Fleet Maintenance, Hokie Stone and Virginia’s Fiscal Crisis

Running a cost-efficient government means paying attention to the details. In his latest column, Mike Thompson, president of the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy, describes one idea that has saved the state millions of dollars — and points to other reforms that can save millions more.

Thompson serves on the Regulatory Reform Commission, a bi-partisan group appointed by Attorney General Bob McDonnell, and he sits on the infrastructure task force chaired by Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling. He reports this success story:

The General Assembly transferred the responsibility for maintenance of the state’s automobile fleet of 4,669 vehicles from the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) to the Department of General Services (DGS). The DGS then opened auto maintenance to private sector providers to compete with VDOT’s expertise in this area. Since this competitive sourcing process began, we have found that in only some areas does VDOT provide the best service for the best price, and in other cases the private sector provides the best service and best price. But far more importantly, the state has saved fully 25% on the cost of auto maintenance by bringing competition to the table of vehicle maintenance.

Then Thompson turns his gimlet eye toward higher education. Building costs on Virginia campuses, Thompson had heard, were 20 percent higher than comparable buildings off campus — presumably the consequence of state regulations. The task force called in a Virginia Tech official for details, only to find out that the cost padding was far worse. At Virginia Tech, the per-square-foot cost of buildings on campus is 70 percent higher than buildings in the research park adjacent to the campus.

One reason is a Virginia Tech specification that every building must be constructed of “Hokie stone,” a dolomite limestone that is a defining feature of the campus. From Wikipedia: 80 percent of the stone is quarried from a 40-acre, University-owned quarry a few miles from campus, the rest from a second quarry on a local farm. Some 25-30 Virginia Tech employees “use black powder each day to dislodge the stone into block sizes and finish the blocks by hand using hammers and chisels.” Sounds expensive.

As expensive as it is, Hokie Stone accounts for only a portion of the inflated construction costs. It would be interesting to know what other factors are responsible for the bloat. The next time Virginians are asked to approve another $100 million+ bond offering to support higher-ed building construction, we might press for answers first.

In his column, Thompson cites other examples of absurd regulations and easy savings. As long as legislators adopt the attitude that it’s easier to stick the costs on taxpayers than the review state regulations with a fine-tooth comb, Virginians will pay higher taxes than they need to, and our periodic fiscal crises will be worse than they need be.

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54 responses to “Fleet Maintenance, Hokie Stone and Virginia’s Fiscal Crisis”

  1. E M Risse Avatar

    Fun stories but without Fundamental Transformation these are just that:

    Fun whack-a-mole stories.

    For the reasons Bacevich spells out in the opening section of “The Limits of Power, The End of American Exceptionalism,” these moles pop up far faster than even the most dedecated public servant can whack down.


  2. E M Risse Avatar

    Did I mention Fundamental Transformation, the end of the two pary duopoly and the end of dysfunctional settlement patterns?


  3. Anonymous Avatar

    “Two pary duopoly” is a early goal of Fundamental Transformaiton of governace structure.

    The Editor

  4. Anonymous Avatar

    Ending “two party duopoly” is a threshold goal of the Fundamental Transformaiton of governace structure.

    The Editor, edited

  5. Anonymous Avatar

    “it’s easier to stick the costs on taxpayers than the review state regulations with a fine-tooth comb”

    And yet, in light of our current prblems, many are calling for more regulations, not less.


  6. Anonymous Avatar

    Sure, lets have dozens of parties, like Italy. We can have infinite one idea parties, and more single issue partisanship.

    The one party in ultimate control will then owe everyone favors.

    I can hardly wait.


  7. Anonymous Avatar

    If you had dozens of parties, which one would control?

    The one which bargained to get 50.5% control.

    So if 50.5% is the problem then raise the stakes so that a 60% majority is required to pass anything. That will keep the government argueing with itself much longer, and help keep them off our back. It would help eliminate feel-good proposals that cost much and do little. It would mean that either you had a real majority in your party, or else have meaningful talks with the other side to get anything accomplished. It would mean a third party would have a lot more power.


  8. Groveton Avatar

    I think we put far too much stock in political parties and the impact of individual politicians. Our politicians – even McCain and Obama – are far more alike than different. In a place like France the differences are really striking. France has everything fr4on neo-communists to neo-fascists. And that over-belief in the importance of individual politicians is the same at the local level. Let’s look at one aspect of the local political landscape that has “fixed itself” without any change in politicians or political agenda – The Myth of a Lack of Affordable Housing in NoVA –

    Friday’s WaPo carried a statistic laden story (always the best stories, in my opinion) that chronicles the changes in Prince William County, VA. House sales are on fire in PWC. September saw 1,116 homes sold in Prince William County – a 235% increase over the same month one year ago. In addition, the houses are changing hands at much reduced prices. The median sale price for detached, single family houses in PWC has fallen by 41% in the last year – from $405,000 to $239,900. In fact, this September, 118 homes sold for under $100,000. Many foreclosed townhouses are selling for under $70,000. One three bedroom townhouse sold for $43,500 even though it was assessed at $273,100 in 2007. Fairfax County and Loudoun Counties are seein similar though more muted results. Fairfax – single family home sales up 71% with median prices down 24%. Loudoun – single family home sales up 47% with median prices down 17%.

