Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Route 1 Redux

Last night the Growler attended the Ad Hoc Transportation Task Force Meeting at City Hall, and the Cranky One must say that it's a good thing citizens are now sitting up and paying attention to their work.

Task force chairman Larry Robinson once again grumbled about "misinformation," and during a discussion of the Mayor's April 19 transportation forum emphasized again that the task force was not responsible for the reference to a special tax district in the draft Braddock Road plan. (Just a reminder, a visitor to this site late last week claimed it was T&ES Director Rich Baier who was the culprit.)

But minutes later while the task force was reviewing more draft chapters of the new master transportation plan, their own consultants discussed funding bus rapid transit (BRT) through special tax districts, including tax increment funding (TIF). Planning Commission Chairman Eric Wagner, who also serves on the task force, went a step further and recommended adding a business improvement district (BID) as another funding option in the chapter.

Hello, that's yet another form of special tax district, folks.

So it appears that task force members are annoyed not because it's untrue they are considering special tax districts to pay for BRT or other rapid transit, but because the information found its way into someone else's report (the Braddock Road small area plan) and thus let the cat out of the bag.

The money required for BRT in the proposed transit corridors won't be chump change. The consultants estimate $283 to $409 million in capital costs and $13.7 million in annual operating costs. They've been asked to tote up the numbers for light rail as well, but indications are it will be an even more expensive option.

What intrigued the Growler was learning that the revision of the transportation master plan is not simply an exercise in big picture thinking, to be filed away upon completion. The plan itself is the essential first step to getting big federal bucks to defray as much as half the capital costs.

Seems the City must approve a formal transportation plan in order to get its projects on the lists maintained by the federally-sanctioned metropolitan planning organization (MPO) for this area. Here in Northern Virginia the MPO is the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) and its Transportation Planning Board (TPB).
"The federally mandated metropolitan planning process requires all MPOs across the country to produce two basic documents—a long-range plan, which in the Washington region is called the Financially Constrained Long-Range Transportation Plan (CLRP), and a Transportation Improvement Program (TIP), which lists projects and programs that will be funded in the next six years. Since 2000, the CLRP has used a planning horizon of 25 years. In order to receive federal funding, transportation projects must be included in the CLRP and the TIP." [Emphasis added] (Source: TPB Website)
Now these reference to COG are intriguing. Long-time activist Julie Crenshaw Van Fleet has scheduled a presentation on COG for the April 17 meeting of the Federation of Civic Associations. Mrs. Van Fleet has attended COG meetings for years and she seems anxious that other Alexandrians know what is going on with regional transportation planning. Indeed, the timing suggests that her upcoming presentation (which was announced first) is what spurred the Mayor and Mr. Baier to schedule their own forum two days later.

Does Mrs. Van Fleet know something the rest of us don't? Does she see a slam dunk coming?

And why did Mr. Wagner last night propose bundling the Route 1 and Duke Street corridors as a "presumptive Phase One," although the consultants thought it would make a stronger case for federal funding to combine all corridors as one project? Is it because the price tag for Route 1 and Duke Street makes them eligible for the Federal Transit Administration's Small Starts program, which according to FTA's Web site features streamlined approvals and more simple alternatives analysis?