COVID-19’s Long-Term Changes in Virginia

by DJ Rippert

In the long run…  Over the past eight months COVID-19 has dramatically impacted the world, the United States and Virginia.  One hundred and twenty thousand cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Virginia  Over 2,500 people have died from COVID-19 . The cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to grow in the Old Dominion. One year ago unemployment in Virginia hovered at 3%. Today it is 8%. Protests and rioting, possibly catalyzed by the COVID-19 lockdowns, have occurred regularly in several Virginia cities as well as Washington, D.C. Schools in Virginia moved to virtual teaching last Spring and many schools will open this Fall with either fully or partially virtual teaching. Nobody doubts the short- and mid-term effects of COVID-19. But what of the long-term effects? What impacts of COVID-19 will be felt after this version of the Coronavirus is gone?

The Spanish Flu (1918), Polio (1916 – 1955), H2N2 (1957), HIV/AIDS (1980s -), Swine flu (2009), COVID-19 (2020 -). Epidemics have broken out in the United States since the colonial days. Smallpox, yellow fever and cholera outbreaks plagued the country for centuries. The Spanish Flu pandemic was far worse than COVID-19 (to date). That flu struck in four waves and is estimated to have killed up to 50 million people worldwide. However, most Americans today would say that the Spanish Flu didn’t create major long-term changes in the United States. Some would disagree. Academics like Andrew Price-Smith believe that flu tipped the balance toward the allies in World War I. The growth of predominantly female-led nursing in the US may have been a consequence. In utero exposure to the pandemic may have negatively affected the health and prosperity of those exposed. Some survivors of the Spanish Flu never fully recovered. Despite all that, the Spanish Flu was called “the forgotten pandemic” until COVID resurrected interest. Economically speaking, the end of the Spanish Flu coincided with the start of the Roaring Twenties, making it hard to find long -term negative economic impacts from that pandemic.

But what of COVID-19? Will it be another “forgotten pandemic” 20 years from now or is this pandemic going to create long term change in society?

This time it’s different. American media seems to believe that the COVID-19 pandemic will forever change America in important ways. It took Politico Magazine only until March 19 to find 34 ways COVID-19 would reshape America. BBC followed at the end of June with a somewhat less philosophical list of long-term changes. The Brookings Institution checked in with an economically focused view of the post COVID-19 future. The International Monetary Fund had its own ideas.

Me? I’m not buying most of this. I’m old enough to have lived through a number of upheavals and I generally don’t see the predicted seismic societal change 20 years after the upheaval. Sept 11, 2001, happened almost exactly 19 years ago. How worried are Americans about terrorism today? Who can forget the color-coded terrorist threat levels — red for “severe,” orange for “high,” yellow for “elevated.” What color is it today? In my estimation, upheavals accelerate existing trends far more than they unleash new, unpredicted trends. That’s what I believe will happen with COVID-19.

Implications for Virginia. Here are just a few of my thoughts on how COVID-19 will impact Virginia over the long term. I’d be interested in hearing other Virginia-centric thoughts in the comments.

  • Micro-business disaster. Virginia is full of micro-businesses. Very small businesses that range from bowling alleys to tailor shops to bait stores. These ultra-small businesses were differentially hurt by the shutdown since they often failed to meet the test of “essential goods and services. I could walk into Wal-Mart and buy a fishing lure but not into my local tackle shop. Why? Because Wal-Mart also sold food and gardening implements. The lockdown and subsequent recession will kill off a lot of micro-businesses for good. In Virginia the jobs lost to micro-business shutdowns will be replaced by deliveries from distant warehouses run by companies like Amazon. Good for Arlington as it expands the Amazon presence. Bad for rural Virginia where the micro-business jobs will not have substitutes. Expect the COVID-19 recession to be particularly long and bitter in rural areas. Complex and expensive rules and regulations such as those proposed by Del. Richard Sullivan will only make this worse.
  • The retail apocalypse accelerates. One of the best investments of the COVID-19 pandemic has been shorting CMBX 6, an index of commercial mortgage backed securities with a strong exposure to shopping malls. Malls were on the ropes before COVID with most rehabilitation efforts centered around building out expanded indoor dining options and movie venues to attract shoppers. A double whammy. The stores are failing and no one is going to the restaurants or movie theaters. Jobs in malls and the malls themselves will disappear at an accelerating rate. This poses two problems, especially for suburban Virginia — how to replace the jobs and what to do with the land housing malls (along with oceans of parking lots)?
  • Upper class / Middle class flight from the cities. Many cities got hit hard by the virus then hit again when some protests turned violent then hit again when liberal city councils and mayors proved unable or unwilling to stem the violence. The 2015 riots in Baltimore over Freddie Gray’s death lasted 15 days. The 2020 riots in Portland have been continuing for almost 100 days. They are getting more violent. A Trump supporter was gunned down the day before yesterday.  This is a COVID quadruple whammy.  First, Coronavirus hit the populous cities especially hard and early.  Second, people moved to cities for the perks of city life — fine restaurants, music venues, sports stadiums, etc.  Those were /are shut down. Third, the trend toward safer cities has been fully reversed with July being the most violent month in Chicago in 28 years. Fourth, work from home has been far more effective than managers expected allowing many white collar city-dwellers to relocate elsewhere. Virginia is largely a beneficiary of this as people leave D.C. and head to Northern Virginia, heating up the real estate market. While the City of Richmond will suffer, I expect most Richmonders will relocate elsewhere in Virginia. Luxury second homes are suddenly in high demand. Are people looking for a place to temporarily run or permanently inhabit? Time will tell.

COVID-19 won’t tear Virginia to its foundations.  However, it will generate change. If we manage this change intelligently we could have a different but better Virginia. If we allow our state government to practice business as usual we will be in worse condition after COVID than we were were before the dread disease.

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112 responses to “COVID-19’s Long-Term Changes in Virginia

  1. I agree with much but not all.

    The retail apocalypse accelerates – and already well underway anyhow.

    Migrations to the suburbs are accelerating also… but also due to COVID19 citywide. The violence is spectacular but limited to just small parts of most cities.

