Thursday, March 29, 2012

Transportation--Where Do We Go From Here?

IN A RECENT op-ed by David Ross of the Spotsylvania County Board of Supervisors about the proposed regional toll road, he presented a one-sided view of the project and did not consider the realities that we face in dealing with transportation. He also failed to acknowledge recent planning efforts to address the region's long-term needs in the face of these realities. Disagreement is to be expected. But it is essential that an accurate picture of regional transportation planning be provided and projects placed in their proper context.
The Fredericksburg Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, which is responsible for regional transportation planning, has, in conjunction with VDOT and the Federal Highway Administration, evaluated transportation needs and options: from the outer connector, to the Interstate 95 corridor from Stafford through Spotsylvania, to traffic light signals and turn lanes. FAMPO is required to have a regional transportation plan looking 30 years ahead, and to periodically update it. Transportation planning is an ongoing process.

It should be understood that we must focus on future growth and not just short-term fixes. Light synchronization and a few miles of new lanes on State Route 3 are not going be enough to handle traffic demands. We must also recognize that building or altering a road has an impact on those that surround them. We must adopt a comprehensive approach to transportation.

C'MON, BE REALISTIC

It is imperative that we be realistic in our approach. The main concern of the FHWA, which has the final say on all improvements to I-95, is maintaining traffic flow. Proposing an off-ramp from I-95 just to serve a narrow jurisdictional need will not be considered.

Whether it's a new interchange or an off-ramp, or even the widening a street, obtaining the necessary right of way will be necessary. If eminent domain is not considered, then we need to rethink any new roads or road improvements. One factor in choosing the current toll road option was that it had the least impact on existing housing and development than any of the other outer-connector proposals.

As for cost, all the proposals considered to date involving a bypass from I-95 exceed the cost of the current toll road proposal. The $300 million cost that has been attributed to the toll road also includes improvements at the U.S. 17 interchange and along I-95 to the proposed interchange, including new bridges over the Rappahannock.

There is an economic development component to be considered in transportation planning. The toll road project provides access to the Celebrate Virginia development. It will also divert residential traffic around one of Spotsylvania County's commercial corridors and will help to alleviate congestion on Route 17 in Stafford, one of the county's commercial corridors. It will also alleviate congestion on I-95, making it easier for tourists to travel here. We need to increase jobs and local business opportunities so that we can provide revenue for schools, public safety, and transportation, without increasing the tax burden for our residents.

And, while we may have a transportation plan, funding is required to implement it. The reality is that this region can expect only a third of the funding from traditional sources. We must look at other sources, such as toll roads, to keep pace with development and to make up for a significant shortfall.

TRANSIT OPTIONS

FAMPO has not only looked at alternate funding plans but also has moved away from jurisdictional self-interest and prioritized a transportation project based on safety, congestion mitigation, and cost/benefit analysis to ensure that the investment of traditional funding has the maximum impact. Part of its most recent transportation plan is a review of transit options. This will require re-thinking how our region will develop. To this end FAMPO has embarked on a regional scenario looking at how changing development patterns could foster transit and reduce our long-term transportation costs.

Contrary to what some may think, FAMPO has over the past few years invited community involvement in the process, with focus groups, surveys, inserts in The Free Lance-Star, news stories, radio interviews, and meetings with civic groups to explain the transportation plan and process. FAMPO has a public participation plan that can be viewed on its website. Meetings are open to the public and attendees are invited to speak. Every project involves multiple public hearings.

To ensure an adequate transportation system we cannot limit our focus to a single jurisdiction or project. This is a regional issue. By 2035, this region has been predicted to double in population. Traditional funding needed to adequately support this growth is not there. Debate on how to achieve our transportation goals is inevitable and necessary. But for honest debate viable alternatives must be proposed. Supervisor Ross has not brought one forward.

Recognizing reality and working together is essential to meeting our transportation needs. Playing politics with this issue will endanger the economic well-being and the quality of life of our region.

Do you believe that this region will meet its transportation goals?

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