Sunday, May 25, 2008

RICHMOND--ARE YOU LISTENING?

As Richmond prepares for their special session on transportation I would like to point out a few facts that should be considered in the upcoming debate. Planning District 16, the fourth largest and fastest growing region in the Commonwealth (The counties of Stafford, Spotsylvania, King George, Caroline, and the City of Fredericksburg) is in the process of finalizing their Constrained Long Range Plan (CLRP) for 2035.

As per the request from both sides of the aisle in Richmond, we have spent over a year going through the Comprehensive Plans of the member jurisdictions and ensuring that our transportation plan takes into consideration the current growth pattern policies of our member jurisdictions. In addition, the CLRP will have a transit and pedestrian/trails component. Unlike our previous CLRP this one will include all necessary transportation projects to try and meet our MINIMUM future needs. By this we mean that all future transportation projects in the region will ensure our system maintain at least a “D” level of service rating.

In going through this process we have learned the following:

Our traffic congestion is caused in large part by our land development policies, which tend to spread out that development and to make transportation and other services very costly and uneconomical.

The cost of all the multi-modal projects currently identified is about $6.5 billion dollars. Our projected funding from state/federal sources, which will be the basis for our CLRP, is about $1.5 billion dollars. Even if we could afford all of this additional asphalt to ease congestion, people would object, as ever wider roadways would disrupt neighborhoods and degrade the historical and environmental resources we so value.

As a region we must, and are, reviewing our current development plans to look at ways of changing growth patterns to minimize their impact on our future transportation infrastructure. Part of this effort was addressed in HB3202 with the adoption of Urban Development Areas (UDAs). As local government we must also look at changing our zoning to allow for more mixed-use development. By doing this we will focus our infrastructure needs, make transit a more effective option, reduce sprawl and preserve more open space.

In addition to this effort we have, and are planning as a region, to take additional steps to meet our transportation needs—

--We have formed public-private partnerships to help build needed transportation infrastructure.

--A transportation bond package have been passed to help build need transportation improvements.

--A new interchange on I-95 to serve the City and Spotsylvania is planned, together with a toll road.

--Special Tax Districts are being used to fund road improvements.

--A process is being worked on to prioritize projects within the region, based on specific criteria such as congestion mitigation and safety.

--We are looking at putting together a list of smaller projects to ease congestion, such as extending turn lanes and synchronizing traffic lights. These projects can be done quickly and will have a positive impact on traffic.

--We are working on a regional prioritized list of transportation projects ready to take advantage of Bonus Obligation Funds.

--We are currently working with VDOT to give this region the ability to plan, build and maintain secondary roads thereby building them faster and at lower cost.

This region is doing everything it can, with the limited resources and authority it has, to try and meet our future transportation needs. With a little help from our state representatives on both sides of the aisle we can do much more. Unfortunately, the real solutions to our transportation dilemma are not on the agenda for the special session in June. Two of the more important items missing are fundamental to arriving at real solutions to our transportation problems.

While State funding, especially dedicated funding, is important, how Virginia distributes funds is probably of even greater importance. Fundamental changes in the State highway funding formula need to be made to take into consideration growth rates not just population. Also, the impact a project has on moving traffic, or decreasing traffic congestion, must score higher than it currently does.

As the fourth largest and fastest growing region in the Commonwealth, PD16 can expect $1.5 billion over the next 20+ years for transportation projects, while the Northern Virginia region will received well over ten times this amount. This is twenty times what we can expect, yet Northern Virginia has only six times our population. While Northern Virginia fights to keeps it head above water in regards to transportation we have an opportunity to avoid their mistakes if properly funded.

Another area that must be addressed in June is to provide other regions, beyond just Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads, the authority to raise funds locally and Regionally for transportation projects—in other words give Regions the option to establish Transportation/Transit Authorities. It is obvious that current funding coming from Washington and Richmond cannot meet our transportation needs. PD 16 has shown that we are looking to every possible end to meet those needs, short of raising new revenue. We would like to provide our residents with the option to decide whether they are prepared to invest more to ensure less congestion.

Another advantage of the Transportation Authority concept is that all funds provided to the authority must be spent on transportation and must be spent HERE. This is different and better than the current system of our State government in Richmond, were funds earmarked for transportation can be diverted to the priority of the day in any given part of the State. Recent events in Spotsylvania have also shown how transportation bond funds could be diverted. Finally, such an authority would allow localities to pool their resources to provide the expertise to oversee transportation projects in their respective localities as currently envisioned by Richmond.

