Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Examiner can never resist taking a cheap shot against local government

Yesterday's Examiner's editorial, "BRAC exposes failure of local government 'planning'" is the cheapest of cheap shots. From the article:

The academy study blames "fundamental flaws" in the BRAC decision-making process and "poor communication" between military installations and local transportation authorities. All true, but well-paid city, county and state officials have known about the BRAC relocation for five years -- well before the 2008 economic downturn. They were also told well in advance that the Defense Department generally does not pay for local road improvements. Their collective failure to make critical transportation improvements well in advance of the long-awaited BRAC move is simply inexcusable. Local voters should remember those responsible when the next election rolls around.

What I think is inexcusable is that the BRAC process fails to consider transportation impacts and fails to provide funding to mitigate the transportation impacts and needs it creates. Where's the editorial about that?

First, the BRAC military base consolidation process specifically ignored transportation impacts of changes in the location of military installations.

In fact, I wrote about this as a major problem back in August 2005 ("Military Base Relocation").

Even this Baltimore Examiner (no longer published) article from 2007, "Army informs county of effects of BRAC's population influx," illustrates the problem, as the presentation indicated that as a result of the base consolidations affecting the Aberdeen Proving Grounds, 52,000 more people were expected to relocate to Maryland as a result. This over a 4 year period.

And the Examiner expects the local governments to react immediately and with unlimited funding I suppose? Just because the Examiner wasn't around in 2005 (then it was still the Suburban Journal Newspaper Group) doesn't excuse them from failing to acknowledge the nature and extent of the problems foisted on local governments.

Second, the BRAC legislation limits Department of Defense "responsibility" for paying for any necessary improvements to transportation infrastructure, although funds can be obtained in separate appropriations processes.

Third, this is the classic definition of a kind of unfunded mandate, because changes in job location to more distant and disconnected places increases the demand for new transportation infrastructure.

These evident problems with the BRAC process have nothing to do with the ability or lack thereof on the part of local planners, and everything to do with how the process was structured, both by the Department of Defense and by Congress.

Fourth, even in a well-funded and planned situation, transportation infrastructure, especially of any significance, takes upwards of 8-10 years to be constructed, after the various planning, design, engineering, impact studies, appropriations, contracting, and construction steps are taken into consideration.

E.g., the H Street reconstruction in NE DC is a fast tracked project. Planning for that started in 2003. It's now 2011, and it should be finished next year (if you include other streetcar electrification requirements). That's very good. It's quite rare for transportation projects to go immediately into design and engineering after the planning phase (although the relatively simple improvements in Brookland on 12th Street NE have occurred even faster).

Add 10 years to the 2005 promulgation of changes as a result of BRAC decisions made in August 2005, and you get 2015.

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