By. Neil Williamson, President
Earlier this year, the Virginia General Assembly passed Senate Bill 1462, requiring the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) to “fast track” their review of the proposed connectivity and review requirements for secondary roads.
As Charlottesville Tomorrow reported back in December 2008:
The goal of this new policy is very clear. For the first time, VDOT will require “that streets accepted into the state system for perpetual public maintenance provide commensurate public benefit.”
Although the plan includes many components, the element perhaps most likely to result in sweeping changes is a measured commitment to connectivity for all new road networks. In order to be accepted for maintenance funds, a proposed street network will have to look more like a grid and less like a series of cul-de-sacs.
As a part of this process, VDOT created a new standard for evaluation of road systems. This seldom used method of connectivity calculus within a development does not allow for thought given to local traffic patterns or needs.
In addition, the Free Enterprise Forum is concerned that the prohibition on cul-de-sacs could dramatically, and negatively, impact land development trend in the rolling hills of central Virginia. In speaking with engineers, the purpose of the cul-de-sac – in addition to being treasured by home buyers – is to take up grade on the site. If such a high level of interconnectivity is required, one can anticipate significantly more mass grading of sites (also called “moonscaping” by some). We believe this unnecessary removal of trees and slopes to attain link/node ratio requirements has not been properly evaluated.
The proposed regulations also run counter to the recent Chesapeake Bay TMDL goals of limiting point stormwater runoff. The unintended (we hope) consequences is increased impervious surface cover on unnecessary roads and sidewalks and increase stormwater runoff.
(Image credit: Charlottesville Tomorrow)
Interestingly, The Urban Land Institute in 1890 studied the various street options for the amount of lineal feet of pavement. Prince Georges County (MD) adapted that model in 2000 to come up with the figure below. The very type of development the regulations are trying to prohibit has the least impervious surface!
(Image Credit: “Impervious Surface Reduction – Best Management Practices” www.metrocouncil.org [Twin Cities])
In addition to the vehicular connectivity, the new regulations seek to promote pedestrian connectivity as well. While the goal of pedestrian connectivity is valuable, the new regulations fail to pass the common sense test when they require sidewalks on both sides of a street in an area where homes are on large parcels and pedestrians are few and far between.
On the whole the regulations will increase the cost of housing for the struggling new housing industry by the loss of buildable lots on any given parcel, the requirement of more roads and sidewalks to be built and the requirement for more environmental avoidance and mitigation to be paid.
In the long run, all of these roads and sidewalks will be turned over to VDOT for maintenance. It is simple to calculate that if this regulation requires more roads and sidewalks (especially in large lot developments) to be built as a result of the necessary compliance with the link/node ratio, maintenance costs for VDOT will increase in the future.
The Free Enterprise Forum supports connectivity between new and existing residential developments and recognizes its value to local transportation networks, but that is not what will happen through the current link/node system. Only inner development connectivity to nowhere will result through the link/node system.
The “fast track” review of these proposed regulations may be missing these very real concerns raised by the very businesses charged with implementing the new rules.
The comment period on these regulations is quiclkly closing (May 31) Comments can be submitted through the VDOT website, by email or by regular mail as detailed below. In the subject line of your comments, please reference “Land Development Regulations Comments”.
Comments can also be sent electronically through the VDOT website http://www.virginiadot.org/projects/public_input_form.asp. Written comments may be submitted by email to Robert Hofrichter at Robert.Hofrichter@VDOT.Virginia.gov.
If the goal of the new regulations is to go increase impervious surface, increase strormwater runoff and increase the cost of new housing then these new onerous regulations succeed.
If the goal is to create a regulatory burden so high that only private roads, and the commensurate perpetual roads bond, will work in new residential communities; thus freeing VDOT from costly maintenance requirements, then the new onerous regulations succeed.
If instead, however, the true goal is to promote a neighborhood design that allows for interconnectivity internal and externally, then these regulations require significant change prior to adoption.
Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and Nelson County. For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org