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Location: Strasburg, Virginia

Monday, November 28, 2005

Transportation ideas other than taxes on upcoming legislative plate; B1

By Garren Shipley
(Daily Staff Writer)

Virginia legislators and candidates for office have been talking about transportation issues since the last gavel dropped on the General Assembly in February.

Much of the emphasis in the gubernatorial campaign was on the gas tax.

Gov.-elect Tim Kaine has promised to emphasize tying land use issues to transportation, and to create a “lock box” for transportation funds.

But there are other ideas coming forward that have nothing to do with taxes, including:

• Reworking the state’s road classifications.

At present, Virginia’s system of classifying roads — interstate, primary, secondary and urban — isn’t closely linked to how those roads are used, according to a study done in 2001 by the General Assembly’s Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission.

Roads that are classified as primary highways, like Va. 42, which runs through Woodstock and down the west side of the Shenandoah Valley, often don’t carry as much traffic as some roads that are classified as secondary roads, like Franconia Road in Fairfax County.

The JLARC study recommends reclassifying the state’s roads based on how much traffic they carry and making that a significant factor in how funding is handed out, with statewide projects of statewide significance competing for money against other statewide projects, regional against regional and local against local.

• Mandating more “cluster zoning.”

Legislators approved a law in 2002 to make it much easier for developers to pursue so-called “cluster housing” subdivisions.

Instead of spacing homes out on lots that take up an entire parcel of land, cluster developments put homes much closer together, leaving a common open space.

Such designs not only save open space, but also cut down on the amount of road that needs to be built and maintained by the state.

The 2002 law makes cluster developments a “by right” use in some instances, requiring only approval from county zoning staff, instead of an outright rezoning. Few localities are taking advantage of the law, according to the Home Builders Association of Virginia.

“Many localities have repealed their previous cluster housing ordinances and those very few that have … included building design criteria that are so onerous that very few, if any, cluster-housing applications have been submitted,” said Michael

Toalson, executive vice president of the organization, speaking to the Senate’s Statewide Transportation Analysis and Recommendation Task Force in October.

• Forcing local governments to keep needed improvements on their comprehensive plans.

Transportation problems are exacerbated when localities remove planned road projects from their comprehensive plans, Toalson said.

In Fairfax County, projects that would have made traffic much better have been pulled from the “big picture” planning document.

Officials should consider taking action to prod “localities to adequately fund the infrastructure components of their [capital improvement plans] and to discourage the elimination of needed transportation improvements from local comprehensive plans,” Toalson said.

That might take the form of reporting projects added or removed from local plans to the Commonwealth Transportation Board, as well as the funding set aside to meet them.

START meets again in December. The General Assembly reconvenes in January.