Sunday, July 28, 2013

Congrats to DVRPC on New Long-Range Plan

DVRPC, the Philadelphia area MPO, covering counties both in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, has just adopted its new regional Long-Range Plan, Connections 2040 (link here), and as one would expect from one of the best planning agencies in the country, they have done a fine job.
Long-range planning is tough in an environment of self-imposed poverty in funding and pessimism in outlook at all levels of government, but DVRPC’s stakeholders and staff go boldly forth to identify goals and needs and make tough choices. 
On the land use side, the plan promotes a “recentralization” scenario with limited greenfield growth.  The land use plan designates centers and areas for infill and redevelopment, emerging growth, rural resource lands, and a greenspace network. 
The transportation funding piece is probably the most difficult element of the plan, given the Plan To Fail requirement of federal law.  The Plan To Fail requirement (as I call it) says that regional plans must be limited to those projects and programs which can be funded using the pathetic financial resources actually available right now.  Sure enough, the DVRPC plan selects projects and programs that – under Plan To Fail – will lead to an increase in the number of structurally deficient bridges, worse highway pavements, and a general deterioration of the transportation system over time.
The folks at DVRPC adhere to the letter of the law but also go a step beyond, as they should, and identify a “Vision Plan,” in which the plan’s goals are actually met, in addition to the “Funded Plan,” in which they are not.  I will provide just one set of numbers.  The Vision Plan would require about $119 Billion to meet the region’s needs by 2040.  The Funded Plan has only $53 Billion available.  Shortfall? - $66 Billion.  (These numbers support my own rule-of-thumb, which rarely fails, which says that most DOTs and transportation agencies should be investing at about twice their current level to meet their needs.)

Unfortunately, I have to say that even the Vision Plan doesn’t get us where we need to be.  Yes, it would get the infrastructure to a reasonable state of good repair (over a very long stretch of time).  And it would fix a few major highway bottlenecks and build a few transit extensions and do many other good and important things.  But all those steps are basically clean up/paint up/fix up for a 20th century transportation network.  There is nothing transformational.  Nothing about designing and building a real 21st-century transportation network.  So, congratulations to DVRPC on an excellent plan – but a reminder that we have plenty more work to do!

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