Who says Virginia’s polarized legislature can’t get anything done? Governor Glenn Youngkin has signed a bill banning the vehicle modification known as “Carolina Squat.” The law was inspired by the death of Virginian BJ Upton in a car accident involving such a vehicle.
The modification raises the front of the vehicle significantly higher than the rear, affecting its handling. Headlights are pointed to the sky rather than illuminating the road ahead, the driver’s view is compromised, and the modification alters the dispersion of mechanical force in a collision.
The Carolina Squat apparently is Redneck America’s answer to Mexican-American lowriders, which California made illegal in 1957 for similar reasons: the configuration altered handling characteristics. But the Carolina Squat looks far more dangerous than lowriders. The Governor’s press release touting the signing of the bill didn’t detail the causes of the accident that killed Upton, but it’s a good bet that driver visibility was an issue. Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
Governor Glenn Youngkin has proposed using $437 million in unanticipated transportation revenues, much of it generated by the wholesale tax on gasoline, to give Virginians a three-month break on the 26-cent retail gasoline tax.
During his campaign, Youngkin ran on a platform of addressing Virginia’s high cost of living and reversing the erosion of middle-class living standards. A vacation on the gasoline tax is certainly consistent with that theme. And with inflation running at nearly 8% over the past 12 months, Virginians need help wherever they can find it. They will find no succor from Democrats, whose list of unmet societal “needs” is endless. They are delighted to spend every dime in tax revenue on one of their favored causes — which, alas, rarely includes helping financially strapped middle-class taxpayers.
While Youngkin has identified a winning issue, he needs to think bigger and more systematically. It’s fine to dial back the gasoline tax for a time, remove the sales tax on groceries, and try to repeal the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) carbon tax, but there is so much more that he can do.
Forty-one percent of the cost of living, as calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is housing, 17% transportation, 7% medical care, and almost 7% education. Each of these categories is, to some degree, influenced by state-level budgetary and regulatory policy. Continue reading
Photo credit: Virginia Law Foundation
by Ken Reid
Northern Virginia is the object of admiration and contempt, in Republican circles, and even among some liberals in economically stagnant Maryland and Washington, D.C.
In the last few years, Loudoun County, where I had a political career as a Republican, has gone “blue” as has Prince William and much of Fairfax counties.
Some conservatives lament the influx of liberals and also immigrants, notably from Asia and Latin America, though of late, Latinos seem to be voting more Republican.
But the counties and cities that make up “Northern Virginia” – Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William, Arlington and cities Alexandria, Fairfax, Manassas, etc. – are one of the most prosperous regions in the U.S. It is nearly recession-proof due to the largesse of the federal government, particularly defense and homeland security dollars (which we Republicans support, no?)
The success of NoVa is also due to business leaders who in the 1950s and 60s saw the area, particularly Fairfax County, as a potential economic engine. One of those was John Tilghman Hazel, known as “Til,” a Harvard-educated attorney and developer, who passed away March 15 at his farm in Fauquier County at the age of 91. Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
The pre-pandemic financial model for the Washington Metro, the largest mass transit system in Virginia, is not sustainable, and it’s time to re-envision the system to recognize the new traffic patterns, General Paul J. Wiedefeld testified to a Congressional oversight committee yesterday. Metro officialdom is scrambling to plug a another $500 million revenue shortfall stemming from declining ridership and lost fares.
The root of the problem: thousands of Metro riders, including federal workers who once comprised 40% of the system’s pre-COVID rush-hour customers, have opted to work remotely.
“It’s really mission impossible turning this around from a financial standpoint, and we may have to accept that it’s going to be a consistent money loser and a big money loser for decades and decades, but necessary to have our capital shown in the best way it can and also get the legions of federal workers … to and from their place of work,” said Rep. David Trone, D-Md., a subcommittee member, reports The Washington Post.
The Washington Metro has been a money pit for years, sucking up an ever larger share of Virginia transportation dollars allocated to mass transit. But Metro officials at least held out the hope that given enough money to address maintenance backlogs and safety issues the commuter rail system could be turned around. If Wiedefeld says Metro needs a new vision, you’d better believe that it needs a new vision. Indeed it may be time, after four years of the Northam administration indiscriminately dumping money into mass transit and rail projects, for a wholesale re-evaluation of mass transit across the state. Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin has appointed Hampton Roads businessman Sheppard “Shep” Miller III as the next Secretary of Transportation. Youngkin’s press release offered no clues on how his transportation policy goals might differ from those of the outgoing administration.
