Category Archives: Transportation

Freebees Aren’t Free

by Kerry Dougherty

I can’t be the only Virginia Beach taxpayer sick of watching my real estate taxes climb every year while the city council wastes money on pricey gimmicks like “free” Tesla rides for residents and visitors to the city.

For two years we’ve picked up the tab for a small fleet of Teslas to be summoned to haul swells and drunks around the oceanfront.

The first year, the misnamed “Freebee” program cost taxpayers $500,000. Last year the project cost $1.3 million. According to city officials, 52% of riders who were too cheap to call a cab or Uber were visitors, while 48% were locals suffering from the same freeloading mentality.

Notice a pattern?

Thankfully, City Manager Patrick Duhaney left this free-market-tampering boondoggle out of this year’s proposed city budget, although some of the Beach’s tax-and-spend knuckleheads are lobbying to put it back. Continue reading

The Camel in the Tent

In 2022, the General Assembly disregarded two long-standing principles of funding transportation projects in the Commonwealth.  Republican Gov. Youngkin followed down that path this year.

The General Assembly has dedicated sources of revenue to be used for transportation, with general government functions being financed by general income and sales taxes and other special funds. The revenue sources for transportation include taxes on gasoline and other fuels, motor vehicle licensing and titling taxes, operating licenses fees, and 0.5 percent of the 4.3 percent state sales tax. Localities in specified regions of the state are authorized to levy an additional 0.7 percent sales tax to be used for transportation. The concept of having funding for transportation and general government separated was so ingrained in the legislature that there have been attempts in the past to create a “lockbox” for transportation funds to avoid their being used for other general government purposes. The latest such attempt was in 2018.

By statute the legislature has stipulated broadly how transportation funding will be distributed: by system, by highway district, etc.  It has also authorized the issuance of bonds by the Commonwealth Transportation Board and other entities. However, with few exceptions, the main one being the widening of U.S. Rt. 58, the legislature has stayed away from designating the specific projects to be funded. It has left that function to the Board, relying on guidance from the Virginia Department of Transportation. It was a prudent choice. Otherwise, the funding of specific projects would be largely based on politics, rather than need. Continue reading

But It’s Just a Little Bit of Money

Rep. Ben Cline (Va.-6th District)

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Ben Cline, the Commonwealth’s Republican member of the U.S House of Representatives from the 6th District, is very upset about the level of federal spending and the state of the federal deficit.

Cline is chairman of the Republican Study Committee’s Budget and Spending Task Force.  In a press release last year, he lamented the trillions in new spending authorized by the Democrats in recent years and the $31.92 trillion in national debt. (He does not mention the trillions in debt rung up during the Trump years.)  The study committee has a proposal that would “balance the budget in just seven years, cut spending by $16.3 trillion over 10 years and reduce Americans’ taxes by $5.1 trillion over 10 years.”

As part of that overall plan, Cline’s task force produced an alternative budget for 2024.  I have to give Cline and the task force some credit.  Usually, when conservatives call for spending cuts, they refuse to say what specific items should be cut or eliminated.  That is not the case with this document.  It has over 120 pages listing specific programs for elimination or reduced funding.  After dealing with Social Security, Medicare, and defense, the budget has about 30 pages of specific mandatory and discretionary spending programs it recommends eliminating or reducing. Continue reading

Surprise Findings About Metro Derailment

by Bill Tracy

In Northern Virginia on Friday, the National Transportation Safety Board released a scathing final report on the Washington area Metro’s derailment problem with its newer. 7000-Series railcars.  The NTSB’s media presentation by Chair Jennifer Homendy can be found on YouTube.   NTSB also faulted Metro’s safety culture.

My prior layman’s understanding, from local news coverage, had been that Metro (aka WMATA) had no idea what was causing the derailment problem.

I was dumbfounded to learn that since 2014, WMATA has been aware of the wheel “migration” problem on its railcars. In hindsight, WMATA had not been designing the Metro railcars with adequate “press force” of the wheels onto the axles. This problem allows some railcar wheels, over time, to spread out — wider than the tracks — causing derailments. About two-thirds of the 748 new 7000-Series railcars were built with an inadequate press force spec, before the spec was updated by WMATA. As expected, it was one of the earlier 7000-series cars that derailed in Arlington in 2021, causing all of the new 7000-series cars to be taken out of service.

The fix is to re-build the wheel sets of the earlier 7000-series cars to bring them up to the new standard, presumably at great expense. WMATA is trying to blame the manufacturer, Kawasaki, for the issue. Kawasaki, however, reports that they built the railcars to final specs requested by Metro-WMATA. The courts will presumably have to settle the “who pays” issue. Continue reading

Keep Carytown Safe for Cars

by Jon Baliles

The debate about making Richmond’s Carytown a car-free zone is edging closer to the forefront in recent months with strong opinions, interesting suggestions, some good ideas, and some bad ones.

