Local planners discuss alternative transportation approaches given limited state funding
By Sean Tubbs
Friday, October 1, 2010
A plan adopted by the
Charlottesville-Albemarle Metropolitan Policy Organization
last year anticipates spending nearly $300 million on transportation projects to accommodate a growing population. However, local planners questioned this week whether alternative approaches could save money.
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“We’re really facing here in Virginia, and also at the national level, a transportation funding crisis,” said
, the executive director of the
Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission
. “It’s politically difficult to impose any tax or to raise any existing tax.”
“My personal preference is to [look] at alternative strategies with as much weight as we are with built projects,” said Charlottesville Planning Commissioner
. Such strategies would include better transit and more compact urban development.
On Tuesday, members of the Albemarle and Charlottesville planning commissions were asked to rank their priorities as part of the initial planning for the update of the
region’s long-range transportation plan
. Every five years, the MPO is required to show the federal and state governments how the community plans to address traffic congestion that comes with population growth.
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In 2007, there were an estimated 553,000 trips taken by area residents, according to data presented by Williams. The vast majority of these trips were made in automobiles, with 9.9 percent walking or biking. Only 1.3 percent used public transit. By 2035, the number of trips is estimated to increase to 684,000 as the local population increases to a projected 160,000.
The current plan includes $54 million for interchange improvements along U.S. 29, $43 million to improve traffic flow on U.S. 250 at Pantops and $25 million for
Hillsdale Drive Extended
. The plan also estimates $42 million in capital costs for expanded transit and another $10 million to build more bike lanes and trails in the urban ring of Albemarle County.
Williams said funding projects will be difficult without new sources of revenue.
Virginia has the 11th-lowest fuels tax in the nation at 17.5 cents per gallon, a rate that has not increased since 1987. The average tax for all states is 29 cents. One of the questions asked of commissioners is whether they would support a tax increase to provide more funding.
Many commissioners questioned Williams’ methodology. Charlottesville’s
said relying too heavily on forecasting data to plan tomorrow’s transportation network might mean the community doesn’t build what it really wants.
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“If you read between the lines of this survey, it sort of assumes that congestion is the problem,” Rosensweig said. “That is a problem, but there’s also a qualitative component that I can’t see measured in this … Does it feel better to walk from one place to another than it does to drive?”
, the architect of the University of Virginia, said planning is moving away from the “technical fixes” of big road projects and toward creative alternatives that reduce automobile trips.
“We’re looking at telecommuting, alternative work schedules, alternative school schedules,” Neuman said. He added that behavioral changes by employees would eliminate the need to raise additional funds for expensive road projects.
Other commissioners said concerns about congestion are overblown because the region does not experience the problems of major metropolitan areas.
“I lived in Southern California for 35 years and I think traffic here is phenomenal,” said Albemarle Commissioner
. “It’s very rare that I don’t get through a red light on the first try.”
Williams said congestion can be perceived in different ways by different individuals, but travel times are projected to increase if the infrastructure is not in place.
“Our forecasts are right at the tipping point and although we’re only looking at a 30 percent growth in our travel in the next 25 years, we think that’s going to lead to rapid degradation of our travel experience,” he said.
The MPO will continue to collect input from key stakeholders as it prepares a new draft plan.
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