“Downtown” Hillsboro. Photo credit; Washington Post
by James A. Bacon
Hillsboro in western Loudoun County is a rural success story, reports The Washington Post. Over the past couple of years, the town of 120 has transformed its main street, a 0.7-mile stretch of Route 9. The addition of sidewalks made the community’s main drag inviting to pedestrians after having been rendered untraversable by the 17,000 vehicles, many of them conveying West Virginians to jobs in the Washington metropolitan area, that passed through every day.
Foot traffic at the Stoneybrook Farm and Market has more than doubled since early 2020. Kids can walk to class. Residents stroll instead of drive to the town’s Friday night concerts. The tiny shopping district is more inviting to the many visitors to the area’s wineries and breweries. Residents are upgrading their homes, and local businesses are expanding.
“It was hard to walk anywhere before. It felt like all you could do is drive to your house, get in your car, get out of your car, get in your car and drive somewhere else,” said Paul Hrebenak, who moved to Hillsboro a year ago. “Now you can walk across the street to your neighbor. You can walk the dog up the street and run into people and sit and chat on the sidewalk, rather than on the side of a busy highway.”
Hillsboro is the perfect illustration of what Bacon’s Rebellion has long advocated as a central part of any rural revitalization strategy — turning hamlets and small towns into walkable communities. There’s just one problem: The Hillsboro model is not replicable anywhere else — unless other communities can figure out how to raise the equivalent of $280,000 per resident in state, federal and local grants. Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
Sidewalks are going to get very crowded, and now is the time to start thinking about what to do about it.
We all know that self-driving cars soon will become a common sight, but a white paper, “The Last Block,” by Canadian Bern Grush, an occasional contributor to Bacon’s Rebellion several years ago, contends that small robotic vehicles — delivering food and packages, sweeping, removing snow, measuring, monitoring, surveilling, repositioning dockless scooters — will precede them.
Dozens of companies from Amazon and FedEd to Starship and Uber, are building small sidewalk-bound robots to deliver food and parcels over the “last mile.” The arrival of these vehicles will require a significant re-thinking of the function and design of streets, sidewalks, and parking.
Virginia is not ready to accommodate a swarm of delivery bots. But there is still tie to get prepared. Continue reading
Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch
by James A. Bacon
Virginia transportation officials are puzzling over a divergence in road safety statistics during the COVID epidemic last year. The number of crashes on Virginia roads fell 15% to 20% below the level of a normal year while the number of fatalities climbed by 2.4% and serious injuries by 5.3%, reports The Virginia Mercury.
The numbers worsened in what officials termed the “belt, booze and speed” categories, with a 16.3% increase in speed-related deaths ad 13% in “unrestrained” deaths. In crashes in which wearing a seat belt was an option, 56% of the people who died weren’t wearing one. Continue reading
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?
Out of Order
I’m just back from a trip to Virginia Beach on a media tour of Dominion Energy’s two experimental offshore wind turbines. I’ll have more to say about them shortly. As for the subject of this post… Driving home, I stopped at the Interstate 64 rest stop between West Point and Richmond. Very conveniently for drivers of electric vehicles, the rest stop sports two EV fast-charging stations. Recharge your car while you’re taking a leak!
Dominion Energy installed the fast-charging station in partnership with the Virginia Department of Transportation in 2009, according to this article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. It was to be the first of many.
Correction: The original version of this post made the inaccurate assumption that these charging stations were part of a recent Northam administration initiative with Los Angeles-base EVgo funded from a Volkswagen settlement. Bacon’s Rebellion regrets the error. But Bacon’s Rebellion still wonders who paid for the charging stations — Dominion rate payers or shareholders — and how long they have been out of order.
Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine
by James A. Bacon
Once upon a time, Virginia built roads and bridges according to the quaint old principle of “pay as you go,” meaning that the state didn’t spend money it didn’t have. That idea went hand in glove with another quaint concept that the people who used public transportation infrastructure should be the people who paid to build and maintain it. People who walked (which a lot of people did in those days) or rode the trolleys shouldn’t pay for roads.
Now Virginians are much more sophisticated. We tell ourselves that such antiquated ideas originated with Harry Byrd Sr., who was a segregationist and racist, which therefore discredits everything he said and did. Not only do modern-day Virginians borrow billions of dollars to build transportation projects, government now operates bus, passenger rail and commuter rail lines, and we tax everyone to pay for everything. The link between who use and those who pays for transportation infrastructure has dissolved like a corpse in a vat of hydrochloric acid.
Virginia’s original bus lines, trolley lines, and passenger lines once operated for profit. They no longer do. The government owns them and massively subsidizes them — even more than roads and highways (which is a travesty in itself). But apparently those subsidies are not enough. Now the au courant thinking is that subsidized transit fares are a “barrier.” People who ride mass transit should not have to pay anything at all. Continue reading
by Steve Haner
The political wannabes in both parties and the state’s media are continuing to ignore it, but the argument over the proposed motor fuel carbon tax called the Transportation and Climate Initiative rages in comments on the proposal flowing into its advocates.
The Thomas Jefferson Institute has also launched a short video (above), perhaps just the first, to alert the public through more populist means. It features owners of two regional fuel businesses, well known as major local employers and taxpayers. Without doubt, Virginia’s membership in TCI would shrink and perhaps severely damage those businesses.
