You can’t completely blame the politicians for our
transportation problems. Politicians survive by
giving people what they want, or at least
satisfying enough of them to get past the next
And many Virginians want a world-class transportation
system and continued economic growth that
doesn’t cost a dime more than they are already
it does cost more, they want somebody else to pay
Anybody running for office can figure this out.
The polls probably reflect it. If
there is any doubt, harken back to the 2002
sales-tax-for-transportation votes in the most
congested regions of
Those of us who really believe
is facing a crisis need to direct our message to a
broader audience and persuade at least a core
group of voters that a failure to act is no longer
That is the purpose of the Virginians for Better
Transportation effort. You can read more about it
and get on its mailing list at www.itstimevirginia.org.
Organizations like the Virginia Chamber of Commerce and
local chambers, the Virginia Transportation
Construction Alliance, transit and rail advocates
and other business groups will play a big role.
But the leaders are men and women who have made
their careers in business and public service.
VBT’s grassroots educational effort will be aimed at
need to know and understand the basic data that
has Virginia’s transportation professionals and
economic planners so worried when they look into
the future. We’re
starting with what I consider the transportation
“standards of learning.”
Here are five key ones. Yes, there will be
test on this on November 8:
a few years ago, the road maintenance fund had
excess money which was spent on construction, but
that trend is now reversed and construction
dollars are being spent on road maintenance. This
chart issued by the state shows the
construction revenue has an impact all the way
down to the local level, with reduced annual
amounts allocated for urban, primary and secondary
rising maintenance costs are also squeezing the
budget for public mass transit and other
the last increase in transportation funding
(1986), vehicle miles traveled in Virginia
(the key measure of highway use) is up 79 percent,
but we’ve increased lane miles on the highway
only seven percent. Here’s
another useful chart.
basic source of funds, the state gas tax, has
stayed at 17.5 cents per gallon for almost 20
years and is now one of the lowest in the country.
It is not tied to the price of gasoline, but stays
fixed at 17.5 cents per gallon. No other tax is
frozen over time in this way (another sign that it
is a user fee more than a tax). Inflation has
eroded its buying power (and the real cost to
drivers) about 40 percent. You
can see a chart
on state gas taxes here.
Public-Private Transportation Act can save
construction costs and speed the process, but it
still takes money to build roads and people will
have to pay (and pay enough to provide a profit
margin). It’s not true for all projects, but
some wags have stated that PPTA stands for
“People Paying Tolls Act."
There is reason to hope that information will make a
people don’t realize how they pay for
transportation, and how what they pay really
hasn’t changed in almost 20 years.
Most don’t know about how rising
maintenance costs are swallowing the rest of the
really can’t discuss possible solutions without
understanding the basics.
As they understand these facts, people also need to be
encouraged to ask questions.
They need to question the hundreds of
candidates for the House of Delegates and the
candidates for Governor and Lieutenant Governor,
and after they get the stock answer they need to
push for details.
When Jerry Kilgore calls the gas tax outdated, somebody
needs to ask him, “Isn’t it really just a
user fee, because the more you drive, the more you
he talks about turning road building over to the
private sector, somebody should ask, “How high
do you think tolls should be?”
And when Tim Kaine says he won’t do a
thing to raise money unless there is a
constitutional amendment to protect the trust
fund, he needs to be asked, “Is this an excuse
to do nothing for the first three years of your
term, since that is how long it would take to pass
Information is power. Informed
voters make better choices. If informed voters
say, hell no, we like paying less and less every
year even though it leads to congestion, the
result will be easier to accept.
May 23, 2005