VDOT Political Influence

By Loudoun Insider

An article in the Washington Post today discusses what the development industry sees as undue political influence on the recent VDOT traffic impact study for the proposed Dulles South mega-development. I don’t know all of the details, but it seems to me that it would be expected that there would be significant oversight of the study by the VDOT brass since this was touted as a pilot project study. I also don’t believe that it would surprise anyone that adding 28,000 homes just off already congested Route 50 with minimal improvements outside of the proposed neighborhoodswould add significantly to traffic congestion regionally.

Once again this shows the inequities of the disbursement of transportation dollars in Virginia, with NoVA gettting the shaft. But it also shows that the increasing divide and venom between opposing sides of the development issue assures that any study supporting anything favorable to the other side of the debate is viewed as flawed or politically corrupted.Â

Getting truly unbiased information on this issue may be impossible, but some common sense should prevail here. Must NoVA continue to grow at an unsustainable pace to the detriment of existing citizens?


Comments

  • -Disappointed LCRCer says:

    Both of the things you mentioned can be true without contradicting the other.

    28,000 new homes (and let’s be honest, this is the absolute highest number possible; we have seen lower estimates as well) in an unimproved Route 50 corridor will not work. It probably would not work well with significant improvements, for that matter.

    However, the possibility that political pressure from the highest level was put on VDOT to arrive at the politically-correct conclusion should not be overlooked. This is more than mere oversight. That is serious corruption (if true), and can be addressed without kowtowing to the developers.

    We need strong leaders who can stand up to both sides. Overdevelopment, especially without a comprehensive plan for concordant infrastructure, is a disaster. Shutting down all development is patently unfair and a clear violation of property rights. There is plenty of room in the middle to work with.

  • The Voice says:

    What is even funnier to the county residents is that after an extensive study that says no to the development, and after a VDOT Study that concurs…..four Supervisors still think they want to proceed with the plan.

    Duh.

    Putting this up to political stunts from the Governor is pretty petty coming from anyone who endorses the “political stunt meisters from the Republicans in Loudoun” chapter…

  • NoVA Scout says:

    I’m not sure what to make of this. ONe of the big regional problems in Northern Virginia is that counties make land use decisions, but impacts can be regional. The logic of the situation does cry out for some way to fly a little higher and think in terms of regional effects of developmental decisions. But VDOT seems to be winging it here and it’s not clear that VDOT is the place to get this done. If VDOT is going to be the agency that takes the 30,000 foot view of impacts on transportation of county development programs, it has to have a protocol and a legal charter for doing this kind of thing. It can’t be ad hoc for the real controversial projects. I have a lot of respect for Pierce Homer, but the worst thing that could happen is for this all to get dragged down in political sniping.

  • I agree with your sentiments, NoVA Scout, but this was dragged down into political sniping a while ago!

    Disappointed, I agree that there are extremes on both sides of the issue, but I believe that the vast majority of Loudoun citizens believe that growth in the county has been too much too fast. That said, I don’t believe that anyhwere near a majority believes that we should eliminate any and all new development.

  • Ray Hyde says:

    If it turns out that some Political Environmental Committee has applied pressure to VDOT to get the outcome they want, then this may cause serious backlash against growth management of all kinds, good and bad.

    These studies are going to have to be conducted by a disinterested third party VDOT has to stay hands off, builders have to stay hands off, PEC has to stay hands off, and local government has to stay hands off. Once the study is published, the interested parties can throw bricks at it. For that to work, the methods and assumptions will need to be open source, and the programs are going to have to be tested and validated, this can’t come from some black box. There is no traffic model that meets these requirements as far as I know.

    Information from the article suggests that estimates were drawn from te ITE traffic generation manual. A PEC spokesman was quoted as saying 28,000 homes means 280,000 trips, and nobody questions the estimates. In fact, there is considerable controversy over trip generation models. Pulling a handbook number for ordinary development out of the hat and applying it to 28,000 homes could lead to a major overestimate: the number will no doubt be high, but it could be far from 280,000.

    And we need to understand how the trips are counted. If I go to work and pick up coffee on the way and bread on the way back, that counts as four trips. Even absent political intervention the answer is fuzzy.

    Both sides are anxious for a “win”, never mind what happens to everybody else. The result is just as stated above: overdevelopment without a plan and funding for infrastructure is bad and preventing all development is also bad. The increasing polarization is a sign that both sides are becoming increasingly frantic, and PEC getting involved at this level shows that they are no better than the building lobby they so frequently oppose.

