Sunday, March 26, 2006

Elegant Degradation

Former Gov. Gerald L. Baliles has introduced an interesting description to describe the decline of Virginia's transportation in the absense of the tax increases he says it needs:
"elegant degradation." As he wrote in a Daily News op-ed:
That is what happens to machines that are subject to constant repetitive stress. The machine continues to look the same while it is slowly becoming weaker and weaker. Finally, unable to withstand the stress, it breaks down. I fear that we're on the slippery slope of elegant degradation.
That's a fair description of what Virginia's transportation system faces. We just differ on appropriate remedies. Baliles wants to replace the lost buying power of the revenues made available by his 1986 transportation funding reforms -- 40 percent erosion due to inflation, plus 79 percent increase in traffic. He makes a legitimate point: Transportation revenues have lost buying power, and the system eventually will need more money.

I have argue ad nauseum, however, that there are many alternatives to building more highways that should to be explored before raising taxes. If Gov. Baliles and his allies talked about implementing some of those alternatives as a complement to higher taxes, as opposed to discrediting or ignoring them, they would have much greater credibility. But they demonstrate little interest in land use reform, mass transit reform, telecommuting and telework, intelligent information systems, or creating a fund plan with a rational nexus between those who pay and those who benefit from improvements.

A transportation policy whose sole remedy is raise taxes, build more projects just isn't credible.


At 11:51 AM, Blogger Toomanytaxes said...

Jim -- Amen! I'd like to see the reforms first and then let's talk about taxes. Consider this a challenge to Senator Chichester and Governors Kaine and Baliles to address one simple finding of the state auditor's report on VDOT -- VDOT lacks any internal cost controls over projects, but relies on individual employees to ensure that project costs are managed. My open challenge is to explain why taxpayers should not see institutional cost control mechanisms in place and working, based on audits, before we pour any more tax dollars into VDOT.

Just listen to the silence that will follow.

At 4:10 AM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

Those are not alternatives to building more highwyas and fixing the ones we have, those are in addition, and many of those reforms have costs of their own. Stop griping, raise the money and get on with it (them).

At 5:29 AM, Blogger Larry Gross said...

Sad to say - this has become a TRUST issue in two important ways.

1. - Does VDOT do.. transportation and MOBILITY or does VDOT do... roads?

2. - Does VDOT operate EFFECTIVELY utilziing the public money to produce cost-effective ... not projects - but RESULTS?

Both JLARC and more recently, the state auditor have answered question 2 and the answers are not good.

VDOT, the largest govt agency in Virginia with over 9000 employees operates financially more like a "fly by night" corporate scam than a open, transparent and legitimate entity whose finances are not only "in order" but indepedently verified to meet industry-standard accounting practices and above reproach.

With respect to the first point - what the public wants in "smart" multi-modal solutions that are not only comprehensive enough to include a blending of roads and transit but even silly things like the timing of traffic lights... and the recognition that money spent on commuter lots is not (in VDOTs mind) taking money away from their precious road budget.

So.. the mindset has become.. that giving more money to VDOT is like sending it to a black hole where what you get in return.. is standard VDOT "rope-a-dope" PR blather... about what happened to the money and how they don't even have enough money to do simple and cost-effective improvements to the existing network.

Local officials in Spotsylvania were told recently that their wishes of replacing a sign on I-95 that says "Massaponax" with one that says "Spotsylvania" would cost the locality $400,000. dollars - even though the sign was slated to be replace anyhow.. it would cost $400K MORE to change the words.

VDOT reps said this with a straight face.

This was a few months after they stated that the reason for a project to be over budget and 6 months delayed..was because of a shortage of plastic barrels...

If this is how VDOT conducts itself state-wide with the public and localities.. no wonder there are folks who don't want to give them more money.

At 8:03 PM, Blogger Virginia Centrist said...

Do both!

At 10:57 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

I'm with Virgnia Centrist. Do both.
And while you are at it, raise some more money so you can incorporate all those other projects that Jim Bacon seems to think are "Free, No cost!"

I described elegant degradation in a previous post about TABOR in which I described that idea as a recipe for creeping decrepitude.

I'm with TMT and Larry as well. there is no reason why institutional cost controls can't be in place with somebody's job at stake: this is a right to work state and the rules should apply to state employees as well as anyone else.

VDOT has recently been spending weeks erecting a giant overhead gantry sign at route 17 off of route 66. Previously there was a perfectly good roadside sign that said:

Route 17

As far as I know, neither the route number or destinations have changed. Why we need a sign whose structure is sufficient to hold up one section of Reagan National Airport terminal is beyond me. Meanwhile, not a mile away is a sign and guard rail that gets knocked down every few months: that is a sign that needs improvement. Who is the moron that runs the service district that thinks this stuff up?

But Larry in particular is right, commuter ride shareing lots are not free, that is infrastructure too.

Sorry, but it has to be paid for.


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