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Supervisors take steps to have Loudoun County take over traffic studies conducted by developers

In a bid to fix what county leaders described as the “broken” process of land-use applicants being responsible for conducting traffic studies for their own proposed developments, Loudoun supervisors have decided to look instead into having the county carry out the studies to make the process more credible.

Currently, land-use applicants are responsible for hiring traffic consultants to conduct the studies for their projects to assess the traffic impact of an application and potential mitigation measures.

The county’s Department of Traffic and Capital Infrastructure (DTCI) then uses those studies in its review of land-use applications as the basis to negotiate proffered commitments and to develop conditions for approval of an application.

Over the last three years, DTCI said it received 173 applicant-prepared traffic studies, which included both the initial study submitted by the applicant with a new land-use application, as well as revisions to the applicant’s initial study in response to the department’s referral comments.

“At the end of the day we have a process right now that is broken,” said Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles), the co-author of the initiative. “It’s not something that’s necessarily readily apparent on the surface, but the more you dig into land-use applications, the more you realize that the current way is not working. I do believe out of the sake of our own integrity, we need to do a better job one way or the other, and I think having the county be the entity that is ultimately responsible for the traffic study and more importantly the assumptions that are based in the traffic study is a way to give credibility to the process.”

County staff and several supervisors cautioned that having the county take over the traffic studies could result in more resources needed for additional staff, consultants and software. They also said the change could delay applications and add to the time it takes to coordinate with applicants and potentially mitigate conflicts with proffers.

Supervisor Tony Buffington (R-Blue Ridge), who co-authored the initiative with Letourneau, admitted that if the county took on the traffic studies the county might pay more upfront. But in the long run, Buffington said he believes the initiative could ultimately save the county money.

Buffington criticized an excerpt of the staff’s report that pointed out that improvements proffered by applicants as part of an application are based on the traffic analysis and are not dependent on DTCI’s analysis, but only on the review of the applicant’s study.

“There is no potential conflict if the applicant controls all of the analytic inputs for the traffic study,” the staff report read.

“That sums up for me the exact reason we’re bringing this forward, and the exact problem is that the applicant or the developer controls everything basically for this study, and I don’t think it should be that way,” Buffington said of the staff report.

Buffington said it was an issue that affects all districts and that the fundamental questions was: “Are we going to continue down a path that favors developers and ends up costing the county time and money in the long run?” Or, “Are we going to take advantage of this opportunity to make a change that favors our residents?”

But Loudoun appears to be not the only locality where applicants are responsible for conducting traffic studies for their land-use proposals. The county said it spoke to at least five other counties in Virginia, and none of them conduct an independent traffic study.

Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large) said while she thought Letourneau and Buffington’s initiative sounded like the most logical thing to do, she cautioned against giving county staff additional work without more funds in place.

“My biggest hesitation is we’re going to possibly vote on something and then not vote for the resources in place when we get to the budget, and that makes me really nervous because we’re stretched pretty thin already,” she said.

County staff will study the possibility of taking over the traffic study process and provide the board with input on potential changes to the process at a later date.


Contact the writer at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or on Twitter at @SydneyKashiwagi.

Comments


So here in Loudoun we have developers doing their own traffic impact studies, and we have the Dulles Area Association of Realtors and the Northern Virginia Building Industry Association (and other conflicted parties) telling us that we need to build MORE housing because it’s “in a crisis”.  But builders could also reduce their profits, right?  In the last 3 months, Toll Brothers and PulteGroup announced better than expected profits to Wall Street. Sounds like a ‘crisis’, doesn’t it?  I’m sure you can find other Loudoun builders who performed just as well.  Realtors could drop their average 6% tax, er, I mean “commission” on home sales,  which would go a long way towards making housing affordable.  But they didn’t offer any of that, did they?

We also have sob stories from business like Sterling’s Cuisine Solutions telling the Board they _HAVE_TO_ spend $1 million to bus in cheap labor from other counties.  They’d rather use that $1,000,000 to ship in cheaper labor than fund higher wages for their employees? And that’s the taxpayer’s problem?

Can we not all see the conflict of interest issues plaguing each and every one of these situations?

The voters of Loudoun have figured out these scams.  The Board better figure them out quickly as well.


I have many doubts if any politician is credible. 

J.E., Ms Randall may believe in free speech, but she also said that folks in the east say “stupid” things to her.  This statement was made while pandering to her wealthy “friends” in the west. 

The politicians, sadly, do not change.  The swamp needs to be continuosly flushed.


Talk about credible, Chair Randall says “I believe in free speech” then shuts down public comment at transportation summit. She says “without Maryland a Potomac River Bridge is a waste of time” then she votes for it, she says “she represents Loudoun county’s desire when it comes to a bridge” yet the Envision report has it at 200 against the bridge and 12 for it yet she votes for it,  she says “the bridge will reduce carbon emission by reducing the number of cars on the American Legion bridge by 8000 cars a day” she just forgot the NVTA which she is the vice chair of estimate of 80,000 cars a day dumped onto route 7 and 28 from a Potomac bridge and talk about ethics why did the NVTA report from the June 29th Transportation summit have the Loudoun county seal affixed to their pages adding unearned panache to the NVTA presentation?


The BOS will also manipulate (pressure) staff to come to conclusion that they want in order to pay back the developer that put them in office.  This new scenario might be just as bad.


Does that mean Phyliss Randall will have to think for herself instead of parroting NVTA talking points?


The developers pay tens of thousands to sub-consultants for these studies.  Thus, the County needs to lift that private cost from developers, and turn it into a FEE as part of the Application submittal process. And then, the developer is paying for the study, but the County is in the driver’s seat.  The SCOPE of the study, the components that go into the traffic modeling software, SHOULD be the same.  As with anything with numbers, they are manipulable, and that is where the private traffic engineer turns data into results that favor (ie, generate fewer costs) the developer.  The County argues these findings, and that’s when you have staff “issues” come to light.  IF changed, the developer will find “issues” with the County findings, and the script is flipped. Staff will say, the TIA says X dollars and X improvements, and the developer will argue, and they will - get this - commission THEIR OWN separate TIA, and then counter the County’s findings. Have we gained anything, have we gotten anywhere? Only if the BOS stands by their staff. If they don’t, nothing gained.

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