Category Archives: Infrastructure

Talking Out of Both Sides of Their Mouths

Route of proposed Coalfields Expressway

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

While perusing today’s edition of the Roanoke Times, I ran across an article that astounded me.  It concerned a meeting recently in Southwest Virginia about the Coalfields Expressway.  I remembered hearing about this proposed highway many, many years ago and thought that it had been dismissed as a pipe dream.  It turns out that the idea (and hope) is still alive.

The Coalfields Expressway would be a 115-mile federal four-lane, divided highway running from the intersection of I-64 and I-77 near Beckley, West Virginia to U.S. Rt. 23 in Pound, in Wise County.  West Virginia has opened 15 miles of its 66-mile portion of the proposed highway and another 21 miles are in various stages of construction or planning.  Virginia has begun constructing 7 miles of its 50-mile portion.  That stretch overlaps with Rt. 460, linking Grundy to Kentucky.  The cost of the Virginia portion is estimated at over $3 billion. Continue reading

Planning for Telecommuting’s Effects on Virginia

By James C. Sherlock

I think that we don’t yet realize the full impact of the revolution being wrought by the telecommuting that accelerated during COVID.

Virginia Railway Express Route Map

I am sure I don’t.  But Virginians, and our state and local governments, must try to figure it out.

We are moving towards a world in which white collar workers will be increasingly exempt from commutes.

We have already seen during COVID the leading edge of the migration of workers and their families away from many of America’s cities, especially those with increasing crime, closed businesses and otherwise lowered quality of life.

Look at New York City.  I visited it a couple of months ago.  Many places I used to enjoy have become an urban wasteland.  D.C. is not far behind.

Virginia urban areas and some of our suburbs have experienced COVID-related business failures and are threatened with more that result from the lifestyle changes that COVID brought.

The attractions in these places are not directly related to employment, but rather to population density. Restaurants, night life and the arts were exposed by COVID as vulnerable.  Some people got out of the habit of centering their social lives on them.

The costs of cities and suburbs, especially housing, are less and less affordable.  Prices have continued to increase in the face of fast-rising mortgage rates (Note 1).  This cannot continue, so it will not.

Other Virginia locations that offer attractive lifestyles, lower costs of living and the communications infrastructure to support telecommuting with bandwidth and speed at scale can expect to see in-migration and its economic benefits if they both prepare for and solicit them.

The knock-on effects may prove far-reaching.  I will offer a few of them for consideration.  Virginia state and local governments will either plan to accommodate them or be run over by effects which, planned for or not, they cannot control.

Continue reading

Does This Highway Need to be Widened to Six Lanes?

i-64 in New Kent County  Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

There is a campaign underway to expand a stretch of I-64 from Richmond to James City County.  Currently, the Interstate highway is a four-lane divided highway.  The proposal is to add an additional lane in each direction.

The Department of Transportation estimates the cost of the project at $750 million.

The first public evidence of the campaign came in the form of proposed amendments to the state budget bill.  The House of Delegates has proposed dedicating $30 million in general fund revenues to the project.  The Senate has gone bigger; it proposes $190 million in general fund appropriation. Continue reading

Virginia’s Greens Need an Epiphany

Green Party leader and German Economy and Climate Minister and Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck

by James C. Sherlock

Headlines from the war in Ukraine have raised exponentially the interest in natural gas and the extreme price volatility caused by supply constraints.

It is perhaps useful to understand the uses of natural gas, the prices Virginians pay relative to West Virginians, the decline of production in Virginia, and the costs and risks of supply constraints by the actions of green energy absolutists.

Not the enthusiasts, but the come-hell-or-high-water absolutists, who get way out in front of the thoughtful left. In Europe, greens let slip the dogs of war.

Putin thought Europe, with its far too early and thoughtless response to green pressure, too dependent upon Russian energy to oppose him.  He proved wrong, but now both free Europeans and Russians will suffer. Ukrainians and Russians are dying for that miscalculation.

Virginia greens need to reconsider the value of natural gas and the risks of insufficient supply. And, like the German Green Party this week, get over their opposition to gas until real renewable alternatives at the scale of the economy are, well, real.

Continue reading

Infrastructure Bill, Meet Richmond’s United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit Richmond, Va.

by James C. Sherlock

The President and members of Congress have celebrated the enactment of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act into law.

In Virginia and the other states (Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia) of the federal Fourth Circuit, good luck with that.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit just published two related decisions on January 29th and February 4th, 2022 decided by the same three-judge panel, all appointees of Democratic presidents.

Both decisions remanded to federal agencies for reconsideration years of federal assessments that have supported the Mountain Valley Pipeline. Those agencies are now run by Biden appointees. They won’t be back.

The court is populated with a majority of judges appointed by Democratic presidents. There is a vacancy awaiting a Biden appointment. The Chief Judge faces mandatory retirement next year.

So no relief in sight except the Supreme Court.

The decisions clearly demonstrate what will happen to Virginia public infrastructure projects that are opposed by the greens and/or protected classes or both, which will be nearly all of them.