    What happened?

    Did government turn over? No, there was no substantive change in government.

    Were zoning laws rewritten? No. The zoning laws are the same as they have been.

    Did the populace suddenly find the logic of functional human settlement? You must be kidding me.

    Did Help Save Manassas fix the gigantic illegal immigration problem and restart housing sales? Please. If that were true, then Fairfax County (long described by HSM as a sanctuary county) would have failed to re-start. But Fairfax has restated. Regardless of what you thing of the illegal immigrant issue – it was not the cause of the bubble and it is not the cause of the housing sale resurgence.

    The inventory of affordable housing was depleted by the housing bubble. That’s what bubbles do. And it has been restored by the bubble bursting. That’s what bursts do.

    There was never a structural affordable housing problem in NoVA. There was a housing bubble that raised the cost of all housing – including the housing at the lower end of the price scale.

  9. I like it.

    Does this mean that less folks will go looking for “affordable” housing in the burbs and “buy local” in Fairfax and Prince William, et al?

    so far… the losers?

    those poor schucks that paid 450K for a 200K property?

    Does that mean they are out of 200K … or the mortgage company when they walk away?

  10. Anonymous Avatar

    “Friday’s WaPo carried a statistic laden story…”

    Here are a few more “snippets” from the article;

    “Even with the surge in sales, there were more than 5,000 active listings in Prince William last month, down from 6,500 a year earlier.”

    “Because of the oversupply, banks are likely to continue slashing prices, dragging down property values for nearby homeowners, in order to maintain a competitive advantage over other sellers.””

    “There were 844 foreclosures in the county last month, land records show, up from 256 a year before and 40 in 2006″.”

    “Bargain-hunting investors are the best hope for stabilizing foreclosure-ravaged neighborhoods”

  11. yup … but if you paid 400K for a home.. say 3 or 4 years ago… you are, in the vernacular… “under water” now and what that means is that you have negative equity in your home.. not just a few pennies worth but probably 10 or more years worth…

    so .. you can’t change jobs very easily … if it necessitates selling your house…

    The banks/mortgage companies are going to be made “whole” by the bailout….

    what happens to the guy with good credit.. who makes his payments on time …but his house has lost 1/2 of it’s value?

  12. Groveton Avatar

    Larry G and Anon 6:25 –

    The losers (economically speaking) are those who bought houses in the lead up to the bubble bursting. Their real estate is worth far less than it was when they bought it but they still owe what they owe. I don’t know what to say to those people except that restate goes up and down. If you thought the place was worth the monthly payments two years ago – keep that in mind. Overall, my philosophy is that a house is a place to live, not an investment. Once you start seeing your house as the key to a plush retirement – you have problems.

    My point was that housing has fallen to more historical levels. In the stock market they’d say that the P/Es have gone back to historical levels. The affordable housing crisis has abated a lot. Yes, it has abated on the backs of those who bought houses in the last 5 years or so but it has abated.

    For the record – I bought the land on which my current house is built in 2002. I built the house and moved into it in October, 2004. I have seen the assessed value soar and drop. But I never thought of my home as an investment – I thought of it as a place to live. Maybe I am “underwater”. Maybe not (but probably so). If I had to sell tomorrow I guess it would be at a loss. But I don’t have to sell tomorrow and I won’t. It never occurred to me to try to sell at the peak. Now, my 401 (k) has basically become a 201(k) but that’s not my house’s fault.

  13. On the thread subject.

    It seems that whenever we have budget issues – we have folks who say that if we only cut the waste – that we’d be able to balance the budget.

    But isn’t there some finite limit to this and then you really have to start cutting people and services?

    It seems that sometimes – no matter how substantial the size of the budget shortfall – the first thing on the table is – “cut waste”.

    It would seem that doing that would go almost without saying – on a continuous basis.

    So, I’m curious – on a percentage basis – how much waste do folks think there is in the Virginia budget?

    Now.. separate this from what you consider to be a unneeded function or service that you consider to be a waste; that would be a policy discussion about whether we should actually tax in the first place for that service or function.

    so.. don’t say that, for instance, DEQ or VDOT is a waste – but rather – what percentage of DEQ, VDOT, the entire state budget is ..conceivably.. on a worst case basis – “waste”.

    Okay, then, after you have done that… multiple that percentage times the total state budget…..

    THEN.. compare that number to the amount that is said to likely be the total budget shortfall.

    So.. now you’d have the answer to the question.

    Can we meet the budget shortfall by merely cutting “waste”.

  14. Anonymous Avatar

    Larry – your point is well-taken. There are many inefficiencies in government that need to be addressed. But those alone will not balance budget in slower economic times. One needs to ask: Is this work worth doing?

    Fairfax County is, for example, conducting a line of business review for all its operations. Many supervisors have appointed citizen task forces to advise them on this process. The county is holding many public meetings. The effort is commendable.

    The questions are whether our elected officials will cut and cut based on what standards.


  15. Anonymous Avatar

    “Once you start seeing your house as the key to a plush retirement – you have problems.”

    OK, so you buy a home that is well within you r budget. As a result, at the end of the month you have money left over.

