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A failure to keep districts contiguous and compact
Monday, February 4, 2013
The Virginia Constitution states that “every electoral district shall be composed of contiguous and compact territory and shall be constituted as to give, as nearly as is practical, representation in proportion to the population of the district.”
There are two ways of looking at “contiguous and compact.” By definition, contiguous means that the jurisdictions share a common border and presumably common concerns. “Compact” suggests a well-defined place where there are strong connections or, in planning parlance, linkages. In short, they are neighbors, with all that that implies.
The nature of politics and constitutionality aside, the Virginia Senate redistricting proposal, which places Montgomery and Franklin counties in the same senatorial district, raises significant questions about the definition of “contiguous and compact” and the potential impacts on transportation, economic development and land usage driven by demographics, and the quality of representation.
Montgomery and Franklin counties do not share a border. They are not, in fact, contiguous. Instead, they are separated by a narrow strip of mountainous, albeit scenic, land in Roanoke and Floyd counties. Because of the challenges of terrain, Montgomery and Franklin counties do not share a common transportation network, nor are they served by the same arterial roads: U.S. 460 and Interstate 81 in Montgomery County and U.S. 220 in Franklin County. There is no direct route to Franklin County from Montgomery County without either driving into Roanoke and catching 220 or driving south on Virginia 8, taking a left on the Blue Ridge Parkway and a right on Virginia 640 (a county secondary road).
The lack of a linked transportation system also explains the lack of economic connections. The Franklin County labor force area includes Bedford, Martinsville, Roanoke, Salem and the counties of Roanoke, Bedford, Botetourt, Franklin, Henry and Patrick in Virginia and Rockingham County in North Carolina. Due to the lack of accessible transportation routes, Floyd County is not considered part of the labor force area of Franklin County, underscoring the lack of connectivity between Franklin and Montgomery counties. While Montgomery County also draws on and contributes to the Roanoke Valley labor force, the majority of Montgomery County’s labor force is located in the New River Valley.
In addition, Virginia Tech, which accounts for nearly 25 percent of all jobs, and its associated industries, including the Corporate Research Center, are the primary economic drivers in Montgomery County and are especially important to the development of most of the major economic clusters. The technical, scientific and professional sector accounts for 13.4 percent of all establishments and 8.1 percent of all employees in Montgomery County.
By comparison, the same sector in Franklin County accounts for approximately 8 percent of establishments and 2.7 percent of employees. In contrast, the largest sector in Franklin County is construction (21.5 percent of establishments and 9.2 percent of employees), followed closely by retail trade. In short, there are no economic linkages, either in the labor force area or in the economic framework of the two counties, which means a senatorial district including both would be scattered rather than compact.
Transportation and economic development networks drive changes in demographics and the resulting changes in land use. As of July 2011, Montgomery County had a population of 94,510, was 69 percent urban and had an overall density of 243 people per square mile. Franklin County had a population of 56,225, was 9 percent urban and had an overall density of 81 people per square mile. The two jurisdictions are in separate Metropolitan Statistical Areas and are represented by separate regional planning commissions. Planning and land-use priorities are far different in rapidly urbanizing counties than in predominately rural areas. Population density necessitates public investment in infrastructure, especially in terms of the expansion and provision of water and sewer, storm water management facilities and so on. Planning laws governing urban-growth patterns and the impacts created by that growth may be needed in Montgomery, but are unlikely to be necessary in Franklin, where the urbanized area is under 10 percent.
Whether in terms of transportation dollars, economic development opportunities or changes in planning laws and regulations, Franklin and Montgomery counties share little in common.
The latest plan from the Virginia Senate creates neither a contiguous nor a compact district, and potentially, given economic constraints and differing values and needs, pits one portion of the district against the other. The redistricting plan, based on politics and voting patterns rather than on sound data analysis, places the senator in a no-win situation and serves neither jurisdiction well.
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