    It is fundamentally unethical for them to support a bill requiring VDOT oversight of development and then work to influence VDOT on the very first application of the law. Since we know there is no adequately tested traffic model to begin with, the law could never produce good results and my initial thought was that it was merely another way to discourage development by increasing costs.

    If you are going to put on the white hat and claim to be the good guy, you have to be above reproach.

  • Does anyone think that the developers of this project didn’t also try to influence the study? Or other governmental studies of development impacts?

  • -Disappointed LCRCer says:

    Loudoun Insider,

    All points well taken. My point was that elected officials and activists ARE on the extremes of the development issue and not in line with the majority of Loudoun residents.

    One more thing to consider: inasmuch as the majority of Loudoun residents probably do believe too much growth has occurred too quickly (and more importantly, without commensurate infrastructure), people do keep voting with their feet and wallets to move into the county.

    Like I said, complicated issue…

  • No doubt this is very complex. Referring back to the housing discussion at Bacons Rebellion, people aren’t moving in quite so fast right now. I have lots of friends in the real estate biz and it is not good right now, especially in Loudoun.

  • Steve Hines says:

    While PEC is being held up as the villain in the VDOT pilot study, it is fair to note the role of Delegate Bob Marshall. With Supervisor Steve Snow offering no legitimate representation for the voters of the Dulles District, where most of the overdevelopment is slated to take place, the citizens turned to our elected state official for leadership.

    Del. Marshall listened to the Dulles District voters when we asked for help in getting honest answers about the full impact proposed development would have in the area where we live. We are in the cross-hairs of the fight. However, all residents of Loudoun will face higher taxes and dreadful traffic if the CPAM’s are approved.

    And, on numerous occasions Mr. Snow has stated that what happens to Fairfax County is not his concern. Really? Fortunately, others don’t feel that way.

    There can be no argument that the massive development proposed for the Rt. 50 corridor will have a major impact on traffic, taxes, emergency services, personal safety and the ability of residents to live a quality life-style.

    A review of the most recent projections based on changes initiated by the Planning Commission have increased the proposed scope of development in Dulles South from the initial 28,000 houses to something which may reach 40,000 units.

    Not to have an impartial agency take a look at the potential impact on traffic is silly. I think VDOT is doing its job. They’d be remiss to pretend they have no role.

    With dollar signs in their eyes, the development community can only hope their pals on the Planning Commission and the Loudoun BOS can move with lightening speed to pass the CPAM’s. The citizens are becoming aware of the awful truth about the rezonings and are voicing their concern. Any members of the BOS seeking to run for reelection should be very concerned about how they vote.

  • The Voice says:

    Quite frankly, two of the Supervisors think they are bulletproof, one doesn’t care what happens in an election because he inked a deal with developers for his future after office, and one has thrown it right out there that he wants the development, but is completely candid in his belief that doing so actually is no worse than what the majority of the voters think the right path is.

    In the end, I believe it will cost all of them their seats. The very clear writing on the wall says that anyone aligned or perceived to be aligned with developers is a no-go in 2007. One only need to back up from the wall and read more than the single letter they are currently viewing.

  • The Voice says:

    See the number go up to 33,150 when they think they’ve pulled a fast one. Even if they’re turned down for the full 33,000, they figure they’ll still get their 28000 homes.
    Just wait for the backlash from the press and the residents. Bet that hearing fills up fast, now.

  • The Voice says:

    “There is only one way to add 28,000 homes to an area without increasing traffic on the roads — and that is by asking the residents to hitch a ride to work with Tinker Bell.”

    http://www.timesdispatch.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=RTD%2FMGArticle%2FRTD_BasicArticle&%09s=1045855934983&c=MGArticle&cid=1149190209087&path=%21editorials&rendermode=test1a

  • S. L. Smith says:

    The Planning Commission Public Hearing on Monday evening lasted nearly six hours. The speakers came out 2 to 1 in favor of the Comprehensive Plan Amendments that would allow more retail and housing along Route 50. Despite the suggestion by the no growthers that the speakers who favor the Plan Amendments were paid by developers to be there, it was clear that most were residents (like me) not tied to the development community, but instead who are deeply opposed to the profound cost and literal sprawl of the by-right development that would come in the absence of careful planning.

