Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Mo' Money for Transportation: The Latest Flap

From what I can glean from news reports, the House of Delegates' approach to transportation as as intellectually bankrupt as the state Senate's. The main difference is that the House would spend less money, thereby doing less harm. But the underlying assumption is the same: There's nothing wrong with Virginia's transportation system that money can't solve.

The latest evidence comes from a story today in the Virginian-Pilot. According to reporters Christina Nuckols and Tom Holden:

A fight over the shape of next year’s state budget has some House Republicans suggesting that a portion of last year’s sales tax increase be spent on transportation. ... Doing so would create a permanent new source of money for roads without a new tax increase. With a large surplus expected this year, schools could still get a large increase in state support even if the legislature shifts part of the sales tax to road-building.

The only legislator thinking outside the box is House Speaker William Howell, R-Fredericksburg, who is noodling on the idea of privatizing large chunks of the state highway system -- an interesting idea but one full of potential potholes and perils. No one but Tim Kaine, a Democrat, is talking about tying transportation planning to land use planning, and not even Kaine is talking about fundamental land use reform. No one is talking about telecommuting, riding sharing or other forms of demand management. No one is talking about increasing the capacity of existing roads and highways through traffic-light synchronization, ramp metering or other strategies.

It's really the most extraordinary thing I've witnessed in years of following Virginia politics. Alternative ideas are out there. People are pushing them. But the people in power are ignoring them as if they didn't exist. Our legislators live in a bubble that, apparently, is impervious to new thinking of any kind. Just pitiful.


At 8:10 AM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

All of the alternatives are good ideas and need to be pursued as far as they go. But we have a backlog in road construction and mainteneance that date back to at least the time of the last gas tax increase.

Regardless of how many new (or rather renewed) initiatives we have we still need more money for road construction. Delaying that work will only raise the price as land costs and new housing construction interferes with the ability to plan.

There cannot possibly be any way that spending less money will ease our transportation needs, let alone solve them.

Secondary roads carry more traffic at less cost than superhighways, but those roads seem to carry less weight in the decison process because they are not big and sexy. One way to increase the capacity of roads at the best price is to build roads that we know will be well used, meaning in places that are already congested. Instead, what we see is that, when a road is built that IS used to capacity, critics point to it as a failure saying that building roads only creates traffic.

At 11:35 AM, Blogger Jim Bacon said...

Ray, I feel like you and I are on an endless replay loop. Yes, as you rightly state, the system needs more money. But if you feed the system more money without pursuing the alternatives I describe, the politicians will stick to Business As Usual. Then the nexte generation of politicians will return in 15 to 20 more years and say the system is broken again and needs yet more money. Sorry, but that won't cut it. It's time to draw a line in the sand: If the politicians want more money, they must enact Fundamental Change.

At 12:01 PM, Blogger Steve Haner said...

Boy, Jim, your idealism is getting shattered on both blogs today! I almost feel a little sorry for you. Almost.

Again, replaying old arguments, most of what you are talking about would happen in a hurry if gas cost $5 a gallon and stayed there, but it won't and the political system will do as it is designed and give the people what they want, or what they are willing to pay for. You have many good rational arguments, but people want their 1.4 acre lots and want to commute in a gas guzzling tank. Don't blame the politicians entirely.

Give the House credit for moving toward a real state rail program, putting some real bucks into buses and transit, and allowing more revenue sharing with localities. The problem is, they did most of those with one-time surplus money and created expectations they want to meet without cutting existing programs.

At 2:23 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

"One of the problems with new planning concepts such as Transit Oriented Development is the "magic bullet" effect --that this one idea will "solve the transportation problem". The intensity of this thinking is increased in this case by zealots who have embraced the idea and may raise public expectations well beyond that which can be obtained."
- Robert T. Dunphy, Urban Land Institute, 1999

You can take that quote to include all new planning concepts, including those you mentioned.

In 15 or 20 years planners and citizens will come back to us and say the system needs more money, and it will, bcause we will have another 20 million people depending on it. All of the out of the box thinking in the world won't change that.

Right now, we can't afford the tasks in front of us, partly because they are twice as big as they might have been had we started 20 years ago. Based on that history, you can't very well claim that any solution is available that means we won't have to spend still more money in the future, particularly if it is ine that involves still more delay.

At 2:36 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

As far as fundamental change goes, the key issue is not the identification of more efficient transportation/land use cominations, but rather the identification of policies that could lead positive outcomes.

Peak period shifting or carpooling will result in more efficient transit, but we have yet to identify policies that effectively promote this - most carpoolers prefer to travel only with members of their own family, for instance.

Efforts to increase carpooling by providing carpool matching services, various carpool subsidies, or high occupancy vehicle lanes have had only limited success. Massive investments in transit and transit subsidies have had limited success. Increasing rail freight shipment has had limited success.

But the increase in auto and truck traffic continues unabated, even in the face of higher fuel costs.

We don't have the foggiest idea of how to create fundamental change.

At 4:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Frank Wolf has been trying to force federal agencies to increase their telecommuting employees substantially through appropriation legislation. This would be a good place to start.

There are a large number of federal employees who can perform many of their responsibilities successfully without heading to D.C., the Pentagon or other federal buildings every single day. This won't fix all of the problems faced by commuters in NoVA, but it would sure be a positive step. Reducing the number of federal employees on site every day would also probably help reduce Uncle Sam's real estate costs.

At 9:57 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

Even better, we could just reduce the number of federal employees.


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