“Shep will be an invaluable leader as Secretary of Transportation as we fulfill our promises to all Virginians to invest in roads, highways, and transportation infrastructure in every corner of the Commonwealth, so we can jumpstart job growth and keep Virginians moving,” Youngkin said.
The politics of transportation during the Northam administration have been relatively placid. Thanks to tax increases implemented by Governor Bob McDonnell and a slowdown in population growth and development of the Commonwealth’s Northern Virginia growth engine, transportation issues have been quiescent. Ever-attentive to the demands of the environmental lobby, Team Northam steered billions of dollars into railroads and mass transit, even as the COVID epidemic created an unprecedented slump in demand for rail and bus. But there has been no meaningful pushback on those priorities from any quarter. Continue reading
Here’s what Interstate 95 looked like near Fredericksburg yesterday. Both northbound and southbound sections were closed due to snow and ice. Photo credit; Virginia Department of Transportation via the Associated Press
by James A. Bacon
Hundreds of motorists were stranded on Interstate 95 in freezing temperatures last night after two tractor-trailers jackknifed in a snowstorm and triggered a chain reaction as other vehicles lost control. Both lanes of the Interstate were closed. As night fell, reports the Associated Press, motorists posted messages on social media about running out of fuel, food, and water. Senator Tim Kaine, who was commuting between his residence in Richmond and the Capitol, said he was stuck in his car for 21 hours.
NBC News correspondent Josh Lederman, who spoke on NBC’s “Today” show by video feed from his car, had this observation: “You really start to think if there was a medical emergency, someone that was out of gas and out of heat — you know it’s 26 degrees, and there’s no way that anybody can get to you in this situation.”
People can live without food and, for a time, without water. If worse comes to worse, they can pee on the side of the road. But the potential killer is hypothermia. The AP account tells of one motorist who stopped his car engine at least 30 times to conserve gas and run the heat just enough to stay warm.
I’m wondering how many of the stranded cars were electric vehicles and what happened to them. Continue reading
Editor’s note: Anthony “Tony” Downs, long-time Virginia resident and scholar at The Brookings Institute, died in October. His thoughts about the economics of transportation had a profound effect on many.
by Philip A. Shucet
Tony Downs didn’t need social media to be an influencer.
Tony published “Stuck in Traffic” in 1992, and in that book, he said that the best way to ease traffic congestion was to charge people a toll to drive during the busiest times of the day. Price supply, and demand decreases. An economist’s advice put down for the taking.
Tony’s work influenced congestion pricing programs in London, Stockholm, Milan and Singapore.
In recent months, the full body of Tony’s transportation work — two dozen books — was on my mind as New York City explored a program to charge people to drive south of 60th Street in Manhattan. The Metropolitan Transit Authority started public meetings in September to collect input. Those meetings wrapped up on December 9. The MTA wants to start charging by the end of 2023.
I wondered what Tony might think of the city’s plan. But Tony died on October 2. He was 90. Continue reading
A BMW model qualified as zero emissions by the California Air Resources Board. You see more and the subsidies California provides buyers here.
By Steve Haner
First published this morning by the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy.
Virginia’s automotive sales market is now officially controlled in Sacramento, with the likelihood that no new internal combustion engines can be sold in the Commonwealth after 2035.
The Virginia Air Pollution Control Board, acting not with discretion but on orders from the General Assembly, voted on December 2 to adopt Advanced Clean Cars Program regulations that delegate ultimate control to the California Air Resources Board. Virginia will simply follow Sacramento’s lead in dictating that an ever-increasing percentage of new car sales be certified as low emission or zero emission by the CARB.
Legally it would be similar to Virginia being forced to comply with federal regulations, except these rules will come from and be amended by California and its governor, regulators and legislature. Who in Virginia gets to vote for them? No one.
Legislation in 2021 directed the Air Pollution Control Board to adopt these rules with no deference to the regulatory processes. If you missed the usual public notices or hotly-contested public hearings, it may be because they didn’t happen. Media coverage has also been sparse. Continue reading
by James C. Sherlock
Saw this headline in the Washington Business Journal.