    Of particular frustration to me is the incessant meddling by Richmond in the matters of growth that Loudoun is essentially forced to face by exceptionally low unemployment in a region that benefits from the unbridled largesse of the Federal government. Delegate Marshall spoke and offered (less than veiled) threats should the Planning Commission proceed to a vote that evening. Thankfully, Dale Myers obtained the document that was the basis of the threat (a legal opinion that had been VERY selectively quoted in his speech) and read the parts that as she said “must have been omitted as an oversight”. Simple ideas that painted a SIGNIFICANTLY different responsibility for the County. Like bolded text making it clear that it was VDOT and not the County who was obliged to provide estimates, or the fact that these applications are not even affected by the cited legislation that won’t go into effect until 2007. . . the omissions by Marshall spoke volumes of the level he will go to in carrying water for the PEC including the hastily constructed VDOT study that Julie Pastor told the members of the Planning Commission was not included in the staff report because it was not requested by staff and staff was still reviewing the methodolgy used by VDOT to arrive at their conclusions.

    Another poignant moment came when staff (less Cindy Keegan than Ben Mays) engaged in very evasive circular speak instead of admitting that the new projections for possible numbers of homes was based on the TOTAL acreage instead of the actual acreage available to build on (Total acreage minus the acreage required for open space (I think about 30%)and minus the acreage required for civic space (maybe another 10%?) and the land for the community roads ??) You get the picture. . . the number of homes is inflated. How hard is it for staff to figure out that the entire property on a rezoning won’t be houses. That’s the beauty of planned development, it requires the developer to preserve green space and build community roads and provide shopping. Staff knows that. What other purpose can there be to not factoring that into your calculations than you’ve got a dog in the hunt? It’s not 32K homes, staff knows that, the PEC knows it and thank God, Suzanne Volpe made it clear that the Planning Commission knows it too. The temporarily 8 person PC voted to forward the CPAM’s to the BoS, the surprise was that in spite of the intense pressure from the no-growthers aided by Kaine and Marshall, the vote was 6-2 and not closer. Of course, it might have been easier to agree to develop the “transition area” after they voted just before the public hearing to forward the downzoning of the west to the BoS. Compromise on the backs of the property rights of those in the west.

  • tobias jodter says:

    Property rights, eh?

    …the endless mantra regarding the sanctity of private property rights. As I have mentioned elsewhere I hear this all the time from developers and politicians. But they are all hypocrites. The history of the development of NOVA is one long litany of legislative takings and threats of (if not actual) eminent domain proceedings against property owners who don’t/didn’t want to go along with development.

    One of the prime generators of the development of Eastern Loudoun County (Dulles Airport) came as a result of the Federal Government’s seizure of over 10,000 acres of private property.

    I wonder what percentage of proffers and rezoning applications mention the phrase “eminent domain”? I’d love to see a study on that one.

  • The Voice says:

    Mr. Smith,

    You’ll need to explain the $950 million dollar difference between the by-right and the complete screwing of the tax payers in the county.

    Do I think the county needs to stop building? No.
    Do I think the county should slow down? You bet.

    We are behind five years building the infrastructure for these houses, and we need a buffer in the time table to allow the taxpayer to catch up.

  • S.L. Smith says:

    TJ- Thanks for the courtesy of at least a name. I question the validity of comments made by anonymous posters who may or may not be the same person roboposting to suit an agenda. I’m not familiar with conservatives who bemoan forsaking property rights, but in NoVA, lots of folks on blogs are not what they appear to be.

    Whether government (politicians) engage in the thievery of property is moot. It remains a travesty that government is not just permitted, but in the case of the downzoning of Western Loudoun encouraged by the greedy mob to take the land of others. If people would like to preserve the land that the owner of the land would like to sell, I suggest that they BUY the land instead of beseeching the politicians to STEAL it for them. An alarming number of people have no idea what the difference b/w a Republic and a democracy is and even more think that our government is a democracy. . . yeesh!!! I’d expect more here, where theoretical conservatives gather.

    I have read not less than 2 dozen applications (including proffer packages) in the past 8 years as a community volunteer on an HOA committee whose mission it is to review such applications to determine the potential effects on our community and the Dulles South area. “Eminent Domain” was never once mentioned in those applications. I am NOT a developer and I have no financial ties to any developers.

    Voice- You had a 50/50 chance of guessing whether I was a man or a woman and you lose. I’d guess that you’re a male, because women do not automatically assume an initialed writer is a man. . . they know better. I don’t need to explain the theoretical difference between anything. The approval of the Comprehensive Amendment only opens the possibility of increased density in the “transition area”. Nothing could be built without the scrutiny of the individual rezoning apps that would then have to come in. If the County isn’t getting enough to mitigate the additional development, then the County should fix that (they just recently upped the per home amounts a few months ago). . . NOT summarily dismiss the idea of new homes in an area that is frankly far better suited to handle it than further Western Loudoun. Sprawl means different things to different folks, to me it is epitomized by profoundly inefficient use of the limited resource of land. By-right = sprawl. With rezonings we have the chance to hold developers accountable. . . if we don’t that is a different problem.

