The House Desperately Needs to Re-Frame the Debate

After the latest round of press releases and media coverage, the transportation debate is still being framed purely as a budgetary issue: How much money needs to be injected into Virginia’s failing transportation system and where should it come from: General Fund budget surpluses or new, dedicated taxes?

The House Republican leadership fed that perception yesterday by criticizing Gov. Timothy M. Kaine’s proposal to devote $500 million in one-time surplus revenues to transportation as too little, too late. House leaders reiterated their support for improved VDOT performance and for land use reforms, but they offered nothing new and the remarks were totally ignored in the press coverage.

Washington Post: “Kaine to Seek $500 Million in Bid to Alleviate VA’s Traffic Ills”
Times-Dispatch: “Transit Proposals Offered in Gov. Kaine’s Budget”
Virginian-Pilot: “Kaine adds $500 Million for transportation”
Free Lance-Star: “Kaine Wants $500 Million for Transportation”
Roanoke Times: “Transportation up for Debate”

So far, House initiatives to restructure state transportation and land use have generated zero interest in the news media. The meta-narrative has been well established: It’s all about new revenue. By arguing that Kaine isn’t spending enough of the General Fund surplus, the House only reinforces that perception.

The House does plan to introduce legislation amounting to the biggest overhaul in transportation and land use in 50 years — a veritable revolution in the governance structure. If the past is prologue, the capital press corps will give it footnote treatment. Assuming House Speaker William J. Howell and House Transportation Committee Chair Leo Wardrup want to line up public support for their reform proposals, which they’ll need if they want to pass their reforms, they have to change the terms of debate. They have to create a new meta-narrative around which a lazy, uninquisitive press corps can organize its stories.

Conservative, low-tax Republicans can’t out-spend Democrats and the “pragmatic” wing of the Republican Party. They will lose that debate every time. They have to re-cast the debate. The issue isn’t how much money to spend, it’s how the money is spent. The issue is creating a funding system in which people pay for transportation in direct proportion to which they use it. The issue is adapting a 1930s-vintage transportation system and a 1950s-era land use system for the 21st century. Unless the House can change the meta-narrative, it will lose the debate — if not in 2007 General Assembly session, then in the 2007 electoral campaign.

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32 responses to “The House Desperately Needs to Re-Frame the Debate”

  1. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    and if that is not enough worries for the HD guys.. Senator Ed Houck, a key member of the Transportation Committee and a sponsor of legislation that Bill Howell is taking credit for…. (paraphrased excerpts)

    “No pats on the back for Howell on transportation”

    Mr. Howell’s letter is filled with political attacks on Gov. Kaine, who has been working tirelessly on transportation consensus-building since his inauguration.

    Why does political expediency seem to always surpass the need to work together for a common goal?

    Compromise is key, and Mr. Howell should lead the effort to find it–not merely take credit where others have gone before.

    There has been plenty of disagreement. Let’s try compromise!”

    Mr. Howell and the HD folks could be in danger of being “outed” as little more that “no tax” dogmatics… not only short on ideas but claiming others ideas as their own…. tsk tsk…

  2. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Oops.. I forgot the reference link to Sen Houcks letter to the editor:

  3. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I pretty much mucked up Senator Houcks LTE so here it is in it’s entirety:

    No pats on the back for Howell on transportation

    In his letter to the editor, House Speaker Bill Howell laid claim where others had toiled much earlier [“Don’t blame GOP ,” Dec. 11].

    He uses Del. Jeff Frederick’s bill requiring a traffic-impact analysis as an example of where the Republican House of Delegates initiated land-use reforms.

    I sponsored that legislation as a result of the state Senate’s START Commission, which devoted a year of work with business, civic, and local government leaders and produced policy recommendations and funding suggestions–a combination that addressed both essential aspects of transportation improvement.

    It was from the START group that measures dealing with transfer of development rights and cluster housing were proposed and passed the legislature.

    For Mr. Howell to insinuate that the House of Delegates was at the forefront of this topic is to seriously omit many facts; it continues “the House vs. Senate” dynamic, which does not resolve differences. He should be working to help bring us together.

    What Mr. Howell also failed to acknowledge is that I have led the dialogue on land-use/transportation planning reform for years, even when then-Gov. Gilmore dispatched his administration to defeat one of my early efforts that required transportation planning to be part of each local government’s Comprehensive Plan.

    With much determination, I eventually prevailed, and now that measure is law in Virginia.

    Mr. Howell’s letter is filled with political attacks on Gov. Kaine, who has been working tirelessly on transportation consensus-building since his inauguration.

    Why does political expediency seem to always surpass the need to work together for a common goal?

    To produce true transportation improvement, the House must join with the state Senate and the governor to find meaningful, ongoing, new sources of transportation revenue and to continue to work together on land-use/transportation planning.