    Finally, small businesses. Yep – they get killed easily – they don’t have the staying power – but they ebb and flow normally anyhow. The thing about these “micro-businesses” is that – like a lot of things in our economy – they are more discretionary than necessary, so they come and go depending on how much “slop” there is in discretionary money. When times are tight – they get squeezed out. When we are flush they’re thicker than flies on cowpies.

    We have convinced ourselves that we have a very “tight” and efficient economy in the US – which is why we are a top economy but the thing that is amazing is just how much of our economy is not based on necessities but instead niceties… eating out, sports, casinos, amusement parks, destination vacations, cruise ships, second homes, late model cars and pickups, high dollar higher ed … on and on… even though almost half of our births are paid for with Medicaid and millions don’t have health insurance…BECAUSE they earn their livings with these lower paid service jobs that are also discretionary.

    • ” … but the thing that is amazing is just how much of our economy is not based on necessities but instead niceties… eating out, sports, casinos, amusement parks, destination vacations, cruise ships, second homes, late model cars and pickups, high dollar higher ed … on and on… even though almost half of our births are paid for with Medicaid and millions don’t have health insurance…”

      There will be a lot more people on Medicaid and lacking health insurance if all the jobs associated with “eating out, sports, casinos, amusement parks, destination vacations cruise ships, second homes, late model cars and pickups, high dollar higher ed … on and on” go away or even shrink 20%.

      • Oh you’re totally correct but this does not sound like a solid economy when so many people are so dependent on jobs that are not necessary in the economy AND do not pay enough for workers to afford health insurance and affordable housing…

        This does not sound like a strong and resilient economy. It sounds like one that depends on low paid workers.

  2. Funny no mention of Donald Trump. Otherwise, really good analysis

    • I think, in retrospect, Trump’s handling of COVID-19 will be viewed as
      “meh”. Below average on the health response. Above average on the economic response. Here’s a test – who was president during the Spanish Flu outbreak? Answer: Woodrow Wilson. Did you ever remember reading anything in the history books about Wilson’s management of the Spanish Flu? Me either.

    • Surely Peter, you would have interpreted the Orange level mentioned in the post as a reference to Trump?

  3. Has grand Potentate Ralphie, or any other adult in Richmond, enumerated what the goal posts are for ‘normalcy’? What will it take to no longer have to wear a mask and act like we’re all lepers?

    Interesting that we don’t know how many quarters we’re playing and how long each period lasts.

    Even back in 1942 our Allied leaders laid out what it would take in order to invade Hitler’s Germany front on. There was a plan with goals. Here, not so much…..

    I guess we’re just flying by the seat of our pants, or rather the edges of our hood in Ralphie’s world.

    • Northam has no plan. Look at the schools. The state is supposed to provide good quality, free public schooling for all Virginians regardless of where they live in the state. That’s why oceans of money are taken out of places like NoVa and spent elsewhere. Localities are not self-sufficient or autonomous with regard to public schools in Virginia by design. Now comes COVID-19. Everybody knows that virtual teaching is far less effective than in-person teaching. But we have some school districts that are all virtual, some hybrid, some all in-person. Meanwhile, we don’t have dramatic differences in COVID-19 experiences across the state anymore. So why is our brilliant governor allowing unequal education based on geography? He should have set up clear rules and insisted that any schools that could meet those rules teach in-person. Instead, he left it up to the whim of various teachers’ organizations and school boards. I have an idea – let’s let localities decide if they want to send money to other localities for their schools since this is a local matter.

      • see this is a no-win because if he sets clear rules – one set of critics will excoriate him over “one size fits all” and if he lets each school district determine – based on COVID19 risk in their area – he’s called “weak”.

        If you look across the country AND in Maryland – how is Northam that different?

        It’s okay to give legitimate criticism – but why the double standard compared to other states and govs?

        • Why? Because other states are not strict implementors of Dillon’s Rule. Maryland allows counties to levy income taxes for example. Virginia’s state government hoards all the power until making a decision is difficult. Then it’s somebody else’s problem. Florida demanded that all schools reopen for in-person teaching but gave parents the right to decide if they wanted in-person of virtual.

          How does this map make sense?

          One county is fully remote next to another county that is fully in-person. Has the virus mutated by county?

          Democrats lambasted Trump for the lack of a national response but then turned around and thought it was fine for Northam to refuse to implement a state-wide plan.

          • Naw.. it don’t have nothing to do with Dillon Rule – it has to do with policies for COVID19 independent of Dillion Rule. That’s just an excuse to be able to blame Northam.

            How does the map make sense? It makes sense because each school distance is taking responsibility for decisions instead of a top-down “do it no matter local conditions” – like you see in Florida and Georgia.

            If we wanted schools to open – we need to have Federal support for them – especially for testing and more facilities , more school buses, etc… The Feds did nothing and let the schools twist in the wind so they did what they could based on local decisions.

            You can’t have it both ways. If Northam dictated it – ya’ll would be all over him for being Wise King.

            Admit it! you guys are not about fair play here.. it’s how can you best criticize him… no scruples ….

  4. Speaking of “long term” COVID – we keep looking at daily numbers, and we talk about the numbers going down – as if the virus is winding down rather than the reality which is that mitigation, social distancing and masks are why the virus is receding.

    But the fixation on the numbers coming down is actually encouraging folks to believe we can stop with the masks and social distancing !!!

    It’s perverse.

    • I’m only partly convinced of your argument. My admittedly amateur guess is that the virus spreads and is the most dangerous and infectious when it first gets to an area. The people most prone to be infected get infected early. After a while the virus becomes less infectious because those most prone to be infected have gotten the bug. Mitigation, masks and social distancing also slow the spread, no doubt. But places like the Eastern Shore in Maryland had very few cases through March and April, even May. By May everybody was socially distancing, wearing masks, etc. Then the cases started rising, peaking in mid-July. After a while the cases started to fall. People were mitigating, masking and socially distancing through the rise and fall. So, something happened.

      The big question is whether this is a one wave virus. Or, will we start seeing another wave in the Fall / Winter. Seasonal flus work that way but who knows about the Coronavirus? The Spanish Flu came back with a vengeance, much more deadly in wave 2 than in wave 1.

      • Well, it’s not my argument, it’s most of the “real” epidemiologists.

        If we stopped wearing masks and social distancing… started up spectator sports again and other dense congregations of people – do you really have much doubt?

