Has the Kaine Transportation Policy Blown a Gasket?

The Kaine administration’s transportation policy appears to be in disarray. Here it is, more than a year since the resignation of VDOT Commissioner Philip Shucet, and the Governor has yet to select a replacement. The search has been narrowed to three or four candidates, and an announcement is expected soon. The Warner administration, by contrast, had this key position filled within a few months.

Meanwhile five of 17 positions on the Commonwealth Transportation Board expired at the end of June, and the Kaine administration has yet to replace any of these hold-overs from previous governors. Unlike most state boards and commissions, the CTB exercises real power: The board approves VDOT administrative policies and allocates construction dollars. If Gov. Kaine wants to align transportation and land use planning, he needs CTB board members who share his philosophy.

Peter Galuszka, one of our Road to Ruin writers, has the story, “Who’s In the Driver’s Seat?”

Gov. Kaine declared 2006 to be the “Year of Transportation.” But look what’s happened — or, rather, not happened. Breaking his campaign promises, he backed a huge tax increase for transportation — only to have the proposal soundly defeated in the General Assembly. If he’s got a plan for anything new planned for the special session of the General Assembly later this month, there’s no sign of it. Meanwhile, key transportation positions remain unfilled.

There are positive developments — as Bacon’s Rebellion has taken pains to chronicle. The Kaine administration is soliciting public-private partnerships to upgrade critical transportation corridors, and it’s developing new Corridor Management guidelines to increase capacity of existing thoroughfares. The Kainiacs also altered the debate over land use planning in Loudoun County when it released the VDOT traffic-impact analysis of the South Dulles rezoning proposals.

But these policies are only as good as the people implementing them. And right now, the Kaine administration is firing on only three cylinders.

Update: Kaine spokesman Kevin Hall has responded to our article and blog post. Read it in the comments thread of this post.

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10 responses to “Has the Kaine Transportation Policy Blown a Gasket?”

  1. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    What bothers me more about Tim Kaine’s VDOT is someone aleady on the payroll: Scott Kasprowicz, who is a deputy VDOT commissioner. The problem, according to a recent WaPo story, is that Kasprowicz still owns a commercial office building in Reston, near the planned route of the Silver Line Metrorail train, and is involved in the Governor’s decision whether to propose a tunnel through Tysons Corner.

    Mr. Kasprowicz may well be as good and honest person as there is in all of Virginia, but he has a conflict of interest in the Metrorail decision. His decision could well benefit his real estate holdings in Reston and could result in higher charges for the use of the Dulles Toll Road, local real estate taxes or both. This situation is wrong and will taint the entire decision. The Governor should address this problem before he announces a decision on the tunnel.

  2. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Kevin Hall, Kaine administration spokesman, responded by e-mail to the “Has the Kaine Administration Blown a Gasket” article and blog posting. I reproduce it here with his permission. — Jim Bacon

    While I appreciate your kind words for many of the innovative things Governor Kaine is doing in the transportation arena, I’m having trouble understanding your fixation on the CTB and VDOT appointments.

    First off, I would remind you that the VDOT commissioner’s office is not vacant: the agency and the Commonwealth have been ably served by Interim Commissioner Greg Whirley, and the agency continues to post impressive on-time/on-budget numbers — with 1,000 fewer employees than it had in 2001.

    Would you concede that issues such as, oh, I don’t know, a change in governors, followed by an epoch struggle over the state’s commitment to transportation funding, might create some challenges for a headhunter conducting a nationwide search for the strongest possible candidates for VDOT commissioner? Look for an announcement right after Labor Day.

    On the CTB appointments, current members continue to work and serve while we seek out, approach, and vet potential appointees. As a matter of fact, the Governor has spent a lot of personal time and effort on these choices, because he believes these appointments are as significant as you apparently do. I expect we’ll be announcing CTB appointments in just a matter of days.

  3. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    I’ll agree that the “epoch struggle” over transportation funding is a mitigating factor. In theory, the outcome of that struggle would determine what kind of VDOT chief the Governor would want to hire. If the state raised an extra $1 billion a year to spend on new construction projects, he’d want a VDOT chief with strengths in mega-project management. If the state is stuck with its current funding arrangements, the VDOT commissioner would face a very different set of challenges — squeezing more operational efficiencies out of the department, in particular, managing the outsourcing of much of the maintenance program — requiring a very different set of skills.

    It will be most interesting to see whom Gov. Kaine selects and what his rationale is.