Roads, bridges, pipelines, large solar panel projects, airport expansions, new rail lines, you name it. Flood control? Forget it. They are headed into the federal and state bureaucracies and then to court and then back again.

For years. Continue reading

Infrastructure Vote? Oh No, That’s Their Bill

Photo credit Verizon

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

There has long been a consensus that America needs to pay more attention to its infrastructure. Last week, the House of Representatives passed President Biden’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure package and sent it to the President for his signature. Of the total amount, $550 billion was new money; the remainder was funding normally allocated each year for highways and other infrastructure projects.

The bill had passed the Senate earlier in the year on a bipartisan vote, 69-30. Even Mitch McConnell voted for it. However, in the House, only 13 Republicans voted for the bill. The rest of the House Republicans were angry over the support given the bill by some of their fellow Republicans. Probably the most galling aspect was that the 13 Republican votes were needed to pass the bill after six far-left Democrats, who refuse to, and do not understand the need for, compromise, voted against the legislation. Continue reading

The Other Side of the “Intensifying Rain” Claim

Prepared by Kip Hansen. Data sources cited. Click for larger view.

by Steve Haner and Kip Hansen

With the rainy remnants of another hurricane heading for Virginia from battered Louisiana, the stories of a coming Climate Armageddon will again ramp up. A couple of good examples of what to expect recently appeared in Virginia Mercury, the main one quoting numerous sources claiming Virginia is seeing more and more intense rainfall and will suffer more flooding as a result. Continue reading

Silver Line Phase II — Now Four Years Late

Back when work began on the Washington Metro’s Silver Line under the Kaine administration, planners expected Phase II to be complete by 2018. Here it is, mid-2021, and the officials in charge now are hoping to open in early 2022. Phase I went relatively smoothly, but Phase II, which extends the commuter rail system to Loudoun County, has been a fiasco. Press coverage of the incessant delays has taken on a fatalistic tone — oh, well, another delay. Stories enumerate the problems — more than 100 design changes, defective panels, flawed rail ties, bad concrete — but no one seems interested in the underlying cause of so many failures, which, one suspects, can be attributed to terrible project management by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA).

The opportunity costs of the four-year delay continue to mount. Reston Now highlights the plight of Weird Brothers Coffee which opened at Worldgate Metro Plaza in anticipation that the Herndon station nearby would open in 2019 and generate foot traffic. Meanwhile, traffic congestion in Northern Virginia, which the multibillion-dollar project was designed to mitigate, is returning to the hellish pre-COVID conditions. Twenty years ago when Virginia Department of Transportation projects were running late and over budget, it was a statewide scandal. Today? Virginians are so inured to incompetence that there’s not a peep from anyone.

But, hey, government is something we all do together! We’re looking forward to Congress enacting a trillion-dollar infrastructure package to shower free money on the state. What could possibly go wrong?

— JAB

Bacon Bits: More, More, More!

More fiber. A joint venture involving Annandale-based Tenebris Fiber expects to begin constructing a 680-mile regional fiber optic network in Virginia. The network will run through Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William Counties and connect with a Virginia Beach cable landing station that links to Europe and South America with subsea fiber-optic trunk lines, reports Virginia Business. The network will support the continued expansion of Virginia’s data center industry.

More rail. Virginia has finalized agreements with CSX, Amtrak and the Virginia Railway Express in a $3.7 billion project to build a new rail bridge over the Potomac River, add new track in the Washington-Richmond corridor, and buy hundreds of miles of passenger right of way from CSX. “This transformative plan will  make travel faster and safer,” declared Governor Ralph Northam in celebrating the signature transportation achievement of his administration. “It will make it easier to move up and down the East Coast, and it will connect urban and rural Virginia.” Even more, he claimed, it will reduce traffic congestion, cut pollution and create “a more inclusive economy.” So reports The Washington Post. I have yet to see a cost-benefit analysis of this massive investment. But with Uncle Joe planning a $2.3 trillion infrastructure boondoggle, Virginia will be getting lots of free money, so who cares?

More thought crimes. Kiara Jennings, who leads Loudoun’s Minority Student Achievement Advisory Committee (MSAAC), said teachers who did not fully embrace the county’s diversity training should not be tolerated. “If our teachers and staff cannot be open and willing to learn how to be culturally competent then they do not need to be in the classrooms any longer,” she wrote in an email, as reported by The Daily Wire. The MSAAC then posted this on its Facebook page: “There is strength in numbers and we believe wholeheartedly, that united, we can and will silence the opposition.”

The Transmission Bottleneck for Renewable Energy

by James A. Bacon

You want more renewable energy? You’re going to need more high-voltage transmission lines to move intermittent wind and solar power around the country to balance fluctuating supply and demand. And you’d better get started. Transmission planning and construction involves long lead times, typically between seven and ten years.

