Thursday, September 29, 2005

Kilgore on Transportation: Regional Authorities

Unlike the Washington Post, which hasn't evolved past a zombie-like level of analysis -- based on the previous post, I envision its editorial writers lurching forward, arms outstretched, muttering... must... build... more... roads... must... raise... taxes -- Jerry Kilgore is at least thinking seriously about transportation. I differ with some of his conclusions, but he's raising points that the WaPo editorial writers would be discussing if they weren't brain dead.

Among the novel features of Kilgore's transportation plan is a proposal to create regional transportation authorities. If implemented as it now stands, the idea probably would prove to be disastrous. But the proposal takes the transportation debate in a useful direction.

Here's what's good about Kilgore's proposal. Transportation congestion is a metropolitan-wide phenomenon, tied intrinsically to patterns of residential and commercial development that overlap municipal boundaries. What Kilgore understands and the WaPo editorial writer doesn't, is that traffic congestion can be addressed effectively only in a regional context. Kilgore says he would would create Regional Transportation Authorities "empowered with real decision-making authority to find solutions to their transportation problems." These authorities:

...will have the power to issues bonds, hold referenda to involve taxpayers in certain financing decisions, sign private maintenance contracts, enter into public-private partnerships, and use other financing mechanisms to fund new road, bridge and mass transit projects over and above existing funding from the state.

That's moving in the right direction. Just one big problem -- and it's a killer. Kilgore would not give these regional authorities any power over land use planning. Instead of a disjunction between state transportation and local land-use planning, Virginia would experience a disjunction between regional transportation and local land-use planning. With its new power to tax, regional authorities would be empowered to waste even more money than the state currently does on ill-considered projects. Very, very bad.

But don't expect to read that kind of analysis in the Washington Post, which defines the transportation crisis purely as a revenue problem.


At 12:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We still haven't seen the most critial element of this plan.

Were does one region start and another region stop?

At 12:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting critique of the Post.

Let's talk about transportation. Take a look at the highway map of Virginia. It is an arterial system and transportation is a state problem and must be addressed as such. For instance, improvements on I 95 wil alieviate some problems on I 81 as traffic moves to the area where the improvements allow it to move more freely: its vice versa with improvements to I 81 and less traffic on I 95.

Rail is an important element of the equation. The right of ways have not been adequately maintained by the railroads and this must be addressed. The problem there is that the railroads (and let me disclose that I own stock in one) want the state to spend tax dollars to improve their right of way (acquired through eminent domain. They should give some quid pro quo to the people of Virginia if tax dollars are used to improve their rights of way.

Sure there are local isssues that must be dealt with but in the context of an overall policy. The regional approach may just shift the bottlenecks down the road. The relationship between land use policy and transportation is one area where the local or regional approach may help. But you must remember that "regional government" is a very hard sell in the Old Dominion with our independent city system and the Dillon Rule (the mere mention of the Dillon Rule gets the NRA all atwitter).

The regional approach would also tend to emphasize the "pork barrel" nature of the process unduly (I want my section done first) a la Route 58.

Transportation is a hugely difficult problem and one that has been neglected in the commonwealth for too long. As a result, the problem has been compounded in the past 10 years with some governors selling our transportation souls for "car tax scams."

You can't build a highway with pixie dust.

At 2:28 PM, Blogger Jim Wamsley said...

Kilgore supports new tax for transportation?

Kilgore’s authorities will not do anything to solve the problem because they don’t redirect VDOT spending. The magic is in the last eight words.
“These authorities will have the power to issues bonds, hold referenda to involve taxpayers in certain financing decisions, sign private maintenance contracts, enter into public-private partnerships, and use other financing mechanisms to fund new road, bridge and mass transit projects over and above existing funding from the state.”

The authorities either have no funds or are a back door tax mechanism Should the headline be “Kilgore supports new tax for transportation?”.

At 3:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can anyone say "pledge bonds?" Does anybody remember "pledge bonds" and the way that proposed scheme for regional cooperation/taxing authority met its demise only a handful of years ago? It was the conservative wing of the Republican Party that shot that down like a dove over a baited field. How soon we forget...

At 3:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, those guys would shoot doves over a baited field. They folow the philosophy of "Do as I say...not as I do." Have you witnessed their "fiscal responsibility" lately.

There were a lot of Democrats who opposed pledge bonds.

At 11:48 AM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

Great. All we need is another level of taxing authority. Does anyone who promotes regional authority also belong to the anti-tax group?

I guarantee, the biggest cost driver in any project is complexity, in this case represented by the number of stakeholders. The number of conversations and meetings will go up like the cube of the number of players.

I can't see local authorities giving up their control over land use. Even if a regional authority does gain control, I can't see that a regional authority will have any better idea how to adress land use and transportation jointly any better than everybody else who has failed at this task.

Oregon just went through a thirty year experiment with state wide land use planning, which voters finally got fed up with and threw out the window on a voter referendum. Let's not repeat a similar mistake.

I think you hit it on the head when you said the idea would be disastrous, but I would add that it will be disastrous regardless of how it is implemented.

Over and above existing funding from the state sound like new taxes to me. Surely we don't need new taxes until we reach an agreement on how to spend the funds we have.

All this is going to do is superimpse regional boundary problems on top of the existing municipal and county boundaries. If you think redistricting is political, wait till you see this baby.

You keep talking about land use planning solving our transportation problems, which it will not and can not. Changing the area over which you try to solve this problem won't help, because no one knows how to solve the problem at any scale: it is too changeable, and dependent on far more variables than we know how to manage.

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