Saturday, January 21, 2006

Tim Kaine's Transportation Plan

Read Gov. Timothy M. Kaine's address to the General Assembly in which he lays out his legislative package for transportation, along with other initiatives. There are some good nuggets buried in there -- particularly, developing " measurable goals for our transportation investments so that voters can hold all of us accountable for the performance of our transportation network" -- but, overall, a cynic might describe the package as mo' money, mo' regulation.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Not THE Gas Tax, But A Gas Tax Increase

The Senate unveiled its "Driving Virginia's Future" transportation funding plan that aims at raising $1 billion a year in new revenue by raising the sales tax on wholesale gas purchases and when you buy a new car.

Says the Post:
'Under the Senate plan, entitled "Driving Virginia's Future," the purchase of a car would become more expensive. Instead of the 3 percent "titling tax" that buyers currently pay, the Senate plan would impose the state's 5 percent sales tax. When fully phased in after four years, taxes on a $20,000 car would increase from $600 to $1,000.

The plan would also increase taxes on gasoline by gradually imposing the state's 5 percent sales tax on the purchase of gas by stations at the wholesale level. Stations would likely pass along those taxes in the form of higher prices at the pump, senators said. By 2010, they said, the average driver could pay $65 more each year for gas.'
State Sen. Charles R. Hawkins, R-Pittsylvania, spoke with his usual understated humility.
'"This is nothing short of a remake of our transportation system," Hawkins told reporters at a news conference attended by a dozen Democratic and Republican senators.'
We await the reax from anti-tax legislators in the House...

Kaine to Support Transportation Tax Increase

Jeff Schapiro and Tyler Whitley with the Richmond Times-Dispatch are reporting that Gov. Timothy M. Kaine will propose increasing the sales tax on motor vehicles and other measures that will raise nearly $1 billion a year in new transportation revenue. "Capitol sources yesterday said Kaine ... favors pushing the tax on motor-vehicle sales from 3 percent to 5 percent, putting it in line with the state's nickel-on-the-dollar sales levy."

It will be interesting to see how the political dynamics play out. Kaine also wants two other things: (1) constitutional protections for the Transportation Trust Fund, to ensure that the money isn't diverted to other purposes, and (2) more power for local governments to block rezoning requests that would stress local transportation systems.

Both of those measures will encounter significant resistance in the General Assembly. The only way he can get them through is by using the tax increase as leverage: "Take the whole package, or you get nothing at all." It will be interesting to see how he positions his proposal in his announcement later today.

The Northern Virginia Plan

I guess it's either this or secession. Some Northern Virginia Republicans are proposing legislation that would raise about $300 million a year through fee and tax increases, with the money going to Northern Virginia's transportion needs. This morning's Washington Post outlines some details:
'The legislation includes increased fees on truck and trailer registrations and car rentals; higher penalties for chronically bad drivers; an additional 20-cent fee for every $100 of the sale price of a property; and an extra $5 tax on hotel and motel rooms. The bill also would ensure that the sales tax collected on motor vehicle parts would be dedicated to transportation...
"The key here is that money doesn't have to go through Richmond," said Del. David B. Albo, one of the three legislators who have developed the plan. "I want to make sure that money raised in Northern Virginia goes directly to that turn lane that needs to be put in or that secondary road that needs to be widened."'
Can or will the General Assembly go along with regional plans and a statewide funding plan?
'"I would suspect that we would pass out one set of plans, but not both," said Del. Vincent F. Callahan Jr. (R-Fairfax), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, who added that he would consider supporting the regional sales tax increase to help match the federal money for Metro.'

More Details on the Coalfields Expressway Plan

The Richmond Times-Dispatch has scrounged up details on the revised plan for building the proposed 51-mile Coalfield Expressway in Virginia's far Southwest. The new plan would save "as much as half" the project's estimated $2.3 billion cost by mining coal along its route. But the coal companies want to change the route's alignment to a corridor that would access more recoverable coal.

I've argued that the SW Virginia could do more to improve its accessibility to the outside world by wiring the region's small towns -- the route would run through Grundy, Clintwood and Pound -- with wireless broadband infrastructure. But if local citizens are determined to build the darn road, any proposal that would cut the cost in half needs to be seriously considered.