        I do agree with you that we have not learned all we need to learn and it may well not infect at the standard “R” rate but if that’s true – it would totally change how epidemiology currently works, right?

        But I still think looking at the “hospitalization” rates that are coming down and thinking the virus is coming down – as opposed to it being a reflection of our current mitigation is an issue.

        At the very least, we’d have to admit that we DO disbelieve that masks and social distancing are needed, ergo, we can have stadium spectators again… etc…

      • “The Spanish Flu came back with a vengeance, much more deadly in wave 2 than in wave 1.”

        This speaks to the ongoing discussion of who is “following the science.” It’s sometimes possible for various individuals of comparable scientific background to look at the same situation and have very different opinions about the appropriate course of action.

        Predicting future events with absolute certainly is not humanly possible and the prevailing opinion of experts isn’t necessarily correct. Do we flatten the curve, but work toward herd immunity? Or do we postpone infection as long as possible in the hope that improved treatments and a vaccine will be available? Both options have risk, and only hindsight is 20/20. What if the virus mutates into a more virulent form?

        In a free society, decisions about one’s health and welfare should be left to the individual, to the extent possible. I hope the future brings a less political presentation of options and risks, and more options left to individuals.

        For some situations, variolation may be a viable option.

        “Variolation (+ Isolation) May Cut Covid19 Deaths 3-30X”

        • The issue with individual rights and responsibilities is if/when what you do – affects others.

          That’s where govt steps in – because it’s supposed to protect the rights of both.

          • Practically everything we do has the potential to impact others to one degree or another. It’s not black or white. It’s a continuum of probable outcomes ranging from highly unlikely to near certainty.

            Government mandates and restrictions must take this into account, and should be proportional to the danger and likelihood. Let’s take travel for example. The state department travel advisory map isn’t black and white. It is coded with a legend that ranges from “Exercise Normal Precaution” to “Do Not Travel” with lots in between.


            Government restrictions in response to perceived danger also range from harsh and oppressive to free and open. In the old USSR for example, even travel within one’s own country was restricted. The burden of proof was on the citizen to demonstrate why travel was necessary.

            In a free society, the burden of proof for restrictions is primarily on the government, not the citizen. I prefer to live in a free society.

          • Indeed. But travel aside – just your own actions can impact others including on your own property if what you do affects others off your property.

            It’s not that the government is some 3rd party “deciding”. It’s that those who are affected go to the government to ask that the govt stop you from doing things that affect them.

            That’s where a lot of regulation actually comes from.

            And yes. – there is a lot of difference of opinion.

            But if you are infected with an infectious disease – your unfettered “rights” may well end at the edge of your property. Once you are on property you do not own – you’re not the one deciding if you have a right to impact others…

          • Did you read the article linked above on variolation? Why shouldn’t first responders have that as an option, since even with PPE, they are highly likely to contract the contagion during a pandemic?

        • Well if you are using your own property – sure. But when you’re not – then who decides?

          Who pays for these “ideas” and how does that affect others rights?

  5. One outcome of the pandemic I would like to see would be for Virginia to decide that broadband either ‘is,’ or ‘is not’ essential. Pick one, and follow through with the implications.

    If it’s not essential, then we can continue on as we have been, making only painfully slow progress toward getting access for everyone.

    If, however, it is considered essential, then why not treat it like electricity? Isn’t electricity a requirement for an occupancy permit? (I don’t know, I’m asking)

    Further, I would suggest that power companies be charged with at least some of the responsibility for making it happen. This may seem heavy handed, but I believe there’s some logic to it. The power companies control the means of getting to the locations not already connected – the utility poles. Power companies could have say 3 years to get everyone connected where they serve. Partner with whomever is in each area, but get it done.

    In return, I would hold off on the 100% renewable timeline. We aren’t ready to do that anyway.

    I’m sure my suggestion will be controversial, especially the last part. That’s okay. I’m not married to this idea, just throwing it out there for the policy wonks to dissect and tell me why it wouldn’t be possible.

    • I agree with you about broadband service being as important as electricity these days; in fact I said so (earlier, but below).

      The idea of making that a responsibility of the power company however would be problematic. Not impossible, but a lot of factors stacked against it. Here’s why.

      First, you say, “power companies control the means of getting to the locations not already connected – the utility poles.” But this isn’t true. Many poles are owned by the local telephone company, some by the local cable company, many by local governments (for lights and sometimes for wires). State law provides that whoever puts up a pole, it has to let all other “public service companies” attach to it.

      Second, public service companies (including power companies) are only allowed by State law to do certain things. A power company isn’t allowed to provide broadband services to the public.

      Now, obviously, State law could be changed in both respects, but that probably would occur only if the cable companies (the principal current providers of internet “broadband” service) got behind it. They are dead set against it. They have killed many attempts, e.g., to allow municipalities to offer broadband connections via municipal wifi/hot-spots, as some cities in other States have done (for example in Philadelphia); there are Virginia laws they have got enacted that forbid municipal- or County-owned broadband systems. They make their money off the sales of TV programming and they want that foot-in-the-door that the ISP has to its customers. They are protected by federal law (at least as the current admin interprets it) from much of the State-level utility-style regulation that power companies etc. have to put up with, and they often have exclusive, lightly-regulated cable “franchises” with the local government, leaving the consumer with no alternative but cell-tower data services or satellite services (which are expensive or latency-challenged, respectively).

      I hope the secondary educational crisis due to Covid-19 shines a spotlight on the poor availability of broadband in rural and less-wealthy urban areas. But to get anywhere it’s going to require taking on the entrenched cable companies to allow the competition from other broadband providers.

      Who could do this? A power company has its own extensive communications network to run its own facilities and it has the financial resources also to easily go into the broadband-to-the-public business — but, at least initially, a stand-alone provider of internet service probably would be perceived as less of a threat to competition.

      • Thanks for the reply. I think I should clarify my suggestion.

        I was suggesting that the power company (or whatever entity owns the utility poles) have “at least some of the responsibility for making it happen.” I was not suggesting that power companies be compelled to provide Internet service.

        Having watched the painfully slow process of getting reliable Internet access to my own remote area, it would seem that while the owner of the utility poles may allow communication companies access, there doesn’t appear to be much incentive for them to be efficient about it. They don’t seem to care if the deployment takes months or years longer than it should.