  4. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    The people that will run and guide VDOT, including the Commissioner and CTB are a very important consideration if VDOT is to operate under a new paridigm.

    Up until this point, VDOT basically has been responsible for building and maintaining roads rather than having a needs-based, objective process for transportation policy – and many existing managers presided and implemented essentially irresponsible financial operations … harsher critics referred to it as a ponzi scheme where there never was enough money to build what was in the 6yr plan because estimates were lowballed .. and then not adjusted for annual inflation.

    It’s going to take some major housecleaning to truly fix some of these problems AND to have VDOT become part of the solutions and not an obstacle to change.

    That’s what I suspect is going on with the delays.

  5. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: “Scott Kasprowicz, who is a deputy VDOT commissioner….still owns a commercial office building”

    I don’t see the problem. If he was a real estate/land developer like Til Hazel etc, then yes but just owning a single building?

    Isn’t he also a member of PEC?

    By the way.. many of those on the CTB Board ARE engaged in businesses such as development or development related if I am not mistaken.

  6. Toomanytaxes Avatar


    My understanding is that Mr. Kasprowicz resigned his PEC board seat to take the job — as he should have. I worked for a woman who received an appointment as a regional EPA administrator. She even had to resign her membership in the Sierra Club to avoid conflicts or even the appearance of a conlflict.

    My wife, a federal government attorney, is required to report my investments in stocks and mutual funds, as well as her own. Moreover, she is not permitted to work on a case where either of us own stock in a party to a case or where a party is a component of a sector fund — general mutual funds are not counted. (Trust me, neither of our holdings approach control of any company.) Why should the state be so much more lax than the federal government?

    I’m not arguing that Kasprowicz shouldn’t have his job just because he owns real estate. I’m sure that he brings some unique skills and fresh ideas to the position. Rather, he should have recused himself from any participation in the Silver Line issue because of his real estate holdings.

    Larry, I think that you are correct about many CTB members having interests in real estate. That alone should not disqualify them from membership, but they should not be involved in any government decision that could affect their business, real estate interests or those of a relative or client. As I recall, there was a big fuss some time ago when Mark Warner was on the CTB while it was considering the Western Bypass even though he owned real estate in the area. I believe that, after negative press coverage, Warner recused himself.

    These conflicts of interest are part of Virginia’s transportation problems. Instead of basing decisions on engineering and economic data, Virginia accepts conflicts of interests and nurtures the “good old boy/girl” system. Government officials should not make decisions about issues that could affect their ownership of stocks, real estate or other property interests.

    Mr. Kasprowicz has a conflict of interest on the Silver Line issue. He should have recused himself. Opponents of whatever decision Tim Kaine makes have a good argument that the decision was tainted.

  7. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Toomanytaxes – Living in a county where in the not too recent past, we had supervisors with land holdings voting on issues that directly affected those holdings – I know and agree with the need for vigilance.

    Having worked for the Feds, I’m also well aware of their strict standards – and agree with them.

    And yes… we could have a lot less folks with major conflicts involved in making transportation decisions.

    But let’s be consistent and not apply standards inconsistently … according to which project or who is involved.

    If the laws/standards in Virginia need to be more strict and better enforced, let’s do it – across the board so that everyone knows the rules and especially those who might be recruited for government service.

    I think it is equally important to not only have the conflict of interest protection but for those held accountable to know up front the expected standards and that those standards be uniformly applied to everyone.

  8. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    Larry: Well stated on the conflicts issue.

    Another related issue and one where Virginia needs a big change in its laws is campaign finance. There’s nothing wrong with making or accepting campaign contributions. But Virginia’s laws should be changed to prohibit contributions from anyone/thing except a breathing human being. Corporations, labor unions, foundations, etc. should not be permitted to make cash or in-kind contributions. Dollars ought to come from individuals. At most, a group of individuals should be permitted to bundle their contributions, such as labor union members. But the entity itself should not be allowed to make contributions. We’d see a lot more transparency if contributions were limited in this manner. We might even see transportation tax dollars spent on projects that improve traffic flow or safety if we could put more interactions between government and interest groups into the sunlight.

    The older I get, the more sense John McCain makes to me.

  9. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Two excellent websites for money in State Politics (in Virginia) are:




  10. Anonymous Avatar

    I want to clear up one point. It has been stated that Scott Kasprowicz is a deputy VDOT commissioner. That, in fact is not true; he serves as a Deputy Secretary of Transportation under Pierce Homer, who is Secretary of Transportation. The other Deputy Secretary of Transportation is Ralph Davis.

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