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Case Study in Integrating Land Use and Transportation Decisions - The Capital District of New York

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Development Patterns

The metropolitan area surrounding Albany, NY is a multi-centered
region with low and moderate density development. The metropolitan
statistical area includes six counties and has a population of
approximately 900,000. Four counties (Albany, Rensselaer, Saratoga
and Schenectady) contain nearly 90% of that population and provide
a traditional metropolitan service boundary for the regional
transit operator (Capital District Transportation Authority),
regional planning, board (Capital District Regional Planning
Commission) and regional transportation planning agency (Capital
District Transportation Committee). The Capital District
Transportation Committee (CDTC) is the designated "Metropolitan
Planning, Organization" (MPO) for purposes of fulfilling federal
transportation law.

Urban development in the Capital District has its origins in the
largely independent development of its four central cities --
Albany, Troy, Schenectady and Saratoga Springs. The triangle formed
by Albany, Troy and Schenectady provided ample room between cities
for suburban development through the 1960's and 1970's. Radial
suburban development has been modest in all directions except to
the north, alone, I-87 (the Adirondack Northway) into Saratoga
County. Saratoga County has had among the most rapid growth rates
in New York over the past two decades.

The resulting urban development is scattered. Albany, as the
largest municipality, houses barely 100,000 residents. Ten other
cities or towns have at least 20,000 residents. There are several
city and suburban employment centers with employment of 3,000 to
15,000 each. Only the Albany central business district, with
approximately 40,000 employees, is a major downtown trip


New York is a strong home rule state with regard to land use
decisions. There is no formal state planning, agency or formal set
of state land use goals. State statutes governing the local land
use regulatory process are arcane and inconsistent. As a result,
standards for what constitutes legally defensible local land use
regulation are derived more from case law than from statute. Case
law has supported communities in the use of zoning, subdivision and
other land use regulations even when not founded on an adopted
comprehensive plan.

On the other hand, the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR)
statutes are strong. When combined with limited use of
comprehensive planning, the strong environmental rules leads to a
highly reactive decision making process. Development projects and
the SEQR impact


assessment process often provide the occasion for discussion of
community issues that have not been previously addressed.

Often the most visible impacts of development projects are impacts
on traffic. In terms of Governance, New York provides three
opportunities for interface between the transportation community
and the development community. First is the highway permitting
process. Depending upon whose highway is involved, either the
county or the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT)
must approve work (curb cuts, signal installation, etc.) on its
highways. NYSDOT insists upon adequate site impact evaluation and
mitigation of any degradation in level-of-service as part of its
permit approval process. Counties vary in the sophistication of
their review of permit requests.

The second opportunity for interface is through the Section 239
process in state law, which mandates referral to the county
planning agency of all local actions near county or state highways.
Counties vary in the amount of attention spent on 239 reviews, but
in general the 239 process is not the primary mechanism for
resolving conflicts over land use actions. A negative county action
on a project reviewed can be over-ridden by the local agency.

The third interface is the SEQR process. While the community
maintains "lead agency" status for SEQR for most development
projects, NYSDOT and other transportation agencies are often
identified as "affected" or "interested" parties and join in the
review. The SEQR process is more likely than the permit review
process to address longer range transportation issues involving the
cumulative impacts of development.

Use of formal "transportation development districts" is rare in New
York; there is no broad state enabling,, legislation for
communities to enact districts. Town-wide impact fees imposed in
the town of Guilderland (in the Capital District) were struck down
by the courts in the late 1980's. However, the town of Colonie
(also in the Capital District) has implemented mitigation fees that
are directly tied to SEQR impact statements without legal

Involvement of Metropolitan Planning Organizations such as the
Capital District Transportation Committee in the SEQR process
varies across the state. Because an MPO does not have a vested
interest (it does not own any highways or operate any transit
services), special circumstances generally need to be present for
the SEQR lead agency to involve the MPO in the review. State law
affords no special status to the MPO in the SEQR process. (MPOs
"hosted" by county planning agencies or by regional NYSDOT offices
are more likely to be involved in SEQR review than other MPOs in
New York.)

Consideration of transit concerns in subdivision and site design
review varies from community to community but has had generally
limited success.


MPO Structure

CDTC and its sister agencies across the state are creatures of
federal law. They exist to satisfy the federal requirements for
cooperative decision making regarding metropolitan transportation
plans and programs and their influence is rooted in control of
federal transportation funds. CDTC's five year "transportation
improvement program" includes over $500,000,000 in federal highway
and transit projects.

MPOs in New York operate on the unique principle of action by
consensus - with consensus generally defined as "unanimity of all
affected parties". Most of these Waste, like CDTC, have their
origins in the mid-1960's and have historically included the state,
counties, cities, regional planning boards and principal transit
operators as voting members.



