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Patrick McSweeney



Kaine's Plan Doesn't Cut It


Tim Kaine's transportation plan will cost more money - and it won't work.


Last week, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine provided a little more of his plan to solve Virginia’s transportation “crisis.” He promised more detail later.


His plan includes (1) appropriating $625 million of the current budget surplus for transportation projects, (2) establishing a dedicated, long-term source of transportation funding, (3) protecting earmarked transportation funds from diversion to non-transportation programs, (4) finding a new leader to run the Virginia Department of Transportation, (5) linking land use and transportation planning, (6) requiring traffic-impact statements before local zoning decisions are made, (7) authorizing local governments to reject rezoning requests if the proposed development would overwhelm the existing transportation network, (8) enacting legislation creating transferable development rights, (9) channeling new development to existing infrastructure and (10) directing the Intermodal Office under the Secretary of Transportation to identify and promote better connections between roads, rail, transit, ports and airports.


Even in combination, these proposals will have little beneficial impact in the long run.


Kaine himself has said that simply spending more money for new roads isn’t a solution. Appropriating $625 million may appear to be a small step in the right direction, but it will discourage private solutions and commit us to more of the same growth.


A dedicated source of public funding for transportation has been the dream of politicians and bureaucrats. The last thing we need is a government program on automatic pilot, spending tax dollars without due regard to an ever-changing economy that rewards flexibility.


It may be heretical to question the idea of insulating earmarked transportation funds from diversions to other programs, but we can’t foresee what future crisis would warrant the use of some of these earmarked funds. There is political mileage to be made from this proposal, but it is poor public policy.


Linking land use planning and transportation planning has the appeal of logic, but it ignores the fact that the two are already linked. The problem is that responsibility for results is not clearly defined and accompanied by adequate authority to carry out plans.


Virtually every local government currently requires traffic-impact analyses before acting on zoning requests. VDOT actively participates with localities in the zoning process. Responsibility for the secondary road system is split between VDOT and counties throughout most of the Commonwealth. This leaves neither truly accountable.


Kaine’s idea of allowing localities to reject zoning requests if transportation systems would be overwhelmed will have the effect of increasing leap-frog developments, as some counties reject new development and push it off on their neighbors.


One item worth pursuing is the establishment of transferable development rights, but the concept will deliver far less than its proponents assume. For instance, if there is little interest in farming, TDRs will do little more than increase the amount of idle land while driving up the price of the remainder.


Channeling development toward existing infrastructure is predicated on a misconception about growth. In recent decades, economic factors have driven development in ways that planners did not anticipate. The recent explosion of job-creating economic activity in Fairfax County, for example, would have been stifled by this proposed channeling policy.


Finally, the vain belief that a government bureaucracy — the State’s Intermodal Office — could devise a better interface between transportation modes than the private sector can shows how misguided our elected officials are. Only those who assume great financial risk in pursuit of profit will find and deliver the innovations needed to produce effective interconnections.


Contrary to popular wisdom, the persistence of congestion is not caused by excesses of the market.  The major culprit is unwise government policy. Kaine proposes more government when the solution is surely just the opposite.  


-- January 30, 2006










Contact Information


McSweeney & Crump

11 South Twelfth Street
Richmond, VA 23219
(804) 783-6802




Read his profile and back columns here.