The Times-Dispatch Editorial Board weighed in with its opinion, and it was vocal. It’s worth the entire read and filled with stats you probably never heard of, such as that of the 250 or so pedestrian malls created in the U.S. since the 1960’s, only about 10 remain. The piece is filled with great information and two quotes worth noting:

Making Richmond a walkable paradise is certainly a worthy goal. But turning Carytown into a pedestrian mall, and undercutting the businesses that have made it into a regional shopping destination — is not.

The editorial points out that making Carytown car-free could lead many shoppers (who come from near and far) to go elsewhere, and worries that the owners of the unique mix of shops and merchants could be driven out of business, which is also a way of making it a car-free zone. It also points out that many in Carytown are open to new ideas, and certainly to making it safer, but skeptical of closing it to cars. Continue reading

Metro is at the Precipice. Declare Bankruptcy.

Recent ridership figures for Metro. Source: WMATA Click for larger view.

By Derrick Max

Tuesday, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) warned that without substantially greater subsidies from DC, Maryland, and Virginia, they would be facing a $750 million annual shortfall that would require draconian cuts in services, including closing 10 stations, cutting 67 bus lines, and laying off 2,000 employees.  They would also freeze salaries, raise fares and parking fees, reduce bus and train frequency, and close all stations at 10 p.m.

The threat of such cuts was meant to be a bargaining chip for more funding rather than a true plan to save WMATA, as any such cuts would just accelerate, not slow, the demise of WMATA.  It is time for Governor Youngkin and the two other regional funders, all of whom are facing reduced federal aid in their own budgets, to seriously consider forcing WMATA into bankruptcy.  And if WMATA’s unique structure as a bi-state compact agency makes it ineligible for Chapter 9 bankruptcy — a complete restructuring and rethinking of WMATA along a similar line as Chapter 9 bankruptcy are in order.

The truth is that bankruptcy is not a new idea.  In 2016, WMATA hired one of the nation’s top bankruptcy lawyers, Kevyn D. Orr, to advise the agency on fixing its troubled finances.  At the time, WMATA had a $1.8 billion operating deficit (a loss of over 200 percent of operating revenue) with $917 million in long-term debt (not counting pension and other benefit liabilities).  The hope was that Mr. Orr’s expertise would help WMATA restructure its debt without resorting to bankruptcy, take a tougher line on labor negotiations, and wrest more money from the three Washington-area funding jurisdictions.  Sadly, whatever reforms were implemented have had little, if any, impact on WMATA’s financial situation today. Continue reading

Factoid of the Day: Speeding in Virginia

Maniacs. Image credit: Washington Post

Virginia has the third highest rate of fatal crashes in which someone was driving faster than the speed limit or too fast for road conditions, according to personal injury law firm Heninger Garrison Davis in an analysis of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data.

Virginia recorded 906 fatal crashes; speed figured as a factor in 240. The speeding rate of 26.5% is more than 50% higher than the national average. The press release did not specify the year these figures are based upon, but a web search reveals that the most recent NHTSA crash data comes from 2020. 

I blame out-of-state drivers on Interstate-95. — JAB

Virginia’s Forced Technology Hits a Speed Bump

by Bill O’Keefe

The Virginia General Assembly, as a result of past Democrat control, has mandated through the Clean Economy Act and a 2021 law a low-emission and zero-emission motor vehicle program for model year 2025 and beyond.  In the process it has demonstrated the folly of using technology to force through large subsidies, as well as  the arrogance of legislators who believe they know more than consumers and providers.

It is becoming ever clearer that these mandates are based on wishful thinking and a failure to understand innovation technology, the importance of cost, and the sources of global emissions. Back in 1980, President Carter and Congress established the Synfuels Corporation to develop alternatives to oil. Its initial funding was $20 billion, but fortunately it wasted only $960 million while making OPEC stronger. The history of government attempting to pick winners because it is smarter than the private sector is littered with failed efforts. But politicians never learn. Continue reading

Destroying the Commonwealth in Order to Save It

(This was first published today by the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy)

by Barbara Hollingsworth

Members of the General Assembly who voted for a bill in 2021 mandating that new vehicles sold in Virginia must be all-electric by 2035 forgot to do the math to show exactly how that would work in real life.

As the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy noted in February when we unsuccessfully made the case for repeal of this ill-advised legislation, the Commonwealth simply does not have the technological capacity to make such a massive switch from internal combustion engines in such a short period of time.

Replacing the energy stored in one pound of oil takes 15 pounds of lithium battery. To mine the materials found in the typical 1,000 pound car battery will mean mining and processing about 250 tons of rock and dirt.

Nobody told Virginians that the level of subsurface mining required to manufacture the millions of new batteries required to store electricity generated by wind, solar and other “renewable” energy sources will dwarf current production levels, scarring the earth.

Consider our planet — including Virginia, which has deposits of copper, manganese and zinc — pockmarked with ten times the current number of mines, resembling craters on the moon. This in a state that won’t even allow an underground natural gas pipeline to be built. Continue reading

One of My Pet Peeves

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

State law exempts from registration fees trucks, trailers, and other motor vehicles, used solely for farm purposes either on highways near a farmer’s land or for hauling farm products to market (see here and here).    This is one of the most abused Code provisions.

