by James C. Sherlock
I love trains. Always have.
Took my first train ride at a very young age with my mother and brother from D.C. to Birmingham to visit mom’s family.
After the Navy, my private sector work was based in McLean. I had regular business in New York I took Amtrak whenever feasible.
Trains on the eastern corridor of Amtrak are powered by electricity currently provided by gas-fired power plants. There is a faltering and breathtakingly expensive attempt in California to create a high-speed electric rail system. That is pretty much it for electric trains other than short-haul commuters.
But the freight rail locomotives that transport 43% of America’s long-haul freight and Amtrak passenger locomotives outside Amtrak’s Northeast corridor are powered by diesel. Lots of it.
Axios reported in August that “High-speed rail remains a faraway dream in Virginia.” In dreamy progressive fashion, that article reported “costs” of overseas high-speed train trips as if they included only the costs of the passenger tickets.
The damn-the-torpedoes greens, and the commercial interests that hope to get unimaginably wealthy feeding their obsessions, will leave no stone unturned or dollar unspent to transform trains to electric.
Virginia, of course, has its own “not-for-profit” pushing the profitable part of that agenda. Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
The good news regarding the Silver Line extension of the Washington Metro rail system to Washington Dulles International Airport is that the service is fiiinnaally scheduled to commence in October after four years of construction delays.
The bad news is that Metro might not have enough rail cars in service to run on the line.
“The rail car shortage arose last year when more than half of Metro’s fleet — 748 of its most modern cars from the 7000-series — was removed from service owing to a wheel-widening malfunction that caused a derailment,” reports The Washington Post. “More than three-quarters of them remain out of service, pending review by the system’s regulatory agency.”
The really bad news is that Metro’s operating deficit, estimated to run $185 million next year, is projected to hit $738 million in Fiscal 2024 and reach $924 million four years after that. With those deficits, it’s hard to imagine service getting any better. Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
Two recent news nuggets provide a juxtaposition that calls into question the sanity of Virginia’s transportation policy.
Item #1: The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) will pay the lead contractor on the long-delayed Silver Line rail extension $207 million more as part of an agreement reached in July, reports The Washington Post. The Silver Line extension to Washington Dulles International Airport is four years behind schedule. Under the funding agreement, the cost of managerial incompetence will be borne… not by MWAA… not the lead contractor… not even the individuals riding the commuter rail system… but by users of the Dulles Toll Road on the theory that they will benefit from the reduction of traffic caused by the diversion of traffic to the rail line.
Which brings us to Item #2. Continue reading
by Kerry Dougherty
Turns out former Gov. Ralph Northam is the gift that keeps on giving.
Not only do Virginia’s school children continue to suffer academically because of Northam’s hasty, hysterical and prolonged school closures, but most of us were shocked this week to learn that California’s boneheaded new rules regarding a draconian move to electric vehicles will apply to the Old Dominion as well, thanks to a bill Northam signed into law in 2021, linking Virginia to California’s clean air standards, the strictest in the world.
Before the California measure was finalized last week, Steve Haner wrote for the Suffolk News-Herald that thanks to Northam and his Democratic cronies in the General Assembly, we are now serfs to California’s wacky politics.
Virginia’s auto industry overlords in California have a new set of proposed mandates for both electric and internal combustion vehicles that, once adopted, will automatically apply here in the commonwealth. Continue reading
by Dick Hall-Sizemore
Although gas prices have receded substantially from the levels that sent everyone into a tizzy earlier this year, Governor Youngkin has not given up on his proposal to lower gas taxes. Now, however, his rationale for the cut is different.
According to veteran reporter Dave Ress, in an article that appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the Governor told a group of supporters in Virginia Beach recently that the gas tax should be decreased because it brings in too much money for the state transportation fund. The governor said that some level of tax needed to be retained as a use fee.
If the governor really believes that the state brings in too much money for the transportation fund, it seems strange that he let go unchallenged the General Assembly’s budget proposals to use $554 million in general fund appropriation to fund highway and bridge construction projects as follows:
- Widen I-64 between the Bottoms Bridge exit in New Kent to James City County–$539 million (Item 447.10, Chap. 1 (HB 29) and Items 452 and 485, Chap. 2 (HB 30))
- Extend Nimmo Parkway, Virginia Beach–$10,000,000 (Item 447.10, Chap. 1 (HB 29))
- Replacement of Robert O. Norris Bridge–$5,000,000 (Item 452, Chap. 2 (HB30))
The Big Dig ain’t got nothing on us. The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) board has approved $250 million in additional funding to pay for cost overruns on Phase II of the Silver Line rail project, which, incidentally, was supposed to begin service in 2018, and Metro officials now hope will begin this fall. Fairfax County will have to cough up $40 million more, Loudoun County $12 million more, and MWAA $10 million more, reports The Washington Post. The balance will be foisted on the motorists using the Dulles Toll Road. By way of comparison, Phase I of the Silver Line was only $220 million over budget and only six months late.
