Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Route 288: The Times-Dispatch Needs to Finish the Job

The Richmond Times-Dispatch performed a public service in publishing its Sunday package of stories about state Route 288. As the headline makes clear -- "Road to Riches, Landowners Cash In, Taxpayers Foot the Bill" -- landowners enjoyed windfall gains to the value of real estate holdings located near the major interchanges. A map accompanying one of the three main articles ("How It Came to Be") lists the identities of the landowners and the value of their properties.

A related story recounts how C.B. Robertson, the original developer of the West Creek office park offered free right of way for Route 288 and lobbied aggressively to run the route through his property. Robertson hired Harold C. King, a former state highway commissioner, as a traffic consultant. "Hall King had a lot of relationships, a lot of friends on the transportation board at the time," the T-D quotes Ray Pethtel, state highway commissioner when the state chose the West Creek route, as saying. Robertson, it is worth noting (though the newspaper did not) has been a major contributor to Republican candidates for public office.

The story also notes that state Sen. John Watkins, R-Powhatan, and his relatives own 452 acres valued at $18.3 million at Route 288/Midlothian Turnpike interchange. Additionally, William H. Goodwin Jr., another major Republican campaign contributor, has large stakes in property at the nothern and southern anchors of 288.

There's nothing wrong with owning real estate -- even speculating on real estate -- and hitting the jackpot when the state decides to run a four-lane road through your property. Some people are just luckier or smarter than the rest of us. But the newspaper hints darkly that the funding of Route 288 is not entirely kosher: "Landowners Cash In, Taxpayers Foot the Bill."

Although the T-D report nails down C.B. Robertson's role in convincing the state to run the northern leg of 288 through his property, it offers no evidence that other landowners played a role in pressuring either the Allen or Gilmore administrations.

The Times-Dispatch needs to finish the job. Route 288 clearly received preferential treatment and the economic development rationale was bogus (as established in my previous post). Can the extraordinary decision to push Route 288 to the front of the funding line be attributed to grass roots lobbying by Chesterfield County, the Chamber of Commerce alone and economic developers alone? Or were well-connected, land-owning interests operating behind the scenes as well?

It's not against the law to be a shrewd land speculator. But if land owners pressured pols to push the $434 million project forward, the public has a right to know. If the land owners were not involved, we need to know that, too. It is unfair to leave a cloud hanging over their heads. The T-D now owes it to the public and some of the region's more prominent citizens to finish the reporting job.


At 10:19 AM, Blogger Steve Haner said...

Tens of thousands of daily commuters heading from Chesterfield to Innsbrook (and vice versa) also pressed for the road. Now they don't pay tolls and save 15-30 minutes a trip. Wahoos looking to cut their trip to Wahooville wanted it. Short Pump was just as much a beneficiary as Capital One. Truckers heading from the south towards I-64 (and vice versa) wanted it.

If the highway was full of cricket noises once the daily commute to West Creek was over, you might have a beef, but that road is a roaring (pardon the pun) success for all concerned. It was planned for 30 years or more.

At 3:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure the Watkins family has owned the land at 288 and 60 for years.

At 3:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Didn't John Watkins serve on the Rt. 288 site selection committee?


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