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Changing Tack In Hampton Roads: Sustainable Transportation Policy Alternatives for Southeastern Virginia

Changing Tack In Hampton Roads: Sustainable Transportation Policy Alternatives for Southeastern Virginia

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Published by Jonathan D. Hammond
2007 thesis examining the failure of 2002's tax referendum for transportation in southeastern Virginia (i.e. Hampton Roads), and possible templates for a more feasible and primarily transit-oriented infrastructure program along similar parameters.
2007 thesis examining the failure of 2002's tax referendum for transportation in southeastern Virginia (i.e. Hampton Roads), and possible templates for a more feasible and primarily transit-oriented infrastructure program along similar parameters.

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Published by: Jonathan D. Hammond on Apr 27, 2010
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Changing Tack In Hampton Roads: Sustainable Transportation Policy Alternatives For Southeastern Virginia
Part I: The Current Crisis and How We Got Here
Southeastern Virginia has been defined throughout history – and even before – by the centralityof its deep waters. Every base industry in the Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Williamsburg, VA-NC MSA as of 2005 –shipping, tourism, shipbuilding and repair, logistics, food processing, and especially defense – isultimately a product of the waterways that surround and penetrate the entire region.
1
Indeed, its harbor,Hampton Roads, has given its name to the region at large. Even this downplays the role of itssurrounding watersheds: the bounty of shellfish that gave the Chesapeake Bay its name; the vital role of the Elizabeth and James rivers in linking America to Europe since 1607; and the region’s paramountimportance in the naval defense of the United States today.However, since the beginning of its industrialization, the relationship of Hampton Roads to itswaterways has been in flux. The first generations of steam technologies first complemented and thencompeted against the dominance of water transport throughout the region in the 19
th
century withincreasing success, allowing for the creation of a rail network circumnavigating Norfolk and theestablishment of Norfolk Southern as a major logistical player in the Mid-Atlantic region. The advent of rail allowed for the development of streetcar suburbs and the rapid development of industrial areas inNewport News and South Norfolk, but the pervasiveness of the harbor was increasingly as much of ahindrance to expansion as it was a benefit – a pattern that was exacerbated with the introduction of theautomobile, wherein the ferries linking the communities surrounding the harbor, formerly an expediencyand a convenience, became a bottleneck.As expensive bridge and tunnel systems were constructed to replace ferry services, beginningwith the James River Bridge in 1928 and reaching a crescendo in the 1950s and early 1960s with theDowntown and Midtown Tunnels and the Hampton Roads and Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnels
2
, their capacities were quickly exhausted – as were the second wave of additional bridges and tunnels designed
1
Agarwal, Vinod, et al.
The State of the Hampton Roads Economy Midway Through TheDecade.
Norfolk, VA: Old Dominion University Press, 2005.
2
Kozel, Scott M. “Roads To The Future”. Website:http://www.roadstothefuture.com/Bridge_Tunnels_VA.html
 
to complement them from the 1970s into the 1990s
3
. Compounding this problem was the rapid erosion of regional transit capacity: beginning nearly simultaneously with bridge-tunnel construction, streetcar networks in place since Reconstruction were replaced by private and public-private bus systems, with thelast Norfolk streetcar ceasing operation in the summer of 1948.With the evaporation of new-start highway funds by 1999, the prospect of further bridgeconstruction in the Hampton Roads area was rather daunting: the centerpiece of the failed $7.7 billion2003 transportation tax levy referendum was a proposed “third crossing” of Hampton Roads, with anestimated price tag of $3.2 billion
4
.The man-hour costs incurred in either transportation scenario,however, are similarly dear:
…Even if the third crossing is built, demand will exceed the capacity of the three bridge-tunnels by 2015…. One of the options is to do nothing. But[transportation consultant Philip A. Shucet] warned that if nothing is done,traffic at the [HRBT] will be stalled for 15 minutes or more, 21 times a day.“Effectively that's a congested period that lasts 24 hours a day,” hesaid.
5
Similar forecasts have been issued for other vital crossings in the region. For example, thebeleaguered Midtown Tunnel, susceptible to swamping as during Hurricane Isabel in 2003, has long sinceexceeded its capacity – especially with the completion of the Pinners Point Interchange, where now fivelanes of traffic (including that from a new freeway pouring out of rapidly sprawling northern Suffolk) funnelinto one. The I-64 High Rise Bridge across the southern Elizabeth River is predicted to be overwhelmedby suburban growth in Suffolk and Chesapeake, to say nothing of its capacity to replace the many other dilapidated and increasingly irreparable bridges spanning the Southern Branch and the Intracoastal
3
A caveat: this excepts the Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel.
4
Virginia Department of Transportation. Third Hampton Roads Crossing ConceptualProposal. Arlington, VA: Fluor Corporation of Virginia, 2004.
5
Messina, Debbie. “Regional Planners Look At Ways To Alleviate Traffic Congestion”. NorfolkVirginian-Pilot, April 17, 1997: B5.
 
Waterway.
6
 
7
On the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, building the necessary set of tubes to supportestimated cargo traffic on the new parallel span by 2014 is between $470 and $770 million, thought to liebeyond the scope of its ability to collect revenue – this with tolls of $17 to $24 for a round trip – andtherefore out of the question.
8
Other logistical issues on the shore compound these in bringing the Hampton Roads area closer to gridlock. The cities of Norfolk and Virginia Beach have concluded that mass transit investment isnecessary to facilitate massive tourist and commuter traffic; however, due to a lack of communication andpolitical trust, these neighbors are in the process of building separate and incompatible mass transitsystems, with Norfolk developing a light-rail starter line to the Virginia Beach border – mostly along anunused Norfolk Southern short-line track and some downtown streets – and Virginia Beach pursuingrapid-busing and BRT along the oceanfront and to its Pembroke Town Center redevelopment, with apossible but unfunded expansion westward to Norfolk. Neither of these proposals, however, addresstraffic to and from the various military installations that create significant logistical difficulties. There arecurrently dedicated, reversible HOV lanes between Norfolk Naval Base and Pembroke, with exits towardthe southern suburbs of Kempsville and Greenbrier; these, however, carry an average of 1.4 to 1.6passengers per vehicle while an estimated 83% of Hampton Roads commuters travel alone to work.
9
Thiscombination of solo driving and rampant HOV deadheading may be in part due to Naval Station Norfolk’sextensive free parking lots and other subsidies to drivers, a situation that is unlikely to change in the near-term. Meanwhile, the current VMT statistics estimate HOV throughput at approximately 30% of capacity,prompting arguments to convert the reversible lanes to HOT operation.
Improvements are also expected for Interstate 64 between Newport News and Richmond – anattempt to solve the “Yorktown Strangler” bottleneck in which seven lanes of westbound traffic funnel into
6
Stoughton, Stephanie. “Gilmerton Bridge Rated Region’s Worst”. Portsmouth Current, July31, 1994: p. 14.
7
Rodrigues, Janette. “Jordan Bridge Closed After Power Cable Breaks Free.” NorfolkVirginian-Pilot, November 30, 2006: B1.
8
Miller, Kevin G., et al. Commonwealth of Virginia. Joint Legislative Audit and ReviewCommission. The Future of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. Richmond, VA: JLARC, 2003.
9
Holden, Tom. “Study Says 83% Prefer To Brave Rush Hour Alone”. Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, January 18, 2007: B2.
10
Messina, Debbie. “Would You Pay To Go Solo On HOV?” Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, October 16,1997: B1.

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