    How do you invest that? In your mattress? If you have a fully diversified set of investments, then some of it will be in some kind of real estate investment trust. Why not invest in your own home and enjoy your “investment”?

    One reason would be not to have all you eggs in one basket. One reason might be that you are afraid the market will be manipulated by speculators: or the lack thereof.


    Re Waste. Larry’s argument reminds of the PEC contention that we can do without the power line if we only reduce waste.

    If I had to guess, I’d say you might find between 5 and 15% that is arguably waste. Ane even then you would find plenty of people willing to argue whether it is or isn’t. Once you had a consensus, you would still have to figure out what it would COST to reduce the waste.


  16. Anonymous Avatar

    “As Prices Fall, Push for Alternatives May Ease

    Combined with the credit crisis, the falling price of oil is threatening efforts to develop new sources of energy and reduce consumption in the U.S.”




  17. Anonymous Avatar

    “Crisis Junkies Begone!

    What’s the worst thing about “the crisis”? The doomsday junkies, people who preach that the end is near regardless of circumstances or facts, who now feel vindicated and they’re vocal about it.”


    Hear that, EMR?


  18. Anonymous Avatar

    “Few understand the U.S. economy in the 2000s was a Black Hole attracting imports and capital, from the world, and then attracting the foreigners themselves who own that capital. This was the result of American free market policies and government policies of export-led economies, which were inferior. There were “too many” assets, e.g. houses and autos, and “too many” goods, e.g. electronics and clothing. Low prices and low interest rates, because of abundant goods and capital, induced U.S. demand. This is viewed as a failure by many, because they ignore that the gains of U.S. consumption growth exceeded the losses of U.S. production growth. The net effect was a steeper rise in U.S. living standards. The U.S. maximized the quantity and quality of output (both domestic and foreign) for its masses, which also facilitated massive upward mobility or real household wealth.”


  19. Groveton Avatar

    Level of waste:

    Immediate – i.e. “low hanging fruit”: 10%

    Structural – i.e. objectives will not be met even if money is effectively spent: 30 – 50%

  20. …… ” objectives will not be met even if money is effectively spent: 30 – 50%”

    that’s a curious concept…

    how can money be spent “effectively” but the objectives not met?

  21. Anonymous Avatar

    First of all Groveton and I agree on the housing bubble situation 🙂

    Now me and my 20 something friends can actually live closer in.


    TMT I will be attending a Fairfax Line of Review tomorrow. Will report back.


    Off the original thread totally agree. Higher education spending is increasing nearly double to triple the rate of inflation.


    On the last point a wise person told me that 90% of government services go to 10% of the population. Maybe that is what Groveton is referring to.

    Once you take out education spending it totally makes sense to me.

    When is the last time you had to use fire/police/social services/or had any other interaction with local government. My guess is never.

    IMHO no matter how much money is spent there will always be say 10% of people that is constantly in trouble. Just like there will always be poor and homeless people even in Fairfax no matter how much money we throw at these problems.

    At somepoint when looking at the budget you have to start asking yourself. Does it really make sense to fund a 10 million dollar program that serves less than 1,000people in a county that has over 1million people


  22. Anonymous Avatar

    If you don’t spend enough, for example.

    You insulate half your house, because that’s all the money you have.

    Because you didn’t insulate all the house, you don’t get half the savings. As a result speniding on insulation might have been wasted compared to spending the same amount on som e smaller objective that actually worked.

    I believe transit falls in that category.


  23. Anonymous Avatar

    “At somepoint when looking at the budget you have to start asking yourself. Does it really make sense to fund a 10 million dollar program that serves less than 1,000people in a county that has over 1million people”

    This is essentially the same question wehae to ask with respect to air and water pollution, as well.

    I realize this is an unpopular position, but at some point you wind up spending billions to try prevent damage to a few, when there are so many other objectives that might prevent damage to more people for a lot less.


  24. Anonymous Avatar

    So does road spending :-p

    Look at I-66 and the slow widening to four lanes in small increments starting at Manassas and continuing out to I think eventually 29?.

    Imagine the cost savings of doing it all at once instead. Not having to drag the equipment out every time and putting up new signage etc.

    If you want to look at efficiency take a look at the Beltway HOT project. Its amazing the speed differences when a private company is on the hook instead of the government. Its been less than three months and there is amazing progress all along the corridor already.


  25. Groveton Avatar


    I see efficiency as having a good balance between unit costs and quality. So, a road built below the average cost per mile for the area with lower than average maintenance costs and better than average safety would be efficient.

    I see effectiveness as being the realization (or not) of the intended outcome. So, continuing the road example I started, if the road ended up having no cars because nobody wanted to go where the road led I’d call it an efficiently built road that was ultimately ineffective.

    NMM comments on the efficiency of the Beltway HOT road vs. the I66 widening. This seems right to me too. I’ll never argue with the idea that VDOT is inefficient.

    But only time will tell if the HOT lanes are effective. If the HOT lanes are effieicently built but the “free” beltway remains congested while the HOT lanes go unused because the tolls are too high – that would be ineffective.

  26. Anonymous Avatar

    They will lower (or raise) the tolls to get the most revenue, regardless of the number of vehicles that use the HOT lanes.