    One without the other will not fix our problems. Compromise is key, and Mr. Howell should lead the effort to find it–not merely take credit where others have gone before.

    There has been plenty of disagreement. Let’s try compromise!

    Edd Houck – Spotsylvania, The writer is a Democratic state senator representing the 17th District.

  4. E M Risse Avatar


    I choke every time I read a WaPo headline about money so solve the mobility and access crisis.

    You stated the case well.

    Who will plan for the future and admit that it requires Fundamental Change to change the trajectory toward entropy?

    No one we have seen at the nation-state, state or municipal scales.


  5. Anonymous Avatar

    What if the federal government were to require, as a general condition for appropriate government contracts, contractors in the greater D.C. Metro area to achieve telecommuting and transit targets for their employees and subcontractors. Obviously, there would need to be appropriate discretion so that targets were reasonable and did not interfere with the delivery of products and services.

    There all all sorts of conditions placed on government contracts, including prohibitions on employment discrimination and drug use, for example. We have said that, as a society, we do not wish to give government contracts to companies that violate fundamental and important policies.

    If we have commuting overload in Metro Washington (and, indeed, we do), isn’t minimizing daily commuting to and from work an important enough of a policy that it should be recognized in federal contracts? George Mason University estimated that, in 2005, a full 15% of the Greater Washington economy was involved in federal procurement. Telecommuting and transit targets for this segment of the local economy would likely produce several good results: reduced traffic congestion; less demand for new and expensive roads; improved quality of life for affected employees; reduced rental expenses for government contractors; and higher sales of broadband voice, data and video services for important companies, such as Comcast, Cox and Verizon. This would be a good reform for the new majority Democrats in Congress. It would show creativity and fiscal responsibility.

    They can’t all be as stuck in the past as Democratic Governor Tim Kaine, who is as creative as an old New Dealer — each and every solution to a problem must be more spending and higher taxes. Unfortunately, Tim Kaine is proving the worth of a one-term governship. While I have my issues with Mark Warner on some issues, I must say that he certainly could think beyond higher spending and taxes as his sole solution to government problems. His successor sure can’t.

  6. It’s not how much money you spend, it’s how the money is spent.

    If you spend money to steal wealth from people by crippling their land use in order to save some money for others, what is it you have saved?

    Surely it is not your honor.

  7. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: “steal wealth from people by crippling their land use”

    Ray … if this were true in general statewide then why do we have all this growth and development going on?

    and if this were true – in general – wouldn’t a lot of elected officials be thrown out of office?

    Here is an interesting bill just put into the 2007 GA Hopper by Delegate L. Scott Lingamfelter:

    HB 1706 Real estate tax; limitation on tax rate.

    Real estate tax; limitation on tax rate.� Provides that localities must set real estate tax rates so that the total real estate tax revenue will not increase by more than 3% over the previous year’s total real property tax levies with one exception. The exception would allow a locality to set its property tax rate at a rate not to exceed the rate of population growth plus the rate of inflation in the locality for the immediately preceding year, but in no event shall the rate be set at any amount that would produce more than 6% growth.

    It would be interesting to see a list of localities that would be affected by this if it became law.

  8. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: the politics of NoVa vs the rest of Virginia and Kaine’s approach to implementing his agenda

    [excerpted from Wikipedia]:

    “Despite being the home of the Pentagon and well over 100 defense contracting companies, Northern Virginia is becoming known for favoring candidates of the Democratic Party in its voting patterns. The area went for Democrats Jim Webb in 2006 for U.S. Senator, Tim Kaine in 2005 for Governor, John Kerry in 2004 for U.S. President, and Mark Warner in 2001 for Governor. In three out of four of these races, the convincing margins tallied in Northern Virginia have swept the Democratic candidate into office.

    The most recent election in Virginia was an extremely close one statewide. Democrat Jim Webb defeated incumbent Senator George Allen by the slim margin of 49.6% to 49.2%[1]. However, that margin ballooned to 58.1% to 40.7% in favor of the Democratic challenger in the counties and cities of Northern Virginia, whereas Webb ran behind Allen, 46.1% to 52.7%, in the entire remainder of the Commonwealth. Webb carried Fairfax County, Prince William County, and Loudoun County, as well as the more urban areas of Arlington, Alexandria, and Falls Church. Allen’s sole wins in Northern Virginia were Stafford County and the cities of Manassas and Manassas Park, winning the latter two only by the razor-thin margins of 298 votes and 47 votes, respectively.”

    So – is this Kaine’s strategy? Is he going to box the NoVa GA “no taxers” elected into a corner by taking advantage of demographics and recent voting tenancies?

