FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL
By. Neil Williamson, President
This low score, coupled with other factors, resulted in the ONLY Transportation project
Albemarle County The Charlottesville-Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization [correction 11:27am 2/22-nw] submitted for possible funding the I-64/US29 Interchange (Exit 118) ranking 282 out of 287 projects statewide and DEAD LAST in Culpeper District.
Like a parent, the Free Enterprise Forum is concerned with this economic development report card and we wonder if Albemarle is willing to do what is necessary to improve their scores. We believe absent a paradigm shift regarding economic development and proactive zoning Albemarle County may not receive significant transportation dollars for a generation.
Please let me explain.
The Commonwealth just completed the first ever objective scoring exercise of transportation projects. This exercise is the result of a 2014 state law commonly referred to as HB2. This legislation was so significant – it has its own website. According to the website:
House Bill Two (HB2) is about investing limited tax dollars in the right projects that meet the most critical transportation needs in Virginia. At the heart of the new law is scoring projects based on an objective process that involves public engagement and input. Once projects are scored, the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) will have the best information possible to select the right projects for funding.
Governor Terry McAuliffe signed HB2 into law in 2014, which directs the CTB to develop and use a scoring process for project selection by July 2016. Candidate projects will be screened to determine if they qualify to be scored. Projects will be scored based on an objective and fair analysis applied statewide. The law will improve transparency and accountability. The public will know how projects scored and the decisions behind the CTB’s project selections.
In an attempt to capture the different demographic needs of the state, different values are placed on the six different areas of scoring. Albemarle and Charlottesville are in Category B.
In Category B, accessibility factors (which really are about economic opportunity) are weighted 25%, economic development factors are weighted 20%, safety factors are also weighted 20%; Environmental quality and land use are each weighted at 10%.
In VDOT’s safety calculations, fatalities rank significantly higher than simple injury and property damage accidents rank even lower. As this is an interchange not an intersection, the majority of the accidents are sideswipe incidents.
In his article on the Metropolitan Planning Organization’s meeting on this issue Charlottesville Tomorrow’s Sean Tubbs quotes Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission Executive Director Chip Boyles:
“We got zeroes for economic development and we got zeroes for crash frequency reduction,” Boyles said, adding that there have been no fatalities at the intersection in the past three years.
Short of generating a rash severe life grabbing accidents, there is little a locality can do to change the safety ranking. The other areas however localities can make a difference.
Examine the scorecard below for Exit 118, 60% of the accessibility factor revolves around “Increase in Access to Jobs” another 20% of this score is related to “Increase in Access to Jobs for disadvantaged Populations”. Therefore, 80% of the accessibility score relates to economic opportunity. Reading the report card below, Albemarle failed to achieve a full integer on accessibility scoring .9
The Charlottesville Tomorrow article highlighted opportunities for improving scores:
“As you progress through the development of that site you would get more points towards that particular element because you’re investing money into that plan,” Lynch said.
The Free Enterprise Forum believes the HB2 ranking system is here to stay and that the system as currently designed favors those localities seeking to use state dollars to advance economic development and economic opportunity. The logical nexus is that by spending limited state dollars on projects that increase economic activity, there will be more state dollars to spend in the future.
This is where proactive zoning comes in. Proactive zoning is when a locality seeks to rezone land, with the consent of the owner, to the uses already approved in the Comprehensive Plan. Albemarle county last completed a proactive rezoning when it created the Downtown Crozet District. Opponents of proactive rezoning cite the lack of applicant proffers creating an undue burden on the locality to mitigate the project impacts.
While we have been a proponent for landowner authorized proactive zoning for many years, the new transportation funding paradigm makes the proffers argument moot.
If proactively rezoning land, and investing in infrastructure, allows the community to be not only more attractive to new or expanding business but will improve our chances to receive needed state funding for transportation, the economic benefits clearly outweigh the costs.
HB2 Transportation funding is very similar to sitting down at a new poker game. The cards are the same but the rules are now completely different. The big question is if the Albemarle County Supervisors will ante up.
If not, other localities surely will and they will reap the benefits of their foresight and investment.
Time will surely tell.
Neil Williamson, President
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.
Photo Credits: Charlottesville Tomorrow, VDOT