        Do you remember the jokes about the phone company prior to the breakup? “We don’t care. We’re the phone company.” That is part of the problem with deployment currently. Access to the utility poles, is sometimes controlled by an entity to really doesn’t care. Without an efficient process, Internet deployment is needlessly long and more costly for those doing it than necessary. We can see the result.

    • Broadband access is a legitimate issue that has been brought to the fore by the pandemic. It’s probably worth a separate column but I believe that vast majority of Virginians have access to high speed internet in their geography. That doesn’t help those who don’t but it does make this somewhat less of a headline problem.

      • But the same people that can’t afford their gas, water, and electric bills (and why disconnections of those for non-payment are not allowed) are somehow able to pay for broadband access?

        • I predict that one of the positive fallouts of COVID-19 will be that internet infrastructure gaps will be filled, last-mile installations completed. High speed internet access is one of the few “resource access” problems that isn’t restricted to the poor. It is a big problem for the rich in Albemarle County, and the Hamptons of NY, as examples. If those 1%ers want to work remotely from their vacation/beach/country homes, they’ll see to it that service is provided.

          • Well, let’s cut to the chase. Who should pay for internet access to rural? All of us?

          • Do you pay for phone service? Then you are paying already, just not getting much for your money. Lot’s of waste and inefficiencies. I’ve been in a position to see it.


            But perhaps djrippert is correct. Maybe this is best discussed as a separate item by itself.

          • Well .. waste is not justification for forcing all of us to pay , no?

            I’m playing devil’s advocate here by taking an oft-claimed BR libertarian stance.

            We rail about having to pay for electricity and phone for those who can’t afford it, right? How about people who are not “poor” but don’t have internet – should we pay for them?

            I too do wonder why – if we already have infrasructure to provide electricity and phone to rural – why it cannot also have internet on it… it’s seems such a simple answer but apparentl not…

            Bacon has, over the years, claimed that if you choose to live rural – you also accept those costs and should not be asking others to pay for your wants/needs.

          • When I see starlink’s real plan including the costs – I’ll put more stock into it. Right now, it’s like Musks “Hyper-tunnels”.. “ideas” but not practical or cost-effective.

            Starlink are in low earth orbit – and that means they have to be regularly replaced.. does not sound cheap.

          • I have mixed feelings on this topic.

            At the same time I’m debating you and others, I’m also conflicted within. Philosophically, I’m definitely in what we might call the “Bacon Camp” where we all make choices and live with the consequences.

            But I also struggle with the other side of the issue. Last week for example I spent considerable time helping someone who is living in a home where she was told would be able connect to the Internet before she bought the place. After she moved in, however, she found that she could not secure a reliable connection that would allow her to work from home to provide for herself. And she’s super high risk.

            I solve these kinds of technical problems for a living so I managed to help her, but I suspect there are many many others out there who find themselves in a real fix as a result of the pandemic. They need to isolate and work remotely but can’t without broadband.

            That’s what prompted my original comment on this topic.

          • If someone buys a home on a dirt road then later wants the state to take it over is that much different than buying a home and not verifying it has internet?

            I mean, you would not buy a home without making sure the well or drainfield worked…

            And I guess I would have thought – either there is cable internet available at the house or not. I know a slew of folks who knew there was no cable but thought they could get it with satellite or cellular but did not realize that it’s often not good and still expensive.

            I see cable internet like I do electricity but I also know there are others who see it as a subsidy – and not even for “poor” people – for people who actually can afford it but don’t want to pay $200-300 a month for it.

          • “I mean, you would not buy a home without making sure the well or drainfield worked…”

            That gets back to the first paragraph of my original post. Those things are treated differently than Internet access. They are considered essential and there are protections in place to help prepare and protect home buyers.

            With Internet, you can look online and have an address show up as serviceable for a provider but in the end it isn’t. Those services are crude and not reliable. It’s not a contract, just a rough guess.

            Someone can read in the newspaper that a provider will be expanding to X area, but there’s no guarantee that will ever happen.

            I can have reliable service, but if the company providing it decides the area isn’t profitable, they might stop providing service to this area.

            In real estate transactions, there’s no protection that I am aware of for Internet availability. It’s not considered essential. Maybe that’s okay and maybe it isn’t. I think we need to consider how important Internet access is and how it should be treated.

          • Mostly satellite customers in underserved areas, but learning or remote work cannot depend on it. So a real estate agent can answer “yes, it has internet service” but not necessarily adequate.

          • Well, like anything else when you purchase a home – it’s your responsibility to verify. If internet is drop-dead important, don’t screw around.

            I think the importance of the internet has increased from years ago and what was “okay” back then in terms of no internet is not now.

            But rural is not at all easy. The Byrd era secondary roads go all over creation… and it will take years, decades to get cable layed even if it is subsidized and even then – there are some places on the “last mile” that are probably never going to get it.

            Cell Towers are much more likely.

    • If you’re not already familar, you should look-up Starlink. Its in beta testing in the State of Washington now.

      • Yes, I’m familiar with it. In short, it looks like it should be better than existing satellite with regard to latency (lower altitude), but still has drawbacks, and it is as you said, still in beta testing. It’s not a proven technology at this point.

        Perhaps I’m just a fossil stuck in the mud, but I’ve been in the business for about 20 years and am biased toward a physical connection in all but the most extreme situations. We will see.

        • I know that in some remote places, they do not have a physical cable but instead a big dish then a local area network.

          I don’t know what kinds of speeds/bandwidth you can get but you see them on islands, and places like northern Canadian towns and villages… places where there is no grid , no roads, no powerlines, – just local diesel power but they have “internet”.

  6. You touch on “flight from the cities” but mainly in short-horizon terms. I think we’re in for a redefinition of what we mean by “workplace,” and possibly by “educational institution” (both secondary and primary), and by what it means to “shop” for retail goods. Relocations of where and how work, and educational activities, and shopping (on-line delivered or grab-and-go versus bricks&mortar) take place will have profound impacts on families, and on the patterns of residential growth and of prosperity, and on transportation — throughout Virginia. Indeed, if I were starting a new family why wouldn’t I move to a less-pressured, lower-cost area (like where my second home is, in Mathews County) to live my entire life, not just in retirement? And how long would it remain what it is today with all that gentrification taking place?

