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.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Amtrak service to Norfolk, Virginia launches Wednesday

I can't claim to be exhaustively familiar with all of the state initiatives that support expanded railroad service.  The best known examples that come to mind are those in California (Amtrak California) and Oregon and Washington State (Amtrak Cascades) with service to Vancouver, British Columbia.  Then there is the Pennsylvania-supported Amtrak service from New York City/Philadelphia to Harrisburg called the Keystone ("Looming fund cuts endanger Amtrak's Keystone line" from the Philadelphia Inquirer).  And there are others. But these are the most significant state-initiated Amtrak services in terms of ridership.

Left:  Amtrak Cascades train (photographer unknown).  Both the Amtrak Cascades and California services have livery schemes different from regular Amtrak trains.  The cars and/or locomotives are owned by the respective states, not Amtrak, and additional funds for operations are provided by the states as well.

- "Amtrak California Ridership Hits Record Numbers," Transportation Nation

Probably the variety of initiatives that Virginia is sponsoring, with increased Amtrak service west and now south (Amtrak Virginia) probably reach up to the level of national best practice, even if they don't get the kind of ridership numbers of the services on the west coast.

The Norfolk Virginian-Pilot has a comprehensive story, "Ready to ride on Amtrak in Norfolk? Here's a guide," about the impeding launch of service to Norfolk, starting Wednesday.

I have written over the years about how the State of Virginia looks at improving service south of Washington into and through Virginia as a way of extending southward the Northeast Corridor (which is from DC to New York and Boston) as an economic development initiative.  I think it's quite novel actually.

While the terminus could be Richmond with service to Petersburg and Norfolk/Hampton Roads, the southern terminus could be Norfolk.  Also see "Dual powered diesel-electric locomotive introduced into service at NJ Transit and implications for long range regional railroad planning in DC, Maryland, and Virginia."

Virginia has its act together, more or less, on railroads but not roads and local transit

What's interesting is how, despite the change in governorship every four years, for the most part, Virginia's Governors have remained committed to railroad passenger service expansion, even if they can't get it together in terms of broader transportation planning, and road matters, as the Post laments in the editorial, "Running on fumes."

Bonus: A way forward for solving the State of Virginia's "insolvable" transportation funding problem

This is a three-part recommendation.

First, Jeffrey Cajka, responding in a letter to the editor to the Washington Post, "Smoothing out Va.'s road-funding woe," offers the foundation of a way out of the morass.  His letter points out that in 1932, the Byrd Road Act gave the state jurisdiction over county roads in all but two jurisdictions.  Returning that authority and responsibility for local roads to local jurisdictions changes the parameters of the discussion (not unlike how Obama's trouncing of Mitt Romney and the gain of Democratic seats in the US Senate has forced the US House of Representatives/Republican Party to engage President Obama concerning the fiscal cliff, rather than just be obstreperous and obstructive).

Second, this could be paired with an increase in the gasoline tax statewide, which would be justified by the change and mostly fund local transportation projects, along with state roadway infrastructure (Interstate highways, and maybe a network of state highways).  Virginia's state gasoline excise tax is one of the lowest in the US, and hasn't been raised in a few decades.

Third, the change could also be accompanied by an additional option of a step up local transportation gasoline (and sales) tax that could be enacted regionally (Northern Virginia could potentially pass this; the hullaballoo in the Hampton Roads about tolls makes it less likely there).

I would recommend that local option sales and gasoline excise taxes could only be enacted by a local vote that could be organized according the geography of regional transportation authorities such as the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission, the Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission, and the Transportation District Commission of Hampton Roads.

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At 8:21 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

The local road issue in Virgina is very distorted.

Of course, the reason why local control isn't passed on the county is not VDOT. It is funding. Local control would mean giving counties the ability to levy gas taxes which outside of Northrn Virignia they do not.

Absent that increase, you're in the same pickle.

A modest increase in Virginia gas taxes in neccessary, but to do so statewide or ever regionally will be very tough. More so since NoVA would require a larger and more immediate hike -- perhaps in the order of 25 cents or more within a few years.

(and there is a long history of taking taxing power away from the county and giving it to the commonwealth).

At 10:07 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Right. But it's the only way out of the morass.


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