The picture above was taken in my neighborhood.  Take my word for it:  there are no farms anywhere close.

This picture was taken on one of the main streets in Richmond or Henrico (I forget which).  Unless the driver of that truck was taking a sofa that he had grown on his farm to market to sell it, he was violating the law.  Violation of the statutes is a traffic infraction and punishable by a fine up to $250.

Until 2022, law enforcement officers were authorized to require drivers of vehicles claiming this exemption to provide the address of the lands owned or leased by the vehicle’s owner and used for agricultural purposes and the address of the vehicle’s owner.  I doubt that happened often.

Beginning July 1 of this year, persons wishing to operate farm vehicles without regular license tags must attach an official placard provided by DMV to the vehicle.  To obtain the placard, the owner of the vehicle must file an application with DMV identifying the farm and the commodities that will be transported on the exempt vehicle along with a statement that the vehicle will be used only for the exempt purposes set out in law.

If this requirement is enforced, there should be fewer “farm use” vehicles seen in urban areas.

Gas Taxes, EV Fees Will Rise Again July 1

Add the retail tax and storage tank fee in the first table to the wholesale tax in the second table to get the total tax per gallon.  Click for larger view.

by Steve Haner

Virginia motor fuel taxes will rise again July 1, to just over 39 cents per gallon on gasoline and just over 40 cents per gallon on diesel. This will be the second automatic increase in gas taxes since the 2020 General Assembly voted to index the gas tax to inflation. Continue reading

RVA 5×5: Valet Parking

by Jon Baliles

There was a lot of talk and coverage this week about the City of Richmond’s Planning Commission unanimously approving the removal of parking minimums citywide with the full City Council expected to take the matter up at its meeting Monday night.

The ordinance as written would allow developers to decide how much parking to include in new developments anywhere in the city — or if they need to include any parking at all to serve the development. For decades, the city-required developments to also provide a certain number of off-street parking spaces based on the size of development, the number of dwelling units, type of use, or total floor area.

The end goal is to allow developers to determine how much parking to provide in their developments and if they don’t have to provide expensive parking, they will then increase the supply of needed housing units. The city recently declared a “housing crisis,” and the need for more housing across the entire region is urgent. The proposal is one of the recommendations from the Richmond 300 master plan, which is in favor of less “auto-centric” zoning and more in favor of denser and more walkable mixed-use neighborhoods.
Continue reading

Snow Day in April: Something in the Water

by Kerry Dougherty

When the first Something in the Water Festival came to Virginia Beach in 2019, some lemon-sucking locals balked at allowing school buses to be used to transport revelers  from satellite parking to the resort area.

How will bus drivers be able to drive festival goers until 11 p.m. on Sunday and be rested enough by Monday morning to safely transport kids, they fretted.

As if bus drivers were toddlers who need 10 hours of sleep.

What if the festival goers leave their drugs or guns on the buses and the kids find them on Monday morning? whispered others.

Puh-leez. Continue reading

Planes, Planes, Planes, and Some Space Ships

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Friday afternoon I visited the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum at Dulles Airport, officially known as National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.  It has been on my list of places to visit for a long time.  If you haven’t been, I heartily recommend it.

As with anything the Smithsonian does, the number of objects on display is astounding. There are cavernous halls with planes and other aviation-related displays laid out all over the place—big planes, little planes, planes from the early 1900’s, modern planes, Nazi war planes, a Soviet MIG, satellites, a space shuttle.  In addition, there are almost as many planes suspended from the very high ceiling.  All of this can be viewed from three levels.

For someone who is not an aviation aficionado, all these items tend to blend together fairly quickly.  It is almost impossible to take it all in in one day.  It is best to take small bites, which is what I plan to do.  I come to Northern Virginia frequently to visit my daughter and her family, so I can do that.  (Admission is free, but there is a $15 parking fee.)  If one can’t go back easily, but can devote most of one day to the facility, I recommend choosing a sunny day and take some lunch.  After spending a couple of hours or so in the facility, go outside, eat your lunch, and then go back in, with your mind somewhat rested from all the stimulation. Continue reading

Maglev & Light Rail: Once-Shiny Objects Now Tarnished By Reality

by Kerry Dougherty

Gosh. It isn’t often the local newspaper provides two examples of “shiny object stupidity” in one week.

But The Virginian-Pilot delivered.

On Wednesday the newspaper quietly reported on the absolute demise of the failed maglev system at Old Dominion University. That’s magnetic levitation technology for those of you who weren’t around here to experience Shiny Object Fever in the late 1990s that cost taxpayers millions of dollars.

The promise of maglev was that beginning in 2002 students would zip around campus on this raised train using futuristic technology. Problem is, it never worked. The rails were sold for scrap years ago and according to a report in The Pilot, the rest of the structure is being demolished without ever transporting a single student.

The thing the reporter failed to mention in her brief story is that the developer borrowed $7 million from the commonwealth — that’s you and me — to build this monument to snake oil. As best I can tell, the loan has not been repaid.

It could have been worse. In 1999, Virginia Beach City Council came close to spending between $20 and $30 million on a maglev line along the oceanfront. Continue reading