    Who do you think builds the infrastructure? I’ll give you a clue, in the absence of some partnership with the development community, TAXPAYERS pay for it all. . . whether VDOT dollars (that the majority of the GA is not inclined to give at all to NoVA) or county dollars, we pay for it all. While we are building the “five years of infrastructure” that you propose we are behind. . . who is going to fund that? People who actually favor by-right have another agenda than cost savings. In my experience it has everything to do with imaginary lines in the sand that might prevent the massive metro area workforce from encroaching too close to the “hallowed ground”.

    Better stop now. I noticed that Ray Hyde’s cogent response to some nonsense on another thread was blasted as being too long. Hope this is short enough for the AD crowd.

  • I believe Ms. Smith has taken up the slack for Barbara Munsey as far as defending developers in Loudoun County (Munsey has been nominated to the Planning Commission by Steve Snow to replace larry Beerman who resigned).

    Zoning does not take property, only the ability to do certain things with property, such as subdividing the heck out of it. This really is a battle over the role of zoning in shaping our communities. Some see zoning as interference with the free market, others see zoning as a reasonable means to protect the greater needs of the public at large.

    I am all for private property rights within reason – such as what activities you do on your property and what color you paint your house. Chopping it up into numerous lots to sell to others that require costly social services (schools eat up nearly three quarters of the county budget) is not in the same ballpark in my opinion. I am also against Kelo-style eminent domain proceedings which are a much more egregious abuse of government power than zoning.

    To some conservatives, conservation means just what it says.

  • S. L. Smith says:

    I believe that the Loudoun Insider is carrying water for the PEC. . . na, na, na, na, na, na. How about a discussion free of pigeon-holing? You must hardly have much of an ax-head left from all the grinding you do at Mrs. Munsey’s expense. Clearly you do not agree with her position, but unlike a typical politician, she is very clear on her opinion and it is not shaped by the latest polls but instead on her principles. I respect your right to disagree with her (and with me) but you have allowed your disdain for Mrs. Munsey to spill over in vitriolic commentary. . . something that ironically Mrs. Munsey never ever does. In the face of rudeness she never stoops to that level.

    I am a defender of property rights and those who would have their trampled by careless and selfish people. The developers do a perfectly fine job getting out their message, the people that are really getting screwed are the property owners who want to preserve the value of their property. When you say “I’m all for property rights within reason” you reflect a lack of understanding of the tenet of property rights. . . it’s not about what YOU think is reasonable . . you have no rights to determine what is reasonable, except on your own property. Taking value is TAKING you needn’t take title to STEAL. Taking value is stealing.

  • Oh Stephanie, I didn’t state anything vitriolic about Ms. Munsey in the above comment. Don’t be so sensitive. My ax-heads remain quite sharp, thank you. I am clear on my viewpoints and these viewpoints are also grounded in principle. I don’t carry water for anyone, except for my recently transplanted trees that need it for survival. I agree with some of the PEC’s positions and disagree with others. I am certain that Ms. Munsey does not agree with everything proposed by every developer. It is obvious that we come from different sides of the development issue.

    I never stated that what I think is reasonable is the law of the land – that is a ridiculous assertion. The law of the land is what is decided upon by our representatives and ruled worthy by the courts. Zoning authority has been very well established in the country for a long time. Can I assume that you are against any type of land use and zoning controls? Can you imagine the conflicts that could unleash?

  • This post is getting a bit far down the page and I promise you I will be putting up another on the relationship between religion and growth in the vein of the post above on immigration and growth. For those that think any type of development is a God-given right, I caution them to remember the biblical admonitions against greed, which really is at the heart of many of those in the development industry.

    By the way, your comments often get hung up in the moderation queue for some unknown reason (as do posts from others with no discernable rhyme or reason) – don’t think we’re trying to censor you, we welcome all perspectives.

  • S. L. Smith says:

    Oh Insider- cloaked in your anonymity. . . if this post were your only Munsey rant I would not have said what I did. Such is not the case. Your postings on this blog and elsewhere speak volumes more than your denial here.