    2 million people (about 1/4th of Virginia’s total population) live in Northern Virginia.
    Maybe 1.5 million in Metro HR… about 7 million total for Virginia.

    Is it possible that we’re at the tipping point where the combined areas of NoVA and HR will began to have controlling influence of the GA on certain issues – like transportation?

    I think Kaine is aiming dead-on at NoVa and HR delegates currently allied with Bill Howell and his controlling majority.

    I have no clue as to who is advising Kaine politically in terms of their experience and abilities so what is playing out could be merely happenstance – but if it turns out to be something more focused – I would think Bill Howell and company would be rightly concerned about the future.

  9. Anonymous Avatar

    Larry, I think that your theory is correct. Kaine is purposely manipulating the transportation issue for political gain, and the NoVA GOP is too stupid to fight back. And they are too afraid to confront their business and developer donors to boot.

    The demographics of NoVA have changed, but most people simply want results. The biggest issue is overdevelopment. As George Allen was losing in PW, Republican Corey Stewart won the Chairmanship of the PW County Board because he ran against out-of-control development.

    However, most GOP elected officials in NoVA simply refuse to take a similar stand and will, accordingly, be beaten by Democrats who mouth the words people want to hear, but are even deeper in the pockets of developers. In the immortal words of Forrest Gump, “Stupid is, as stupid does.”

  10. Anonymous Avatar

    Virginia will not solve our complicated
    growth management and transportation
    problem in the near term, given the hard
    political fight taking place in Richmond
    between conservative GOP’s in the House
    vs the Senate and Governor. Our tasks
    require a climate in which those parties
    and others with a vested interest in the
    resolution of these problems realize we
    need a means to find common ground.

  11. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Anon – What? You mean convince the developers to stop lobbying in Richmond and actually engage in a dialogue with those concerned about growth and development?


    The next thing you’ll be saying is that “good ole boy politics” is wrong!

    seriously… as TMT stated so eloquently – “politics is as politics does” – my apologies to Gump and TMT….

    Notice how Kaine has come out in favor of using $500 from the current surplus for Transportation in this budget cycle and the HD guys are complaining that HIS plan is “not enough”. This is RICH!

    So… Kaine has essentially negated the HDs primary approach to Transportation – with an equivalent proposal while demonstrating that there are, indeed, OTHER priorities that are equally deserving of the rest of the surplus.

    So .. voters are left with: ” what else?” for transportation besides the $500 million “chump change” ..

    Kaine says the will say more in his Jan address to the GA and that will leave everyone looking at the HD guys for THEIR competitive response….

    Notice the dynamic also of how the urban regions Republican HD guys are sorta twisting in the wind… on transportation? They simply cannot be perceived as the party of “NO” – and survive.

    even if NoVa/HR reps propose their own Regional-specific legislation – if the rest of the HD kills those efforts – Democratic-leaning voters in those regions are going to put 2 and 2 together.

    They’re going to realize that even if their own Republican reps are good guys that they are in the wrong party in Richmond to have Regional legislation go forward and that the solution is to have Democratic reps aligned with a Kaine Democratic majority.

    Trust me – this would be a no-brainer campaign promise for Democratic challengers to Republican incumbents.

    Geeze .. if some blow-hard blogger can see this… I would hope the HD guys would also…

    but stupid is – as stupid does – is still in play….also

    if Kaine’s’ sticks with his primary “more money for Richmond VDOT” approach – BOTH of the parties may shoot themselves in their own respective feet….

    Of course .. like in the classic case of two guys running from a bear .. they don’t have to be faster than the bear – just faster that the slower one that the bear catches…

  12. Anonymous Avatar

    Virginia has one of the highest rates of job growth in the country and one of the lowest
    unemployment rates.

    The Metropolitan Council of Governments projects the Greater Washington DC Metropolitan Area
    will generate 1.65 million new jobs, 2 million more residents and 833,000 housing units over
    the next two decades. Virginia port officials predict cargo movement in and out of Hampton
    Roads will double during that period creating more jobs, residents and housing deamand in that
    part of the state.

    Mr. Gross and others on this blog who simply want to bash the real estate industry on this site
    are part of the problem relative to our finding a means to create a meaningful forum to seek
    resolutions to our problems.

    All of us, including the real estate industry, have a vested interest in a workable, livable, clean,
    and environmentally friendly Virginia. A good transportation system is vital to our quality of life
    and economic future.

    Are you the Mr. Gross who fought the Outer Connector’s construction in the Fredericksburg region?
    Funds for that project have been used by VDOT to building a new causeway, highway and two bridges in
    West Point to relieve a traffic bottleneck there. While residents in Fredericksburg, are burdened
    with daily traffic jams on I-95, Rt. 17, Rt. 1 and Rt. 3. The Outer Connector would provided major
    relieve for the traffic problems in that community. Great job Mr. Gross!!!!

