Sunday, February 26, 2006

The Story Less Heard

When money's not the issue, concludes Bob Lewis with the Associated Press, there's actually fairly broad agreement on transportation policy. Says Lewis:

...Shift the topic from money to administrative reforms for the state's massive highway agency and there's plenty of agreement among the Senate, the House of Delegates, both Republican-run, and Democratic Gov. Timothy M. Kaine. Bills on those issues have been overwhelmingly passed; kind words have actually
been spoken...

The systemic reforms could profoundly change the Virginia Department of Transportation, putting more of the development and, in some cases, ownership of Virginia's highway system under private control. Over time, it would trim VDOT's work force of 9,300 people and streamline its mission. ...

Two reforms that involve a greater private role are expanded use of "design-build" and "concession agreements," as they are known in industry shorthand. Under design-build, the state specifies a project and its route, such as a new four-lane bypass, then turns the design and construction over to a team of private engineering and roadbuilding firms. Traditionally, VDOT engineers or private firms do the designs, then put the specifications out for construction bids from contractors.


At 6:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The House and Kaine also agree on the need for a constitutional amendment to shield state money dedicated to transportation projects from legislative raids for other purposes when the state's general operating budget is distressed. The Senate would also prevent any general fund money from being diverted to transportation."

Another unreported story -- the Senate actually passed such a constitutional amendment, SJR 180. How did the House celebrate after years of failure? By waiting all of three days before carrying the measure over to 2007. No hearing, no media coverage.

It's a good amendment, too. It doesn't actually prevent the use of general fund money for transportation, but does limit it mainly to retiring bonds. Reasonable. Too reasonable. Had to be put down.

At 7:21 AM, Blogger Jim Wamsley said...

This is all a side issue. The main question is who gets the taxpayers transportation dollars. Rural areas that need pork, counties that need roads to support new development, or urban areas where congestion is stifling economic growth.

At 8:10 AM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

As usual Wamsley as hit it on the nose. It's apparent that there won't be anything like the money actually needed. If it is spent in the wrong places or inefficiently, then it won't do much good.

Shifting ownership of the highway system is a huge mistake. If you want to privatize something that could work, start with the schools. Privatizing the roads might appear to cost less, but the profits the new owners take will soon be built into the price of everything that travels on the highway. Shifting the costs off budget doesn't do much for transparency in government costs.

At 9:38 AM, Blogger Toomanytaxes said...

I also agree that Jim Wamsley has identified a major problem: What are Virginia's goals and priorities for transportation?

From my perch in Fairfax County, I see a fuzzy, confused and political process that few people trust. For example, last fall, the Virginia Department of Rail and Transit refused to take questions from the public about the proposed extension of Metrorail to Dulles, but rather, referred the public to so-called experts who discussed questions in private.

Several people tried to obtain an answer as to why we were spending billions of dollars on the rail extension when the Environmental Impact Statement demonstrates that there is virtually no difference in traffic congestion if the rail line is built than if it is not. The "explanation" included: "We've already addressed (read ignore) that issue. We're well beyond that stage." and "All the added traffic comes from all the growth that will come to Fairfax County." Translated, this means we are paying billions in taxes and fees to extend rail, which, in turn, would permit even more development than without rail, which, in turn, puts our roads in as bad of shape as they are today without rail.

Perhaps, I'm missing something, but this just doesn't make sense, especially when extending Metrorail changes the allocation of WMATA's operating losses, shifting a substantial portion of those losses to Virginia taxpayers. I understand how a few Tysons Corner landowners will receive windfalls from this, but how does this help transportation in Fairfax County or, indeed, the rest of the state?

While I'm not thrilled with the House of Delegates' approach, at least it's not raising taxes to support such absurd results.

At 1:06 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

The question you have to ask about Metro is, whether or not it is worth the additional money to move the additional people, not if it will relieve congestion.

Since you are moving those people, largely, to employers which are not in Virginia, that answer is likely, NO. Unless, that is, that you want to count all the associated development as a "benefit". But we usually count the development asociated with roads as a disbenefit, so the Metro argument is inconsistent.

More roads probably won't help congestion much either, because the latent demand is so high. But again, the question is how much is the additional service that roads could supply is worth. With roads, you can at least direct the trafic to the edge cities in Virginia, instead of sending it across the river.

By doing that, you would also avoid the problem of inheriting the task of paying for Metro deficits imported from other areas. You would control your own destiny instead of being subject to whatever Metro allocation scheme gets foisted on you.

Finally, Metro funding is only part of the rail improvement lobby's goals. In the inland ports bill there is funding to upgrade the rail beds from Front Royal to Manassas. Can you spell VRE-North?

At 10:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A great post on rail service and land use.


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