    We’ve talked a lot here over the years about the attractiveness of “walkable urban” living and the importance of good neighborhood schools; now we have new criteria added (or at least present constraints like commuting subtracted) to the mix for the “ideal” young family lifestyle and housing therefor. And that doesn’t even touch on what lies ahead in terms of the re-casting of local tax bases and budgets and government responsibilities for newly-important and no-longer-so-important civic services. Yes, broadband will be an essential utility, no less so than electricity. As you say, DJR, “upheavals accelerate existing trends far more than they unleash new, unpredicted trends.” But these trends accelerating all at once may, in combination, produce unpredicted results.

    • Many major cities soon will become long term shadows of their former selves, especially those run by today’s democrats in Democratic run states. Most all cities will be vastly redefined, some for the better in red states; those run by today’s democratic party for far worse. Expect chaos, and collapse, in several. A perfect storm for drastic long term change is upon us, a once in a 150 years event forcing change of epic proportions.

    • The long term issues of urban / suburban / exurban / rural migrations are very interesting. Jim Bacon and I have been debating this matter for well over a decade on this blog. Right now most people who can work from home seem to be hedging their bets. City-centers like Manhattan and DC are seeing a serious drop in demand for real estate while nearby suburban areas like NoVa and Westchester County, NY are seeing a dramatic increase. This looks more like “white flight” from the 1960s and 1970s to me than a new human settlement pattern. That being said – there may be a new human settlement pattern coming.

      Jim and I agree on walkable “urbanism” as being desirable … both for buyers and for society in the form of sustainable human settlement patterns. We disagree as to how large a population and what minimum population densities are necessary to achieve walkable “urbanism”. My contention is that Jim has underestimated the size of the locale and the population density required to achieve walkable “urbanism”. For example, I just son’t see Roanoke as being big enough to pull off walkable “urbanism”. However, some of my position was based on the availability of jobs. If work from home becomes a widespread reality then a small city like Roanoke might be able to sustain walkable “urbanism” with a population of 100,000 and a density of 2,500 per sq mi. If widespread work from home became a point of acceleration from COVID-19 then you might see the “unpredicted results” you noted in your comment vis-a-vis human settlement patterns.

  7. Mass transit in DC could take a big hit, as well as HOT Lanes/PPP due to less auto traffic. If we are smart, we probably need to take a wait and see approach, avoid the temptation to go fill speed ahead with epic mass transit plans that may no longer be validated. Perhaps expansion of the American Legion bridge on Beltway to MD is a more bullet proof improvement that should be done.

    On the community side, I do not know when public music (church choirs, community bands) can ever get back to normal.

    • I’ve heard that all the Northern Virginia toll roads (and probably Richmond toll roads, too) were hit hard financially by the shutdown. I suspect traffic on the toll roads is recovering faster than it is for METRO, but it still took a hit. Metro won’t be the only transportation entity passing around the tin cup.

      • Toll roads equipped with EZ-Pass would lose only based on reduced ridership. The plate-readers still generated bills, a la Elizabeth River Crossing, sent by mail. Moreover, VDOT has a “turn yourself in” website where you can pay your toll early to avoid billing fees that they advertised at the Coleman.

        There was a period of maybe two weeks when the Coleman just turned off toll collecting and opened all gates. After that, they spun up the plate-readers, shutting down the cash lanes, and now are back to taking cash too.

        Did they lose some? Yeah, but I’ll bet not as much as we users would like.

        • Chances are the toll road companies are just going to hunker down for a bit to see what happens and if the longer term – it turns out that the way “commuting” works – changes – they may have to write down some of the investment.

          On the other hand – if driving actually reduces (and I doubt it), then VDOT will be wanting either a tax increase or to take over tolling or both.

          Gotta pay for those roads …. one way or another…

          People forget. It’s not new construction – it’s maintenance and operation…. goes on forever…

          • Only because Americans build cheap roads and let vehicles that are waaaay too heavy for them on the damned things.

            There is no stretch of Interstate that compares well with the Autobahn. 14″ of roadbed compared to 28″. Ol’ Adolph may have been a mad dog, but he knew roads,… or rather, believed and listened to his scientists and engineers who did. Ha! A contrast.

          • I’ve heard that before and it’s music to TMT’s ears…

            Part of it in Virginia is it’s secondary roads, 600 series Byrd Era roads that were never designed for the weight, speeds or intensity of use…

            The other is bridges – many built in the 30s,40s, 50s … some still have wood beams…

            we’re replacing one in Fredericksburg that was built in 1941

            and.. weather… many more big rain/flood events that take out old culverts…

          • Other states use a lot more portland concrete cement than Virginia does for roads.

            Is the problem more that portland concrete cement costs too much compared to asphalt, or that there aren’t any politically connected sources of portland concrete cement in the Commonwealth?

            Portland concrete cement lasts a LOT longer than asphalt.

          • The Coleman River bridge collapsed. Well, it didn’t, but one just like it, built in the same year, in Minneapolis did.

            And here’s what makes it scarier, salt water.

            Please don’t say anything bad about the secondary roads, that’s the only way I go. I avoid the Interstates as much as possible. The best ride you’ll ever take is to take Rte. 17 to Florida. There were stretches where looking a mile ahead, and one behind, I was the only car on 4 lanes.

          • Other states also have weight limits on their roads. Posted with signs.

            The ONLY time I have ever seen a weight limit sign in Vuh-gin-yuh, it’s because of a deficient bridge.

            If someone driving an 18-wheeler wants to take their big-rig down Old Church road in Prince William County, the only thing stopping them is common sense.

            And we know that’s in short supply.

          • The only Interstate I avoid as much as possible is Killer 81 (and only that portion in Vuh-gin-yuh–but that’s the only portion that could rightly be called Killer 81). I have no desire to die sandwiched between two 18-wheelers.

          • I could never get comfotable on the I-81. I only ever drove between the 64 and JMU, but I loathed the idea of me, 15 semis, 5 mom cars and a Porche packed together in 300 feet of road with a 20Mph speed difference.

            Then, I found Rte. 33. Hop off the 64 in Richmond. Acknowledge you’ve just added an hour to the trip at best, and watch the cows.