Of course, changing the route would render useless the $32 million spent so far on engineering work for the old route. What a waste.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Don't Look to the House for Transportation Reform

I presume that Del. Leo . Wardrup, R-Virginia, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, fancies himself a fiscal conservative. Like other members of the Republican Caucus, he doesn't want to raise taxes -- not even to fund transportation improvements. But, judging by brief remarks quoted in the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star, the reluctance to raise taxes does not translate into a reluctance to pump more money into a dysfunctional transportation system.

Wadrup's idea is simply to re-channel revenue streams from the General Fund to the Transportation Trust Fund. According to the article, "Wardrup would increase the amount of sales tax put toward transportation, dedicate part of the deeds and recordation tax to transportation, and dedicate all insurance license tax revenues to transportation."

(Speaker William J. Howell told the Free Lance-Star that Wardrup's funding plan was his alone, not necessarily shared by the House Republican Caucus.)

Wardrup's idea of reforming the transportation system would be to "allow the legislature, rather than the governor, to appoint some members of the Commonwealth Transportation Board; create a commission to oversee agencies with transportation authority; and let local governments award contracts for local roads."

Increase the legislature's powers of patronage over the CTB at the expense of the governor? Create another layer of bureaucracy to diffuse responsibility and decision making? Wow, that will rock the system. Folks, this is nothing more than Business As Usual dressed up to look like something different.

The article mentioned nothing about land-use reform, privatization, congestion pricing, telework, asset-management systems, bus rapid transit or the dozens of other ideas, both good and bad, that have bandied about. It's possible that Wardrup is thinking about these things, but if so, his thinking hasn't congealed into the kind of concrete proposals that reporters write about.

Senate Gets Funding Plan Ready

A Washington Post story this morning says Senate leaders are looking at a package of fee and tax increases that could eventually produce $1 billion a year in extra revenue for transportation.
'Sources familiar with the Senate proposal said it is likely to include several of the following: increases to the sales or income tax, higher taxes on the sale of cars, a new sales tax on gasoline, higher auto registration fees and tolls.'
The Senate's START panel worked up some numbers on how much could be raised using those fees/taxes - the link to the START group's final recommendations is on this page at the bottom.

Gov. Tim Kaine's plan is expected to come out tomorrow; and then we wait to see what the House of Delegates wants to do. This will be interesting..

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

New Study: Put Housing Near Transit

The D.C. Examiner writes today about results of an ongoing study on how the Washington, D.C. region should plan its land use and transportation.
'The study found that plans based around jobs and transit would decrease travel time in the region by 10 percent due to shorter trips and more transit use, said Ron Kirby, a regional transportation planner.If the additional people follow current trends, traffic and housing situations would get worse, Kirby said.'
The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments is the group responsible for the study; here's a link to the study's web page.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

It's the Location, Stupid

Bob Burke explores the relationship between the "Smart Growth" and "New Urbanism" movements in a new article, "It's the Location, Stupid." The two groups would seem to be natural allies. Both favor mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly development in higher densities than is typically found in suburban development. But the Smart Growthers don't hesitate to criticize specific New Urbanist projects deemed to be in the "wrong" locations.

Read Burke's article here.

Tim Kaine's Transportation Agenda

There were no big surprises in Gov. Tim Kaine's remarks about transportation in his first speech as governor to the General Assembly last night. Read his speech here.

I suspect that Kaine will find broad support for his fiscal reforms: setting up a "lockbox" to prevent legislators from raiding the Transportation Trust Fund to pay for General Fund programs. His proposal to link land-use and transportation planning will be more contentious. The idea of requiring developers to submit traffic impact statements along with the rezoning requests is a good one.

Kaine's proposal to give local governments more power to curtail rezoning requests on the grounds that the development would stress the local transportation grid, however, will encounter resistance. Home builders and developers will argue, with some reason, that it will only aggravate the mismatch between supply of and demand for housing.