“The window may be closing to develop the needed transmission expansion to enable the optimization of clean energy, meet state clean energy objectives, and other ‘voluntary’ demand for low-cost renewable energy,” summarizes a new study, “How Transmission Planning & Cost Allocation Processes Are Inhibiting Wind & Solar Development in SPP, MISO, & PJM.” Continue reading

Who’s Got the Best Water System?

Data source: LawnStart

The City of Richmond has the best water system among the seven Virginia cities included in a LawnStarter ranking of 2021’s Best Cities for Water Quality. The City of Chesapeake had the worst.

LawnStarter, an online marketplace for lawn-care and landscaping services, ranked the 200 most populated U.S. cities based on metrics of consumer satisfaction with drinking water, environmental violations, regulatory compliance for plumbing and sewage, and infrastructure vulnerability. Continue reading

Do Something “Transformational” with $6.8 Billion in COVID Relief

by James A. Bacon

The $1.9 trillion COVID-relief bill just passed by Congress will shower billions of dollars upon Virginia citizens, businesses and government. State Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne expects Virginia state government to receive about $3.8 billion and local governments to get about $3 billion, for a total of $6.8 billion.

The crazy thing, says Layne, is that Virginia made it through the COVID-19 pandemic in decent fiscal shape, so it doesn’t need the federal funds to maintain core functions of government as some other states do. Rather, he worries, legislators will be tempted to fritter away this once-in-a-lifetime bounty on pet projects or, worse, on new programs. This COVID-relief money is a one-time source of funding, he says, and it would be unwise to make financial commitments the state will have to continue honoring in subsequent years.

Congress has limited what the states can do with the money. Virginia can’t share this manna from heaven to citizens by reducing taxes. Nor can the state use it to reduce unfunded pension liabilities. As the guardian of the state fisc, Layne would like plow the revenue into one-time capital investment projects. This is Virginia’s opportunity to do something “transformational,” he says. Continue reading

Podcast: How the General Assembly Has Changed

By Peter Galuszka

I haven’t contributed much to BR lately since I am slammed with non-Virginia work. I did manage to help out on a Podcast about how the General Assembly has changed the state over the last two years as Democrats have gained power.

This Podcast is produced by WTJU, the University of Virginia radio station. I do a weekly talk show on state politics and economics and, on occasion, work on Podcasts.

Joining me is Sally Hudson, a delegate from the Charlottesville area. She is Assistant Professor of Public Policy, Education and Economics. Sally studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford and is one of the youngest members of the General Assembly.

I hope you enjoy it.

The Virginia City Boondoggle

The Virginia City hybrid energy center. Credit: David Hoffman, Flickr

By Peter Galuszka

Back in 2007, Dominion Energy was touting its new hybrid generating plant near St. Paul in Southwest Virginia as the wave of the future because it would burn coal and wood using advanced fluidized bed technologies.

But for eight months this year, the 624-megawatt Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center operated at only 20% and has never reached more than 65% capacity since going online in 2012.

Now, the utility must face the fact that it may close the plant, according to a new report by the non-profit Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. Dominion has said it intends to keep the plant open.

If it closes, it would affect 153 full-time jobs and 400 additional ones. Localities would lose from $6 million to $8.5 million in taxes.

The Institute undertook its research at the request of Appalachian Voices, an environmental group. It is based on testimony provided to the State Corporation Commission by Atty. Gen. Mark Herring that ratepayers would have to shell out $472 million more than the plant is worth over the next 10 years. Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Good News for a Change

More wind turbines off the Mid-Atlantic coast. Electricity from the Kitty Hawk Offshore Wind project 27 miles off the coast of Corolla, N.C., construction of which could begin as soon as 2024, will be funneled into the electric grid via a substation in Virginia Beach’s Sandbridge community. Roughly 600 jobs will be generated within the Hampton Roads statistical area, which includes part of North Carolina. The project is expected to generate 2,500 megawatts of electricity eventually, enough to power 700,000 homes, reports Virginia Business. From Sandbridge a combination of underground and overhead cables will make the electricity available for resale by developer Avangrid Inc., to Dominion Energy, Duke Energy, Appalachian Power, and others.

No aggressive enforcement of COVID curfew. Chesterfield County police will not enforce Governor Ralph Northam’s midnight-to-5 p.m. COVID-19 curfew by stopping motorists who are otherwise driving lawfully. “The law requires officers to have reasonable suspicion to stop a driver,” wrote Police Chief Colonel Jeffery S. Katz on Facebook. “There are completely lawful reasons for people to be out and about during these times and therefore mere operation of a motor vehicle does not remotely meet the legal burden necessary to justify a lawful stop.” Responding to queries from The Virginia Star, Henrico County police and the Hanover County sheriffs department confirmed that they, too, require reasonable suspicion for conducting traffic stops.

Satellite broadband for Southwest Virginia. Wise County Public Schools will be the first school district in Virginia to use the Starlink satellite internet constellation founded by Elon Musk. The entrepreneur, better known for his Tesla electric vehicles, touts Starlink as delivering broadband to “locations where access has been unreliable, expensive, or completely unavailable.” Continue reading