Another Take On Cuccinelli’s Vague Road Plan

cooch.pixBy Peter Galuszka

So far, Ken Cuccinelli’s campaign for Virginia governor has been long on rhetoric and short on specifics. Such was the case with his piece on Sunday’s Washington Post  Local Opinions page headlined: “Taking the politics of roads funding in Virginia.”

What caught my eye were two of Cuccinelli’s ideas. The first is that building roads and other transportation links in the state is a muddle of cronyism that can be laid at the feet of Democrats – a curious observation since almost all of the big road projects undertaken in the state since 2010 have been the brainchildren of Republicans.

The second idea is even more intriguing. Political hacks pick Virginia’s road projects in that swamp known as Richmond, Cuccinelli says. So, Cuccinelli wants to introduce some kind of “point system” that will track traffic congestion in localities. This empirical point regime will then be used to pick which road ideas get funded and when.

As he writes: “Instead of political reasoning, my administration would rely on a statewide traffic congestion index to determine how new construction is prioritized. Every locality in Virginia would have independent trigger mechanisms — based on quantifiable measures of traffic congestion and road capacity — that would determine funding and prioritization of projects. No matter how vigorously certain localities or special interests try to sway lawmakers in Richmond, every new project would be considered under the same guidelines.”

Interesting idea, but how would it work? Cuccinelli says he’ll spell out details “in coming weeks.” My understanding is that under the current system, localities and the Virginia Department of Transportation make plans for new roads and include congestion relief as part of their analysis. They then go to the Commonwealth Transportation Board, which sets priorities.

It isn’t clear whether Cuccinelli would replace the board or what else he might do. Eliminating the CTB would be a very big deal. But we don’t know yet.

Cuccinelli notes that he tried as a legislator to reform planning and funding by allowing congestion-prone Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia to set their own taxes. That’s actually a good idea. Having Richmond dictate everything goes back to Virginia’s stubborn use of the so-called “Dillon Rule,” which dates back about a century to a long-gone jurist who thought that localities should only have the power afforded to them by their state capitals.

What I don’t get, however, is why Cuccinelli tries to paint Democrats like his opponent Terry McAuliffe as being the centers of road cronyism. In recent years, McDonnell and his Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton, a fellow Republican, have been steamrolling ahead with a number of new projects of questionable value, such as a toll superhighway paralleling U.S. 460 in southeastern Virginia and a north-south connector near Manassas.

Is Cuccinelli running against McDonnell or McAuliffe? It isn’t clear. Meanwhile, I anxiously await details on his road point system plan.

(Note: I had the same idea Jim Bacon this morning and sent it to the Washington Post which used it in their online Local Opinions section. I had intended to also post it on the Rebellion but Bacon beat me to the punch. PG)

3 Responses to Another Take On Cuccinelli’s Vague Road Plan

  1. The problem with road funding.

    It’s complicated as hell no matter who the people in charge are.

    for starters – the Feds provide about 1/2 the funding and no matter what point system you use – you’re not spending that money on anything the Feds do not approve.

    so that means Fed money goes for Fed priorities. Interstates, US signed roads (like US 3, 17 29, etc). And some of it can ONLY go for transit – not only intercity transit but rural or elderly-special needs transit – and then bike trails, etc. AND quite a bit of it is delegated to MPOs to decide and they have their own processes no matter what Cucinelli’s might be.

    State money is also divided up according to VOT districts, cities and towns, and counties.

    These formula are not explicitly documented but somewhat along the lines of North Carolina – 40% to the State for roads of statewide significance. 30% to the regions MPOs, VDOT districts, planning districts, and 30% or so to the localities – for 6yr secondary road improvement, maintenance and operations (like snow plowing).

    If Cucinelli were someone like Connaughton and and a long and deep track record of understanding how transportation currently works in Va and then was proposing reforms – I would be all ears.

    but from what I can see, Cucinelli knows SQUAT about transportation and his “reforms” are little more than totally off the wall pie-in-the-sky stuff that unless he has significant support for – are going to go nowhere.

    this is where he needs folks in the General Assembly to step forward and say “yes, Ken knows what he is talking about – and then go through chapter and verse how “Ken” knows the game and knows the next steps.

    otherwise I think he’s blowing it out the other end…

  2. A minor quibble: The reason Cuccinelli’s road plan is “vague” is that he hasn’t released it yet. If it’s still vague when he releases it, you may have a legitimate point.

  3. Jim,
    I really hate it when politicians are “vague” and introduce policies they don’t detail. When I did a Cuccinelli story in January, I was told that his economic policies would be released in a few weeks. It’s July and all that he has said is that he wants to lower income and business taxes. I have not seen any real ideas whatsoever. My guess is that it will be the same with his “index” on congestion. Seeing is believing. Why do you make excuses for him?

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