Careful There, Fellows, You May Not Like Where Your Logic Leads You

by James A. Bacon

Gov. Bob McDonnell’s PR shop has taken to touting the immediate job-and business-creating benefits of Virginia’s accelerated road building and maintenance program. The governor had better be wary about that short-term focus– he might not like where the logic leads.

One recent press release touted an analysis of 10 highway projects funded by the administration’s $4 billion transportation program. Just those 10 projects will support nearly 3,700 direct jobs during their construction, $190.8 million in personal income, $14.8 million in state and local tax revenues and other benefits to Virginia.

In another release, McDonnell drew attention to the fact that the 495 Express
Lanes project on the Capital Beltway had awarded nearly $450 million in contracts to small and disadvantaged businesses — 75% of which were located in Virginia.

Temporary job creation and the handing out of boodle to small businesses is, admittedly, a benefit of public works spending. But that doesn’t make it a wise investment of resources. Here’s what we should be asking: What is the long-term benefit, the Return on Investment, if you will, once the construction phase is finished?

The problem with the short-term focus is that roads and highways are not the best public works projects for putting construction workers back on the job. As the Southern Environmental Law Center notes in its Junction ATL blog, “Not all transportation projects create jobs equally.” Research conducted by the University of Massachusetts at Amherst concludes that mass transit projects create more jobs – 17,784 jobs for every $1 billion in spending compared to 12,638 jobs per $1 billion spent on new road construction and 14,790 for $1 billion spent on maintenance. I doubt that’s a road the McDonnell administration wants to travel down.

The purpose of public spending on transportation is to provide mobility and access, improve the safety of travel, help  the environment and stimulate economic development. Those are the criteria we should use when deciding how to allocate public dollars, not the creation of temporary jobs.

10 Responses to Careful There, Fellows, You May Not Like Where Your Logic Leads You

  1. What is the long-term benefit, the Return on Investment, if you will, once the construction phase is finished?

    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    Maybe not much, if you build the road through someones land, and then zone the reaminder into the dark ages.

  2. Those are the criteria we should use when deciding how to allocate public dollars, INCLUDING the creation of temporary jobs.

    It is a total system problem. Besides, if you consider constructiona dandmaintenance as ongoing tasks, then a string of temporary jobs amount to permanent ones.

  3. what’s the difference between Obama’s stimulus and McD’s borrowed-money infrastructure projects?

  4. McDonnell’s plan, which is the same plan as Kaine’s except for the acceleration of the bond sales, has dedicated revenues to repay the bonds. Obama’s stimulus didn’t.

  5. re: dedicated revenues vs not.

    agree.

  6. ” The purpose of public spending on transportation is to provide mobility and access, improving the safety of travel, helping the environment and stimulating economic development. ”

    good luck on objective, quantifiable measures.

    also… you forgot the two biggies that are often front and center – congestion relief and travel time reduction – especially at peak hour.

    we speak with forked tongue on the justification of roads.

    take the Tysons Corner improvements – what is the real purpose of those improvements?

  7. “take the Tysons Corner improvements – what is the real purpose of those improvements?”.

    To add sufficient population density to Tyson’s Corner to make the area viable as a place to work, live and play.

    People can argue about whether the Tyson’s plan is a good plan. However, it’s hard to argue that Tyson’s is fine as it is.

  8. now …every other locality in Va can suggest that money from RoVa taxpayers can be used to fund their versions of Tysons?

    how is that an effective approach to prioritizing transportation projects?

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