As we head into the next session of the Virginia General Assembly, I urge readers of this blog to keep a close eye on the analysis from Jim Bacon at Bacon's Rebellion. He has had several good posts this week (At Last, a Real Land Use Debate) about the transportation proposals coming from the House Republican leadership.
Jim Bacon summarizes the three main components of the Republican proposals:
- Require counties to create urban development areas large enough to accommodate 20 years of population growth. These areas would incorporate principles of New Urbanism design to include "open space, mass transit, walking trails, denser development and a commercially zoned component – reducing the need to use the transportation system."
- Invite counties to participate in pilot projects to take over responsibility for secondary roads within urban transportation service districts. As financial inducement, the state would give counties a share of state revenue and allow them to impose impact fees on development.
- Require the Virginia Department of Transportation to define "neighborhood" roads and then prohibit the state from accepting any more such roads into the state system for maintenance purposes. Either counties or homeowners associations would have to take over responsibility for maintaining the roads.
- [Note: Here is the House white paper summarizing the legislation]
This past June, I was shocked to hear the Secretary of Transportation on WINA telling our community that it would be helpful for us to have a list of priority projects which could receive the limited transportation dollars available. I wrote him an open letter with a link to our existing priority lists. The City of Charlottesville and Albemarle have jointly identified over $100 million in transportation priorities and they are working towards the creation of a regional transit authority. With respect to the House proposals, Albemarle County has long had designated growth areas and long asked for the ability to levy impact fees. I assume these legislators would give our region high marks for our planning and cooperation efforts.
We have also identified funding options to pursue in the event new funds don't come from Richmond. Mr. Bacon has astutely pointed out over the past year that the answer to Virginia's transportation crisis is not just more money, it will also require changes to how we conduct the business of transportation and land use planning in Virginia. Newcomers in Virginia often ask why we do things the way we do. Why don't we have impact fees? Why can't local government withhold approval for new developments until there is adequate infrastructure? Why can't roads be built in advance to prepare for new development?
These House Republican proposals seek to change the way we do business, but it is quite reasonable for our community, one that has invested so much in smart growth approaches, to also ask for the resources to ensure the success of our long range plans. We should be asking our legislators how we will fund our existing priorities. We should ask how these proposals will help with the almost 18,000 housing units already in our development pipeline. We should ask whether the problem will just be shifted to local government and local property taxes.
Locally, NBC29 has gotten initial reactions from Supervisor Dennis Rooker [view interview] who shares his concerns that our transportation priorities will require "millions of dollars a year of additional revenue... that would have to come from somewhere."
This is going to be quite interesting.