          • Nancy_Naive –

            Will you PLEASE stop naming the best alternative roads? If more people know about them more people will use them…


  8. Prior to COVID19, it made no sense that we’d talk about the “knowledge economy” but at the same time that we were talking about urban development, walkability, transit, traffic congestion, etc.

    Now that the virus has forced the issue – we’re now talking about transit dying, tolls cratering, and people fleeing to the suburbs.

    One has to wonder just what percentage of the economy does not need to be done in physical proximity to an urban core.

    Can we not get the amenities we want in suburbia – if some folks no longer have to commute daily to an office?

    I’ve noticed a big uptick locally in Fredericksburg in trails, dog parks, restaurants and even a ball stadium…

    For Fredericksburg, you can add one more to the commuting impacts and that is VRE commuter rail. How many that rode that train , are now working from home?

    Also – one more – there are a lot of govt workers in NoVa and a lot of them work with classified info. Have they found a legal way to do what Hillary was accused of?

    • “Can we not get the amenities we want in suburbia – if some folks no longer have to commute daily to an office?” Exactly — just what I meant, above, by “gentrification.” What will Spotsylvania lose (that it hasn’t already)?

      • Spotsylvania lose? But don’t they have King’s Dominion… and a huge Confederate flag? How can you lose more?

      • The key is to define walkable “urbanism”. Having lived in Manhattan I’m pretty sure that I understand the NYC version of walkable “urbanism”. I never owned a car in NYC and never thought twice about it. Nobody I knew owned a car in the city. There was a small but well stocked grocery store across the street, multiple restaurants per block, a subway system that went everywhere in the city and an ocean of yellow taxi cabs on every thoroughfare.

        To get to walkability in Fredericksburg you need density. Even if you can work from home, can you shop from home, send the kids to school on foot, walk to restaurants, dentists, etc? Walkability means more than reduced long distance commutes.

    • To be perfectly honest, if I could do my job from home, Virginia is one of the last states that I would consider doing it in.

      • If I could do my job from home, my home would have wheels. Oh wait, I’m retired, I can do my job from home.

        Soon, damned soon, my home will have sails. Wind and solar, Baby. All I have to do is sell this pile of bricks.

  9. Somehow, I thought “gentrification” was an urban thing…

    I’ve lived in Spotsy for decades and I don’t consider it to have “lost” anything – it’s just changed a lot!

    But it’s still a much better place to live, shop, play than the NoVa hell hole…

    I get the heebie jeebies everytime I have to go up that way. The traffic is atrocious!

    When I had to fly for work, I’d go to Richmond and pay more for a flight than try to go to Dulles or National…

    Last time up there, went to the Smithsonian and made a big mistake by leaving the Smithsonian after dark – not a good place to be after dark!

    • I go to Fredericksburg on a regular basis. Route 3 traffic is terrible.

      About the only thing Fredericksburg has over Northern Virginia is cheaper houses.

      Otherwise, it has nearly every fault that Northern Virginia does…with the additional one that your Federal job is that much further away.

      • The problem with Fredericksburg is that’s there’s only 3 ways in and 3 ways out, and for a 5 mile stretch, all 3 share the same roadbed, and it’s an Interstate.

        • And the only reason that Interstate exists is that Uncle Sugar paid for it, because you know that Vuh-gin-yuh, being the filthy welfare queen that she is, would never spend a dime of her own.

          • Can you name a state that did not accept federal money to construct interstate highways?

          • Other states have built additional Interstate mileage without Federal funding.

            They’ve also upgraded roads adjacent to the Interstate so that traffic isn’t getting on the Interstate to go to the next exit.

            See, Interstates aren’t supposed to serve the function of local roads. They often do in Vuh-gin-yuh, however.

          • Because Ike wanted a place to land the returning B-52s… now, that is funny, no?

          • As a lifelong Virginian I can only say … you got that right. Virginia will spend money on roads as long as those roads go around and through Richmond. Or, wind along the middle of nowhere connecting Hooterville to Petticoat Junction.

            The Byrd Machine lived its absurdly elongated life by playing fast and loose with democratic concepts in order to preserve a power base in rural Virginia with its capital in Richmond. Urbanizing areas in the state could go pound salt as far as the Byrd buffoons were concerned.

            The Byrd Machine’s last gasp was taken just before the 2017 elections. Urban and suburban Democrats finally elbowed the likes of Tommy Norment aside. Unfortunately, the infrastructure of the Byrd Machine is still alive and well in the state constitution. The modern crop of Democrats like Dominion Dick Saslaw are still more than willing to take their skim of special interest monies in return for favors. However, their power base is in the “cities” and suburbs so the robbery of the last 50 years by the Republicans in favor of rural Virginia might reverse to robbery in favor of the “cities” and suburbs.

          • d.j.

            Dick Saslaw was first elected to the Virginia General Assembly in 1975 as a member of the House of Delegates. He is many things, but he is not part of “the modern crop” of anything…


        • I guess the I-95 parking lot could also double as a landing strip.

      • Fredericksburg exists in its present incarnation because people working in NoVa and DC were willing to make long painful commutes to be able to buy a single family house with half an acre of lawn in and around Fredricksburg. The traffic in NoVa is largely because of places like Fredricksburg.

        • The so-called “bedroom community”.

        • Also explains why Toyota Prius Hybrid sold like hot cakes in Virginia, because they were granted free HOV on I95 and I66 back around, I dunno, 2002 or so. By 2006 they had to stop that on I95 (due to too many hybrids coming up from Fredricksburg and Stafford) but anyone who had already purchased before June-2006 was grandfathered.

          Also for you electric vehicle/plug-in enthusiasts, keep in mind part of the reason they sell well in California is free HOV. Hey great, with CoVID reducing PPP use of Virginia HOT Lanes, maybe we can allow free HOV/HOT lanes for plug-ins!!! Not actually my preference, but you heard it here first!!!

          Just sold off our 2006 Gen2 Prius yesterday….best car we ever owned and probably one of the most influential cars ever made.

  10. Well, comparing pandemics is tough. If COV2 had struck in 1918, it would be impossible to say that it wouldn’t have killed the same number as the Spanish Flu. Modern medicine ya know. Being intubated sure beats lying on a cot in a barn, plus general health is, believe it or not, better. Hell, it better be. We pay enough for it.

