Thursday, September 08, 2005

The 'Cozy' Relationships behind STAR's I-81 Proposal

A supporter of upgrading freight rail service instead of building truck-only lanes on the 325 miles of Interstate 81 in Virginia is putting a spotlight on the relationships between the project's political and private-sector supporters.

In a column in The Free Lance-Star today, Rees Shearer of a group called RAIL Solutions points to the cozy connections between STAR Solutions and Alaska Rep. Don Young, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and a strong supporter of the truck-lane approach.

Says Shearer: "Behind STAR Solutions is the principal partner Halliburton Corporation, through its infamous subsidiary KBR. KBR is under investigation for allegedly defrauding and over-billing the Pentagon while conducting military support operations in Iraq.

STAR partners include Randolph DeLay--brother of U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay--and the Richmond law firm McGuire Woods, which helped write the Public-Private Transportation Act on which the STAR proposal is based.

These heavyweights are selling STAR as contractors for I-81 improvements. McGuire Woods' advertising slogan makes it plain: "Relationships that drive results." These relationships are too cozy."

Not cozy enough, I suppose, for the STAR team, since it only got $100 million out of the latest transportation bill, not the $800 million it hoped for.

Shearer says rail is safe, efficient and a cheaper way to move the freight, since most of it is just passing through the state.

6 Comments:

At 7:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Commonwealth has indicated that heavy trucks cause as much road damage as several thousand cars. But, of course, Virginia does not collect anywhere near that amount in fees from truckers. Moving heavy freight from trucks to rail would seem to make economic sense and should reduce the amount of road damage, which, in turn, would free up more money for real transportation improvements. Isn't that what everyone says Virginia needs?

Will anything like that happen? No, this is Virginia where the public interest always comes second to special interests. It's much easier for our elected officials to raise taxes than to adopt and enforce policies that actually make sense.

 
At 8:10 AM, Anonymous sdh4vbt said...

I read that piece, too, and learned a few things about the politics I hadn't known (assuming it is correct, which is always an issue.) Rail is safe, cheap, etc. but it also won't be adequate even with major upgrades to handle the freight traffic that exists and that is coming. Nothing is more convenient or efficient in our on-demand-delivery economy than the good old truck and I-81 needs to be expanded to handle it. I came back down 95 from Tyson's last night (not a bad run -- leaving at 7 and in Richmond before 9) but I can't imagine what it would be like if it were 2-lanes all the way, as 81 still is. Doing NOTHING is not an option.

 
At 8:44 AM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

Gee, and EMR has said I am almost alone in my ideas.

 
At 9:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If our elected officials actually shifted some of the costs for road maintenance to the cost-causers, heavy trucks, there would be less road damage and more money to build more lanes on I-81.

Meanwhile, the General Assembly passed legislation to provide taxpayer subsidies to railroads. It strikes me that, if Virginia addressed the below-cost fees for trucking issue, we might not have needed another taxpayer subsidy for rail.

I'm not arguing against expanding I-81, but rather, arguing that we'd have fewer problems in total if the General Assembly and our Governors had the political courage to stop catering to special interests in setting policy.

Set trucks fees at levels that recover the actual costs for repairing roads caused by trucks. Heavier trucks would pay more than lighter ones. This would send the correct economic signal to the market. Some, but certainly not all, heavy traffic would move to rail. The other heavy loads not shifted to rail would pay for themselves.

 
At 10:19 AM, Anonymous sdh4vbt said...

Anon: Trucks probably pay far more than you are willing to admit, and weight is already a factor, but whether or not they pay their "fair share" is subject to debate and subjective. Will they be asked to pay more in the coming debate over transportation funding? I'm sure it will be proposed in the mix -- it always is. Complaints about "special interests" are cheap and empty rhetoric -- everybody in the hallway during the General Assembly has some kind of special interest -- and down there none of us gets to be anonymous.

 
At 7:19 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

A fully loaded tractor trailer weighs around 5700 lb per wheel a 2500 lb passenger car weighs around 625lb per tire.

In order to support the higher weights, roads are designed to support the weight of heavy trucks during the spring time when roads are in their weakest state.

Intermodal shipping is only cost effective when the trips are over 600 miles and time is not an issue.

Overloading on smaller trucks increses the potential for overloading a single tire or axle mor than on multiple axle trucks, assuming the overload is not proportional to the number of axles.

A truck can be legally loaded for gross weight but unevenly loaded and thus be illegal on a per axle weight.

Semi-tractor trucks have an accident rate slightly lower than autos per 100,000 miles. Unit trucks have accident rates nearly twice as high as autos. In either case the kinetic energy and hence the damage is likely to be higher.

Highway authorites use a methofd of calculation for truck damage that assigns them responsibility for 40 to 60% of the damage to roadways. Some considerable etenet of damage to roads is simply due to weather.

Under this formulation trucks are assumed to pay their own way.

All of this depends on whose studies you use, and many of them are paid for by...

Guess Who?

 

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