  13. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I am indeed and what the Outer Connector taught me about VDOT and transportation and the real estate and development industry in Virginia is a tale about how VDOT and local developer-friendly officials can ignore existing transportation needs, divert limited monies to a bogus beltway plan and in the process promote and accelerate development to areas that lacked schools, water, sewer, libraries, etc… essentially leapfrogging over existing undeveloped land.

    Many more words – on a per item basis if you would like to further the discussion Anon.

    And Anon – I don’t mind revealing my identity and you?

  14. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    For folks who would like to know more about the Outer Connector…

    Note the official name – the Northwest Quadrant

    That’s because it was 1 or 4 quadrants of a beltway proposal that was estimated
    to cost in excess of $500 million dollars…a very low-ball number …

    At the time this was proposed – the Fredericksburg area was receiving about 50 million dollars a year for transportation projects.

    This will give you an idea of just how out of whack … responsible thinking was – and yet developers, real estate folks and pro-growth elected officials were all on board with this idea – until two huge events occured:

    1. – Pro-growth supervisors voted out of office and the Civil War land that the OC would destroy – protected.
    2. – VDOT finally got found out with their bogus 6yr financial plans and had to boot more than 1/2 of the projects, the OC being one of them… but also important other projects .. still in need of funding that was lost when the OC was removed – it took the allocated funding with it (that funding did not exist was just paper).

    The entire episode was emblematic of a transportation process owned and operated by developers in my view.

  15. Anonymous Avatar

    Mr. Gross:

    What you are not telling your readers is that growth has continued
    in the Fredericksburg region and road congestion in the area is some
    of the worst in the state, while funds allocated to solve that problem
    have been spent in areas like West Point, which was grateful to get those
    funds and happy to take advantage of the actions by you and others who
    opposed the Outer Connector.

    The Outer Connector was designed to be a limited access parkway with a
    appropriately bridge designed for the river crossing. The road would
    have improved access in the community to major employment centers and
    a unversity adult campus on Rt. 17 and a community college campus on Rt.
    17 by-pass south of town. It would have also taken truck traffic out of
    the city and along Rt. 17 north of Fredericksburg.

    Mr. Gross, you and others who fought that project did your community a
    great injustice ….Cheers!!!!!!!

  16. Anonymous Avatar

    This is a different anon from the person who posted previously. I concur with Mr. Gross that the outer connector had goals that were not clearly related to easing transportation (I’m that person who lives in the “berg” area, Larry). I’m not sure it was wholly a developer road, however.

    To return to the larger question of tranportation planning that originally started with Mr. Bacon’s comment about 1930 transportation issues, this suggests a direction that I think is troubling–that is to further connect local land use planning and state transportation planning. Some degree of that has already occurred thanks to Houck in terms of the comprehensive plan, which can be a powerful tool if localities engage in authentic long-range planning that is citizen-based.

    Unfortunately, most localities don’t have a clue as to how to do long range planning and few have citizens with the necessary scope of education and vision. (Where would Washington DC be without that French architect?) Forgive this elitist comment but I’m afraid that such is the case.

    But back to practicalities: I hope that those such as Mr. Bacon who want to see more connection between transportation planning and local decisions see that the potential exists for localities to lose their land use planning authorities if we go further down that road. It’s easier to vote in and out a BOS than a governor or house representative or state senator. And it’s easier for citizens to find a voice in their locality than in Richmond. Local authority is closer to the people and consistent with our founding father principles.

    In any event, I have come to the conclusion that Chaos theory is the best mechanism for assessing governmental outcomes. Or maybe government should be analyzed according to the principles of darwinian evolution. Only those who evolve survive.

  17. Anonymous Avatar

    Second anon again: To be more specific about the proposals for overhauling transportation and land use put forth by Howell, these proposals may lead to limitation of local authority. They should be thoroughly reviewed by every locality and there should be a lot of discussion about the impacts.

    However, it appears that the issue may be too complex for the standard media (FLS, local papers) to convey to the public. Or perhaps mainstream reporters don’t understand enough about government function to understand the critical changes that would occur should the proposals succeed.

    On the other hand, local authorities have raised my taxes 40% this year. I’m paying more and getting less.
    Land use isn’t a “sexy” topic; taxes are.

    What will Howell’s proposals mean for tax implications locally? Has anyone looked at that?

  18. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: “I’m not sure it was wholly a developer road, however.”

    I would agree but one would have to ask why were so many other connected issues ignored in VDOT’s quest to build that road? And at the same time, developers and land-speculators were promoting the road – before it was ever more than lines on a map.