    Therefore the HOT lanes themselves may be both efficient, and ineffective.

    The remaining lanes will be as congested or more, so with respect to externalities, the HOT lanes will be ineffective.


    “So does road spending :-p”

    Well, sometimes. But the issue is how much do we spend and what do we get in return, for whom? My argument is only that roads are (currently) getting a lot of political bad press that isn’t justified when compared equally with tranit, which stillserves relatively few, and only for certain missions.

    For example, when considering Military Utility Analysis for a system the military considers things like availability (how much time is the system usabable, as opposed to in the shop or under the weather), capability (how much can it deliver), reliability (how often will it succeed once deployed), survivability (what does it take to break it), supportability(how many people does it take to run it), and cost.

    The road/car combination is available to more people for more missions, and has more redundancy that the rail system. We need to evaluate costs in that light.

    That said, no one claims VDOT itself is cost effective. don’t hold that against the road system.


  27. Ray Hyde Avatar

    This is all about “net public benefit” right?


  28. re: “I see efficiency as having a good balance between unit costs and quality. So, a road built below the average cost per mile for the area with lower than average maintenance costs and better than average safety would be efficient.”

    “public benefit”

    you can build a road efficiently.

    you can build a road that in the most efficient way possible.

    and you can have a bunch of cars use that road….

    but what you don’t know is the “value” of that road.

    oh yeah… you can talk about the efficient movement of goods and the mobility it provides citizens but you can do that for just about any service provided by taxpayer funds.

    Whether you’re talking about DEQ preventing pollution or kids being taught algebra or someone riding Metro .. they can trot out the figures that show the “benefits”.

    but what you don’t have with government that you do with non-government enterprises is a “bottom line” that says at the end of the day – no matter what you spent the money for or the rationale or prioritization, etc.. you ended up with more money than you started with.

    so.. in that regard.. you can say that HOT Lanes will be judged on their ability to bring in more money..than they spent…

    whereas .. VDOT’s roads are never measured that way…

    Believe it or not – there ARE some Government operations that actually do bring in more money than they cost…. they do exist.

    of course – there are always the malcontents who claim that if the Government actually made money on something.. that a non-government version would make 3 times as much money on the same operation.


  29. Ray Hyde Avatar

    “in that regard.. you can say that HOT Lanes will be judged on their ability to bring in more money..than they spent… “

    If that is the only measure, then it will most likely be wrong. HOT lanes are supposed to increase the usage of the car pool lanes. (here, they will probably succeed, because of disbanded car pools.) HOT lanes are supposed to reduce congestion and pollution. (Here they will most likely fail). HOT lanes are supposed to reduce the cost to government coffers. (here we will have to wait and see.)


    what you don’t know is the “value” of that road.

    Pretty easy to find out. That’s what they have traffic counting stations for. What kind of vehicles are using the road, for what, and when.


    But, since th HOT lanes are after all a government project (even if subcontracted out), th ereal measure should still be net social benefit.

    HOT lanes are going to fail miserably on that criteria.


  30. so…. will the HOT lanes allow the State to not have to raise the gas tax to pay for more infrastructure?

    If the choice for road infrastructure is between the government collecting more/higher taxes or not and instead letting private enterprise build and charge users instead…

    If private industry can provide services instead of the state – doesn’t that save tax increases?

  31. Ray Hyde Avatar

    HOT lane tolls are taxes: they just go to the operators instead of to us.

    On a per gallon basis the HOT lane tolls will be MUCH higher than any gas tax considered.

    Gas taxes are not the only way to collect money for roads.

    No, it does not save tax increases,it only redirects the money.

    SOMETIMES, tax increases are the most efficient and the most effective way to releive our problems and suplly the highest net social benefit.


  32. Anonymous Avatar

    Tolls will help repress demand more than a gas tax increase. Like it or not, those who we’ve elected want to reduce automobile usage in NoVA.

    A $5 toll is more likely to have that impact than a nickel on the gas tax. Parking will also be a big target for price increases. For example, an urban Tysons Corner will have little or no free parking for business owners or their employees. Take transit. Moreover, a sizable portion of the parking cost will be used to subsidize transit, IMO.

    I’m not arguing for or against this approach, but it’s going to happen. Will businesses move from Tysons to other lower-cost locations with free parking? Or will the lure of an urban Tysons prevail? That’s the billion dollar question.


  33. re: tolls are taxes

    So.. if the Government does not have enough money to build/improve a road from taxes and chooses to, instead of raising taxes on everyone – whether they use the road or not – to charge only those that actually use the road – it’s still a tax?

    doesn’t that mean that those who do not use the road … do not get a tax increase and so we target the tax to those that will actually use the facility?

    So.. it’s a voluntary tax – like buying alcohol or lottery tickets – right?

  34. re: Tysons, killing the Golden Goose via gridlock or Government responses to gridlock.

    Out of the millions of locations in the US, I don’t believe I’ve even heard of a city – where business fled the city because of area-wide gridlock.

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard of even areas within a city where business closed up shop because of “gridlock”.

    I think the use of the dreaded “gridlock” phrase is code-talk for ” publicallly-provided infrastructure spurs economic development – and if you don’t do it – the development will go elsewhere”.

