Public Statement of The Free Enterprise Forum June 16, 2009
In 2002, then Governor Mark Warner dramatically changed the manner in which transportation projects costs were determined when he mandated the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) use project year dollars instead of constant year dollars in the Department’s six year plan. According to Governor Warner, this common sense approach gave a more realistic projection of actual construction costs and helped minimize the annual shortfall of millions of dollars as projects were completed over their planned budgets. That’s prudent planning and governance.
Last month, the Free Enterprise Forum released the ‘Reality Check’ report regarding the cost methodology used in Places29’s Technical Memorandum #11. Just as Governor Warner did in 2002, the Free Enterprise Forum report called into question the validity of using constant year dollars instead of using an inflation escalated number to better capture the likely costs when the projects are actually constructed.
The Free Enterprise Forum stands squarely behind the data in its report, but the media release that accompanied the report unnecessarily ramped up the rhetorical tone of the discussion.
The fact that the costs selected to appear in the Places29 report may mislead the public by suggesting lower project costs than are likely, does not rise to the level of “deceit”. It is simply the way staff and the Albemarle County Planning Commission (ACPC) chose to represent the costs of Places29. While disagreeing vehemently with that approach, the Free Enterprise Forum regrets what was an inartful characterization of it. In addition, we regret the release did not acknowledge the Planning Commission’s thorough public discussion of this issue.
The Free Enterprise Forum’s media release expressed its significant and ongoing frustration with the Places29 process and with the current draft report that:
- contains cost figures for projects likely not to begin for several years and which may take twenty or more years to complete that do not account for inflationary factors [yet inflated traffic projections are used] (Reality Check Report).
- retains costs that are dramatically lower than previous VDOT cost estimates (see the 29/H/250 Corridor Study) for comparable tasks to be assumed in Places29 and do not appear to adequately reflect the costs for right-of-way acquisition and utility relocation, which, together, may, in fact, cost more than the actual road construction at the proposed grade separated interchanges.
- lacks an economic impact analysis for a corridor that is the commercial lifeblood of our community where more than 20,000 jobs are located with an annual payroll of almost one billion dollars and along which a large percentage of local real estate, sales, meals and business license tax revenues are generated.
- lacks easy citizen transparency (the costs are in a technical memorandum on the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission web site, not on the County’s Places29 web site).
Taxpayers deserve the best and most accessible accuracy government agencies can offer them regarding the real costs of proposed projects.
The Free Enterprise Forum recognizes there are positive elements to the Places29 plan.
The Free Enterprise Forum will never shy away from highlighting policy disagreements with the ACPC (or any other governmental entity). Similarly, it will always urge that government entities take care to present issues and facts to the general public in transparent ways that can be easily and accurately understood. Citizens and taxpayers deserve nothing less.
The ACPC took on a large task when it chose to serve as the steering committee for the Places29 Master Plan. The Free Enterprise Forum is appreciative of the significant time and effort the ACPC and staff have put into this extensive process. The Free Enterprise Forum will seek to strike a more positive tone in its constructive criticism. The Free Enterprise Forum shares the ACPC goal that continued active public involvement will have a positive impact on the final work product.