In June the Governor and the General Assembly have an opportunity to make effective changes in how we spend our transportation dollars and provide localities with the tools to implement what was laid out in HB3202. I hope that they will be able to get beyond the politics of the next election cycle and provide the leadership necessary to come up with lasting and effective solutions to our transportation problems.

4 comments:

Larry Gross said...

I think a key issue is whether or not the Fredericksburg Area needs another transportation panel which, more than likely will consist of the same officials who now represent FAMPO.

Is our only option to obtaining more funding or higher levels of funding.. to create another layer of government?

Most of the citizens do not even understand FAMPO ... right now.. and the citizens in Hampton Roads are so dispossessed of their MPO that they have insisted on no new Transportation Authority because they saw it as yet another layer and even less accountability for transportation planning in their area.

If the state were to offer the Fredericksburg Area a transportation equivalent of "local option" taxes but to be spent/administered by FAMPO - why not that path?

I think there is a real possibility of substantial citizen opposition to yet another transportation panel unless there is a clear and compelling need for it - not it FAMPO's eyes - but in the eyes of citizens.

Both Spotsylvania and Stafford have had referenda. Spotsylvania's passed, IMHO, because specific projects and their costs were named and voters had the opportunity to decide if they wanted their taxes increased to pay for known projects.

I think the same approach could work with regional road priorities.

FAMPO needs to show the projects, there inflation-adjusted costs and the anticipated construction dates.

The time of transportation wish lists where there far more projects than funding, the cost estimates were essentially initial low-balls that were not adjusted for inflation and nothing about when they would be constructed ..that time is gone.. people do not trust a system where projects are just what someone wrote down on a piece of paper.

I won't be good enough to list FAMPO's accomplishments - even though they are important - because the public simply does not understand what a "FAMPO" is in tje first place, much less what they used to do compared with the "improvements".

I think FAMPO will have to "connect" with the public AND to be prepared to hear back possibly something different than what FAMPO had in mind perhaps even a certain level of disagreement and even hostility.

In my view, public involvement means much more than have given the public the opportunity to "comment".

It means the end result of a public involvement effort is, in fact, actual public involvement.

no if's, and's or but's. if the public was not involved, then it is a failure of the effort to involve the public.

and I think it also means thinking out of the box in terms of traditional ideas of meeting with the public.

i.e. trying to find the best night to do a dog & pony show.. and then be disappointed with a less than impressive showing... needs to change to a model like the Silver company has been doing...

1. - you go to where the public is and you work to ensure that they do come

2. - you be prepared to have a true "give & take" session including putting up with heavy criticism, and attention-getting negative behaviors.

3. - you Promise to meet back with them and you do, and you bring back to them.. information and changes that reflect their questions.

It is easy.. too easy.. for folks that sit on FAMPO to believe that just because virtually no real members of the citizen public shows up at their meetings that people are too busy or have other things to do.

and let me give one example.

People who WANT to carpool - get ticketed because there are not enough spaces for them at the carpool lots..

.. and what is the answer that they get when they ask for solutions?

.. what they get is a bunch of different agencies who say .. in effect.. that it's not anyone's direct responsibility and even if it was.. there is nothing that can be done because it's, not in the plan and besides, there no money for it anyhow...

when the public receives this kind of treatment from the folks who claim to be representing their interests.. they start to see transportation planning as a purely government exercise that has little to do with their everyday needs.

I think if FAMPO is going to be successful at getting more funding, they are going to have to convince the citizens in this area that someone is actually paying attention to what their needs are and taking meaningful actions to respond - and the judge of whether those actions were acceptable are the citizens..

Portland, Oregon is the only elected MPO in the country.

It's messy.. and they've had their share of issues but what they do have is active citizen involvement.

Wouldn't it be a kick in the pants if what got into the papers was that FAMPO was seeking from the GA - a charter for an elected board?

It may not even be possible - but the act of pursuing it would be a statement... of the intent of FAMPO...

and in my view, much better received that the public finding out after-the-fact that FAMPO had already requested the GA for an unelected transportation authority.

so I say all these things.. which some will view as more pompous hot air than constructive criticism.. so be it.. my two cents worth .. even if they are not worth 2 cents.

:-)

hopefully.. the hot air above will be received as constructive...

Larry Gross said...

Just one more thing...

Northern Virginia has had a separate transportation authority for some time and the Supreme Court ruling did not outlaw the authority but the basis for it having newly-gained taxing powers.

