Yesterday evening Virginia Beach Vision hosted a Transportation Forum at Meyera E. Oberndorf Central Library. A number of community leaders were invited to attend, and the room was packed. The Forum featured a panel discussion by Dwight Farmer (Executive Director of the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization), Aubrey Layne (Commonwealth Transportation Board, Hampton Roads District member), and Mike Barrett (VB Vision Vice President).
Some alarming facts were given. First, except for interstate highways, Virginia is effectively out of the road building business. Second, Virginia may soon have to look at abandoning some public roads. Both are due to lack of funding.
Interesting statistic of the night: the average Virginia driver pays $96.25 per year in Gas Tax, a figure lower than you would have guessed.
Dwight Farmer presented some numbers pertaining specifically to Hampton Roads. First, travel demand has grown at 2-5 times the rate that we're adding road capacity. Second, the average interstate speed at rush hour is under 25 mph. Third, the HRBT regularly has backups of 5-7 miles, the Downtown Tunnel 2 miles, the Midtown Tunnel 1-2 miles, Interstate 64 1-3 miles, and the High Rise Bridge 1-2 miles.
However, their own presentations punched a couple holes in the standard mantra:
1. SOVs - Dwight Farmer stated that the average vehicle occupancy rate at rush hour in Hampton Roads was 1.25 people 30 years ago, and is 1.09 now. (He jokes with staff that it will soon drop below 1.) If everyone who commuted by Single Occupancy Vehicle (SOV) now carpooled once every two weeks, current congestion would be eliminated. If everyone who commuted by SOV carpooled once weekly, we'd have enough road capacity for the next 24 years.
By his own figures, Farmer tipped the hand that SOVs are at least as big a problem as new construction in Hampton Roads.
2. The Coming End Run - Aubrey Layne stated that Virginia may soon have to go to economic impact statements on grading out roads projects. If so, Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia - with much larger populations - would get roads money now going to other parts of the state.
That sets up an end run around Virginia's current roads funding formula, which has a rural bias. When we start pulling away roads money from rural areas, how long do you think it would be before rural legislators want to raise taxes and fees for more roads money? (Probably a shorter time than it takes for a gallon of milk to go sour.)
Dwight Farmer announced that TPO meetings will now be taped with the sessions later posted on YouTube for public viewing. That starts with Friday's special meeting on Higher Speed Rail.
The panelists offered to take their "dog and pony show" to any group wanting such a presentation. CCO President Sam Reid slipped into the room quietly late. (I didn't know he was there until afterwards.) The CCO may invite the panelists to a future general meeting as the meeting program.
If you haven't seen them yet, watch the CCO's website to see if and when they are coming.