That’s a lot of laptops. Two Fairfax County school employees and a third man have been charged with stealing as many as 35,000 laptops stored in a county warehouse and scheduled to be auctioned. The losses were estimated at $2 million. The laptops were loaded onto a box truck that arrived at the warehouse without the necessary paperwork. Police charged Fadi Atiyeh, owner of Attyah Computer Recycling, as well as Franque Minor II and Mario Jones Jr. who were employees at the warehouse, reports The Washington Post. The Fairfax County HR website says the county has 12,000 workers. That’s three laptops per employee, unless the county is handling the school system’s used laptops as well. The schools have more than 17,000 employees.
Fewer police, more violent crime. The City of Roanoke has seen an explosion in violent crimes this year. The number of firearm-related woundings and killings has surged: nine homicides so far this year compared to six during the same period in 2021, and 25 aggravated assaults compared to 19. Police Chief Sam Roman says the department’s priority is interrupting “the cycle of gun violence.” In addressing City Council, he pointed to more counseling and mentoring services for at-risk youth and the Groceries Not Guns program, which exchanges unwanted firearms for supermarket gift cards. Continue reading
by Kerry Dougherty
In its never-ending quest to meddle in the free market, the City of Virginia Beach on Wednesday will launch a gimmicky free ride-sharing service at the oceanfront, guaranteed to hurt local Uber, Lyft and taxi drivers.
But who cares about those scrambling to make some scratch in the gig economy, am I right? Learn to code, losers.
Yep, the city that couldn’t reduce the real estate tax rate when the country is teetering on the brink of a recession was able to find half a million dollars to join “Freebee,” a national ride-sharing service accessible by an app.
No, I won’t share the address with you. Look it up.
A fleet of five Tesla Model X SUVs are about to hit the road, taking passengers from 42nd Street (the doorstep of The Cavalier Hotel, a coincidence, I’m sure) as far south as General Booth Boulevard and west to Birdneck Road. In other words, the entire resort area and Vibe District.
These aren’t ordinary Teslas, either. They’re bat-wing style luxury cars with a starting sale price of about $126,000. They seat seven passengers and the ride is shared with strangers. Like a bus, but quieter. Continue reading
by Steve Haner
Virginia’s gasoline and diesel taxes will rise 7% on July 1, about three more cents per gallon when all the elements of the tax are combined. This is the inflation-driven cost of living adjustment which Governor Glenn Youngkin (R) and most legislative Republicans tried to short circuit, but which was preserved by a vote in the Virginia Senate last week.
The new gasoline tax will be 28 cents retail, 8.2 cents wholesale plus another 0.6 cents per gallon to fund a program for removing old underground tanks safely. That’s a combined tax of 36.8 cents per gallon. The taxes on diesel will be 28.9 cents retail, 8.3 cents wholesale plus the same tank fee, a total of 37.8 cents per gallon. Continue reading
Now the powerful regulator of Virginia’s vehicles sales and emissions, thanks to the General Assembly.
by Steve Haner
Virginia’s auto industry overlords in California have a new set of proposed mandates for both electric and internal combustion vehicles which, once adopted, will automatically apply here in the Commonwealth. They do not advance the date for banning the sale of new gasoline and diesel vehicles earlier than 2035 but do increase the incremental targets for percentage of EV sales in earlier years. Continue reading
by Steve Haner
The gas tax in Virginia today is 33.8 cents per gallon and the diesel tax is 34.7 cents per gallon. The fresh proposal from Governor Glenn Youngkin (R) for a 90-day suspension of those taxes does not eliminate Virginia’s full fuel tax bite. The oft-ignored wholesale tax will remain while only the retail tax goes away.
Bacon’s Rebellion has plowed this ground before. The Division of Motor Vehicles’ posted information on taxes remains intentionally misleading, listing the retail taxes in one place and mentioning the wholesale taxes somewhere else. These taxes are also set up by different sections of the Code of Virginia. Youngkin’s proposal would amend only one of those Code sections. Continue reading
Sen. Janet Howell (D-Fairfax), chair of Senate Finance and Del. Barry Knight (R-Virginia Beach), chair of House Appropriations. Photo credit: Richmond Times Dispatch
by Dick Hall-Sizemore
The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports there is an agreement on the state budget. There have been hints in the news about it all week, with the General Assembly announcing that it would come back to Richmond June 1 to take up various measures. All the details will not be available until late Sunday or Monday, but the chairs of the two money committees have released the highlights.