But to as why NoVa also has an MPO in addition to a TA - it's because NoVa does not have a stand-alone MPO but instead they are part of a 3-state MPO and probably have some justification for coordinating and resolving some NoVa-specific issues to that they show up at the MPO with a position.. instead of debating NoVa issues in front of the other two jurisdictions.

sort of like the jurisdictional block voting we see on FAMPO.

FAMPO, in my view, has much weaker justification for a separate panel and I see a risk of an adverse public reception to the idea news of FAMPO pursuing such a path precedes FAMPO discussing in public venues locally first.

MATT KELLY said...

LARRY—I would go beyond your statement about the public’s unfamiliarity with the MPOs and say that it extends to how transportation works, or doesn’t, in general. There is a lack of understanding from how transportation dollars are allocated and spent, to how a transportation project is planned and eventually (hopefully) built. Then there is the issue of the players involved, VDOT, FHA, FTA, DRPT, ect., and the roles they play. Before we can make the argument for a Transportation Authority we need to educate the public on how transportation works (or doesn’t) in VA. The tool FAMPO plans on using to address both the education on transportation, and focus the debate on an Authority is the 2035 CLRP.

We are planning to have a robust public information/involvement campaign when the draft of the CLRP is completed. If you can go on the FAMPO website we have been planning for more public involvement for as long as we have been working on the CLRP. There is already agreement that as a plan we must present to the public a list of projects, prioritized by need (Congestion mitigation, safety, ect.), with realistic cost estimates. We must also be prepared to take a project and show the public the process it must currently go through to be completed. We are looking beyond just meetings to include, newspaper inserts, on-line information, and close coordination with local media. We have already had discussions with the FLS in how they can help in this process.

I have tried to present the Transportation Authority (TA) and the related taxing issue only as options at this point. What has been asked is that the GA gives us the OPTION to go down this path. There are concerns among FAMPO members about this course of action as there will be among the public. And I would agree that we must mount an educational effort before we can be in a position to make a case for TAs.

I would also respectfully disagree with the comment that we are “creating” another level of government. What we are trying to do is work within the existing framework—VDOT and the MPO—to try and achieve our goal. I would say that any TA would incorporate the MPO.

I would point out that the lack of action on reforming transportation in VA has already put us way behind the power curve. Also the rapid influx of development in the region is also putting pressure on us to act. I would not take any option off the table but would caution you that just saying no is not an option.

TAs are in place now with adequate restrictions and some advantages as I outlined in my last post. Again we are looking to have as may OPTIONS to deal with our transportation problems locally as we can. As I have noted, and I believe you would agree, that the current transportation dynamics in Washington/Richmond fall well short of addressing our needs and show few signs of changing.

Finally on the commuter parking front FAMPO has already allocated CMAQ funds to lease spaces from commercial establishments in North Stafford and is actively trying to negotiate for spaces. We are not just talking about solutions we are trying to achieve them.

Larry Gross said...

I don't think we disagree for the most part except that my standard for public involvement is not how much effort is put into it but how effective it is.

Ticking off a list of what is being done is sorta like hedging bets...in a way in my view.

And as an example... a one size-fits all information campaign won't be as useful as one that presents the essence of the CLRP so that folks do understand the basics of the funding and projects - and how the project were prioritized - which would include showing the projects that did not make the list.

In someone at that point wants to dig deeper.. give them a path they can follow.. including getting involved at the TAG level.

I only brought up the parking issue to demonstrate how the public views government's response levels to issues and to illustrate that if FAMPO's message is that one of our problems is congestion and too much solo driving ..that FAMPO not REACT but FAMPO ...PLAN proactively to achieve what the intent of congestion relief policies are...

It's true, there is pressure to build more roads but for the guy who just got a ticket for carpooling.. and for others who are fighting for a spot to park - their attitude about the commitment of government to follow through on their policy - their TIP/CLRP can become pretty cynical.

Example:

FAMPO could sponsor community meetings about the need for carpool lots.

It would almost surely get the public out.. you'd get lots of feedback.. plus some IRE perhaps but .. you'd then have the opportunity to engage and connect with the community that FAMPO serves.

You could do a free coffee/morning survey at carpool lots or VRE..

in other words..you go to the public and you engage them on their level.....

again.. not criticism.. I know there are folks at FAMPO whose job IS public involvement... and they do work hard.. but constructive .."out-of-the-box" suggestions to encourage FAMPO to judge themselves not on their accomplishments but by how effective they actually are at engaging the public.

The best CLRP in the world doesn't mean much if 95% of the public is clueless about it and most commuters don't see it as having anything to do with them.