Capital District                                                                                                      March 8, 2004

Transportation Committee



Expanded Mission Statement for Working Group C:

Costs and Benefits of Potential Major Investments



Basic Charge


The charge is to guide the preparation of a technical report, “Costs and Benefits of Potential Major Investments”.  The subject includes enumeration of plausible high-scale candidate investment for the Capital District, drawing from initiatives viewed as successful in other regions of the nation.  These range from rebuilding I-787 as a riverfront arterial to urban rail systems (ala Raleigh-Durham).


Additionally, the group will guide the preparation of another technical report, “Transportation System Design and Regional Settlement Patterns”.  The work will involve a review of land use – transportation interrelationships with a particular emphasis on the likely influence of transportation policy on broad patterns of suburban development, urban revitalization, and open space protection.


Suggested Approach


CDTC’s existing New Visions plan reflects the results of prior examinations of options for I-87 expansion, commuter rail, light rail and other major investments.  The general findings have been that the costs of such investments would be quite high; the resources for them hard to find; and the benefits insufficient to warrant pursuit in the near term.  Current consensus CDTC policy emphasizes investment in transportation system renewal, management, and limited strategic improvements across all modes and throughout the region.  This policy and available financial resources are generally incompatible with pursuit of expensive highway or transit projects – particularly if their benefits are less than regional in nature.


The suggested approach for the new exploration is to acknowledge the legitimacy of the previous findings and current policy, but go further to ask the questions, “Are other metropolitan areas that are facing similar issues reaching different conclusions?  If so, how and why?  Why are they pursuing expensive highway or transit projects when the Capital District would not reach a conclusion that building is feasible or urgent?  For those who have already implemented major investments, are they getting the benefits they expected?  Do they still feel the investment was wise?”


In other words, CDTC’s participants know why we hold the policies we hold, but are willing to ask, “Is there another way to look at the same data?”


The technical and policy review of these initiatives is the primary place in the New Visions 2030 effort for consideration of “big ticket” and “big idea” initiatives.  The implementation price tag of “big idea” initiatives (such as congestion pricing or extensive trail development) is not necessarily measured in the hundreds of millions of dollars, but may be viewed routinely as just as infeasible as the “big ticket” projects.  After reviewing the details of major initiatives in other metropolitan areas, the possible local application of these initiatives in the Capital District will be described and discussed.



Work to Date


To get a head start on this effort, the CDTC staff has begun to investigate major investments and initiatives of many kinds that are being pursued or have been recently implemented in other metropolitan areas.  The list of those considered includes the following:


  1. Regional Transit Plan/Regional Rail Project, North Carolina
  2. Central Artery/Tunnel Project, Boston
  3. Central London Congestion Pricing
  4. Removal of Park East Freeway Stub, Milwaukee
  5. Transitway, Ottawa
  6. Baltimore Washington Maglev
  7. Vancouver Greenways Program
  8. Minnesota DOT Noise Abatement Program
  9. Los Angeles Transit Priority System
  10. Portland Light Rail Transit and Growth Boundary


This list reflects major initiatives in the area of rail transit (1, 2, 6, 10); urban freeway removal and land reclamation (2, 4); congestion pricing (3); urban growth boundaries (10), bus rapid transit (5, 9); extensive trail system development (7); and, expressway noise abatement (8).  A limited number of additional initiatives in other metro areas will also be explored, after consultation with the working group. 


It is recognized that there is a degree of overlap between the agenda of this working group and that of working group B which focuses on expressway system options.  The work of this group on expressway-related initiatives will be coordinated with the work of group B (such as exploration of “High Occupancy Toll” lanes) that falls in the category of “big ticket” initiatives.  The growth boundary aspects will be coordinated with the work of group D (“larger than regional” policy issues).


Fact sheets have been prepared for each of the ten initiatives listed.


New Work Proposed 


The working group will assist CDTC staff in identifying additional initiatives in other metropolitan areas for consideration, and in framing the discussion of them.  Second, the new work will involve identifying a Capital District application for each of the relevant initiatives and discussing the costs, benefits, feasibility and other aspects of these applications.


In parallel, CDTC staff will seek to update the New Visions plan’s representation of the relationship between transportation investment and settlement patterns.  The existing plan contains a very explicit perspective on this subject and CDTC has adopted a number of planning and investment principles based on this perspective.  This all resulted from serious technical and policy exploration during the mid-1990’s, including land use and transportation modeling work and the technical report by the Demographics and Land Use Futures Task Force.  Essentially, the current policy reflects an understanding that (1) careful transportation and land use planning and design can significantly affect community character and function, but that (2) no transportation actions are on the table today that have a realistic opportunity to affect regional settlement patterns.


This understanding will be reviewed in the light of recent Capital District experience and the transportation – land use interactions evident in the major initiatives reviewed from other metropolitan areas.


Presentation of Conclusions


In addition to providing technical discussion of the material, the product of the exercise will be a presentation of conclusions.  Following the New Visions practice, this will include a discussion of principles and actions that the working group believes to represent a likely regional consensus regarding (a) the potential applicability of various “big ticket” or “big idea” projects to the Capital District and (b) an update to CDTC’s approach to transportation and land use integration.  Material produced by the working group will also identify major policy questions facing the region for which the working group cannot assume to state a likely regional consensus position.






The five working groups are on a tight schedule to provide technical and policy input to the New Visions 2030 process.  The suggested schedule for Working Group C is shown below.


March – April 2004                            Establish working group, agree on work program

April – May 2004                               Complete fact sheet evaluations of major initiatives in other metro areas; explore land use impacts

May – June 2004                                 Flesh out Capital District applications

June – September 2004                       Evaluate and document findings re: big ticket and big idea initiatives

September – October 2004                 Complete documentation of conclusions on big ticket and big idea initiatives and transportation – land use relationships for broader review and dialogue.