“Toll Brothers pushes big residential plans in Ashburn — and a tribute to enslaved people who once lived there.”
Behind the headline: This is to be a development of 1,300 residences in a project named Mercer Crossing.
Since it is being built by Toll Brothers, we’ll assume they will be pricey.
Their Lenah Mill project in Aldie has homes for sale from “$1,323,895″ and from “$1,499,950,” depending upon how much space one needs and how close one wishes to live to one’s neighbor.
Six other Toll Brothers developments in Loudoun are nearing sold-out status. Continue reading
by Steve Haner
Well, nobody is likely to thank me actually, but why not take a bow. After Connecticut’s governor announced he would give up on imposing the Transportation and Climate Initiative on his citizens, Massachusetts’ governor made a similar announcement yesterday.
Governor Charlie Baker of that state was the driving force behind TCI, one of the few Republican governors pushing it. TCI is dead. It was a bad idea a decade ago, and now is a bad idea that has totally lost relevance. Time and reality have passed it by.
The drumbeat against it in Virginia started softly with this article on Bacon’s Rebellion in March of 2019, and I’ve written about it often here and for the Thomas Jefferson Institute. Those stories, and some polling, legal and economic analysis published by the Jefferson Institute, successfully tagged TCI for what it was: a big fuel tax increase coupled with a government-mandated rationing scheme. Continue reading
by Steve Haner
First published this morning by the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy.
The Governor of Connecticut has abandoned his efforts to enroll that state in the Transportation and Climate Initiative, an interstate compact which would impose a cap, tax and ration scheme on gasoline and diesel fuel.
Virginia remains a part of the planning group that developed the compact, which has now been under consideration for more than a decade but not implemented anywhere. In late 2020, Connecticut was one of four jurisdictions pledging to go forward in 2021, while Virginia remained on the sidelines.
As in Virginia, Connecticut’s participation in the compact required legislative blessing, which Governor Ned Lamont was unable to secure during 2021, even in a legislature controlled by his own party. In light of that failure, and the lack of any other signs of movement toward an agreement, Lamont announced Tuesday he would not try again in 2022. He was quoted in the Hartford Courant:
“Look, I couldn’t get that through when gas prices were at a historic low, so I think the legislature has been pretty clear that it’s going to be a pretty tough rock to push when gas prices are so high, so no,’’ Lamont said Tuesday, acknowledging that the cost of motor fuel was likely to rise under the initiative, known as TCI.
At a later appearance in East Hartford, Lamont said that gasoline prices had reached a seven-year high and there was not enough support in the legislature in 2022 — a year when both Lamont and the entire legislature are up for reelection.
The Rhode Island legislature also passed on the issue in 2021 despite its governor’s efforts. Only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia are poised to join TCI once enough states make it viable, and in Massachusetts opponents have put the issue in front of the voters in a 2022 referendum question. Continue reading
Image source: JLARC
by James A. Bacon
For once, Virginia’s Virginia’s $8 billion-a-year surface transportation system (roads, highways, bridges, mass transit) is not in crisis. The system is in pretty good shape, and it is well financed, concludes a new Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) report.
Recent tax increases bringing in more than $800 million a year ensure that Virginia will have the resources in the near- to mid-term future to make needed improvements. But longer term, the evolution of Virginia’s automobile fleet from gasoline-combustion engines to hybrid and electric vehicles will undermine a transportation-funding system which generates 29% of its revenue from taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel.
The solution is moving to a Highway User Fee (HUF) — first a flat fee, and then a Mileage Based User Fee (MBUF) based upon the number of in-state vehicle miles driven, the report says. But to build public acceptance for a mileage-based fee Virginia should act now to address privacy concerns and evaluate the cost of administering the fee, JLARC says.
