“Fair and Equal” Coverage at the Times-Dispatch

House Speaker William J. Howell has proposed raising money to fund transportation improvements in Virginia by selling off chunks of the Interstate to private investors who, presumably, would be allowed to recoup their investment by imposing tolls. Howell has not said (at least not in print) how he would invest the proceeds of such sales, but there is no denying that the strategy could raise substantial sums of money. And if anyone in the Virginia press corps would inquire, Howell’s ideas about privatizing Interstates are part of a broader re-thinking of the role of state government in providing transportation solutions.

Personally, I don’t know if I’m comfortable with the idea of privatizing Interstates, but I’m willing to hear the Speaker out. Apparently, Michael Hardy and Jeff Schapiro with the Richmond Times-Dispatch have already written off the idea as a “scheme” — in contrast, say, to raising unspecified taxes by some $1 billion to $4 billion a year to continue the Business As Usual policies that created the transportation crisis in the first place. Here’s how they chacterize the Speaker’s ideas in an article about Gov.-elect Tim Kaine:

Kaine is not keen on such House Republican proposals as flipping highways and other commuter links for quick cash from investors. Speaker William J. Howell, R-Stafford, has suggested such privatization schemes, saying they could generate billions.

“I don’t like the idea of selling assets,” said Kaine. He is, however, favorably inclined — if the deal helps the state — to consider selling income streams from tolls when proceeds are used for transportation projects.” (My boldface.)

Everybody clear on the distinction? Selling highway assets outright amounts to a “scheme” for “flipping” them for “quick cash.” Merely selling the highway income streams for 30 to 50 years — which also would raise up-front cash for the state to spend — is an idea respectable enough to warrant no such invidious characterizations.

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8 responses to ““Fair and Equal” Coverage at the Times-Dispatch”

  1. Lucy Jones Avatar
    Lucy Jones

    I don’t understand… Is the point to get a chunk of up-front cash like the sale to Northrop Grumman?

  2. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Lucy, As I noted, Speaker Howell hasn’t said in any detail what he would do with the money raised through the sale of Interstates. I presume that he would invest it in the construction of new roads, which may or may not be a good idea, depending upon whether the roads promoted functional or dysfunctional development patterns. But that is only a presumption. Someone needs to ask the Speaker what he would use the money before, who would decide how to use it, and what safeguards there would be to ensure that the funds were applied fairly and equitably.

    For instance, let’s say the state raised $1 billion through the sale of a chunk of Interstate between Richmond and Norfolk. Should that money be applied equally to road projects all around the state? Or, by virtue of the fact that the citizens of Richmond and Hampton Roads would be paying most of the tolls, should the funds be steered to projects in those two regions? Would the funds be dumped into VDOT’s current six-year plan? Or would legislators have the ability to apply the money where they want? Those are all questions that the Howell would have to address.

  3. Anonymous Avatar

    For whatever its worth, this post seems hang on reading a lot into one little word (scheme) that actually has a lot of meanings that aren’t so sinister.

    # n. – scheme, strategy — (an elaborate and systematic plan of action)
    # n. – dodge, dodging, scheme — (a statement that evades the question by cleverness or trickery)
    # n. – system, scheme — (a group of independent but interrelated elements comprising a unified whole; “a vast system of production and distribution and consumption keep the country going”)
    # n. – schema, scheme — (an internal representation of the world; an organization of concepts and actions that can be revised by new information about the world)
    # n. – outline, schema, scheme — (a schematic or preliminary plan)

  4. Ray Hyde Avatar

    Since the Feds paid for substantial portions of the interstate, wouldn’t they have something to say about the sale? they are supposed to be part of the defense network and there are standards for load carrying capacity and clerances. They mght have a problem with having to pay tolls to a foreighn company for the right to move their weapons.

  5. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Anonymous 2:29, I agree that the word “scheme” has neutral meanings as well as negative ones. But when viewed in the context of the previous sentence — flipping highways for quick cash — the negative connotations are clearly implied.

  6. Lucy Jones Avatar
    Lucy Jones

    Hmmm… I am by far no expert on transportation but just playing it over in my mind, this seems somewhat unmanageable to me. Company X owns 20 miles of road and decides to build a housing development, charges tolls on its 20 miles and the people that live in this neighborhood are paying the cost. Ok, I’m fine so far. Pay it if you want to live there.

    Company Y owns 40 miles that connects to Company X’s roads and begins to get overloaded. Company Y does what now? Build more roads? Charge more tolls on their roads? Now the people that live in that area are paying for the people in Company X’s neighborhood… It goes on and on..

    How is this all going to work in the big picture? Seems like the state would have to oversee the development and planning in a major way. So now, company X and Y are going to “buy in” only to get the tolls? Why doesn’t the state just skip the middle man and charge the tolls? At least I would assume the state wouldn’t be trying to earn a profit where the private companies would.

    I’m sure I’m missing the big picture here… How do you think this might work?

  7. Anonymous Avatar

    There is a distinction between selling the revenue stream and selling the underlying asset, just like many financial advisors tell you never to sell a house — rent out the old one when you upgrade to a new one. Many people are much more comfortable with the idea of maintaing control of the underlying asset.

  8. NoVA Scout Avatar
    NoVA Scout

    Does anyone have an answer to Ray Hyde’s point? the same thing crossed my mind. What part of I-95 (or any of the other interstates within Virginia’s boundaries) is the Commonwealth’s to sell?

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