    Note that the “development” does not vanish… go away ..never to return…

    and it never will…

    As long as you have a bunch of people living somewhere – they will need goods and services…and some business will provide them.

    Like I said.. I know of no place in the world where plumbers have said: ” gridlock prevents us from selling and repairing toilets – so we are going out of business”.

    or.. Pizza Hut puts out a press release that says “Tysons has become such a mess that we are closing our Pizza huts and fleeing to Petersburg, West Virginia where there is no gridlock”.

    From afar – I do not think there is anything “magical” about the spot marked “X” on a map that says “Tysons” in the first place.

    But here’s a thought:

    How about we measure productivity in terms of square foot?

    Would Tysons then be judged as having a higher productivity per square foot than say… other locations in the NoVa region? How about other cities?

    Is that the real ultimate goal of a denser Tysons or for that matter.. any area that aspires to be like Tysons?

    so how about it?

    gross product per square foot?

  35. Ray Hyde Avatar

    I believe the Virginia Constitution says something about taxes being uniformly applied. Tolls are a way of skirting that requirement, and as such are not in the spirit of the Constitution of the Commonwealth.

    The HOT lanes will NOT reduce auto usage. The MWCOG study predicts that people will forsake their car pools and pay the toll instead.

    If the goal is to reduce auto usage as a whole, then why try to do it by attacking less than 20% of the problem, and only on a few routes. Tolls are the wrong answer, but no one yet wants to recognize the right answer.


  36. Anonymous Avatar

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard of even areas within a city where business closed up shop because of “gridlock”.

    You don’t think there is a reason the FBI located in Manassas or Booze Allen built their new office remote from their headquarters in Vienna?

    You don’t think there is a reason Beijing is creating 6 new ring cities – from scratch?

    You don’t think there is a reason Saudi arabia is buiding 5 new cities, from scratch – away from Jeddah and Riyadh? Or that the Netherlands has a new policy of “concentrated dispersal”?

    You don’t believe the studies that show collections of smaller cities are more efficient than a single big one? You don’t think there is an economic reason for sprawl?


    How about we measure productivity in terms of square foot?

    How about we do that, and we start the measure as soon as traffic slows to a crawl trying to get there. Start by subtracting over a thousand dollars a year in waste from every employees production, and you’d be off to a good start.

    Or how about instead of per square foot, which is meaningless, how about we measure productivity agianst dollars per square foot – including the cost of infrastructure. The new Tysons wouldn’t be in consideration after the first cut.

    Of course people will provide goods and services where ever people live. That doesn’t mean that Mumbai is a good idea.


  37. re: “The HOT lanes will NOT reduce auto usage. The MWCOG study predicts that people will forsake their car pools and pay the toll instead.”

    well first of all.. you need to go to GOOGLE and key in “what is the purpose of HOT Lanes” and then try out a couple a links that will add to your education.

    You don’t have to agree with it and probably won’t but at least then you’ll know that the purpose is not to reduce car usage.

    Further – you’ll find out that the purpose of HOT lanes does not change with respect to whether they are operated by the State DOT or by a private contractor – the purpose stays the same.

    Third – the specific ways and methods that HOT lanes will be operated vary according to what works best for a specific area but there is one fact about ANY tolling that is true

    and that is.. if you set the toll high enough – it WILL REDUCE congestion.

    No one is saying that this is the only purpose or goal or that it will be the only way it is operated but we know this much to be true – tolls WILL affect the level of congestion.

    So.. there is no arguing with that fact.

    Now, some may say that it will only push congestion onto local roads – and that may be true but here’s another thing that is true also – that if congestion gets bad enough .. a certain number of people will not travel in an area when congestion is really bad.

    We know this true also.

    A certain number of folks will seek alternatives to congestion.

    They already do.

    They time-shift.

    They ride VRE and carpool.

    They tele-commute.

    What HOT lanes will do is offer them two more options that they do not currently have.

    1. – a reliable trip time for those that are willing to ride multi-passenger vehicles OR pay a toll.

    2. – reduced congestion in the non-toll lanes because of the numbers of people who don’t want to carpool but are willing to pay a toll to leave the regular lanes and use the carpool lanes.

    there is no constitution requirement to not put tolls on roads.

    If that were true – then why do we have all these toll roads that already operate?

  38. re: gridlock

    Seems like if places like NYC, Mexico City, London, Cairo, etc can prosper with having 16-lane freeways running through the middle of them – that Tysons or Alexandria or just about anywhere else can also.

    I would posit that the opposite is true. Very few cities with skyscrapers have unfettered auto access nor do they knock down buildings to build more roads either.

    and so far.. no ghost town.. from “gridlock”.

    it’s more a myth than reality.

  39. Ray Hyde Avatar

    if you set the toll high enough – it WILL REDUCE congestion.

    It will reduce confgestion IN THAT LANE.

    If the purpose is NOT TO REDUCE auto usage then how can it reduce congestion or pollution?

    Right, move it (auto usage) to some other time of day or place.

    When it is less valuable. there is an externality in cost here that isn’t being considered in the HOT lane valuations.

    In other words, dilution is the solution to pollution (and congestion). Let’s put it someplace else and time. (More places).

