Category Archives: Transportation

Mass Transit Reacts to COVID-19 Menace

Norfolk transit employee wipes down a bus.

by James A. Bacon

Another data point in the ongoing debate over cars versus mass transit…

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority has asked riders to stay home and not to travel, as the agency prepared to cut service Wednesday, reports the Washington Times. Ridership has already fallen 70%.

Metro, which operates buses and commuter rail in the Washington area, will continue to provide service for essential trips.  In the past trains normally ran every four minutes during rush hour and no less frequently than every 12 minutes during the day. now they will run every 15 minutes on each line from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. weekdays.

The loss of revenue will have a significant impact on Metro finances. Farebox recovery accounts to 57.5% for Metrorail and 24.3% for Metrobus. I guess it won’t be long before Metro asks for another bailout. Update: Question answered in one day. According to the Washington Post, the transit agency is asking for $50 million a month in emergency federal aid. Update: Meanwhile, according to Virginia Business, the Commonwealth Transportation Board has allocated $11 million to help struggling transit systems recover from ridership losses. Continue reading

Sweet 16 (Tax Bills) Will Cost Virginians Billions

By Steve Haner

What will this year’s General Assembly cost you in taxes? Here are at least 16 bills approved by the 2020 General Assembly that create or raise taxes on Virginians or authorize a local government to do so. No one told Virginians at the start of session that major tax increases were coming, and there is little recognition of what has now happened. It is time to tally the bill.

If anybody would or could run the fiscal projections on these 16 tax bills, they might combine into a major tax hike comparable to those in 2004 and 2013. Over several years this will cost families or businesses billions of dollars, but most will be collected by wholesalers (cigarettes and fuel) or too deeply buried on receipts to see.  Assessments on business eventually get passed down to the customer: you.  Continue reading

COVID-19 as Boost to Telework, Distance Learning

by James A. Bacon

The COVID-19 virus may change our lives in ways we can only begin to imagine. Believe it or not, some of them might even be positive. Consider the impact of today’s stories upon Virginia’s higher-ed and transportation systems.

A  boost to distance learning. The University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, and James Madison University may follow the lead of Harvard and other Ivy League institutions in moving classes online.

Virginia Tech sent a letter to faculty members Monday urging them to prepare options for delivering coursework outside the classroom, reports Virginia Business. “We must accelerate planning necessary to sustain our academic mission, including the use of online platforms to deliver instruction,” said Provost Cyril Clark. “Please use this spring break when most classes are not in session to become familiar with strategies to continue teaching through disruptions and to plan for the possibility that students and faculty may not be able to meet for course sessions in person.”

“We are looking at how do we move our courses online,” said JMU spokeperson Caitlyn Read. “Our libraries and our online learning centers have ratcheted up support services for faculty who are looking … to get classes online.

Update: UVa has made the decision to move all classes online. So has Virginia Tech.

Schools out for summer. Schools out forever! OK, that quote from rocker Alice Cooper might be a slight exaggeration. But Fairfax County Public Schools, which serves 188,000 students, will close all of its nearly 200 schools for “staff development day/student holiday” next Monday, the Washington Post reports. The purpose: “to provide an opportunity for staff to prepare for the possibility of distance learning in the event of a school(s) closure.” Continue reading

Electric Yellow School Buses? Pure Green Grease

By Steve Haner

Having voted to give Dominion Energy Virginia a blank check to spend billions of your money on offshore wind turbines, the Virginia House of Delegates will vote today to provide hundreds of millions more from your pockets for electric school buses.

