the public's attitudes towards Congestion Pricing and what they found out... amply demonstrated in the study is that the public doesn't know from a hole in the ground - how transportation funding works and thus the folks trying to explain the congestion pricing concepts had to deal with many, many other questions and misunderstandings about how roads are currently funded.

I see a parallel here between this study and an advocacy to INCREASE transportation funding by the use of Transportation Authorities.

Here's the study:

Rich said...

Looks like you'll have to look into plan B since the NOVA regional taxation scheme proved to be unconstitutional.

Matt Kelly said...

Rich—As per my comments in the FLS this is a serious setback. Having said that we still cannot afford to sit back and do nothing. This region will need to continue to think out of the box—Public-Private Transportation (PPTA) projects, toll roads, funding projects through bonds, obtain transportation improvements through the proffer process, etc. In addition, we are currently in discussions with VDOT to allow localities to handle their own transportation projects—design and construction. It is hoped that projects in this manner can be brought on line faster and cheaper than under the current process thereby stretching our transportation dollars. We may still want to discuss a Transportation Authority in light of this last effort. By pooling our resources the region can share the expertise needed to take on transportation projects. And as both the state and feds are telling us that regional prioritized projects will get priority for scarce transportation dollars an authority may still be in the picture.

Larry Gross said...

I think one of the most important things that FAMPO can do is to rigorously follow the intent of the MPO process with regard to TIP and CLRP projects and constrained funding.

There is no rule that says that FAMPO cannot pursue multiple paths for future funding but what the intent of the MPO law with regard to constrained funding was to develop and maintain a realistic list - for the funding that you know you have (and do not have) as opposed to maintaining a list of desired projects for which there is no identified funding for - and no concrete plans for obtaining.

Another way to describe the MPO Constrained funding rule is to call it "living within your means" budgeting.

I note that just the other day FHWA sent a letter to the state of Virginia stating that they would cease further considering of the STATE's TIP UNTIL the legislator cleared up the funding issues that came with the Supreme Court repeal of the TAs.

In my mind, THIS is the way that FAMPO should work.

Nothing wrong with keeping a separate list of desired projects but the problem is when you treat those projects as part of a plan - when there is no funding for them.

Worse, much worse, in my mind, is a lack of priorities - a rank list of projects in the order they will be incorporated into an actual build-plan IF funding IS identified.

Even better.. would be a specific funding strategy for each specific project - because some could actually be built with a COMBINATION of funding sources that might well include development proposals - and you forfeit those opportunities if they are not recognized as such to start with.

Finally.. I think FAMPO's TAG - each member - should be fully cognizant of the TIP/CLRP process.. and where funding comes from specifically

For instance, every TAG member should understand how much money the Fredericksburg Area actually generates in taxes/funding for transportation - and then where that money goes.

For instance, VDOT's annual budget is 4 Billion Dollars. If you divide 4 Billion by 7 million (the population of Va) you get $500 annually per capita.

If you multiply $500 times 300,000 (the population of the FAMPO area), you get 150 million dollars.

We KNOW that we get about 30 million a year in new construction.

Where does the other 120 million go?

Every member of FAMPO including the TAG should KNOW the answer in my opinion.

If we want to make progress on Transportation in the Fredericksburg Area - we need both elected officials and citizens to better understand the status and process.

... my 2 cents worth.. :-)