By. Neil Williamson
Last Friday afternoon, I drove up US 29 to spend a couple of hours at a “consultant studio” for the US 29 Corridor Study. As the only member of the public present, I was impressed with the level of candor among the consultants and Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) representatives.
As a review, the goals of the $1.5 mllion dollar US 29 Corridor Study is:
to create a Route 29 corridor blueprint that includes a short-term action plan, intermediate recommendations and a vision plan that identifies long-range goals, policies and recommendations.The Route 29 corridor is a vital link in Virginia’s transportation network and ensuring its long-term viability is essential to the future development of the state’s economic potential.
Along with identifying the numerous local needs along this regional corridor the study will also develop a vision for the future for how to best meet those needs.
The corridor study will consider a range of mobility options and needs along the corridor, including personal and commercial vehicles, rail and public transit as well as other modes of transportation.
The results of the study will be used to help establish local, regional and statewide goals for a long-range transportation blueprint that will form the basis for future projects along the Route 29 corridor.
Based on Friday’s meeting, the last paragraph is where the potential conflicts are starting to simmer. The US 29 Corridor study is clearly transportation focused. Land use in the corridor impacts the efficiency of the corridor. One member of the group assembled raised significant concerns regarding the study going too far into dictating to localities’ land use designations for “their” respective portion of the US 29 corridor. Another member suggested if the local land use decisions have been harmful to transportation, the study should call it out. I beleive this is the paradigm shift VDOT may be seeking.
The discussion included ideas such as locality funded interchanges constructed using property tax increases resulting from corridor development. At one point, the concept of a corridor wide transportation service district (with taxing power) was floated. It was clear to this observer that VDOT does not have money to fund infrastructure improvements and is seeking new revenue streams.
No decisions were made in this informal gathering but the tone of the conversations were terse regarding localities seeing stoplights on US 29 as a part of their economic development program. This is the conflict between transportation and land use planning. Transportation is getting vehicles (and product) efficiently through the corridor and land use is focused on developing (or not developing) property to its highest and best use in the corridor.
As the consultant group continued to wrestle with these issues (the report is due out by the end of the year), I was having difficulty reconciling the goals of the US 29 Corridor Study transportation dominated plan vs. the land use dominated goals of the Places29 plan. As comprehensive plans tend to be land use dominated, I can imagine such conflicts occurring up and down the US 29 corridor.
It will be most interesting to see how VDOT maneuvers to avoid the collision of these two differently focused planning exercises. And, perhaps most importantly, their implementation plans.