    Which is what HOT lanes really boil down to. The studies say they will result in more traffic, more surface traffic, fewer car pools, and they will result in some businesses moving out of th etolled areas.

    We can argue about this till we are blue in the face, or we can just look at the pollution index in five years and see the answer.


    “And so far no ghost town because of gridlock.”

    You are either an idiot or a master at missing the point.

    Sure, cities muddle through. Except maybe Detroit, where you can now buy a home cheaper than you can buy a car.

    But ALL of those cites enjoy huge amounts of wasted time energy and pollution because of gridlock.

    The question at hand is how can we improve the net social benefit most cost effectively, including time and money constraints.

    HOT lanes are NOT that answer.


  40. Ray Hyde Avatar

    “the purpose is not to reduce car usage.”

    “if congestion gets bad enough .. a certain number of people will not travel in an area when congestion is really bad.”

    What’s the difference?


    Are the HOT lane operators going to pay the locals for this externality?


  41. Ray Hyde Avatar

    They ride VRE and carpool.

    VRE is raising its fares again. Up over 25% since I last rode the train.

    HOT lanes are predicted to reduce the use of carpools.


    “reduced congestion in the non-toll lanes because of the numbers of people who don’t want to carpool but are willing to pay a toll to leave the regular lanes and use the carpool lanes.”

    Give me a break. You have got to be kidding with this lame argument. The number you take out of the non toll lanes will be so trivial it won’t make any appreciable difference in congestion.

    And that’s not even considering the effect of induced traffic. As you point out people will have alternatives, and the will use them.

    The point is whether we are providing the best alternatives for the most people, in th emost places for the minimum TOTAL COST.

    A far as HOT lanes are concerned, the answer is clearly NO. It is so lopsided, it isn’t even worth getting out the calculator for.


  42. Ray Hyde Avatar

    “there is no constitution requirement to not put tolls on roads.”

    Correct, but there is a constitutional requirement that taxes be levied on an equal basis.

    You can argue that everyone has the right not to drive on a toll road, whether they exist in their part of the estate or not.

    But it is s stupid argument.

    Saying that there is no constitution requirement to not put tolls on roads, is just saying you don’t care what the intent of the constiution was. You want what you want so oyou redefine reality such that user fees are not taxes.

    It is an ethically bankrupt position, as I see it.


  43. not every trip made in rush hour needs to be made at rush hour.

    Some trips can be made at other times outside of rush hour and some can be made part of other trips – combining two or more trips into one.

    Some folks do this already.

    Others who can .. will not.. until either congestion gets worse or it costs money or both.

    The number of folks who move from the regular travel lanes to the HOT lanes WILL REDUCE congestion in those lanes because – even a small number – makes a big difference during the height of rush hour.

    By the way – the Government does not owe you a congestion-free trip .. it only owes you a trip – the means to get from point A to point B on a public road.

    If you want a congestion-free trip or even a less congested trip – it will cost money to provide it to you.

    Should the folks in RoVa pay increased gas taxes to provide you with a less congested trip or should the folks who are causing the congestion – pay for relief?

    From a TAX point of view – do we tax everyone to provide amenities to those who CHOOSE to drive solo cars at rush hour.

    Whether or not those folks “think” that they have “no choice”, they do.

    They just don’t like the other options and prefer the option that provides them with the most benefit – but other taxpayers do not owe them the trip with the most benefit.

    That is your responsibility.

    You make choices and decisions ..taking into account the various congestion conditions at various hours.

    You do this – not only for roads, You do it for METRO, trains, airports, stadiums, shopping, even funerals ALREADY.

    So we’re not talking about preventing gridlock.

    We’re talking about who should pay for congestion relief – the folks who cause it – or everyone else no matter whether they cause it or not – or even the folks who do their part to not cause it.

    But .. there is no longer an argument.

    HOT lanes are a done deal and the possibility of raising gasoline taxes is somewhere between snowball in hades or worse.

    With HOT lanes you will have every option that you had before. so, if you don’t believe in them and don’t support the concept – don’t use them.

    But I’ll make a bet. Ray Hyde WILL use the HOT Lanes – guaranteed – probably with much grousing and fuming… but in the end… he’ll cave in…


  44. Ray Hyde Avatar

    “not every trip made in rush hour needs to be made at rush hour.”

    That’s right. Only about 20% are work related, rush hourt commuting. less than 5% of THAT is long distance commuters.

    “Others who can .. will not.. until either congestion gets worse or it costs money or both.”

    So dilution is the solution to pollution, right? If we raise the price, or make travel miserable, some people will travel at some other time, or won’t travel. THAT DOES NOT MEAN THERE WILL BE ANY FEWER PEOPLE TRAVELING DURING RUSH HOUR. If that does occur, then how can you say at the same time that the purpose of the HOT lanes is not to reduce auto usage?


    The number of folks who move from the regular travel lanes to the HOT lanes WILL NOT REDUCE congestion in those lanes because, as you just pointed out if congestion is worse some people will travel at another time. Conversely, if it does reduce congestion in the regular lanes, more people will opt to use them.

    Besides that, a small reduction in congestion is unnoticeable when the demand utterly swamps the availabilty of service. We are so far out of bed on the capacity supplied that adding one and one half new lanes (the existing lane is already partly used) is going to make no difference whatsoever.

