Category Archives: Transportation

Hijacking George Floyd: Mass Transit Edition

Katie Cristol

Here’s another example of how white  liberals are hijacking the George Floyd tragedy to advance their special-interest agendas on the grounds of social justice.

At the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission meeting last night, Chair Katie Cristol observed that “Systemic racism, and the opportunity to confront it, is present in every feature of our lives, including transportation. Public transit should also be an opportunity to further racial justice in our region.”

Added Secretary-Treasurer Jeff McKay: “We need to think about transit as an equalizer, as a human service, as a connection to our economy. … A key component of that is how we think about transit and how we factor transit into literally what could be a life-changing situation for so many families in Northern Virginia.”

Here’s another way to think about mass transit: Packing people into buses and commuter rail cars is a recipe for propagating the COVID-19 virus among the minorities most likely to ride them.

Here’s another way to think about social justice: If you want minorities to have better access to job opportunities, address the “affordability and access” crisis in automobile ownership.


Construction: Virginia’s Quiet, Strong Man

Scene from Micron’s $3 billion construction project in Manassas. Photo credit: Inside NoVa

By Peter Galuszka

For all the complaints about the COVID-19 pandemic in Virginia – the shut-down restaurants and (temporarily) closed beaches – one industry has been working steadily and quietly all along – the state’s construction sector.

Builders haven’t missed much of a beat since the “state at home” orders started going out a couple of months ago.

In Pentagon City, works still progresses on the two, 22-story towers for Amazon’s new eastern headquarters. In suburban Chesterfield County near Richmond, workers toil adding new drain pipes and four-laning once- rural roads. Four-story apartments overlooking Swift Creek Reservoir are taking shape for the over-55 crowd.

At a loud and garish protest next to the State Capitol against Gov. Ralph Norham’s work-stoppage plans last month, Mark Carter, a contractor from Hanover County, made his views known. “We‘re still working,” he told me. “I’m not for Trump and I’m not a Democrat. People need to work.”

In Virginia, some are. After all, New York state and Boston stopped construction work due to the pandemic. Continue reading

“People Have Stopped Buying Automobiles”

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

That is how Aubrey Layne, Secretary of Finance, summed up his explanation to the House Appropriations Committee of April’s 15% drop in transportation revenue

All of the major components of the transportation revenue were down in April, but the biggest danger sign was in the motor vehicle sales and use tax. That source is the largest single state source of revenue for the highway maintenance and operation fund and the second largest source for the transportation trust fund. Its revenues in April were down 41% compared to April a year ago.

Despite the sharp drop in April, the year-to-date transportation revenues are still running 5.6% higher than for the comparable period last year, and significantly higher than the 3.3% decrease that had been forecast. However, the Governor’s stay-close-to-home policy, continuation of extensive telecommuting, and social distancing will likely bring the total transportation revenue below last year’s total. Revenues should pick up after July 1, when the increase in the gas tax becomes effective, although the increase will likely be less than was forecast in the session.

WTJU Podcast: COVID-19 and the Economy

By Peter Galuszka

Here’s is the twice-monthly podcast produced by WTJU, the official radio station of the University of Virginia. With me on this podcast  are Nathan Moore, the station general manager, and Sarah Vogelsong, who covers, labor, energy and environmental issues across the state for the Virginia Mercury, a fairly new and highly regarded non-profit news outlet. Our topic is how Virginia is handling the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Screwing Workers On Safety and Liability

A GRTC bus driver in better times

By Peter Galuszka

At 4:30 a.m. on April 27, about 100 workers of the Greater Richmond Transit Company — half of the total – failed to show up for work.

Worried about the health of its membership, Local 1220 of the International Amalgamated Transit Union demanded additional safety measures such as full personal protection equipment, time and a half hazardous pay, limits on the numbers of passenger and testing.

GRTC management threatened to fire workers who stayed away from work but agreed to talk. A resolution may come at a May 19 board meeting.

Indeed, stories are showing up throughout Virginia and across the country as workers most likely to be exposed to COVID-19 often have the least protection and no guarantees their employers will provide testing, hospitalization and sick pay.

In Timberville near Harrisonburg, workers at a Pilgrim’s Pride poultry plant worry that they are required to work at less than six feet –- considered safe distancing –- from each other. In Norfolk, non-union workers at a General Dynamics ship facility were required to do electrical work until they refused, citing exposure threats and a death. Continue reading

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