    But, let’s not be too hasty. One, contrary to Dear Leader’s wishes, it ain’t gone, and here, it doesn’t seem to be slowing much. Two, it may not go away anytime too soon, either.

    Nice to hypothesize, but let’s wait for the fat lady’s song.

    • Lift your nose out of the weeds. It’s amazing what you’ll see, a wholly different world that otherwise will smack you in the face before you have a clue as to what destroys your little banal world of illusion.

    • If this comment is about my article then you missed the point. The Spanish Flu was far worse than COVID-19 has been so far. Yes, if we had 2018 medicine in 1918 the Spanish Flu would have been much less severe. Just keeping patients drip hydrated would have made a big difference. The point however is that The Spanish Flu was terrible and it still didn’t dramatically change how Americans lived after the flu abated. One of the greatest decades of American economic prosperity immediately followed The Spanish Flu.

      The idea that COVID-19 will wildly change life in the United States isn’t really borne out by history.

      • The Spanish Flu by itself did not change but COVID19 in the era of the internet and knowledge economy may well accelerate an evolution that was already underway.

        I don’t always agree with you – and when you’re not on a King Blackface/Plantation Elite rant – you actually provide thoughtful commentary sometimes. Thank you.

      • Has any pandemic ever changed anything after it passes, or even before it passes?

        Maybe COV1 and mask-wearing in Hong Kong, but other than that?

        People freaked a little at HIV, Trojan ads burst (oops) on to MTV, but well, it didn’t slow the meat (meet?) markets any. To that, I can attest.

        Nope, “And this, too, shall pass” was an expression worth every kernel of wheat the Pasha paid for it.

  11. In terms of roads and interstates. Remember the “US” highway system that preceded the interstates? The Feds funded them all AND what the Feds did was establish uniform design and operational standards so that US 50 in Virginia was at least somewhat similar to US 50 in Md or Kansas.

    The big change between US Highways and Interstates was a thing called a beltway – that totally changed the way most urban areas developed.

    Before that – it was hub and spoke to the urban areas so that commuting workers still had to work/live along a spoke. All that changed when beltways came along so that a guy in Fredericksburg not only could work in NoVa but all around the beltway not just where I-95 hit the NoVa urban boundaries.

    Long before I-95 existed – US 1 connected Fort Belvoir, Quanitico to Fredericksburg… there were already “commuters”.

    Fredericksburg may not be “much” for some NoVa folks but many NoVa folks who fled Nova to live in Fredericksburg fondly say he reminds them of NoVa before it got messed up!

    • No, the Feds did NOT fund the US highway system. That is a common misconception.

      The big change between US highways and interstates is:

      1)Interstates were Federally-funded. (But this does not preclude states that, unlike Virginia, actually invest in their infrastructure from building additions to the Interstate system on their own dime).

      2)Interstates had to meet certain design standards, such as lane width and being limited-access.

      There are NO design standards for US highways, other than what exist for similar roads that did not get a US highway designation.

      All a US highway really is is a route along roads that existed prior to the US highway designation. Similar to autotrails and which replaced them.

      • “There are NO design standards for US highways, other than what exist for similar roads that did not get a US highway designation.”

        Correct for existing U.S. highways.

        New U.S. highways must meet the the standards in AASHTO’s “A Policy on Geometric Design of Highways and Streets”, aka”the Green Book”.

  12. In terms of rural roads. All states have rural roads like Byrd Era roads in Virginia. THe difference is that all but 4 states the county maintains them not the State DOT. Only Texas, Va, NC and Alaska have all roads maintained by the State DOT.

    Texas calls their rural roads “Farm to Market” –

    • It doesn’t really matter who maintains the roads. It is obvious that other states have rural roads that are of better design (perhaps the improvements went beyond just paving them?) and in better condition than what we have here in Vuh-gin-yuh. I don’t know or care whether the state or the locality maintains them–the important observation is that there appears to be the application of a higher standard than what passes for acceptable in Vuh-gin-yuh.

      • Who built the Interstate System?

        The Interstate System was built under the principles of the Federal-aid highway program, which was established in 1916. The Federal Government made Interstate Construction funds available to the State highway/transportation agencies, which built the Interstates.,agencies%2C%20which%20built%20the%20Interstates.

        It matters who sets the design and construction standards. That’s the reason the interstates all look the same in terms of design and signage.

        There are multiple standards in most states.

        The interstates have their own standards. For instance, you cannot connect to them except at interchanges and require FHWA approval.

        Then you have US-signed highways – the US roads prior to the Interstates -like US1, US17, US 29, US 50, etc… they have their own standards that are also enforced by FHWA.

        Then you have State-level primary roads

        then – state level rural roads….

        it’s a hierarchy.

        VDOT is the fourth largest DOT in the country in terms of miles of roads maintained….

        Virginia is somewhat above average in road maintenance.

        Most NEW Construction comes from Fed Funding. Most maintenance and operation money comes from the states taxes which in Virginia – less than 1/2 comes from gas taxes. Road money comes from new car taxes as well as general sales taxes…

      • I think it does matter who pays for the roads. In Virginia, county roads for all counties except Arlington and Henrico are funded by the state. City roads (to the extent that Virginia has real cities) are funded by the local government.

        Given the recent statue removal transgression from Stoney’s Cronies and Eileen Fulla-Crap it can be seen that any time money touches the hands of a Richmond politician graft is a distinct possibility. The roads are no different.

        • The roads that Arlington and Henrico fund on their own are local roads. That is, roads that are not Interstate, US signed, Va-primary.

          Those roads are still maintained by VDOT. It’s the “secondary”

          It works the same way that cities and towns works… They all get some extra money from the state to do it.

          The option to do that is available to all counties – but they’ve done an analysis and decided it’s not worth them creating their own road maintenance capability.

          If you want to see how road funding works in Virginia, go to:

          • In cities, even primary routes are maintained by the city.

          • straight out maintenance like fixing potholes and repaving – yes. But if changes are to be made – like connecting a new side road or adding or taking away a traffic signals, etc.. then that brings in other entities to review and approve such changes and those changes have to conform to existing standards.