    Particualrly as VRE keeps raising its fares. Beside MCOG has already predicted what will happen, and it does not concur with your suppositions.


    “By the way – the Government does not owe you a congestion-free trip ”

    Horse manure, red herring, false anyway. The general public is putting up substantial money to support HOT lanes. The government owes us our money’s worth in transportation improvements. The vast majority of thosw who help pay for HOT lanes will never use them and never see any of the “benefit”.


    “do we tax everyone to provide amenities to those who CHOOSE to drive solo cars at rush hour?”

    Actually, yes, for the most part. And we provide widely varying amount of amenities to some compared to others. The disposition of expenditures is clearly wrong.


    “but other taxpayers do not owe them the trip with the most benefit.”


    The whole point of any government service is to provide the maximum “net” social benefit. Any other choice is fiscally (and I claim, environmentally) STUPID.


    It is highly unlikey I will ever pay to use the HOT lanes, even though I pay for them otherwise. They will not be located anywhere I normally travel. I’m in the vast majority that will see NO BENEFIT.


  45. Ray Hyde Avatar

    “So we’re not talking about preventing gridlock.”

    If that is not what we are talking about, then we have missed the point entirely. Gridlock: severe congestion, is a huge source of waste and pollution. It is exactly what we should be focussing on.

    HOT lanes will incentivise congestion, because it is what makes HOT lanes profitable. It is the WORST kind of machiavellian bargain.

    HOT lanes are a done deal, for now. It remains to be seen whther it is a good deal or not. I hope someone is collecting good before and after metrics, and not the kind subject to spin.


  46. Ray Hyde Avatar


    The Shirley Highway corridor is saturated. With or without HOT lanes, it will remain saturated. My prediction is that AT BEST, rush hour is temorarily shortened by a few minutes on each end.

    Short of truly major construction projects that provide a similar trip time with similar comfort levels and a similar price it is going to remain saturated. Even if you built a new Metro line, it would take huge subsidies to run.

    People sleep at night and work during the day. It is as simple as that. You can make that more inconveneint and more costly to try to change behavior, but I think it is fundamentally stupid. You don’t improve people’s lives by making them more expensive, more complicated, and more onerous. At some point you just have to step back from all the rhetoric and ask what it is you are really trying to accomplish.

    Absent major construction, enormous tolls, and huge ongoing subsidies the only way to alleviate the Shirly Highway problem during rush hour is to MOVE A GOOD PORTION OF THE JOBS PEOPLE ARE GOING TO.

    You claim that if you tax people on the roads high enough, they will travel at some other time or place. Same goes for the jobs, except now you get a permanent benefit for what amounts to a one time tax, instead of never getting a benefit for an ongoing tax.

    Or, you could move a lot of the people to where the jobs are, but if you tried to do that, then you would quickly find out that a major reconstruction of Shirley highway transportaton would look dirt cheap by comparison.


  47. the simple reality is this:

    Increasing Growth will generate increasing congestion – and increasing congestion will have an effect of people’s choice of jobs, homes, where to travel and when.

    And the possibility of obtaining enough money to build enough infrastructure to actually reduce congestion is virtually nil and even if the money were available – and new lanes added – it would be quickly consumed by new drivers taking advantage of the additional capacity.

    All of this happens anyhow without one inch of HOT lane ever being built.

    The HOT lanes pay for the new lanes by charging the folks who will use the new lanes – instead of raising taxes on those who will not use the new lanes.

    and the real bottom line is that tolls on folks who use the road rather than taxes on everyone whether they use the road or not – will be a reality.

    In terms of the subject of this thread – tax policy and what things should be paid for with taxes and what things should not – and if you do tax – who gets the benefits ..

    having the folks that use the road pay for that road – rather than charging others who do not – is better tax policy than raising taxes on everyone and then using those taxes to benefit only certain folks and not all of the folks who paid the taxes.

    Those who favor raising taxes on everyone for roads are clearly not in favor of smaller, more efficient government and letting citizens decide how to spend their money but rather from the Big Government school of tax and spend.. it would seem to me.

  48. Anonymous Avatar

    having the folks that use the road pay for that road – rather than charging others who do not –


    The others who do not use that road ALREADY HAVE THEIR BENEFITS OF UNCROWDED ROADS – paid for partly by those that do not have the benefit.

    Talk about bad tax policy.

    Bad tax policy is not having enough taxes to avoid wasting more money than the tax will cost.


  49. You basically are asserting “benefits” as a justification for taking money from those who would not agree that the money you are taking is worth the “benefits” that you are claiming.

    The idea of a quid pro quo transaction is that the person who pays …agrees.. with the claim of “benefits”… he willingly accepts the transaction.

    What you are advocating is telling someone that they’ll get benefits and then taking their money even if they don’t agree.

    “uncrowded” roads are of no benefit to folks who do not use those roads and who you have taken money from by telling them that uncrowded roads benefit them….

    You’re essentially claiming that congestion hurts those who have implemented their own strategies to avoid it.

    You want to double tax them.

    They’ve already taken steps… personal sacrifices ..like time-shifting, carpooling.. living closer to work for less house and more money…

    … and then you want to take money for them to pay to buy down congestion for the folks who won’t make the personal sacrifices to deal with congestion.

    that’s wrong.