    What killed the OC was not opposition but the sheer fantasy of it’s financial underpinnings advocated and defended by a taxpayer-funded entity whose level of irresponsibility with regard to finances was clearly exposed by Mr. Schucet AND by the Virginia Office of Public Accounts.

    At the same time the OC was ongoing – VDOT funded a 18 million dollar bypass around rural Spotsy CH with a traffic count of about 5K per day INSTEAD of funding improvements to Route3 with 60K daily traffic.

    At that same time, VDOT chose to spend 36 million dollars on a major redesign of an intersection with about 10K daily traffic rather than address the intersection of Route1 and Route 1(Falmouth) or Route 17 or Route 610 in Stafford.

    In my view, the whole way that VDOT goes about deciding priorities is fundamentally corrupt and ineffective and instead of addressing congestion and connectivity – they spawn worse problems while squandering scarce funding.

    They are much, much more interested in “sexy” new engineering projects than they are in the more mundane role of figuring out how to squeeze the best functionality out of what we already have (and are paying big bucks to maintain).

    Springfield Interchange COULD have been designed, built and paid for by congestion pricing rather than sucking up virtually all available funding for NoVa – indeed now that it is built – it is not configured optimally for congestion pricing…. without even further major investments.

  19. Anonymous Avatar

    The facts are the Fredericksburg region has a great deal
    of local traffic, regional traffic and East Coast traffic
    along I-95, Rt. 17 and Rt. 301 competing for the useage of
    a highway system ill equipped to handle the demands we have
    now in that part of the state. VDOT bashing, liberal visions
    of the world by those who think they have a destiny to make
    the lives miserable for those sitting in traffic jams offers
    us little towards solving these issues which I think Mr. Gross
    and others are responsible for making more difficult.

  20. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: “To be more specific about the proposals for overhauling transportation and land use put forth by Howell, these proposals may lead to limitation of local authority. They should be thoroughly reviewed by every locality and there should be a lot of discussion about the impacts.”

    First, I think folks should recognize that Mr. Howell has been claiming as his own – proposals brought forth by Senator Houck.

    From my perspective, Mr. Howell has taken one position – taxes – and has put precious little on the table beyond that and now if he doesn’t do something – is in danger of being outfoxed by Kaine and company.

    But I’m curious about the concept of “limiting local authority” when the local “authority” routinely approves rezonings without planning for the increased traffic that they are approving.

    Local officials, developers, and folks who make their living off of “growth” all claim that it is not the localities responsibility – and even if it were an attitude of “what are you going to do”… it cannot be helped.

    You had local officials feasting on car tax revenues (prior to Gilmore) and hardly a penny was spent on transportation.

    You had local officials approving one subdivision after another without caring about how much additional financial burdens were being placed on VDOT.

    Local officials often LIE to the public about their hands being “tied” because of the Dillion Rule when the difference between “by-right” and rezones is often five-fold or more.

    And now we have local officials telling their residents to lobby Richmond to have the State produce more funding for transportation; in other words, they’d rather have elected State officials raise taxes on their own county residents – so they can continue to not be held responsible for their land-use decisions.

    We saw EXACTLY how local elected feel about this issue when pro-growth Loudoun supervisors lashed out at VDOT for telling the truth about the impacts of their plans to rezone 30,000 home sites.

    They see this an “interference” – like they’d rather continue to have developers do their own (much “friendlier”) transportation studies.

    I admit. I too am amazed at how much the public is apparently too busy to notice… sometimes.

  21. Anonymous Avatar

    VDOT bashing by the likes of Mr. Gross does little to solve the
    traffic problems in the Fredericksburg region which he and others
    on this blog articulate. That part of the state is a disaster for
    the traveling public because such campaigns that have opposed the
    the OC construction and improvements at Falmouth on Rt. 1 at a
    bridge over the river to Fredericksburg. Such writers do not care
    about the time others waste in traffic jams they help create.
    Happy holidays !!!!!!!

  22. Today’s Post is a good example of Chaos theory and confused thinking at work.

    We have William Lecos of the Fairfax Chamber of Commerce saying that the three counties that have cut growth are likely to exacerbate sprawl by causing people to move farther away and undermine the Fairfax initiative for transit oriented development.

    Excuse me, aren’t the people equally likely to mve closer as farther away, especially if, as Lecos suggets, Fairfax continues to be a locus for jobs? Actually, no, because there is a huge price and quality of life difference.

    He thinks NOVA needs more transportation money from Richmond, meaning the rest of Virginia. But NOVA nad Hampton roads ARE most of Virginia, economically speaking. Where does he think the money is going to come from? This is the same guy that thinks NOVA requires and is entitled to abundant and cheap electricity and therefore Dominion Power should be allowed to acquire land at far below its true cost.