            So.. all interstates, and US-signed roads – are maintained by the State DOT – like VDOT but they have to do it according to Federal standards. They can’t, for instance, just connect a new road or widen or narrow or change the way the road functions without Federal approval. VDOT has to comply with Federal rules. For Virginia Primary roads and secondary, (600 series), Virginia has more latitude but keep in mind that everywhere one of those roads connects to a Federal-controlled road – they have to comply with Federal standards.

            Finally, the value of land is highly dependent on access. If there were no VDOT secondary roads – a lot of Virginia would have to have private roads for access… and the land would be worth a lot less because property owners would be responsible for maintaining the private roads. Consider how much it would cost to actually asphalt just one mile of two-lane – hundreds of thousands of dollars.

            VDOT maintains subdivision roads. Imagine the cost to property owners in a subdivision if they had to pay those costs. It would amount to thousands of dollars a year per property owner.

          • No, Larry, there is no corruption that is reported because it’s considered normal here in Vuh-gin-yuh.

          • There was one –

            you want road corruption? go to Pennsylvania:

            ” 8 charged in multimillion-dollar Pa. Turnpike corruption probe
            March 13, 2013
            A sweeping grand jury investigation into contracting practices at the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission has led to charges against eight people, including a former state senator and the Turnpike’s former chief executive officer.”

            whyy dot org /articles/8-charged-in-multimillion-dollar-pa-turnpike-corruption-probe/#:~:text=A%20sweeping%20grand%20jury%20investigation,Turnpike’s%20former%20chief%20executive%20officer.&text=Two%20businessmen%20who%20had%20Turnpike%20contracts%20are%20also%20being%20charged.

          • “See? Look! Other states have corruption too, so it’s not all that bad here in Vuh-Gin-Yuh!!”

        • In other states with less corruption, it really doesn’t matter who pays for the roads. The job will be done correctly regardless.

          Here in Vuh-gin-yuh, however….”crooked as a dog’s hind leg” ain’t just a metaphor, it’s a government standard.

          • that’s just silly. There is no corruption.. at least that is reported. VDOT does a decent job IMHO. I’ve been all over the US and Va roads are not bad. Try WVA and Pennsylvania for instance.

    • Abbreviated “FM”. There’s also “RR” for Ranch Road, which can leave the uninitiated looking for the level grade.

      • Private roads are not uncommon. We have them here in Virginia in gated communities and in some larger acerage developments in Virginia and Texas… part of your HOA is for road maintenance.

        In Virginia, we also have a lot of private subdivision roads – that petition the county and VDOT to take them over… and VDOT will
        often do it IF they were constructed to VDOT standards. If not, then the owners have to pay to have the road brought up to VDOT standards and anyone who has been close enough to that issue knows what kind of costs we are talking about. Often, thousands of dollars a year over and above your property taxes… yet VDOT gets a short shrift from many who do not know just how expensive roads are… even a “cheap” two-lane rural road can cost a million dollars.
        Put 50 property owners on it and share the costs… Do the math.

        • Earlier you claimed that if VDOT didn’t maintain subdivision roads the cost would ” amount to thousands of dollars a year per property owner”

          VDOT does not maintain subdivision roads in townhouse communities. Many of these HOAs responsible for the roads in the townhouse communities only charge, say, $400 per year in dues, yet they still have the money to maintain the roads.

          • No. If I said that, it is wrong. They maintain a crap-load of subdivision roads for single family but as you point out, not typically for access roads and parking lots for apartments and townhouses.

            In many other states, the DOT does not do this and the owners are responsible unless the county does it.

            Getting the state to take over roads has always been a popular activity in Virginia but other than the snow removal scandal, I’ve not heard of other but VDOT has often been involved in deciding where new roads should go and that does involve developers – that has changed with Smart Scale.

        • Some Va localities don’t allow subdivisions with private roads anymore. When it comes time for the HOA to do road maintenance, it seems that the home owners forget they bought their cheap lot on a private road and petition the locality to take-over (at least that’s the official story. I’m not convinced that’s the real story, but more to do with driving up property taxes using cost push inflation.)

          The big cost now is the storm water controls. This may not be news in the urban areas of Virginia with its higher incomes, but its a newer thing in rural areas that is substantially driving up lot costs.

          • Yep, but localities also can request VDOT accept them utilizing their allocated secondary highway money and in my county – there is a long list of such subdivision roads and each year or two another couple are accepted. The owners can accelerate the process if they go 1/2 with VDOT on bringing them up to standard.

            and yep, it’s the drainage… not only storm but the roadbed and surface have to drain also.

            These folks very definitely get their gas taxes back in road!

          • Those subdivision roads are paid for by the developer, and donated the locality. The locality gets the RE taxes generated off the new subdivision. VDOT has official standards, but as anyone who has ever worked with VDOT knows, the local VDOT engineers have a lot of leeway… enough leeway to kill a project if they want. VDOT projects meet the basic standards, but they will hold private developers to much higher standards (unless the developer and engineer are buddies.)

            Those subdivision roads don’t need the maintenance that public projects need. Yep, but those gas taxes are put to use… more red ink, additional administrative staff, increasing salaries, public pension plan funding. The tireless efforts of creating more administrative burdens to delegate to ever increasing bureaucratic staff and VDOT “engineers” concocting ever more ways to spend other people’s money.

            And what was the first thing VDOT shutdown during the budget “crisis” a few year ago… public rest stops. Not much money to save there, but make sure the public is inconvenienced. Yeah, those bureaucratic are serving the public alright

          • The maintenance on subdivision roads is far less than regular surface street roads but they still need to pull the ditches and put chip seal on them and that’s a cost they get for their gas or RE taxes – true – but other folks who also pay RE/Gas taxes have to also pay for such maintenance where they live.

            VDOT was out the other day laying rocks in a ditch than a property owner complained about….overruning his pipe.

            In many other states, the DOT is not coming to fix your subdivision road – red tape or not! 😉

  13. Even if the virus is contained, there will be a near term issues for nonessential businesses getting investors and-or loans. Unless, say, the SBA gets involved.

    My guess is a lot of entrepreneurial minds are going to working on how to avoid the dreaded “nonessential” classification…. and cronies lobbying for their industry to be considered essential status.

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