  50. In your world – you’d charge the folks who fly outside of the busiest hours to pay to buy down the ticket price of those who chose to fly at the busiest times….

    and you’d then claim that in charging them ..this is a benefit to them…

    and you are the one who is always talking about “stealing” under false pretenses…

  51. Ray Hyde Avatar

    “You basically are asserting “benefits” as a justification for taking money from those who would not agree that the money you are taking is worth the “benefits” that you are claiming.”

    It isn’t my assertion. The government accounting office and other offices of government as well operat on the assumption that no government expenditure is justified that does not provide a net social benefit. Otherwise (in the governments words, not mine) government policy amounts to a wealth transfer.

    There will alway be people who do not agree that the benefits are worth the cost. If their gripe is legitimate, then they should be able toprove their case, and they should be eligible for compensation.

    The problem we have is that the process for determining costs and benefits is not sufficiently transparent. The problem is that people make claims without sufficient substantiation, and the system allows this. The problem is that in many cases the “costs” turn out to be subjective – even when we have known and accepted ways of analyzing those costs.

    HOT lanes are a relatively new phenomena. We don’t yet have any good data. It is my prediction that 15 years down the road we will look at the data and say to ourselves, what were we thinking?

    By then we will only have 84 years left on the lease.

    The overall problem we face is excess congestion and pollution. We have pretty good estimates as to what those cost us now. We can figure out and estimate what they will be like in 15 more years.

    HOT lanes are NOT going to fix those problems, or even make a measurable dent in them. Looking at the data it will be as if HOT lanes never happened. They are entirely and completely the wrong answer to those problems.

    HOT lanes might still pay for themselves. They might still provide more benefit to those that use them than they cost – you quid pro quo argument. But the mere fact that the HOT lanes are built using public land with public financing behind it means that the users will get more benefit than they pay for.

    Some more people might be able to cram nto the regular lanes as some move to the HOT lanes, and they will get a small benefit.

    For everyone else the benefits are nil. There is no possible way that I can see to make a net social benefit claim for this fiasco.

    We would all like to see th acar pool lanes used more effectively. Since too few people are car pooling, the obvious thing to do is to pay people to use car pools, and charge people who choose to travel solo in the regular lanes, to raise the money. Let THEM be the ones to cancel or reschedule their travel – or get paid to car pool.

    That way BOTH groups get a benefit and the net social benefit is obvious.


  52. re: “….no government expenditure is justified that does not provide a net social benefit.”

    the word “allege” needs to be somewhere in that sentence…

    so.. you tell the guy in Farmville that he will pay 10 cents more a gallon tax that will provide a “net social benefit” …

    and he wants to know why his tax won’t be spent on a Farmville bypass instead of a new lane for NoVa commuters….

    and that tax is not a “voluntary” tax.. you are taking that money from him no matter whether he agrees or not….

    …. as opposed to the folks who do not think that HOT lanes are fair to them… they can walk… without having to pay more….

    If you had some other proposal that involved quid-pro-quo options for people – instead of forcibly taking taxes from some folks to build new lanes for other folks – you might have a fairness issue.. an equity issue… but when you advocate taking taxes from folks and telling them that the net social benefit won’t be for them… then your claims that the HOT Lanes are “stealing” are pretty hollow….

    What we need – is a highway system – that fairly allocates the costs to the folks who incur the costs…

    If folks want to drive solo at the height of rush hour and have a reliable time trip – then the fair thing to do is to tell them how much it will cost to provide them with that level of service.

    and the basic problem in the NoVa area is that you cannot put two cars where this is only space for one – because you simply don’t have enough available right-of-way to build enough additional capacity – to reduce congestion – region-wide.

    Your only choice is to figure out how to get maximum utilization out of your existing lanes – and one way is to let folks use the excess capacity in the carpool HOV Lanes – for a price – and the key part of this is that the price must to tied to the level of congestion… because if it is a set price that does not vary.. then when it gets too congested.. there is no way to unclog it…. unless.. you decide to raise the tolls the next day….and then the next day, and so on and so forth.. never really knowing when you’ve set the toll too high or too low – which is what you DO know.. in virtual real time if you can vary the toll every few minutes…

    Whenever the road reaches capacity… you raise the toll.. and you keep raising it as long as the road is running a capacity.

    That’s the essential operational scenario with HOT lanes and that’s what makes them different from ordinary toll lanes.. or even what is called Express lanes which are pre-determined prices per time of day… that are not allowed to vary even if congestion maxes the road…

  53. Ray Hyde Avatar

    the word “allege” needs to be somewhere in that sentence…

    No it doesn’t.

    That sentence is a direct quote from the GAO, an d it is offical U.S. policy. it is just that many do not yet understand or appreciate the full implications.


  54. Ray Hyde Avatar

    and he wants to know why his tax won’t be spent on a Farmville bypass instead of a new lane for NoVa commuters….

    So you pull out the calculations that show him that the increas in NOVA business will provide far more to Farmville than the taxes paid.

    If he and the Farmvill citizens association canprove the claculations are wrong, then they have the right to sue for redress, because the “net social benefit” does not exist.


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