Monday, October 31, 2005

Speaking in Code in Roanoke

Lately it seems that making a point about the state's transportation funding problems requires dropping the name of former VDOT commissioner Phil Shucet. His reputation is soaring out of sight these days, and the Roanoke Times uses Shucet's speech at last week's Virginia Transportation Conference as fuel for this editorial.

'No one in Virginia has more credibility on transportation than Shucet, a consummate professional who turned VDOT around in his three years heading the agency... It is not enough, Shucet warned, to "repeat the same tired numbers" and wait for "people to get" the magnitude of the problem. "That's not going to happen," he said.

'Bold action by the next governor will be essential. Somehow, Virginia will have to raise more money for transportation. A stable, significant stream of revenue will be critical to heading off the crisis.'

What does "bold action" to create this stable, significant stream of revenue mean? A tax increase, presumably, would be a part of it. Maybe political candidates need to avoid the 'T' word, but editorial writers don't.


At 8:47 AM, Blogger Steve Haner said...

Tolls on Interstate 95, 81, and 85 at the borders would be a steady and reliable source of revenue, but not a tax increase.

An increase in the annual auto licensing fee (which has been dedicating the same $19 to maintenance, construction and other modes since 1987) would be a steady and reliable source of revenue. Even Grover Norquist would recognize that as a user fee.

A quarter percent of the existing sales tax re-directed and dedicated to transporation would be a steady and reliable source of revenue, with no net tax increase.

The proceeds from the insurance premiums tax could be a steady and reliable sources of revenue, if they just leave it where it is. (It is now back in the transportation stream).

Selling several select roads and bridges to be operated as toll authorities, with the state retaining 49 percent equity and sharing the profits, might be a steady and relibable revenue source. It's worth running the numbers. (Of course, its tolls again.)

There are lots of ways to do it without raising taxes, but there are no ways to do it for free. And when a series of choices are studied, some tax increases might be part of the mix. And if you stubbornly rule out taxes up front, you just force yourself into a less balanced solution.

At 9:34 AM, Blogger Toomanytaxes said...

As Ray Hyde has demonstrated, heavy trucks cause the most damage to our roads. Any plan must shift the bulk of road maintenance costs directly to new fees on those vehicles. Such new fees would likely reduce the amount of road damages and make large sums of existing tax dollars for construction projects. All new projects should also come with Service Level Agreements that allow taxpayers and road users, including heavy trucks, to obtain refunds if the State fails to deliver on its SLAs.

It's time for the liberals who write editorials for a living and who worship high taxes to get real. Shuet made great progress at VDOT, but he only scratched the surface. A lot more is needed before we feed the tax collectors with more of our money.

At 10:03 AM, Blogger Jim Bacon said...

I love the way the Roanoke Times latches on to one part of what Shucet says -- the tax increase part -- and none of the rest. We've used this blog to explicate a number of his ideas, which include reforming the way VDOT works, telecommuting, outsourcing and a number of other ideas -- written plainly and posted on the Internet for all, even editorial writers, to see.

The Roanoke Times has shown no interest in Shucet's other proposals. (For that matter, either have the Washington Post, Daily News or Virginian-Pilot.) All they want is the tax/toll increases.

It's one thing to say, as Shucet does, that we need to increase revenue but we also need to do a lot of other things. What blows me away is the way the editorial pundits selectively incorporate the bits and pieces of Shucet's message that confirm their biases. It's as if they want higher taxes and tolls, as a good in themselves, not because they're one possible tool to achieve greater mobility and accessibility.

The reason why I'm so strenuously opposed to tax/toll increases in the current political climate is that we'll get the tax/toll increases but none of the other reforms that need to come along with them. The only leverage we have to get the politicians, special interests and bureaucrats to make tough structural changes is to deny them the money they want. If we give them the money, they will have no incentive to do the other hard work that's needed.

That's where I part company with Philip Shucet. He's a terrific manager but naive about politics. The tax-hike punduts are using his credibility to boost the case for taxes -- but they have no interest in the other parts of his agenda.

At 10:15 AM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

Wouldn't the tax increase be applied to all those other facets as well as road building? don't they require funding as well? Aren't they already part of VDOT activities (except telecommuting)?

The vast majority of the funds will likely be spent on Shucet's ideas for expanding and completing the road network. Is the lack of commentary on the other facets only a reflection of the relative financial importance?

If you deny them the resources, how will they do the hard work that's needed?

At 8:27 PM, Anonymous Scott Kozel said...

<<< Tolls on Interstate 95, 81, and 85 at the borders would be a steady and reliable source of revenue, but not a tax increase. >>>

It in effect most definitely WOULD be a tax increase. The government would collect the tolls, and allocate funding to various government programs. That is a tax. The public would see it as a tax.

At 8:35 AM, Blogger Toomanytaxes said...