    It is one thing to say that NOVA should pay for its own transportation needs, it is one thing to say that the funding distribution needs to be more equitable, but it is something else to say that NOVA should pay forits own transportation needs AND still support th rest of the state. If NOVA is going to pay its own way, then the implication is that the rest of the state will have to do the same.

    Lecos blows all the usual smoke about transit oriented development, “walkable” Reston town center without any recognition that no mass transit system anywhwere has ever reduced congestion. If, as now appears to be the case, it takes two transit trips to eliminate one auto trip, then we will need to quintuple our transit budget in order to make a dent.

    So, Lecos is saying that NOVA can provide all these wonderful things, in terms of new ways to grow, if only everyone else will provide the money, electricity, and external land support at below cost to Fairfax.

    On the opposite page, we have Jeremy Rifkin, pointing out some of the disadvantages of the Lecos/smart growth/New Urbanist plan. He points out, as i have previously, that cities are enormous energy sinks. This is why Lecos supports more energy for Fairfax, at the expense of me and everone els whose land the new power line will cross. Rifkin points out the risks of “Too Much City” and isllustrates by noting tht the Sears Tower alone consumes more energy than the entire city of Rockford Illinois. What he asks are we producing with hundred story buidings that depend on artificial lighting. He points out that cites are only possible because of fossil fuel power distributed over power lines, that (temporarily) divorcing ourselves from the limits of solar flow has resulted in the boom of population that has created our super cities.

    We can see that the cities depend mightily on the suburban areas around them, and the rural areas beyond that. Accordingly, they are flexing more and more of their political and economic muscle to control what is around them.

    Unfortunately, their goal in doing so is to produce still more of what we can equally easily see can’t work, and doesn’t.

    The reason it can’t work is because it is too expensive. So, what are the proposed solutions? Raise the Metro fares during rush hour, limit growth in the suburbs, and spend more money on VRE to move people from the suburbs to the core. This is insane.

    On the Dr Gridlock page one writer openly says that drivers should pay more for Metro because it is THEY that benefit the most. This argument not only suggests that driving is a better alternative, but it is clearly wrong. Our congestion has not eased, and it takes TWO Metro rides to eliminate one auto trip. Those two Metro rides are electricity dependent and go to places that are even more power consumptive and expensive to support. Yet we are allegedly doing all this to conserve energy and prevent pollution and save money. Once committed to the enormous expense of Metro, we can never move it or anything that depends on it, we are locked in. Yet we promote this on the basis of providing transportation choices. This is completely and utterly insane, I say.

    The argument for raising metro fares in the editorial is that every urban rail system in the country must raise fares regularly, and Metro hasn’t done so for three years. Aside from what this says about the economics of transit, it also applies to roads, and we haven’t rased the gas tax in 20 years. The editorial also notes that if congestion pricing for Metro applies, then it should also apply to road usage.

    So here is a plan to make the core even more expensive, at the same time we shut down growth on the fringe, and we will pay for it and make it possible by expropriating the land holdings of hundreds of people even farther from the core. Now, these land holdings have been specifically designed and built, at great expense for a certain purpose, with the support and planning from the county government.

    Last I knew, the county government was a branch of state government. Yet the state government is likely to act at the behest of people like Lecos to support the financial interests of a failing and overcrowded space, by unding millions of dollars of effort on the part of the counties and individuals.

    It really is government by chaos. The left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing, and neither one is connected to a brain that functions.

  23. Larry, what would be the difference between “By-right” zoning and those permitted by rezoning requests if it had not been for the wave of downzonings that have occurred?

    Isn’t it a misnomer to call them “by-right” developments when those rights can be eliminated without compensation?

    Isn’t it a misnomer to call them “by-right” developments when those rights are tied to other restriction or costs that are unrelated to the development in question?

    Doesn’t the entire contentious process of getting permission to build merely add to the cost, without adding materially to the result?

    Who pays the cost of bloated “community development” departments whose real job is to foment unrest and contention in the community while thwarting its normal development, and distorting the fair allocation of the real community costs?

    How is it that you can favor such activity on the basis that it is legal (even if it is unethical) and it is performed by freely elected officials, and then turn around and excoriate those same elected officials when thye do something you don’t like?

    I’m agnostic with respect to political parties: I think they are both FUBAR beyond all recognition. I’m even agnostic with respect to my own (current) beliefs, which is why I sometimes post ideas or facts that appear to be mutually contictory: it’s my own pathetic attempt to dig a little deeper.

    I don’t want to see the state paved over, or our society turned in to an automotive slum, but I agree with anaonymous, that merely complaining, VDOT bashing and shutting things down without a provable economic alternative is irresposnsible, selfish, and counterproductive to the “public good” in whose name these activities are ostensibly carried out.

  24. Anonymous Avatar

    Interesting debate.

