Monday, April 21, 2008

An Open Invitation To Reid Greenmun

In it's early February statement on light rail, the Virginia Beach Taxpayers Alliance (VBTA) left open the door that it might be willing to support light rail if certain conditions were met. On a slow day at work today, I was hit with this brainstorm: why not have the community set out parameters? If we can agree to caps on light rail, the consultants doing the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) would virtually have to abide by them, or the project would be dead on the release of the DEIS.

So I started drafting some caps for a Newtown Road - convention center extension. I came up with 7 for starters; add any suggestions under comments:

1. Maximum $500 million project cost.

That would include rail construction, bridge replacement, feeder bus purchases, and a bus maintenance facility.

2. Maximum $75 million local share.

Based on Norfolk's 15% local share.

3. Major roadways would be bridged.

Not to snarl vehicle traffic.

4. Hybrid buses would be used for the feeder service.

Cutting operating costs 25%.

5. A special tax district along the rail corridor to cover the construction debt. It would be a quarter mile each way, the TOD line.

Not only does Reid support TIFs for Transportation, but a former CCO President asked me about such for light rail last week.

6. Virginia Beach would only construct if Norfolk built EVMS to Navy base via ODU.

During the BRT debate, Reid said the military bases should be first. Vice Mayor Louis Jones has said Virginia Beach needs such, so we ask it from Norfolk.

7. Any Change Orders on construction would require a two week process: public comment the first week, followed by more public comment before City Council votes the following week.

Any "bait and switch" would be out in the open.

Reid, feel free to suggest any objective caps you wish. Hopefully we can agree on a package.

The VBTA is scheduled to meet this (last) Saturday. If we can agree on a package and the VBTA votes it out, the CCO newsletter will be finalized the following week. I can get it in so the CCO can vote on a Resolution on May 14. If both the VBTA and CCO agree, we should be able to get the Virginia Beach City Council to commission a DEIS on those terms.

Okay, many will tell me that trying to bargain with the VBTA on light rail is futile. However, if we can condition it enough that it deals with their biggest fears, maybe we can get them to agree to a DEIS. All I can do is try.

16 comments:

Michael Ragsdale said...

hmm...some good points here
I like the "bridge major roads" part.

For example, an elevated station at Town Center, behind Dick's, that could interface at level with the Columbus St bridge. Elevated because it's that close to Independence Blvd. On the ground, there could be a walkway leading to stairs & elevators connecting ground-floor Dick's, the parking garage, and allowing you access to the Oceanfront bound platform without crossing the tracks. Yes, stairs & elevators on both platforms. Then you would head downstairs to use the walkway to cross under the tracks then head back upstairs for switching directions.

Michael Ragsdale said...

The reason I'm not discussing a Circuit City walkway is simply because they're falling on hard times and might have to go the way of CompUSA (since they're struggling to compete with Best Buy). If Circuit City is still there, then sure, let's have a Circuit City walkway from the station.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, you are approaching this in a reasonable, rational manner. As such, it is doomed to failure because the VBTA is not capable of acting in similar fashion.

Michael Ragsdale said...

I believe it, but it's worth a try.

Jessica Blaine ("Jessica B.") said...

Foolish misuse of tax funds eh? For example, being able to get around at night & Sundays? From what I hear, you would consider that misuse of tax funds.

Reid, please do tell us the "truth" since vbtaxpayer.com is very badly outdated (and why not update the site while you're at it?)

eileen said...

Mention the HRT Express Bus hearing on Thursday again, Henry. Has that idea taken on new relevance in light of these discussions?

Avenging Archangel said...

Eileen,

Only three public comments were e-mailed in prior to Friday's deadline for written comments. (I'm in the process of trying to get them.)

Therefore, Thursday's Hearing will probably go over with barely a whimper. However, Michael & I both plan to speak.

No, I don't think it changes anything. Express buses are actually nothing but an interim fix. One early lit piece on The Rapid ("The Rapid" was the MAX's working title) described it as a precursor to light rail.

Anonymous said...

Henry, good ideas - and a good frame work for discussion.

I would urge you to consider adding some criteria related to the selction of rail projects that reduce commuter traffic congestion and that offer the best bang for the buck, by way of connecting significant employment centers with significant housing areas.

For example, while the naval base is clearly a major employer, the trick is to determine where the largest number of commuters live and develop a system to serve them in a manner that will ensure they can get back and forth to their jobs on time.

The other matter is discussing annual operating costs nad the strategy for how the rail service will become self sufficient and not a annual drain from the General Fund to cover the cost of operations - and the planned replacement of rail cars, track, and feeder buses and vans.

If we focus on developing alternative rail service that will actually reduce existing congestion then we have a better chance of garnering taxpayer support.

While the state and fed contribute to construction costs, the locals get stuck with the bill to cover the shortfall in operating costs that HRT fares rates do not cover.

-Reid Greenmun
VBTA Transportation Chairman

Avenging Archangel said...

Reid,

While Norfolk has put money in escrow for Year 1 O&M (per the FTA), their hope is to draw TEA-21 funds to cover O&M. That's the big reason they want Virginia Beach in: it would make it infinitely easier to draw TEA-21.

The HOV lanes wouldn't be on 64 unless there was plenty of traffic going VB - Navy base. In addition, rail would answer the two main reasons people give for not taking the express buses to the base.

As for the cars, they're supposed to have a 12 year life on them.

No feeder vans this time: look at Norfolk's EIS.

Avenging Archangel said...

Okay, how about:

8. Average a minimum 8,500 riders per day.

Norfolk has a 7k-14k spread.

Anonymous said...

Henry, we can all "hope" someone else will pay for our needs, but we can't plan on that. Operations and Maintenacne costs have to be budgeted without depending on the Federal government to pick up the tab for our local annual transit costs.

As to the ridership suggestion you posted - I would recommend a ratio of riders-to-costs as a better concept/metric.

We need to determine how much is reasonable to pay to move only 8,500 riders a day - and does that number count each COMMUTER as two "riders" - from work and then back? This would compare the cost to the costs for moving the same number of commuters using roads and POV and roads and busses.

Sort of a comparative cost benefit analysis of options.

We need to forcus our efforts on the best bang for the buck. I propose that would be developing transportation solutions that significantly reduce exisiting commuter traffic congestion.

-Reid

Anonymous said...

Oh really...this area doesn't need light rail. As pointed out perfectly in another post, buses are only for them. That's why they don't run in VB: we don't need em nor do we want em.

There: VBTA policy in a nutshell

Avenging Archangel said...

Reid,

You remind me of a quote from former Continental Airlines CEO Gordon Bethune, "You can make a pizza so cheap nobody would buy it." As he explained in his book, you could use less sauce, lower quality cheeze, etc. to get your price down. However, nobody would buy the awful pizza.

In the same vein, we could cut corners to lower the operating cost of light rail. However, who would ride it?

Michael Ragsdale said...

Even I, HRT's Unabridged Dictionary, wouldn't ride craprail

Anonymous said...

The following is most definately NOT VBTA policy:

"Oh really...this area doesn't need light rail. As pointed out perfectly in another post, buses are only for them. That's why they don't run in VB: we don't need em nor do we want em."

Try discussing the truth once in a while. That would be nice. The statement above is an out right lie.

Such false strawmen are useless and do not serve to advance this discussion.

-Reid Greenmun VBTA Board Member

Avenging Archangel said...

Reid,

It was one of your own VBTA members trolling that posted it, not a transit advocate.