Shucet did a great job, but major problems still exist within VDOT. As the following correspondence from Frank Wolf to Pierce Homer shows: VDOT is still having trouble tying its shoes & chewing gum at the same time. Why should taxpayers give this agency more money? If VDOT cannot capture low-hanging fruit, why give it billions for big projects? (link to original

Route 7 Traffic For Immediate Release: November 1, 2005


Washington, D.C. - Rep. Frank Wolf (R-10th) today released the following letter to Virginia’s secretary of transportation expressing his concern over delays in the implementation of new technology on Route 7 that would synchronize traffic signals in real time:

November 1, 2005

The Honorable Pierce Homer
Secretary of Transportation
Commonwealth of Virginia
PO Box 1475
Richmond VA 23218

Dear Secretary Homer:

The progress report I recently received on the effort to synchronize in real time the traffic lights on Route 7 from Leesburg to Tysons Corner is greatly disappointing. I was exasperated to learn that the state-of-the-art system for which I secured federal funding is yet to be completely operational in the corridor.

As you know, the FY 2004 and FY 2005 transportation spending bills included a total of $1 million to purchase high-tech video detectors that would be mounted on signal poles at intersections along Route 7. I was told by Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) staff that these detectors are capable of immediately transmitting data back to the VDOT operations center in Arlington where waiting times at traffic lights across northern Virginia are constantly monitored, providing traffic engineers with a more accurate picture of how traffic is flowing in the corridor. Obviously, this enhanced information would be particularly useful during rush hours or when there is an accident. I also was told that since the new monitors would be on the signal poles, not in the roadway like the existing system, they would be less vulnerable to damage. Snowplows and utility crews, I understand, are constant threats.

The FY 2005 bill included an additional $1 million to install the same technology along Route 50 from South Riding to I-66 and $500,000 for the Route 28 corridor from Route 7 to Manassas. The funding for the signalization projects was included in both bills at my request to help improve traffic flow - so there is less stop-and-go - along these busy commuter routes. Northern Virginians - moms and dads - are tired of sitting in endless traffic jams and this new technology is a critical part of easing congestion in the region.

When the FY 2004 funding for the first phase of the Route 7 project was released in July 2004, VDOT said the video detectors would be in place by January 2005. My staff consistently checked with VDOT on the status of the project and was repeatedly assured it was progressing, dismissing the commuter complaints my office was receiving saying that traffic flow was not discernibly better. One evening, after I noticed that the signals did not seem to be synchronized as I drove the route, my office contacted VDOT and was told the new system is turned off after 10 p.m.

On August 30, my office sent you a letter (below) specifically asking for an update on the Route 7 project. Several weeks later my staff received a phone call from a representative in your office stating that the project had been delayed and additional funding was needed to conduct a “corridor study.” That triggered my October 17 phone call to you expressing my extreme disappointment.

Your subsequent communications suggest that 76 monitors have been installed at 22 intersections along Route 7 but you are experiencing technical difficulties with some of the monitors. I do not understand why it took a phone call from me to you to get to bottom of this issue. I am deeply troubled by the apparent lack of progress on this project and the poor - and possibly erroneous - communication between VDOT staff and my office. This project was funded entirely with federal dollars. VDOT had a responsibility to keep me accurately informed of its progress.

I have worked in good faith with VDOT to improve traffic flow on Route 7. VDOT, it appears, is almost a year behind in fully implementing this new system to improve traffic flow in this important commuter corridor. In light of what I have recently learned, there are several questions I would like answered:

When do you expect to have signalization, in real-time, along Route 7 between Leesburg and Tysons Corner entirely operational?

Why did the Commonwealth fail to communicate any problems with the Route 7 project to me?

What is the need for another “corridor study” that your assistant mentioned? Was your assistant just wrong and/or just not apprised of the facts?

What problems, if any, are you encountering with the technology?

What is VDOT doing to rectify any technological problems?

What is the time frame for completion of the signalization along Route 50?

What is the time frame for signalization along Route 28?

I look forward to your reply.

Best wishes.

Frank R. Wolf
Member of Congress

Copy of August 30 letter referenced in above letter

August 30, 2005

The Honorable Pierce Homer
Secretary of Transportation
Commonwealth of Virginia
PO Box 1475
Richmond VA 23218

Dear Secretary Homer:

As you know, I was able to secure $1 million in the FY 2005 and FY 2006 transportation spending bills to signalize the traffic lights along Route 7 in real time.

This project could have a significant impact on improving traffic flow along Route 7, a major thoroughfare in northern Virginia. The longer it takes for the new sensors to be put in place, the longer people must sit in traffic.

I have been given various dates as to when this project will be completed, but thus far have seen no results. I would appreciate a report as to the progress of this project.

Thank you and best wishes.


Frank R. Wolf
Member of Congress

At 6:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

James Bacon: The Roanoke Times has shown no interest in Shucet's other proposals.

Which are...? Is there a link to Shucet's speech at the conference?

Nell Lancaster
Rockbridge County


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