    #1. No one has touched on the local tax impact of Howell’s proposals that were apparently originally Houcks (that is quite funny).

    #2. Ray’s assessment of chaos is on the mark. Some counties do limit growth; some don’t. However, the bottom line is that voters are closer to the BOS in their respective counties than to the state. Education about government process and citizen responsibility is another issue.

    #3. The voters didn’t vote for Allen. Why? They focused on the critical issue before them: Iraq and its consequences. Majority rule is usually the better rule, over time (centuries). Having the growth debates closer to the citizens in the form of local BOS structures is better than a distance strategy. That allows for mobile and responsive majority rule. Hence the transitions in Loudoun. And there will be more to come. Democracy is always messy. But it seems the best system yet developed. We all saw what monarchy and divine rule brought, or socialism etc.

    At some point we need to support our civic structure; we need to not focus on what doesn’t work but on what does. And we need to respect the outcomes as part of a fluid voting structure (even in those counties such as Fauquier where the economic elite truly buy elections). I don’t think yet that the individual who lives in the trailer park and votes votes in any specific way other than to vote, which is to say, the system still works.

    Larry, BOS groupings do go away; they change in response to the ctizenry. That’s true for state government too.

    Not a bad thing.

  25. Anonymous:

    Where have you been?

  26. Anonymous Avatar


    Ray, I am assuming that you think my commentary completely off point. That’s usually what I think of local governance, but I’m also a student of history. Look at the early and developmental history of Rome. See what nutso things occurred. We’re not that far off mark.

    My apologies if I seem completely off point. But I have become somewhat blase about outcomes. What matters? That fundamental principles continue, in some fashion. Democracy, with a big D, et al. There will always be individuals and places who abuse the system. But we really do have the best system.

    Call me a radical idealist. I do believe that.

  27. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: “What you are not telling your readers is that growth has continued
    in the Fredericksburg region and road congestion in the area is some
    of the worst in the state, while funds allocated to solve that problem
    have been spent in areas like West Point,”

    Then why was the money diverted to West Point when other roads in the area had been on the 6yr plan for years and were not improved when the OC was killed?

    Why would VDOT divert money from Fredericksburg to another locality when there are existing unmet needs in the area?

    And why would we have a system that allows VDOT to do this in the first place?

    Your comment is the same one that VDOT had used repeatedly to threaten the local community to do what VDOT wants or “lose the money”.

    It’s a arrogant and corrupt practice being perpetrated by public servants on the people who pay taxes for their salaries.

    If one believes that the “opposition” has stopped all these roads – then there ought to be LOTs of left over money hanging around needing something to be spent on… right? Where is that money?

    The reality is what killed the OC was not the opposition – but the fact there was not near enough money – and what little money was allocated was diverted from other long-standing older and needed projects – that to this day have not been funded.

    This is what happens when you put VDOT in charge of transportation planning and handling money. This is not my opinion alone. It is both JLARC and the Virginia Auditor of Public Accounts opinion.

    And here’s a little reality check anon – PPTA allows private investors to propose a road and paid for by TOLLs. If a road is really needed – then folks would be wiling to pay for it – right?

    and don’t get me wrong about roads – I’m in FAVOR of roads as long as we have a viable financial plan and a process for ranking and prioritizing them. What I’m opposed to in the current ineffective and wasteful process employed by VDOT – the same process that resulted in massive statewide “cuts” to their 6yr wish list – when it became painfully apparent they were essentially running a ponzi scheme.

    The voters in the 2002 referenda – essentially agree with me.

  28. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: “Isn’t it a misnomer to call them “by-right” developments when those rights can be eliminated without compensation?”

    We’re speaking about planning not the fairness and/or inequities with downzoning – which for the most part has occurred more as isolated events rather than on a massive statewide basis.

    The proof of that is in front of you. If landowners had been mistreated – Fairfax would still look like Warrenton.

    And the discussion is not about stopping people from moving to NoVa for jobs or for that matter anywhere in Virginia.

    And most folks don’t really care how many people move here or even what the growth rate is – most don’t even have a clue as to the actual numbers.

    What they DO … CARE about is their quality of life which includes traffic congestion.

    If they feel that their quality of life is being adversely impacted – and they think it’s because of “rampant” growth – they will – at election time – remove those they think are responsible for it.

    What I argue – often misunderstood – is that if we are going to have growth and development – you have to upgrade the infrastructure to accommodate them – and if you do not – then bad stuff is going to happen… like people moving further away… and in the process overwhelming the commuting infrastructure… downzings, further restrictions of property rights, etc.

    You can argue the unfairness of it – from now until the cows come home – but the bottom line is – that until and unless some headway is made on the infrastructure that folks will take the actions that are available to them.

