Hall and Griffith on Transportation Reform

Judging by a column in Sunday’s Richmond Times-Dispatch, Del. Frank Hall, D-Richmond, has learned nothing from the transportation debate over the last eight month. The House Minority Leader is content to repeat the same worn-out message — “something must be done; the cost of doing nothing is simply too high” — that got nowhere in the regular session of the General Assembly and that his party leader, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, has abandoned (out of expediency, admittedly) as he anticipates negotiating with Republicans in the House of Delegates later this month.

I hate dissing Hall because he’s a nice gentleman whom I bump into occasionally at the local neighborhood Starbucks, and I believe that he is sincere and well meaning. But the entire thrust of his column suggests that there is only one choice confronting Virginians: Raising taxes for transportation or “doing nothing.” (He does tack onto his column a brief mention of continuing “VDOT reform,” but provides few details as what that reform might look like.) For all intents and purposes, Hall appears perfectly content with continuing Business As Usual. All Virginia needs is more money and a couple of tweaks to the Virginia Department of Transportation.

By contrast, House Majority Leader Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, clearly understands that dumping money into a broken system will not bring any lasting improvement. In an accompanying column, he stated: “Higher taxes are not the equivalent of safer roads and shorter commutes. As evidenced by the results of the sales tax increase of 1986, higher taxes will not reduce the time Virginians spend in their vehicles.”

Griffith and other House Republicans do want to pump more money into the transportation system — not a good idea, in my humble opinion, as long as the system remains dysfunctional. But at least he addresses root causes. Whether he can translate his abstract ideas into effective legislation is a separate issue, but at least he gets the basics right.

While [VDOT] frequently notes that it is “on time and on budget,” that is not a way to measure improvements for commuters. Instead, projects need to be mesaured by how much they reduce the time Virginians spend in their vehicles. (My italics.)

Yes! Ranking transportation projects on the basis of Congestion Mitigated per Dollar Spent is the most important reform that the General Assembly can take. This basic principle, I might add, applies not only to roads, but to mass transit, Intelligent Transportation Systems, demand-management projects, congestion pricing, telework and to the entire smorgasbord of transportation options.

Secondly, Griffith notes, “Growth affects transportation, and how the state and its localities respond to and manage that growth can be improved.” This principle also is fundamental. Griffith, like Gov. Kaine, grasps it. Yet Hall does not even give it lip service in his column, even though the Democratic Governor makes it one of the centerpieces of his transportation strategy.

Finally, Griffith alludes to one more critical principle: “Private-sector solutions to transportation challenges are widely employed in many states, yet Virginia falls behind in this area.” I am presently reading a book about private-sector transportation solutions, and I will have more to post on this subject in the future. I don’t know what specifics Griffith has in mind, but in the abstract, he is absolutely right. The reason private-sector solutions are preferable is that they operate on a “user pays” principle and avoid the rent-seeking behavior of lobbyists and legislators.

I’m looking forward with great anticipation to the legislative package that the House Republicans will be rolling out later this month. I’m hoping that the proposals match the rhetoric, and I’m hoping that the Governor will be able to bring along enough of his fellow Democrats in the legislature to bring about meaningful change.

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3 responses to “Hall and Griffith on Transportation Reform”

  1. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Here’s the rhetoric:

    “Roads in certain regions are so inadequate to the task that they promise to compromise commerce”

    then another jewel:

    “What will be the economic impact of doing nothing?” …(that) “ignores the connection between the state’s economic health and what happens at the ports and around the Beltway”


    Could have fooled me. Businesses are falling all over each other to locate in NoVa and Tidewater… the proof is the huge growth rate double and triple the state average.. new businesses needing new employees and the consequential need for homes.

    What is broke?

    Name a single company that has left or is threatening to leave because of “inadequate roads” .. and oh by the way, let me know.. when we can actually count beyond our 10 fingers.. so that we actually have proof that Virginia is “shutting down it’s economy by ignoring it’s road system”.