Last week the House defeated a similar bill, twice. It received only 35 votes the first time and 44 votes the second. The response from the utility and the Senate patron was to introduce a new bill “Thursday,” after she received unanimous consent from her fellow senators.  Continue reading

Bacon Bits: The Madness Continues…

Yes, Virginia, our long statewide nightmare is almost over. Lawmakers in the General Assembly are scheduled to go home next week. In the meantime, life goes on, and we get news like this…

Silver Line looking tarnished. Phase 2 of the Silver Line, which extends the Washington Metro commuter rail to Washington Dulles International Airport, is already two years behind schedule. Now it could face more delays due to new problems revealed in a Metro Inspector General report.  The latest review, reports the Washington Post, found recurring problems with surge arresters that protect the Metro’s electrical systems; problems with the insulated rail joints at the rail yard; and a software validation issue relating to the system that allows operators to reduce train speeds. The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) has been responsible for oversight of the two-phase, $5.8 billion Silver Line construction. The first phase opened in 2014.

The Blue Coats are Coming! The Blue Coats are coming! As the Democratic-controlled General Assembly puts the finishing touches on its gun control legislation, gun-rights activists in Amherst County and Nelson County are issuing calls to muster for the purpose of forming militias. In an interview with the News & Advance. Nelson County organizer Don Heres was vague about the proposed militia’s purpose. “He sees the future militia as a “resource for the county.” But “everything is all preliminary. We’re not really started yet. It’s a citizen’s group and the citizens will decide what we do, what we’re called, all those things.” Organizers in both counties are hoping for turnouts of 100 or more. The musters are not sanctioned by the county governments.

One Ring to rule them all. Shades of 1984 (or Sauron, take your pick)… The Albemarle County Police Department is partnering with Ring, the doorbell camera company, to get video from county residents deploying the surveillance cameras. The police department first started thinking about a partnership when a burglary victim brought a photo from his Ring app to police. Roughly 1,000 other departments are partnering with Ring, according to the Daily Progress. Said Police Chief Ron Lantz:“I think this is a way for us to partner with the community to help make this a safer place to live.”

How Are Those Inside-the-Beltway Toll Roads Working Out?

Source: “2019 Corridor Performance Report for the I-66 Inside the Beltway and I-395 Corridors,” presented March 5, 2020.

by James A. Bacon

In late 2017, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) installed tolled express lanes on the congested inside-the-Beltway segment of Interstate 66. Planners hoped the tolls would discourage commuters from driving solo, and surplus toll revenues would be used to expand bus and rail alternatives. There was a frenzy of media coverage in the early days when dynamically set toll prices pushed past $47 for an inbound rush-hour commute, but the fever soon abated.

The Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC) decided to revisit the issue two years later. A new study has concluded that I-66 inside the Beltway “moved people more efficiently” in 2019 than it did in 2015 before the tolls were installed.

The total number of people traveling inbound during morning rush hour increased by 1.2% while the associated number of vehicles decreased by 2.7%, indicating a shift in the share of trips made by transit and HOV. Overall, 65% of the corridor’s morning rush-hour inbound trips were made by transit or HOV in early 2019, compared to 64% in early 2016. Continue reading

Moderation? Senate Holds Back House On Issues

By Steve Haner

With two weeks remaining in the 2020 General Assembly session, the tendency to procrastinate (and perhaps some buyer’s remorse) has several key issues still pending. Here is an update on some  previously discussed on Bacon’s Rebellion.

The moderating impact of the narrow 21-19 split in the Virginia Senate, with several of those Democrats needing to be sensitive to more rural constituencies, is on full display. The defeat of the assault weapons ban is not the only example, just the most reported example.  Continue reading

Richmond’s Pulse Stimulates Mid-Rise Development

Artist’s rendering of proposed Broad Street tower

by James A. Bacon

Sometimes it seems like the City of Richmond can’t do anything right. City Council just nixed a $1.5 billion redevelopment plan for the Navy Hill district in downtown. And no one can figure out where, or how, to build a new minor league baseball stadium. But the city has hit a couple of home runs. It’s preserving the James River as a magnificent park running through the center of the city. And, overcoming considerable controversy, the city managed to build a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system along the Broad Street corridor.

Not only did Richmond find $65 million to cover the Pulse’s capital costs, it created the appropriate zoning along Broad Street to encourage the re-development of fraying urban and suburban land along the route. The fast-bus service was designed to support the kind of mid-density, mixed-use “walkable urbanism” that many Richmond residents are looking for. It took a while, but it now appears that the city’s foresight is paying off.

