Conservation and Smart Growth Groups Weigh-in on Transportation Funding

For Immediate Release: May 27, 2008
Stewart Schwartz, CSG, 703-599-6437 (c)
Trip Pollard, SELC, 434-977-4090
Lisa Guthrie, VALCV, 804-225-1902

Conservation and Smart Growth Groups Weigh-in on Transportation Funding
Plans and Funding Must Address Energy Costs, Climate Change and Land Use

Joining the renewed debate over transportation funding, the Virginia conservation and smart growth community released an open letter today to Governor Kaine, Lieutenant Governor Bolling, Attorney General McDonnell and all 140 members of the General Assembly.  “The energy crisis and climate change make it more important that ever that we buy the right transportation system for the next 50 to 100 years,” said Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth.

“Our recommendations are designed to ensure that we wisely use taxpayer funds to give people more travel choices and produce an energy-efficient, environmentally sustainable, and economically competitive transportation system,” said Trip Pollard, director of the Land and Community Program at the Southern Environmental Law Center.

“We look forward to working with the Governor and the legislature to help craft a long-term and more sustainable transportation program,” said Lisa Guthrie, Executive Director of the Virginia League of Conservation Voters.  “But this requires a fundamental reevaluation of the current program.”

Eleven leading state conservation, smart growth and transportation reform groups co-signed the letter released today.

(Text of the Letter Follows)

Coalition for Smarter Growth, Piedmont Environmental Council, Virginia League of Conservation Voters, Southern Environmental Law Center, Virginia Conservation Network, Virginia Chapter – Sierra Club, Audubon Naturalist Society, Community Alliance for Preservation, Shenandoah Valley Network, RAIL Solution, and Scenic Virginia

May 27, 2008

The Honorable Tim Kaine

Office of the Governor

Patrick Henry Building, 3rd Floor

1111 East Broad Street

Richmond, Virginia 23219

General Assembly of Virginia

910 Capitol Square

Richmond, VA  23219

Re:  Open Letter on Land Use, Transportation and Funding

Dear Governor Kaine and members of the General Assembly:

We are encouraged by your initiatives over the past two years to address Virginia’s land use and transportation challenges.  Public support for better growth management remains at high levels, making your efforts to better link land use and transportation critically important.  Your collective initiatives have included increased support for transit and freight rail, traffic impact studies, urban development areas, land conservation, stronger access management policies and changes to subdivision street standards.

At the same time, the impact of rising energy prices on Virginians’ strained household budgets creates a new imperative to be strategic in our transportation investments and to provide more transportation choices.  Virginia’s transportation funding project lists were generated by the Virginia Department of Transportation in the VTRANS 2025 plan and by Virginia’s regional transportation planning organizations at a time when energy prices were much lower.  The project lists do not account for the impact of record energy prices and were developed without consideration of how more efficient patterns of land use and community design could reduce the burden of auto travel, offer more transportation options, and reduce the amount of transportation infrastructure needed.

Therefore, we believe that tying funding to reevaluation of our transportation and land use plans should be a core component of any transportation funding proposal.  We believe that location efficiency, energy efficiency, and improved “accessibility” to jobs, housing, and services (not merely “mobility” for its own sake) should be the goal of Virginia’s land use, economic development, transportation, and infrastructure policies.  Doing so will ensure that we are prudent with taxpayer resources, energy efficient, and economically competitive.  We need to put new money behind new ideas developed through a more transparent and inclusive public process beginning with local and regional planning processes.

We recommend that you consider incorporating the following requirements in any agreed upon transportation funding package:

1)      Reevaluate the statewide plan, regional plans, and major projects in an open process with the public and in light of significantly higher fuel prices, the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and the benefits to be gained from more efficient land use and community design.

2)      Improve the efficiency of the existing transportation system and focus on short-term demand reduction measures before capacity expansion.  These measures should include robust telecommuting programs and broadband investment, access management, transit and carpool incentives, and public road pricing and parking pricing to manage demand on saturated highways in metro regions.  A 5-10% reduction in highway demand can return a highway to free-flowing conditions far more cheaply than a costly expansion project.

3)      Tie funding to performance standards that include improved operational efficiency; reduction in per capita vehicle miles traveled; increased mode share for transit, freight rail, telecommuting, pedestrians/bicycles; and adoption of urban development areas with interconnected streets and new urbanist design principles.  Alternatively, create a significant fund for providing bonus revenues to regions and local governments that reduce travel demand and approve more efficient patterns of development in well-designed Urban Development Areas.

4)      Include funding for technical assistance to local governments and planning district commissions to assist communities with integration and adoption of the new tools approved by the General Assembly and Commonwealth Transportation Board including assistance with access management, city and town revitalization, transit-oriented development, and well-defined UDAs using new urbanist design and “complete streets” with interconnected local street networks.

5)      Require a clear analysis of Virginia highway maintenance spending to allow the public and General Assembly to more fully understand the maintenance situation.  The analysis should include current and trend data on the reported condition of Virginia’s roads, maintenance costs per lane mile for various road types and districts, average life of new and repaired roadways, and the potential for reducing long-term maintenance costs through longer-life roadways (per the European model) and extended warranties by private road contractors who perform the work.

6)      Dedicate significant funds (at least 35% of new funds) to transit, freight rail, intercity passenger rail, bicycle and pedestrian facilities; and significant funds to local street projects to create more transportation options that are energy efficient while reducing traffic on the state’s highways and major arterial roadways.

7)      Transit, passenger rail and freight rail are critical investments in a world of higher energy prices but must be tied to well-planned transit-oriented development and industrial centers to be cost effective.  With over 60% of the state’s population, gross state product, and most of the congestion, the Northern Virginia-Fredericksburg-Richmond-Williamsburg-Hampton Roads rail corridor should be a top state passenger rail priority, while freight rail investments are needed throughout Virginia.


We stand ready to participate in the discussions over the coming weeks leading to the Special Session, and we look forward to working with you to move Virginia forward to an economically and environmentally sustainable future.  Please feel free to contact our lead representatives: Stewart Schwartz, CSG, 703-599-6437; Lisa Guthrie, VALCV, 804-225-1902; or Trip Pollard, 434-977-4090.


(via email; phone numbers provided in lieu of signatures)

Martha Wingfield                                                          Lisa Guthrie

Chair                                                                                  Executive Director

Virginia Conservation Network                             Virginia League of Conservation Voters

(804) 644-0283                                                            (804) 225-1902

Stewart Schwartz                                                          Trip Pollard

Executive Director                                                       Land and Community Program Leader

Coalition for Smarter Growth                                   Southern Environmental Law Center

(202) 244-4408                                                             (434) 977-4090

Charles Price                                                                    Chris Miller

Chair                                                                                    President

Virginia Chapter – Sierra Club                                   Piedmont Environmental Council

(804) 225-9113                                                               (540) 347-2334

Stella Koch                                                                         Leighton Powell

Virginia Conservation Officer                                    Executive Director

Audubon Naturalist Society                                       Scenic Virginia

(703) 628-6983                                                               804-643-8439

Megan Gallagher                                                              David Foster

Director                                                                               Executive Director

Shenandoah Valley Network                                      RAIL Solution


Kim Sandum

Executive Director

Community Alliance for Preservation

(540) 209-1382