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    Document Summary
    - Report Published -

    Senate Document No. 23

    Document Title
    Cost of Reviewing State and Local Transportation Plans

    Department of Transportation

    Enabling Authority
    Chapter 527 4. (Regular Session, 2006)

    Executive Summary
    During the 2006 Session, Virginia’s General Assembly enacted Chapter 527 of the 2006 Acts, which was designed to improve the coordination of state and local transportation planning. The new provisions are part of an effort to compel more coordination between localities and the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT). The act requires that localities submit comprehensive plans, rezonings, traffic impact statements (TISs), site plans, and subdivision plats to VDOT for review if they will have a substantial impact on state-controlled highways.

    Chapter 527 also requires that fees be imposed by VDOT for the reviews:

    The Department [VDOT] shall impose fees and charges for the review of applications, plans and plats ... and such fees and charges shall not exceed the actual cost to the Department, or $1,000, whichever is less, for each review.

    This study was undertaken in response to the General Assembly’s requirement in Chapter 527 of the 2006 Acts that VDOT “submit a report to the Governor and the General Assembly by December 1, 2006, identifying the costs of conducting the reviews required by this act and recommending a reasonable fee schedule for such reviews.”

    The purpose of this study was to determine the cost to VDOT of reviewing individual land development proposals. This study attempts to determine the cost to VDOT of each type of land development review now mandated by the General Assembly in Chapter 527 and to recommend appropriate fees for carrying out the reviews. Although TISs are of particular importance to VDOT, this study did not focus exclusively on TISs, but rather on VDOT’s role in the entire land development review process. However, the attempt to determine the costs of reviews of individual land development proposals proved to be problematic. A preliminary search for data on the cost of performing the reviews failed to turn up sufficiently complete data to allow a determination of the cost. These reviews are performed at VDOT’s districts and residencies, and VDOT staff at the residency and the district offices has not been required to keep sufficiently detailed or sufficiently complete records of the number of hours spent doing the reviews of individual land development submissions to allow the actual cost of performing the reviews to be determined. Therefore, in the absence of credible cost accounting data sufficiently detailed to determine the actual costs of the reviews, the authors of this study undertook a survey of VDOT employees who perform the reviews on a day-to-day basis in an attempt to obtain reasonable estimates of VDOT’s costs.

    The authors asked VDOT reviewers from throughout the state—that is, VDOT employees who regularly review land development proposals—to examine seven actual proposals from the Culpeper District’s archives and to estimate the amount of time that would be required to review them. The results of the survey also turned out to be somewhat problematic: There is wide variation in the estimates of the amount of time required to conduct the reviews. The authors have no conclusive explanation for the variation in the estimates; however, many of the individuals who participated in the survey remarked to the authors that it was very difficult to accurately estimate the time that would be required to conduct reviews of the sample proposals, and many expressed a lack of confidence in the accuracy of their estimates. It is, of course, possible that the variation in the estimates simply reflect the difficulty of accurately estimating the amount of time required to carry out a review. The authors have noted one possibly illuminating pattern in the results: For five of the seven samples used in the survey, the Northern Virginia (NOVA), Hampton Roads, and Fredericksburg Districts have the three lowest estimates for the time required to conduct the reviews, and for the other two samples, two of these districts have the lowest estimates, and the third is near the lower end of the estimates also. These three districts have staff that is largely dedicated to conducting land development reviews, although, here and there, there are also individuals in the other districts who, for the most part, work solely on reviewing land development proposals. By contrast, some of the individuals who perform the reviews in the other districts often have other duties, and the effects of these multiple—and simultaneous—demands on their time may have significant consequences both in their ability to perform the reviews quickly and in their ability to provide accurate estimates of the amount of time that it would take them to perform the reviews. Some of these reviewers told the authors that they are seldom able to devote a large block of time to focusing on a review. Their reviews are frequently interrupted by the need to do other tasks, including trips into the field for any number of reasons. So, for example, although a reviewer whose job is largely focused on reviewing land development proposals may be able to devote a block of time to the review and get it done in a matter of a day or two, the reviewers in the districts in which there isn’t a dedicated staff devoted to conducting land development reviews may take a week or longer to finish the same review, not because it takes that many hours to perform the review but because with all of the interruptions of the review process, it takes that long to finally get it finished. Obviously, having the review process constantly interrupted is almost certainly going to mean that it will take longer to finish, and it will also make it much harder to estimate just how long the different types of reviews take. More research would be needed to justify a conclusion of this sort about variations in the review process, but it would not be unreasonable to expect that individuals who can devote large blocks of their time solely to conducting reviews would be more efficient at it and also better able to provide accurate estimates of the time it takes them to conduct the reviews.

    Although this study focused on VDOT’s role in the entire land development process, the authors were aware that TISs are, for obvious reasons, of particular interest to VDOT; consequently, three TISs were included in the samples that were used in the statewide survey. The three TISs chosen for use as samples were of different levels of complexity. The aggregation of the estimates from the survey (shown in Table ES1) shows that the review of any TIS is going to cost VDOT more than $1,000, and in the case of complex TISs, a $1,000 fee will only recoup a small percentage of the cost to VDOT of doing the review.