Minneapolis-based The Opus Group has filed for a special use permit to erect a 12-story residential tower on the corner of Broad and Lombardy streets near the Virginia Commonwealth University campus. The 168-unit apartment would replace a Sunoco gas station and convenience store. The top floor would sport an outdoor terrace with commanding views, while the ground floor would provide 3,400 square feet of retail space. Continue reading

A Series of Hidden Tax Hikes In the Bag

The bag tax is 5 pence in Scotland, but will be 5 pennies here in Virginia.

By Steve Haner

Politicians hate taxes that voters pay by check and love taxes that are buried deep on invoices or fully invisible. The 2020 General Assembly is raising taxes right and left (mostly left) but focused on that second method. These will be tax increases most people will never spot.

Governor Ralph Northam’s record introduced budget was based on several proposed tax increases (and of course the extra money collected by breaking his promise to continue last year’s tax reform effort). But legislators have not been shy, only sly, about building on that base with additional levies.  Continue reading

Deer, Cars, Wildlife Corridors… and Coyotes

by James A. Bacon

Egads! Vehicle collisions with deer accounted for 61,000 traffic accidents, in Virginia in the year ending June 30, 2016, according to the Virginia Transportation Research Council. The hoofed critters contributed to one in six of all accident claims. And, judging by the number of deer carcass removals, the number of accidents may be under-reported. There are more deer-related accidents than alcohol-related crashes. As a menace to Virginia motorists — roughly 10,000 injuries and 200 fatalities a year — deer are second only to distracted drivers.

I first read the astonishing deer-collision numbers in a Washington Post op-ed by Richmond journalist (and friend) Steve Nash. Nash is a careful reporter, but so amazed was I by the magnitude of the problem, I had to double-check the data. It’s accurate.

Lawmakers have tackled drunk drivers, and they’re working on distracted drivers. But I can’t think of any laws the General Assembly can enact that deer are likely to obey. There are almost as many deer living in rural Virginia (an estimated one million), and they are even less inclined than the human inhabitants of Second Amendment Sanctuary country to hew to legal diktats handed down from the legislature. Continue reading

All Aboard!

Governor Northam has proposed a major long-range expansion of passenger rail service in the Commonwealth. The broad outline was released last December and the means to implement it are included in the administration’s omnibus transportation bill (HB 1414 and SB 890).

The Plan

The details of the plan are too extensive to set out in this post. They can be found here on the website of the Department of Rail and Public Transportation and in a press release from the Governor’s office. Also, both the Washington Post and the Richmond Times-Dispatch have run major stories on the plan.

The plan is the result of an agreement between Virginia and CSX. In summary, the state would build a new rail bridge across the Potomac River, acquire more than 350 miles of railroad right-of-way and 225 miles of track, and make 37 miles of new track improvements. Continue reading

Highway Safety Provisions Embedded in Omnibus Bill

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Included in the Governor’s omnibus transportation bill, discussed earlier here, are some major highway safety proposals that have proved controversial in the past.  The administration probably thought the chance of passage would improve if these proposals were wrapped up in a big package with lots of other stuff.

The items are the following (I have plagiarized Dave Ress’ well-worded summary in his Daily Press article):

  • No talking on a handheld cellphone while driving. (Currently, talking on a handheld phone is banned only in highway work zones. Typing or reading text on a handheld phone is banned anywhere.)
  • No open containers of beer, wine or liquor while driving. (Currently, you can’t drink while driving; the change would mean a fine of up to $250 just for having an open container in your car.)
  • Driving with your seat belt unbuckled would be a primary offense — that is, sufficient reason for a police officer to pull you over and give you a ticket. (Currently, you can be ticketed for this only after a cop has pulled you for some other violation.)