I will defer to our tax expert, Steve Haner, to discuss the revenue aspects of the deal. It looks to be the compromise that he has said was on the table all along—some increase in the standard deduction (but not entirely what the Governor proposed) along with a refundable tax credit.
I want to focus on one surprise in the package that represents two major changes in state policy. The proposed deal includes $320 million in general fund appropriations this year and an additional $150 million in the future, contingent on revenue, to help fund the expansion of the “I-64 gap” between Bottoms Bridge near the Henrico/New Kent border and James City County. This is the project I wrote about earlier and, surprisingly to me, engendered a lot of comments. Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
Based on anecdotal evidence, I have long thought that the rudest, most aggressive drivers in the United States resided in the Northeastern states. It turns out, based on insurance data, that Virginia has some of the worst drivers in the country. So much for our self-image as courteous ladies and gentlemen.
Insurify, a website that helps consumers find automobile insurance, collects a massive volume of data on driver history, including accidents and tickets. Virginians stand out in several regards. Ranked by driving offenses including failure to yield or stop, improper backing, passing where prohibited, tailgating, street racing, and hit-and-run, Virginia is the No. 1 state for drivers with a “rude” driving violation on record. The percentage of rude drivers (3.58%) is more than twice that of the national average (1.68%).
Likewise, Virginia ranks No. 1 in the country for the percentage of drivers with a reckless driving offense (0.56%). That is more than five times the national rate (.09%) Continue reading
Route of proposed Coalfields Expressway
by Dick Hall-Sizemore
While perusing today’s edition of the Roanoke Times, I ran across an article that astounded me. It concerned a meeting recently in Southwest Virginia about the Coalfields Expressway. I remembered hearing about this proposed highway many, many years ago and thought that it had been dismissed as a pipe dream. It turns out that the idea (and hope) is still alive.
The Coalfields Expressway would be a 115-mile federal four-lane, divided highway running from the intersection of I-64 and I-77 near Beckley, West Virginia to U.S. Rt. 23 in Pound, in Wise County. West Virginia has opened 15 miles of its 66-mile portion of the proposed highway and another 21 miles are in various stages of construction or planning. Virginia has begun constructing 7 miles of its 50-mile portion. That stretch overlaps with Rt. 460, linking Grundy to Kentucky. The cost of the Virginia portion is estimated at over $3 billion. Continue reading
i-64 in New Kent County Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch
by Dick Hall-Sizemore
There is a campaign underway to expand a stretch of I-64 from Richmond to James City County. Currently, the Interstate highway is a four-lane divided highway. The proposal is to add an additional lane in each direction.
The Department of Transportation estimates the cost of the project at $750 million.
The first public evidence of the campaign came in the form of proposed amendments to the state budget bill. The House of Delegates has proposed dedicating $30 million in general fund revenues to the project. The Senate has gone bigger; it proposes $190 million in general fund appropriation. Continue reading
Anderson Cooper in a personal flying machine.
Real rebound or just a dead cat bounce? After bottoming out at around 21,500 riders a year ago, the Virginia Railway Express commuter rail service in Northern Virginia is experiencing a recovery in ridership, reports The Free Lance-Star. In February, VRE reports, monthly rider trips totaled more than 52,900. That’s a far cry from the previous, pre-COVID February ridership of 355,000, but it’s something. The decision by a federal judge in Florida to throw out the national mask mandate for public transportation might help revive ridership a bit more.
Yet… the latest numbers suggest that former VRE riders are NOT taking about 300,000 trips monthly that they had been before the pandemic. Some are likely working at home, but some may be adding to congestion along I-95. Virginia has invested in the rail infrastructure, so, it’s a shame if people aren’t using it. On the other hand…
Self-driving cars and flying cars. The Virginia Mercury reminds us that Sheppard Miller, Virginia’s Secretary of Transportation, thinks flying cars could be a reality within the next 50 years — a reason that the Commonwealth should “reexamine transit.” People have been fantasizing about flying cars for a hundred years now, and we have yet to see anything remotely practical. But a wave of venture-funded innovation is giving rise to what might better be described as personal flying machines. They’re not cars with four wheels and wings; they’re battery-powered, drone-like craft that can lift off from parking lots and the tops of buildings. On Sunday, 60 Minutes broadcast a clip of Anderson Cooper flying (seen above) in one such device. Continue reading