Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Will the True Fiscal Conservative Please Stand Up?

As gubernatorial candidates Jerry Kilgore and Tim Kaine prepared to discuss transportation and other issues in their first televised debate today, a coalition of "smart growth" groups weighed in with its own recommendations for transportation policy. The bottom line: Want more money for transportation? Adopt key reforms first to make sure it isn't wasted.

In a prepared statement, a group calling itself Reconnecting Virginia said the following:

"Far too many business leaders are saying 'we just need to spend more money on transportation.' But they're not addressing the fundamental underlying problems with Virginia's transportation program," said Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. "We need to address where and how we grow. Without better land use and community design to reduce the growth in driving, our tax dollars will be wasted on VDOT."

"Moreover, the public and decision-makers still can't track the taxpayer dollars we already give to VDOT," said Chris Miller, President of the Piedmont Environmental Council. "We have to do better at showing the public how the money is being spent and what we're getting for our investment before we ask for more money. We can't fiscally afford or physically build our way out of this problem, if VDOT continues to focus on building roads that create more scattered development and traffic instead of fixing the problems where people already live."

Most of those advocating for major increases in transportation spending base their demand for higher taxes or more toll roads on VDOT's own, un-audited, claim that they need $203 billion over the next 20 years (VTRANS 2025 Plan). This represents over a $100 billion increase and another $5 billion per year for Virginia taxpayers.

"VDOT's proposal is so costly it should give every Virginian pause. It is a grand wish-list that failed to consider alternate approaches to massive new highway spending and should not be used to justify spending increases," said Schwartz. ... "VDOT's approach failed to consider better land use, rising gas prices, changing population demographics, and other factors that would contribute to reducing traffic at lower cost to the taxpayers. "

To view Reconnecting Virginia's legislative priorities, click here.

(Full disclosure: The Piedmont Environmental Council underwrites the Road to Ruin project.)


At 10:54 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

OK, lets look at the legislative priorities:

1)End deficit spending on transportation projects: such capital expenditures are exactly the sort of things that should be paid for with debt. There is no reason to pay 100% up front for capital items you will use up only a little at a time. Requiring payment up front guarantees that less will be built, and that those who eventually use the projects won't have to pay for it. It is the reverse of the argument usually made tht those that use should be those that pay.

2)Identify land use and transportation initiatives that reduce VMT per capita: this assumes that reducing VMT is always good. What we know is that poor people have lower VMT. What we don't know is if that is because they are poor, or because they don't have access to roads. aybe they spend an equivalent amount of money to get lesser service via public transit. Surely we can lower VMT by making people poor; is that what we want?

3)Give priorities to ...(long standing) projects that will reduce freight and passenger congestion: that might be a little easier if, whenever a project is proposed, the argument was not made that transportation projects cause more VMT and the congestion mitigation is nullified by induced demand. You cannot have #3 and #2 both.

4)Support proposals for new buses and rail cars on existing systems: OK, but show me how that reduces freight or passenger congestion. We don't have any evidence that is true in NOVA. Maybe bus and rail suffer from the induced traffic sysndrome, too.

5) Support funding for passenger and freight rail projects that improve access and reduce congestion: rail is a miserable, probably the worst, way to improve access, unless you happen to want to go where the rail goes. Rail can't reduce congestion because congestion is a prerequisite for rail to work - otherwise you would drive.

6) invest in multistate passenger and freight rail improvements: I'll buy the freight part, but has anyone looked at Amtrak lately? I happen to like to ride Amtrak, but I don't think it will ever make money.

7)Support administrative reforms in VDOT: What is not to like about this? Unless of course administrative reforms means reforms that make VDOT more responsive to PEC.

8)Plan and implement transit oriented development (TOD) as part of any transit station investment: Not every transit station is a good candidate for transit oriented development, not to mention the question of who profits by this plan and at whose expense.

9)design to ensure that road and transit improvements fit the character of the landscape: Well, at last we agree. here is no reason roads have to designed to be completely ugly. Of course first you have to agree to design some roads.


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