The video was actually ready to use had the 2021 General Assembly taken up the issue, but Governor Ralph Northam did not ask for legislative permission to join the interstate compact involved. The state remains involved in the planning for the cap and tax and ration scheme, now set for 2023 in the states who agree to the compact.
If put in place, all fuel Virginia wholesalers would need to buy government-issued allowances to sell gasoline or diesel, in effect a carbon tax. The amount of allowances will be frozen to prevent the any growth in fuel sales, and then decline annually to force down consumption, in effect rationing. Continue reading
by Steve Haner
First published this morning by the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy. (Happy birthday, Mr. President.)
Read the governing document for the Transportation and Climate Initiative and it becomes clear there is more going on than just an effort to reduce motor fuel use with a combination of taxes and shrinking caps. That may really be a secondary goal. Continue reading
Photo Credit: The Washington Post
by Steve Haner
Dominion Energy Virginia’s effort to force its ratepayers to finance a fleet of electric school buses has finally crashed, defeated by the House of Delegates for a third time in the final roll call of the 2021 General Assembly Saturday night. Continue reading
Seen in my neighborhood on my morning walk.
Long-Term Trend in Working at Home. Credit: Alan Pisarski
by James A. Bacon
It may be time for a major re-think of transportation policy. Alan Pisarski, a Northern Virginia transportation consultant, argues that the states should refrain for now from expanding the transportation system and dedicate funds to properly maintaining the transportation assets they have.
New technologies and business models, some accelerated by the COVID-19 epidemic, could radically change decades-old travel patterns. In a Reason Foundation presentation made last year, Pisarski said the level of uncertainty is “immense.”
Virginia legislators would do well to review Pisarski’s presentation as they tinker on the 2022-23 budget bills advancing through the General Assembly. Absent major changes, the commonwealth will allocate $8 billion roads and highways, almost $1 billion to rail and mass transit in fiscal 2022, and even more the following year. That includes $3.6 billion for new highway construction and $700 million for mass transit (mostly to support the Washington Metro). Spending is up dramatically from the $7.2 billion allocated to transportation in fiscal 2020. Fixated on social justice issues, legislators have been content to let the system run on auto-pilot, with funds allocated between maintenance, road construction, and transit investments according to complicated formulas. The larger issue of how much money Virginia really needs has gone unaddressed. Continue reading
by Steve Haner
Tax on Paycheck Protection Program Grants
The General Assembly session deadlines require final decisions on various revenue bills before the final budget bill is adopted, in theory keeping the two issues separate. What is good tax policy should not be driven by the need or greed of the appropriators. Continue reading
Rav4 hybrid — paying its fair share
by Bill Tracy
There’s a new Virginia tax called a HUF — for Highway Use Fee.
Who knew? Not me — until I had to pay it.
If you renew your Virginia vehicle registration, and your car exceeds a 25 miles-per-gallon EPA rating, you will be politely advised that you are underpaying pump taxes, and to be fair, you will be assessed an extra fee. In my case, I owed an extra $35 taxes because my new RAV4 Hybrid gets 40 MPG.
Because my wife and I do not put on many miles in retirement, and with COVID, that means I probably now pay a little more combined Virginia pump tax with my RAV4 Hybrid than I would with a non-hybrid RAV4. Not to mention significantly more annual car tax to Fairfax County. Continue reading
EV School bus? Storage battery? No, utility profit center.
by Steve Haner
First published this morning by Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy.
The ultimate goal of the Transportation and Climate Initiative with its tax and rationing scheme is to eliminate fossil fuels for transportation and get us into electric vehicles. That is something advocates have admitted and critics have pointed out. While Virginia TCI participation is on hold in this statewide election year, the 2021 General Assembly is following other pathways to the utopian EV future.
The House of Delegates has sent the Virginia Senate a bill to create a state financial incentive of $2,500 for purchase of a new or used electric vehicle. An additional $2,000 rebate is offered to a low- and middle-income buyer of a new car and $500 if that buyer choses a used EV.
The House has also passed legislation empowering the state’s Air Pollution Control Board to adopt state regulations on vehicle fleet fuel economy and to model California’s existing program forcing manufacturers to offer more zero- and low-emission vehicle sales in the state. This bill sets no goals but puts an accelerated process in motion, bypassing the full regulatory review, with a goal of regulating the 2025 model year vehicles offered in the state. Continue reading
Norfolk Southern’s coal loading terminal at Lambert’s Point in Norfolk
By Peter Galuszka
Oilprice.com, a petroleum trade newsletter, has a story that could spell more bad news for the faltering Virginia coal industry.
For many years, the most valuable product from Virginia’s coal fields was coking or metallurgical coal that is exported to other countries for use in steel making.
China has been a crucial buyer of Virginia coal but recent pronouncements from the Communist Party leadership indicate that coal is on its way out after leader Xi Jinping outlined a far-reaching program that set a peak of carbon emissions in 2030 followed by net zero policy by 2060.
Correspondingly, steel companies are also setting net zero carbon goals including the world’s biggest steel makers ArcelorMittal of Europe, Baowu Steel of China and Nippon Steel of Japan.
The moves could erase Virginia’s coal experts because the demand for the steam coal used to generate electricity has already been undercut by the remarkable growth of renewable energy sources like solar and wind in China and India. As they expand, their costs go down – below those of coal.
Coking coal exports from Hampton Roads could get slammed as global steelmakers experiment with new manufacturing processes. Continue reading