The home rule nature of land use decision-making in New York, the
separation of regional transportation planning and regional land
use planning into two agencies, and the requirement of consensus
before WEST action, presents a challenge to those seeking to
integrate land use and transportation planning, in New York. The
size of the federal transportation program, and the collective
responsibility of the MPO members in directing. these funds
represents a significant opportunity to foster Intention of land
use and transportation planning but the MPO must be engaged in
these issues and members must be prepared to use MPO clout in
encouraging linkages.

A series of initiatives by CDTC has been relatively successful in
meeting this challenge. While this effort must be considered a
"work in progress", the initiatives have had the cumulative effect
of putting the land use transportation relationship on the table
for discussion more often in the Capital District than in some
other urban areas. These initiatives have included ten sequential

     1.   Adding suburban towns (on a rotating basis) to the MPO
          policy structure.

     2.   Shifting the focus of the long range regional plan from
          new highways to localized solutions to critical problems.

     3.   Assuming the lead role in traffic modeling.


     4.   Offering communities a lead role in addressing existing
          traffic problems and the traffic impacts of cumulative
          development through a shared-cost "Cooperative
          Transportation Plan" concept.

     5.   Developing, a regional policy on public-private highway

     6.   Offering communities technical assistance in reviewing
          routine site impact studies and assessing traffic
          mitigation fees.

     7.   Establishing, Transportation Improvement Program (TIP)
          screening criteria which require land use management as a
          prerequisite to highway widening.

     8.   Assigning priority use of federal funds to implementing
          the projects and programs identified in the cooperative
          transportation plans.

     9.   Setting aside $500,000 for a "Corridor Management
          Initiative" to provide for land use planning, along,
          critical corridors to complement the cooperative
          transportation planning work.

     10.  Engaging town, county and city officials along with
          business leaders, freight providers, environmental
          advocates and the general public in a "New Visions"
          initiative focussed on the next Generation of policy
          issues (those beyond 2000, using, a year 2015 horizon).

The following provides further details of these initiatives. 

Step 1.   Expanded Policy Structure

CDTC was created in 1964 in the mode of other upstate New York
transportation planning, groups with local government
representation limited to counties and cities. In 1976, CDTC
revised its policy structure to add two rotating positions for
direct representation of towns and villages. Over the years, these
positions have been increasingly reserved for suburban towns. A
one-year period as an alternate and a one-year period as member
allow the two positions to involve four key town leaders in the UTO
policy structure at any time. Over a period of a few years, nearly
all of the towns experiencing development pressure have a direct
presence at the MPO table.

The effect of this (particularly relative to other Waste in New
York) is a greater awareness and appreciation of the MPO and its
responsibility by communities experiencing development pressure.


Step 2.   Shifted Regional Transportation Plan Focus

CDTC's first generation regional plan completed in 1971 provided a
major highway element and transit element. The highway element was
composed primarily of bypasses and other new expressways and
surface arterials. Many of these projects proved to be infeasible,
having, been evaluated primarily on the basis of their contribution
to the overall transportation system not on the basis of their
acceptability to the community.

In 1981, the regional transportation plan was thoroughly revised.
The new plan set priorities among twenty-four corridors and areas
containing traffic congestion, high accident rates or physical
deterioration. The new plan stated that no specific recommendation
would be placed on the regional plan until after a localized study
was completed.

The result of this action was to shift attention from the state
(what is the state proposing for our community?) to the community
(what do we want to see happen?) in a cooperative process for
finding acceptable solutions.

In recent years, relative priorities among various corridors and
areas were reassessed based on current conditions and ten-year
projections of congestion and development. The emphasis on local
solutions remains, however.

Step 3.    Assuming the Modeling Function

While the location of the transportation model does not appear to
be central to a discussion of land use policy, CDTC's choice in
1987 to establish its own modeling, capabilities was significant in
meeting the land use challenge. Shortly after CDTC's decision was
made, NYSDOT shut down its own modeling procedures. From that
point, CDTC became the source of official traffic forecasts and
modeling guidance.

Further, CDTC's investment in data collection for model calibration
improved its technical credibility in the eyes of local government.
At the point that a model became available through the MPO, local
government interest in exploring land use / transportation issues
increased significantly.

Step 4.    Cooperative Transportation Plans

The most significant initiative taken by CDTC has been to position
the needed local plans as an opportunity for local government.
Beginning in 1988, CDTC began entering into contractual agreements
with individual communities on the request of the community. The
scope of the


work is mutually determined to both address local concerns and
advance regional system

L planning. Transportation modeling and alternatives assessment is
performed by CDTC staff. Basic land use information and definition
of future land use scenarios is provided by the community. The
prime 'client" is the town planning board.

Costs of the effort vary with the scope and range from
approximately $30,000 to close to $80,000. 'ne community's share of
the cost also varies, depending upon the issues. Communities have
committed as little as $8,000 and as much as $40,000 in support of
CDTC staff work.

