Empathy is not Enough

The Virginian-Pilot editorial board feels Sen. Emmett Hanger’s pain at having his petitions stuck in traffic, but I suspect they’re actually chortling inside. What better example to support their drumbeat for more spending on transportation?

The Pilot has a suggestion:

Virginia voters ought to insist that candidates for statewide office sign a three-part pact:

First, they’ll drive everywhere during the campaign, just like regular Virginians. Average Joe can’t fly from Norfolk to Richmond; neither should they.

Second, they’ll schedule at least one 9 a.m. coffee and one 6 p.m. meet-and-greet on every visit to Northern Virginia. That means a pre-dawn wake-up for the first event and a long afternoon getting to the second.

Third, entering Hampton Roads, they’ll drive over a drawbridge or through a tunnel. No cheating by going through the U.S. 460 back door at Windsor.

While this suggested pact will give candidates a heaping dose of empathy with their potential constituents, I’d add a fourth part to the oath:

Fourth, after navigating each transportation bottleneck and arriving at their destination, they’ll offer their specific solution for the gridlock and how they’d pay for it.

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  1. Will – it’s a good question to ask: What does the non-wonk “layperson” think we should do about the transportation problems? Let’s look at the interest groups pulling on all sides too:

    Much of it breaks down ideologically. On the left, you have the smart growth people who are anti-roads and believe massive funding for public transit will somehow solve the problem. They’re also for a hike in the gas tax because it’s a disincentive for automotive travel. These people come to planning meetings and shout the loudest.

    On the right (and in other places), you have some NIMBYs who want to preserve farm land/preserve their neighborhoods/piece and quiet. These people also shout loudly at planning meetings.

    Then you have the road building/development community, who want tax increases that will be directly deposited as pork into their business accounts.

    And don’t forget the NOVA business community – they seem convinced that transportation woes will eventually hurt their bottom line, and that road building is the solution.

    Sometimes these groups align – for example, if you look at the polling for the 2002 transportation referendum, many liberals voted against it because they thought it would lead to more sprawl.

  2. republitarian Avatar

    maybe Hanger’s people got stuck in traffic on purpose. Has anyone checked to see if they had the signatures.

  3. E M Risse Avatar
    E M Risse


    The three elements of the pledge and your question are all very good.


    You know the answer to your question. You are right about the loudest voices but you left out The Third Way:

    Create functional, balanced regional plans for settlement patterns. The recent broadly sponsored “Reality Check” exercise demonstates that this is possible. Our column “The Shape of Richmond’s Future provides a step by step outline.

    When the plan is done, outline the transport systems that will support functional patterns and densities of land use. I suspect you could get 70 percent on a region-wide referendum. It would have a few of the currently planned roadsways but the travel demand would be much lower and the cost much less than the $200 + billion that some would like to raise.


  4. Dave Burgess Avatar
    Dave Burgess

    While we’re on the subject of petitions…what’s this expense by the little man from Winchester?

    According to Virginia Public Access Project, Potts for Governor has made 3 payments totaling $1,723 to Robert Lynch:

    Transaction Date Amount Service
    03/31/05 $300 Petition Services Retainer
    03/31/05 $923 Commission for Petitions
    03/24/05 $500 Petition Services Retainer

    Is Potts paying for signatures on petitions? I thought there was suppose to be this wave of disenchanted voters rising up to support Potts and his agenda.

  5. Ray Hyde Avatar

    Actually, you can fly from Norfolk to Richmond. On short notice it will cost you from $723 to $1069 and you may have to stop over and change planes in Cleveland and Buffalo or Charlotte and Tampa. You will leave at 6:55 AM and Arrive at 3:20 PM.

    If you want to fly from Charlottesville to DC you will probably have to go through Cincinatti. you can fly from Richmond to Dulles, but if you want to fly to national you wil have to take the bus.

    It’s generally faster and cheaper just to go to the local flight center and see if you can “hitchhike” with a private pilot. Even the charters are cheaper.

    A few years ago I was involved with a group trying to start a very short-haul airline using 12 passenger planes – half the size of a normal commuter. Our ticket from Norfolk to Richmond would have been around $60 one way.

    We had some investors, and some debt funding lined up when 9/11 happened. The state aviation administration attitude was pretty much “Let us know when you get started.”

    So much for economic development. But the idea is still valid for trips up to 250 miles.

    Currently Fauquier County is considering a plan to spend $33 million dollars to bring VRE to Bealeton, which might eventually carry 400 passengers. For that kind of money we could buy and operate enough planes to fly the current demand from Culpeper to National – and have $20 million left over. And we could service two other cities as well.

    That gives you an idea how expensive rail is.

    Ed Risse’s “third way” won’t work either. Even if everything he plans eventually comes to pass and everyone re-arranges their home and life according to his ideas it will reduce the eventual traffic demand by 15 to 20%. The demand meanwhile will have grown by 50%, even considering steep gas prices.

    We are facing gridlock for a long time, so get used to it.

    I agree with Paul’s basic characterization of types, but my observation is that the Smart Growth and Nimbys otherwise align themselves both left and right.

    I think people voted against the transportation refernedum for two reasons: 1) they supply much of the transportation money and they are tired of seeing it highjacked downstate, and 2) There was no clear plan for how the money would be spent nor a guarantee it wouldn’t disappear downstate as well.

    It was a lousy idea, and a lusy program, and it was well defeated.

    The NOVA business comunityis right, it will hurt their bottom line and it already is. When the eventual loss in taxes registers in Richmond, maybe something will happen.

    What happened to Hanger is a funny story, but if you are a businessman and it happens to you, then it is not the least bit funny, it is just another business expense that you pass on to your customers who pay for roads whether they get them or not.

  6. Anonymous Avatar

    Hanger’s problem is a good story that will be repeated by transportation advocates, but in reality people have known for 20+ years that Friday afternoons are dicey on I-95 and I-64. After we spend a gazillion dollars there still will be no guarantee on those roads at those hours. His folks should have been on the road at noon or before. The political process is the ultimate example of unforgiving natural selection, and they just get weeded out and weeded out until we have a survivor (unless you still think the best man/woman wins. Ha!)

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