As the commonwealth begins implementing the user fees, Virginians will be hearing more about HUFs and MBUFs in the very future. Only two other states have established permanent MBUF programs, and they have only a few thousand participants. Virginia’s program is more ambitious. As the JLARC study says, “Virginia’s MBUF is being modeled on the Oregon and Utah programs but will likely begin as a much larger program.” JLARC expects at least 2.6 million Virginians (38% of vehicle owners) will be charged user fees in the next two years. Continue reading
Will Metro ever get its act together? The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority has pulled the 7000 series of rail cars from service after a derailment on the Blue Line and discovery of more than two dozen wheel-assembly defects similar to those that had contributed to the accident, reports the Washington Post. “The potential for fatalities and serious injuries was significant,” said National Transportation Safety Board Chair Jennifer Homendy, “This could have resulted in a catastrophic event.” The news represents the latest in a long series of setbacks for the commuter rail system, which serves Northern Virginia. It comes at at time when transit officials were hoping that ridership, devastated by the COVID-19 epidemic on top of a history of safety and service issues, might rebound. But never fear, the federal government has a printing press and it has limitless dollars to prop up failed enterprises.
K-12 education in crisis. The crisis in K-12 education has far deeper roots than the COVID-19 epidemic. Nationally, 13-year-olds saw unprecedented declines in both reading and math between 2012 and 2020, according to scores released a week ago by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Despite relentless efforts to close the racial achievement gap, the “Nation’s Report Card” shows that Blacks are falling behind even faster than Whites, Asians, and Hispanics. Declines were most severe in the bottom 10th percentile. “It’s really a matter for national concern, this high percentage of students who are not reaching even what I think we’d consider the lowest levels of proficiency,” said George Bohrnstedt, a senior vice president and institute fellow at the American Institutes for Research, as quoted in the 74 Million blog.
Dumb and dumber. Speaking of the NAEP scores, fewer than half of Virginia’s 4th graders score “proficient” or higher in the NAEP tests. By the 8th grade, they fall even farther behind. Here are the most recent numbers (2019): Continue reading
by Kerry Dougherty
At the risk of sounding like a paid Southwest Airlines P.R. person, I can truthfully say it’s my favorite airline.
No change fees. Two bags fly free. Decent fares if you book early enough.
Best of all, Southwest flies out of our sad little airport.
Those perks are nice, but what impressed me most was the time I was in the Norfolk boarding area, peered out the window and saw the pilot on the tarmac, helping the baggage handlers load the plane.
I asked another SWA pilot about the incident and he assured me it wasn’t uncommon. The goal is to get the aircraft turned around quickly. Everyone pitches in.
I’m a sports fan. I like teamwork wherever I find it. Continue reading
What is wrong with this picture? Headline from FFXnow: “Inova temporarily closes urgent care centers in Reston and Tysons due to high patient volume.” On top of an influx of COVID-19 cases fueled by the Delta variant, Virginia hospitals are getting more patients — many of whom had delayed seeking medical care due to the pandemic — with more medically complex conditions. The health system closed the two facilities to “manage an influx of patients without overwhelming exhausted staff.” I get the part about the staff being exhausted. But how does closing the two centers do anything to solve the patient overload? Inova says it is consolidated staff from the shuttered centers “to better accommodate patient volume.” Huh? No explanation of how that works.
Build a rail line and they will come A newly launched Richmond-to-D.C. passenger rail line is the first project under the Northam administration’s $3.7 billion, 10-year passenger rail program which, due to protests, COVID-19 and culture wars, has warranted almost zero scrutiny. In this piece in Energy News Network, Danny Plaugher, executive director for Virginians for High Speed Rail, says the new line, which will generate a predicted 12,600 passengers annually, show how serious Virginia is in its commitment to high-speed rail. Aside from getting passengers off the highway, rail is touted as a way to reduce CO2 emissions in the all-consuming war on Climate Change. While the Northam administration is spending billions on rail, here’s what’s happening in the real world: Road and highway travel is recovering from the epidemic, while rail traffic is not. The most recent quarterly ridership for the Virginia Railway Express (VRE) commuter rail service in Northern Virginia, for example, is down 85% in 2021 compared to the same period in 2019.
A massive win for Southwest Virginia. A joint venture between Blue Star Manufacturing and American Glove Innovations has committed to invest $714 million to establish the most the world’s most advanced (NBR) manufacturing facility to produce nitrile rubber gloves. The project would repatriate production of an estimated 60 billion gloves annually from Asia to the United States. Based in the Progress Park in Wythe County, the project will employ a predicted 2,500 people within five years. According to the Virginia Department of Economic Development, it represents “the largest job creation in Southwest Virginia in a generation.” As part of the deal, the state has promised to invest $8.5 million to upgrade water and wastewater capacity at the industrial park. The nitrile glove market is expected to grow 9% annually through 2027.