The biggest news is this: The Governor also plans to submit a "long-term transportation investment plan" to address Virginia's long-term transportation needs. In putting together that plan, he says Virginians need to address several questions:

Should drivers who abuse our roads, and endanger our families, bear a higher burden through fees?

Should heavier vehicles that cause increased wear and tear on the roads be charged more in maintenance costs?

How much should we rely on funding sources like HOT lanes and tolls?

Should localities have more options to fund critical regional projects?

What is the appropriate role of responsible debt and financing?

Are the dedicated state revenue streams that support our maintenance, construction and public transportation needs sufficient?

And most importantly, what is the price of doing nothing?

Monday, January 16, 2006

Peasants with Pitchforks and a Very Serious Attitude

The Jan. 16, 2006, edition of Bacon's Rebellion is now online. You can view it here.

As usual, we have a number of columns that should appeal to readers interested in transportation and land use issues:

Building Not the Only Solution
State-funded highway and rail projects are not the only ways to address traffic congestion in Virginia. It's time to tap the creativity of the private sector.
by Patrick McSweeney

Three Big Ideas
What's not to like? These three transportation solutions are inexpensive, could be implemented quickly and could make a big dent on traffic congestion.
by William Vincent

A Modest Plan
Here's what Virginia's transportation system needs: more money, a more rational pattern of land use, and a stronger commitment to mass transit.
by Gary Johnson

Creative Thinking, or Wishful Thinking, for the Coalfield Expressway?

I've noted more than once on this blog that I regard the proposed $2.3 billion Coalfield Expressway in far Southwestern Virginia as a boondoggle that will swallow the region's political capital for years to come and deliver little in the way of economic development. But I will give credit to SW Virginians for doing some creative thinking on how to get the unfunded project off the ground.

News comes from The Bristol Herald-Courier that Alpha Natural Resources, one of the largest coal operators in Central Appalachia, and the Pioneer Group have replaced Kellogg Brown & Root, the construction-engineering firm that has been involved in the project so far. According to reporter Kathy Still, Alpha and Pioneer will "harvest coal along the highway's sometimes rugged route and leave behind land more easily graded into a roadbed. The work could lower the cost of the project significantly, officials said."

I don't know how much coal Alpha-Pioneer expects to recover, but it won't be much. If a Virginia coal seam hasn't been mined out by now, it's because the seam is thin or otherwise difficult to extract coal from. Moreover, coal seams aren't necessarily located at elevations that will coincide with the optimal placement of the highway.

But, hey, it's an idea. Anything that could reduce the cost of the project is worth looking into -- as long as it doesn't run up the design fees any more than the $30 million already sunk into the project.

Saving Goochland County

The Times-Dispatch this morning writes an advance story about a meeting to discuss some zoning changes intended to help Goochland County protect its "rural character."
'Tomorrow night, a 250-page set of proposed zoning changes will be discussed at a joint meeting of the county's Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors. Thursday night, the Planning Commission is scheduled to vote on the changes.
The changes include provisions that promote growth in nine designated "village centers" and encourage open space everywhere else.
County officials see these provisions as tools to manage growth. But many residents are concerned that the changes could cost them money.'
We're talking here about those residents who plan to sell land to pay for sending children to college, or for their own retirement. But those land values will be subsidized by new roads built and maintained with public dollars.

Bridge Commission Under Fire

One could easily put this Daily Press article in the 'no good deed goes unpunished' file. The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel Commission - which has made a plan to deal with future traffic demand and is actually setting money aside to pay for improvements - is getting some heat from General Assembly members.

Who presumably don't like how they look by comparison. This is Virginia, where nobody does the right thing without facing the consequences:
'The commission is at such a risk for either a hostile takeover or the death of its bid for new tunnels that it sent two representatives to Richmond to lobby against any changes.
They got an earful from Del. Leo Wardrup, R-Virginia Beach.
"I told them, 'Read my lips: If you try to build that tunnel without coming back here for approval, you do so at your own peril.' "'
Clearly, the better option is to turn the bridge and the commission's cash assets over to the GA, which will then fairly distribute them based on legitimate need, looking first to the mobility of widows and orphans, who no doubt would rather have a Third Crossing...