    Turn this around… and let’s say the Defense department decides to move agencies out of NoVa or Tidewater.. then we’d hear about the terrible economic damage.. and I’d bet.. not a word about the wonderful congestion relief.

    But I’ll go easy and just simply ask – for a pricetag for congestion-specific remedies so that we then can argue about priorities and funding with respect to the concept of “buying down” congestion (as opposed to the really intelligent concept of attempting to build your way out of congestion with absolutely no idea of what it might cost to reach such a state of nirvana).

    The second heartburn is the claim that economic activity in NoVa and Tidewater benefits ALL of Virginia so therefore the rest of Virginia should open up their wallets to pay for road infrastructure in these regions.

    Show me the money – then we’ll talk. In other words.. stop yammering and put something tangible on the table to support the rhetoric.

    Finally – notice how we’re talking ASPHALT… not MOBILITY… We have separate state agencies to handle roads, transit, rail, airports and ports… totally simple discussions .. like how to move people and goods from say an airport or port expansions … known in some circles as “intermodal” connections… don’t take place until after the fact… mere details.. that need to be worked out… whenever more money is available.

    It is very interesting that NoVa is pressuring the Feds to come up with money for Transportation improvements for the 20,000 new employees being moved to Belvoir… If a private sector company was proposing to bring that many jobs to NoVa.. (or tidewater) the officials would be slobbering all over the prospective clients… with “incentives” and not one word about the need for transportation improvements.

    I don’t think NoVa and Tidewater can have it both ways. What they are saying in effect is: “We cannot plan properly so therefore.. the rest of Virginia has to pony up to fix our regional problems that we created”.

    I’ll go out on a limb.. that dog is not going to hunt in the special session.

  2. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    Hall’s piece was as simplistic as the typical WaPo editorial on any given issue in Virginia — raise taxes. He failed to address any substantive issue.

    Contrast Delegate Ken Plum (D-Fairfax County), no fiscal conservative he. Delegate Plum acknowleged the facts that there’s no consensus on transportation and (effectively) a huge level of distrust that transportation improvements are designed only to promote more development. He then requested his constituents to offer ideas as to how traffic problems might be addressed. Not a solution, but a thoughtful start.

  3. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    If a delegae asked ME for ideas – here’s what I would recommend:

    The Virginia Auditor of Public Accounts recommended (among other things like using legitimate accounting methods):

    • establishing and implementing objective criteria for project selection and
    prioritization; and
    • prioritizing project lists for the Six-Year Improvement Program (SYIP).

    extracted verbatim from: http://www.apa.state.va.us/data/download/reports/audit_local/VDOTfollowup04.pdf

    JLARC has recommended (among other things):

    …”that the current system for allocating construction funding is outdated and needs to be revised to ensure that construction funds are equitably and efficiently allocated. The existing administrative system needs to be replaced with a road classification system based on the functional purpose of the roads, and the VDOT districts need to be replaced with new funding regions for purposes of allocating regional construction funds.

    A needs-based system should continue to be used to allocate construction funds. However, VDOT should improve the needs assessment process and produce one that is accurate and objective.”

    extracted verbatim from: http://jlarc.state.va.us/Summary/Rpt272/Equity.HTM

    What I am saying is that already have, in hand, some excellent anyalysis and recommendations that many folks including some legislators (suprisingly) are either unaware or don’t like the conclusions but I’d say.. anyone willing to read stuff generated by agenda-driven groups.. should at least keep an open enough mind to read what Virginia’s own state agencies have generated.

    Don’t you think it very ODD that our elected representatives … are MUM about APA and JLARC recommendations. At least it would be helpful if they acknowledged those analysis/conclusions and either agreed or disagreed with some or all… as part of any dialogue?

    The fact that our elected legislators do not even acknowledge these analyses makes me wonder how they themselves are deciding how to proceed.

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