To date, CDTC has contracted for work in six separate
municipalities; a seventh study will begin shortly. While these
efforts were scheduled in response to community interest, they
parallel regional priorities well. The seven studies, combined with
traditional corridor studies performed by CDTC and NYSDOT without a
contractual relationship with the municipality, cover eight of the
ten most congested corridors in the metropolitan area. (The other
two are expressway corridors.)

Two of the seven study efforts cover entire towns; the remainder
focus on particular areas or specific corridors. Figure I indicates
the locations of these contractual agreements for land use and
transportation studies.

These studies have, to varying degrees, resolved long standing
issues regarding the desirability of highway widening in these
communities. They have also raised and begun the discussion toward
resolving issues of access management, appropriate levels of 'build
out" and equitable levels of financial contributions to be required
of developers to mitigate traffic impacts. Requirements for demand
management and supplemental transit service have also derived from
these efforts.

Step 5.    Public-Private Financing Policy

In February 1989, the New York State Department of Transportation
issued a policy on public-private highway financing. For the first
time, the state indicated that it would expect contributions from
municipalities for highway improvements on state highways
necessitated by cumulative local development. Prior to this point,
only large scale developments that individually triggered
improvements would be required to pay for or carry out highway

Seizing the opening offered by NYSDOT, CDTC worked with local
governments and the business community and released its "Public -
Private Highway Financing Policy" in September, 1989. The policy
provides alternative approaches (focussing either on new
development or all development in a corridor) to carefully
associate trip impacts from individual properties with the costs of
accommodating cumulative growth.


Click HERE for graphic.

These formulas have been applied to development projects both on
and off the state system in several communities and serve as the
underpinning of shared cost (combined federal aid mitigation fee)
projects included in CDTC's transportation improvement program.

Step 6.   Provision of Technical Assistance

CDTC has long been responsive to community concerns, and has
programmed staff time for provision of services" on call. This
commitment was redoubled in the late 1980's after development of
regional modeling capabilities. CDTC currently offers technical
assistance to all communities in the review of site impacts of
development projects.

This service is used to varying degrees by communities; the town of
Colonie is the most active and contractually supplements CDTC's
federal funding with $20,000 annually in town funds to carry out
this activity. These funds are used to review projects, calculate
mitigation fees and recommend specific actions to require of
developers that advance system plans.

The town has collected over $2,000,000 through this process toward
implementing the transportation plan identified in a Generic
Environmental Impact Study (GEIS) of the airport area. The GEIS was
an outgrowth of a cooperative transportation plan effort of CDTC's
in the same study area.

This level of "hands on" involvement in development actions
provides an opportunity to ensure that systems-level, long range
transportation issues are addressed (where feasible) in everyday
actions by the community. CDTC is making efforts to ensure
coordination of recommendations regarding systems-level issues with
comments from NYSDOT and the county.


Step 7.    TIP Screening Criteria

In 1992, CDTC revised its Transportation Improvement Program (UP)
project evaluation process to reflect considerations of the
Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA). The
process developed in conjunction with environmental groups and
other interested parties provides three stages of TIP development -
- screening, merit evaluation and programming. The merit evaluation
process is a refinement of historic CDTC objective and subjective
evaluation of projects across a broad range of issues (impacts on
travel cost, mode choice, accident cost, pavement condition, air
quality, etc...). Programming is performed by using, "fact sheets"
for each candidate project and consciously attempting to select the
"best" projects while balancing funding commitments by geographic
area, mode and project type.

With respect to advancing land use planning objectives, the
screening criteria provides the greatest leverage in the process.
Largely because of CDTC's success with communities in


addressing high-priority corridors with integrated land use
transportation studies, CDTC's participants were willing to
establish the requirement for land use management as a prerequisite
for highway work. Essentially, for any air quality "non-exempt"
highway project (linear widening, highway construction on new
alignment) to. be evaluated, there must be a commitment to land use
management from the community.

Specifically, CDTC's screening, process includes five "consistency"
requirements that must be met. They are:

     1.   AU projects must be consistent with the regional
          transportation plan.

     2.   All projects must be consistent with or complementary
          with the facility in the adjacent jurisdiction if the
          project is near or crosses a municipal boundary.

     3.   Fixed capacity improvements are required to be linked to
          local land use management. (Capacity projects designed
          primarily to serve through traffic or strategic statewide
          concerns are not addressed by this requirement.)

     4.   AU projects must be consistent with community desires as
          documented in local land use plans or other policy
          documents, at public meetings, or through other means.

     5.   All projects must address at least one of the fifteen
          factors of ISTEA.

The fact that most of the candidate highway projects considered
during the 1993-98 five year TIP update were derived from CDTC's
local studies made the land use management requirement easy to put
in place. Once in place, the policy can be continued in future
years as additional leverage with communities to encourage
comprehensive planning -- CDTC will not entertain highway capacity
projects without use planning and access management commitments.