Continue reading

Chart of the Day: I-95 Congestion Bottlenecks

Source: Virginia Department of Transportation (by way of Inside NoVa)

The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) is getting more sophisticated in how it analyzes and presents data. The chart above comes from a VDOT study looking at average northbound speeds on Interstate 95 to determine where to focus traffic-relief efforts, according to Inside NoVa. The department will develop a similar study for the Interstate 64 corridor this summer. (I’ll get to specific VDOT proposals in a later post. Right now, I’m just grooving on the cool data presentation.)

From the chart we can readily see three areas where traffic gets crunched: Richmond, Stafford/Fredericksburg, and Northern Virginia — with the most nightmarish slowdowns occurring around Occoquan. It may not tell us anything we don’t already know, but it does measure the congestion more precisely and help pinpoint the bottlenecks that need to be addressed.


Bacon Bits: In Non Gun-Related News…

In the Virginia political world, everyone’s attention is riveted today upon the gun-rights rally in Richmond. We are all hoping that everyone behaves himself and the event remains peaceful. But other things of interest are happening around the Commonwealth.

Washington Metro ridership back up. The years-long downward slide in Washington Metro ridership reversed itself in 2019, increasing 4% over the previous year — about 20,000 trips per weekday on average, according to the Washington Post. One possible explanation for the turn-around: People now can use their cell phones as fare cards. Also, Metro now offers a money-back guarantee that credits riders whenever a rush-hour trip is delayed more than 10 minutes. The greatest growth occurred in Saturdays and Sundays. Metrobus ridership continues its steep fall, down 2.5% last year. But it’s encouraging to see that the Metro, after years of effort to improve safety and on-time performance, may be pulling out of its slump.

Cherokees will have skin in the game. With the surge in proposals by Indian tribes to build casinos in Virginia, a central question I have been asking is what value the tribes are providing. Do they contribute anything beyond bartering their privileged status as a federally designated tribe? Are outside investors doing all the work and taking all the risk? Or do the tribes actually have skin in the game? Well, in the case of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, which is proposing a resort and hotel in Bristol, it appears that the tribe is willing to invest $200 million of its own money. The Bristol Herald-Courier quotes tribe chief Richard Sneed: “Looking at the potential customer base and what the market would support, we’re estimating about a $200 million investment. The Eastern Band could come in covering the full cost of the investment as an owner operator.”

Well, there’s always home school. The culture wars in Loudoun County public schools are roiling around the appropriateness of LGBTQ literature in elementary school libraries and classrooms. Should public schools being legitimizing gay relationships and trans-sexual identity as early as elementary school (or at all)? Many parents, especially those of a fundamentalist Christian persuasion, object to books they consider “leftist propaganda” and “moral corruption”? Said one parent, according to the Washington Post: “They’ve removed everything with a Christian influence … and replaced it with smut and porn.” In a nation with irreconcilable value systems, this kind of conflict seems inevitable in public schools. Perhaps the best way to deal with the conflict is to let the majority’s values prevail (in this case, those who promote the LGBTQ agenda) while making it easier for those with minority views to opt out of the system, either through private school or home schooling.


Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

As the Richmond Times-Dispatch recently reported and summarized, the Northam administration has introduced a comprehensive bill covering a wide range of transportation issues. The proposal is being carried in the House by S[eaker Eileen Fuller-Corn (HB 1414) and in the Senate by Sen. Saslaw of Fairfax (SB 890).

This bill (the introduced House and Senate bills are identical) covers subjects ranging from the use of cellphones while driving to a major reconfiguration of how transportation revenue is disbursed to a decrease in vehicle-registration fees to an increase in gas taxes.  The scope of the topics covered in the bill’s 86 pages is mind-boggling.

It would seem that the bill would be in clear violation of the “one-object” rule of the Virginia Constitution:  “No law shall embrace more than one object, which shall be expressed in its title.”  To be fair, the bill does express in its title one object: transportation. That is comparable to saying that a bill expanding Medicaid and reforming foster care would have one object: social services. Nevertheless, the bill is safe from challenge on this score. In the House, the Speaker rules on whether a bill violates the “one object” rule, and I have no doubt she would rule in favor of her bill. Continue reading