    You apparently missed the point of my introduction. Just because someone supports an idea shared by another group or individual it doesn’t make them a “defender” (or lackey) of the group or individual. When people pigeon-hole others in that way it’s usually an attempt to discount their entire message. My calling you a water-bearer for the PEC was a fruitless attempt to point this out.

    You could assume that I am against any type of land use and zoning controls but it would be an incorrect assumption. I fully support carefully planned land use. Careful and planned land use doesn’t slam the door on development because it’s getting to close to the “hallowed ground”. It considers the needs of the region and the ramifications of inaction and finds ways to strike a balance. I’d be interested in knowing how you could justify by-right as good land use. Get past the red herring of taxpayer cost because it is so much more than that and as I have said before, there IS a way to make development pay for itself. The list of things that by-right excludes from the equation is mind-numbing. Transportation and school contributions alone are staggering.

    Every dime of money that doesn’t come from partnership with developers or a tax-base that includes a robust business economy (businesses that are attacted to an area that will allow their workforce to live nearby and thrive economically) comes from the pocket of a taxpayer. Making the developers the bad guys in this discussion is ridiculous. Whatever they pay, we don’t have to. In a situation wherein all that we pay in income taxes (except a paltry 20 cents) gets doled out to the rest of the state we really cannot afford to pay for what we could get by working cooperatively with the development community.

    You may not be ready to face this my blogging friend, but if the sacred “transition area” doesn’t get developed at the higher density of up to 4 homes per acre rather than the one home to an acre or one home to three acres, the pressure on the truly rural western Loudoun (and points even further west) will be so great that development at smaller densities but on more and more currently undivided land will occur. I would rather see the 24K homes on this side of 15 over the next 20+ years than 50K homes spread over the whole western part of the county or beyond under by-right.

    I just watched some of the webcast of the BoS meeting. If I were a betting sort, I’d gamble that that the Dulles CPAM’s will be approved and the Clem -Burton downzoning will go through. It’s not the kind of property rights I would support for the farmers who have stood up to beg the supervisors to preserve the value on their land, but it will be the compromise that politicians are always seeking. Compromise is good unless you are the one paying the price. IMHO, we have asked a terrible price from a few of the landowners who’ve been here the longest. It’s really about them and not about the developers, try as you may to make it seem otherwise.

  • I am on my way out the door but will get back later with a more detailed response (this thread has seemingly turned into our two-way discussion). I could go on and on about the benefits of anonymity in the blogging world, and commend you for putting your name to your posts – I did the same when commenting. The whole by-right is bad mantra is another red herring in my opinion. By right means in conformity with the comprehensive plan, which had a long vetting process. The extra amenities proffered come at a steep price- tons of houses and citizens requiring services, and most significantly from the budgetary perspective – school kids. Check out the immigration thread – we have the option of limiting growth both nationwide and locally.

  • BlackOut says:

    Barbara is an effective debater for her views and opinions. There is no doubt she believes what she says. Her passion and vigilance are to be commended. She has been very outspoken about her views and the public dialog she participates in is valuable when evaluating all sides of issues.

    With that said, I do not think she is a good choice for the Commission. Her strong views have lead her to alienate a lot of people, and I would think now more than ever someone with more diplomatic capabilities should be considered for the position.

    She is preceived, and I think rightfully so, as being a strong advocate for interests important to South Riding and South Riding only. To me she shows no concern for the big picture. No interest in Ashburn, and certainly no interest in the views of the West.

    Her strong views provide valuable content for debate, but I don’t see her being a person to broker concensus, and that’s my problem with her appointment. She is to divisive and controversial to be able to walk the tight rope of “bi-polar” issues a commissioner is to face. Someone with the ability to see all sides of issues is what we need, not someone who is combative and is carrying an agenda.

    I have always though the divide between Dulles South and Dulles North has been a detriment to Ashburn and to South Riding. Unfortunately I think Ms Munsey promotes this divide. There are many folks working to erase this, Robert Dupree to name someone. I would like to see someone who recognizes this dynamic, and would be interested in the District as a whole.

    Unfortunately I do not think Supervisor Snow helps this issue with media comments such as, “”I sat and thought, who better knows Dulles South and has been an ardent supporter of the area, (Barbara) is a local citizen activist with intimate knowledge of the issues in the community.”…

    I would prefer to see a nominee who is interested in all of Loudoun County, rather than someone that is so vocal about parochial interests. I would have liked to have seen a nominee who supports and understand issues outside of South Riding. Unfortunately Mr. Snow never asked for the opinions of those north of him.

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