    That’s why I think there should be fair allocation of costs to citizens for the costs of infrastructure – roads being a primary one.

    I’m not opposed to the gas tax; what I’m opposed to is wishful thinking with regard to hopes that raising it will raise enough money.

    I think it is shortsighted and to be honest, just plain dumb to not be realistic about what the best prospects are for raising additional revenues for transportation.

    Substantial money for NoVa will not come from VDOT Richmond nor Farmville nor Hampton Roads.

    That money will come from NoVa and it’s NoVas job to see that it does NOT go to Richmond.

    One can argue that money is being “stolen” from NoVA .. and all I can say – is that this is all the more reason to NOT support a statewide gas tax increase – because you’ll just divert even more money from NoVa to other localities (assuming this is true – I’ve yet to see anyone post anything to substantiate that claim).

    This is a fairly simple calculation. You can raise property taxes for more roads or you can raise the sales tax or you can collect tolls … and then there are some other paths like taxes on new cars but at the end of the day – transportation infrastructure is not going to be upgraded by wishful thinking – and until you solve that problem – voters are not going to be sympathetic to property rights issues.

  29. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: “Democracy, with a big D, et al. There will always be individuals and places who abuse the system. But we really do have the best system.”

    Completely agree.

    But what do you do when so many folks are taking advantage of “cheap roads” such that there is no money to upgrade them?

    how about folks who commute 50 miles a day for “more house” – at the expense of the throughput capacity of the existing roads – and the amount of gas tax they pay to drive that road comes nowhere close to what is needed to maintain it much less build a fund to expand it?

    My view is that the most fair and equitable approach is to directly assign costs to users who use that infrastructure. It is also the fastest, most efficient way to get improvements online.

  30. My view is that the most fair and equitable approach is to directly assign costs to users who use that infrastructure.

    The users who benefit from the infrastructure arenot just the ones driving on it. That is why we use a variety of funding mechanisms.

    What, exactly, is your idea of a fair and equitable funding mechanism that charges by mileage and weight, by closeness to highwyay and trnsit access, for value of freight delivered, for quality of workforce delivered, and access to open spaces and parkland that we don’t have where we live, that has some connection to ability to pay and the associated value recieved, and which is fair locationally, locally, regionally, and statewide?

  31. My view is that the most fair and equitable approach is to directly assign costs to users who use that infrastructure.

    The users who benefit from the infrastructure arenot just the ones driving on it. That is why we use a variety of funding mechanisms.

    What, exactly, is your idea of a fair and equitable funding mechanism that charges by mileage and weight, by closeness to highwyay and trnsit access, for value of freight delivered, for quality of workforce delivered, and access to open spaces and parkland that we don’t have where we live, that has some connection to ability to pay and the associated value recieved, and which is fair locationally, locally, regionally, and statewide?

  32. Reid Greenmun Avatar
    Reid Greenmun

    Clearly charging a user fee (tax) based on the number of miles driven on Virginia roads each year is one way of being “fair”. The wear & tear on roads due to large trucks and equipment should result in a higher fee (tax).

    I believe that another “fair” way is to add costs to new residential and business development that causes new traffic (commuters and business vehicles) that results in new congestion. Without this change, developers and land speculators reap profits – and the rest of the local taxpayers pick up the tab, in effect subsidizing new development.

    I believe that discussing the reforms needed to be made to VDOT is not non-productive “VDOT Bashing” – it is another facet of the required solution. Increasing taxes to “fix” our transportation system without fixing VDOT too is a strategy for continued future wasting of precious tax funds.

    In exisiting high-density areas mass transit systems can make sense – but the user should pay the operating costs – not the current method of having non-users subsidize each seat.

    Lastly, the problem is traffic congestion. Why not focus on solutions for reducing traffic congestion?

    As I have stated here before – we should do a better job of clearing accidents from highways. There is a park of the solution that reduces traffic congestion and has nothing to do with adding new lane capacity of mass transit.

    In addition, road constuction also creates traffic congestion. Improving VDOT such that they work faster to remove construction related bottlenecks is another pasrt of the solution. Improving VDOT so they do a better job of coordinating construction so as to not slow down traffic on alternate commuter routes while primary commuter routes are under construction is another part of the solution.

    Congestion pricing may also make a great deal of sense to help encourage greater use of the congested roads during non-peak usage hours, thus making better use of the roads we already have.

    Another opportunity exists in greater use of rail to move multimodal cargo containers in and out of the port of Hampton Roads – instead of massively too expensive ($4.4B) bridge tunnels.

    If we began to build commuter rail with new highways we could begin to lay the ground work for future multi-modal networks of commuter rail/people movers. That would be forward thinking.

    An even better approach would be for private businesses to purchase rights to public rail and offer service on the rail lines.

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