Already, the policy has been extended in practice by the regional
office of NYSDOT. NYSDOT is requiring an access management plan
from a suburban town prior to designing a pavement reconstruction
project that will include a flush median. This project type was not
covered by CDTC's screening criterion for land use management -
reconstruction and median projects are "exempt" air quality

Step 8.   TIP Funding Priority

The preceding steps positioned CDTC to make good on its commitments
to integrated land use and transportation planning. Cooperative
studies having taken place in high priority corridors,


projects in these corridors passed the screen of land use
management. The merit evaluation confirmed their benefits and cost-

As a result, the increased federal funding authorizations from
ISTEA and the 'project selection flexibility provided to MP0s
through ISTEA was used in large part to implement CDTC's regional
plan. Major commitments were made to regional initiatives,
including expressway surveillance, arterial signal coordination,
park-and-ride lot construction and travel demand management.

The funding and flexibility also provided for commitment to work in
the high priority corridors assessed in the integrated plans. Over
S 150 million in working in these areas is proc,rammed over the
next eight to ten years.

The public-private financing policy assisted in this commitment;
several projects require significant private contributions through
mitigation fees or development district assessments. The total
private funding, obligation is $18 million over five years.

Step 9.    Corridor Management Initiative

CDTC's cooperative plans with communities have successfully
addressed transportation system improvements and basic land use
plans. However, they do not fully provide communities with the
tools to carry out the land use half of the commitments. In 1993,
CDTC used the ISTEA flexibility to set aside $500,000 of Surface
Transportation Program funds ($100,000 per year for five years) for
corridor management.

Specifically, CDTC's program is an 80/20 challenge grant program to
individual communities, counties or cooperative efforts of multiple
municipalities. The focus of the program is on consultant work
necessary to revise zoning, ordinances, revise planned development
district ordinances, revise parking ordinances, create site design
standards, adopt official street maps
and similar items.  Traditional traffic assessment is not
eligible - CDTC's cooperative
transportation plan arrangement is still available for that work.

It is hoped that land use management actions will better meet
intentions along critical corridors with this assistance. CDTC
participants fully supported the investment, viewing that
protecting transportation function through pro-active corridor
management work is far cheaper than rectifying mistakes at a later


Step 10.  "New Visions" Planning

CDTC's most    recent initiative toward integration of land use and
transportation planning is its multi-year "New Visions" initiative.
Funding in ISTEA has allowed CDTC to make financial commitments to
the majority of its near-term (ten-year) agenda. This has provided
the Capital District the opportunity to step back from incremental
decisions to more fundamental choices where is the region
heading? - what is the area's attitude toward accommodation of
single occupant vehicle (SOV) travel? - what is the future of the
older urban areas? - how will continued suburbanization influence
quality of life?

These "big picture" issues cannot be addressed adequately in the
context of TIP development or even in the context of a cooperative
land use and transportation plan for a single community or travel
corridor. For this reason, CDTC has launched a major effort to
engage in dialogue and technical analysis of "visions" for the
metropolitan area.

Initiated in June, 1993, the effort is expected to reach completion
in early 1995. It includes the use of nine separate task forces,
each focussing on a specific subject. These subjects are:
demographics, technology and development patterns; transit futures;
urban issues; arterial management; expressway management; bicycle
and pedestrian travel; infrastructure renewal; special
transportation needs; and, goods movement and freight issues. Over
100 individuals from state and local government, transportation
providers and user groups, environmental and community groups and
universities are engaged in task force work.

Task forces share a common charge: first, to articulate current and
null future conditions; second, to identify issues needing
attention; third, to suggest actions. A full-day conference with up
to 250 attendees is scheduled for December, 199'). Task forces will
continue work, with additional full-day conferences in mid 1994 and
at the end of 1994.

Each task force is required to address several over-riding
considerations in addition to the specific subject area. These
considerations include land use (as well as environmental quality,
equity and resource allocation). Both local land use issues
(community and site design) and liz regional land use issues
(settlement patterns and urban revitalization) have receive great
attention in discussions to date. The congested highway, low
density development, single occupant vehicle future of the region
has triggered many discussions.

A supporting effort is a consultant-assisted examination of fixed
guideway transit options. The scope of this work is to specifically
examine the land use benefits of light rail or other transit
investments; the scope acknowledges that the Capital District does
not expect to "grow into" a region that warrants fixed transit
investment on a traditional cost-benefit basis.


The "New Visions" process may provide CDTC with a clear
understanding of the amount of common ground that exists among
various constituencies for greater pro-active land use planning.
CDTC is well positioned to respond to any vision that emerges from
the effort.


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