Wednesday, October 12, 2005

So That's Why Jerry Kilgore Loves the Coalfield Expressway

Sometimes it takes me a while to put all the pieces together. I'm not always as quick as my readers. But now, thanks to some revelations over on the Bacon's Rebellion blog, I understand why Jerry Kilgore is so doggedly supportive of the Coalfield Expressway, a proposed $3 billion highway through Virginia's coalfields and arguably the worst boondoggle south of the Rail-to-Dulles project.

By way of background, I've blasted the Coalfield Expressway elsewhere on this blog: $3 billion is an insane amount of money to invest in a highway designed to make Virginia's coalfield counties more attractive to manufacturers. First of all, the manufacturers won't come, or if they do, there won't be enough of them to justify building the Expressway. Second, money is far better invested in bringing broadband to coalfield communities in the hope that they can pole vault past the manufacturing stage of development directly into the Knowledge Economy stage of development.

Yet Jerry Kilgore supports this extravagance. As he says on his website, "This project, which is vital to the economic development of Southwest Virginia, must move forward immediately. ... The Kilgore administration will take advantage of ... new private activity bonds ... to enable the private sector to build the Coalfields Expressway, and then maintain and operate it under a long-term lease arrangement with the Commonwealth. This will allow the costs of the project to be paid back over a 50 ­ [to] 100 year timeline while producing jobs in Southwest Virginia and improving the region's quality of life. "

A 100-year timeline? Holy Cow! Kilgore wants to mortgage the economic future of SW Virginia for 100 years? We'll be flying around in Jetson-mobiles in 100 years. This is crazy!

It should be apparent to any objective person that the Coalfield Expressway is a very poor investment of SW Virginia's scarce financial and political capital. Coalfield communities could use such a sum far more productively in other ways -- like installing broadband and improving education. I've always assumed that Kilgore supported the project because local leaders in the coalfields supported it. And maybe some of them do. But there's more to the story. It turns out that Jerry Kilgore lobbied for Kellogg Brown and Root (KBR), the engineering/construction firm and helped the company win millions of dollars in design contracts for the Expressway.

Ironically, the Kaine campaign has attacked Kilgore -- unfairly and inaccurately -- for lobbying in favor of increasing the tax on natural gas in Buchanan County. It turns out that (a) the tax was on natural gas producers, not consumers, as implied in the ad, and the money was to be used for economic development, and (b) a former deputy county attorney for Buchanan County by the name of Frank Kilgore (no relation) was the one lobbied for the natural gas severance tax.

What Tim Kaine's opposition researchers overlooked -- and what I found out as a response to my criticism of the Kaine campaign over on the Bacon's Rebellion blog -- was the fact that Jerry Kilgore was lobbying for KBR around the same time! Jerry Gray, a Democrat partisan from Dickenson County next door, informs me of the following: "Jerry Kilgore ... successfully convinced then-Governor Gilmore to approve a no-bid deal with KBR for $33M to plan a 6 mile segment of the Coalfields Expressway. The deal Jerry Kilgore got for KBR has turned out to be even sweeter--the planning cost has now ballooned to $55M, according to VDOT, and will finish out at $63M." And you know who owns KBR? This is too good, you couldn't make this stuff up -- Halliburton!

Think about that -- $63 million in design fees for a highway that, in all probability will never be built! We could have wired every itty bitty community in the coalfields with wireless broadband connectivity for that kind of money. But if Kilgore gets elected and manages to keep the project alive, his buddies at KBR will continue to rack up millions more in design fees.

And guess what a quick check with the Virginia Public Access Project reveals: Guess who has donated $25,000 to the Kilgore for Governor campaign. Yessiree -- KBR.

There's your next attack ad, Mr. Kaine! Served to you on a platter.


At 4:08 PM, Anonymous Jerry Gray said...

Just spell my name right, James.

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