An Ill Considered Plan

by Patrick McSweeney

Steve Baril’s proposal to crank up borrowing and spending to build more roads would saddle Virginians with untold debt and do nothing to improve traffic congestion.

This is not the time or place to take sides in one of the Republican statewide nomination contests, but a recent proposal by Steve Baril, a candidate for attorney general, warrants a strong response. Baril’s Marshall Plan for Transportation is so ill-conceived that it should be buried without delay. More.

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  1. Anonymous Avatar

    Of course, an underlying element of goofiness is why Attorney-General wannabees are campaigning on transportation issues. They ought to stick to their law-enforcement knitting.

  2. Anonymous Avatar

    It is probably true that road demands increase geometrically with population. That is because each of us has more than one destination, the purpose of each destination is some kind of commerce, whether social or business. Therefore the demand for roads goes up like the number of nodes rather than the number of people. While traffic spending has increased faster than the population, it has only increased about as fast as the economy. That is perfectly reasonable since one way or another the economy is the source of funding for the roads and the roads are the source of interactions for the economy.

    It is probably not true that road construction itself pushes up the demand for road construction. It is probably true that road construction spurs the economy: that is why the first thing undeveloped areas do is build a road. Because the economy itself consists of so many new kinds of businesses there are more nodes on the network and more demand.
    1. Working women have nearly doubled the demand by themselves.
    2. The baby boom echo means that more drivers reaching driving age, and still more nodes on the network.
    3. Just in time shipping has converted our roads into rolling warehouses, with many more trucks extant than previously.
    4. Trucks increase wear on the roads and expense
    5. Opposition to road building has enormously increased the expense with endless rounds of studies, lawsuits, meetings and delays.
    6. To the extent that opposition has been successful it has eliminated many projects deemed necessary by the planners years ago. Completion of 395, Three Sisters Bridge, The ICC, widening Rte 50, Extending Rte 66, Overpasses at 50 and 15 as well as 29 and 234 come to mind.
    7. The costs for the intentional delays and the congestion they cause could well have paid for some of these projects by now.
    8. Vehicle registration has nothing to do with vehicle use. Affluence means that many people have fun vehicles, sports cars and RV’s, that are seldom driven. My farm supports seven vehicles, but only one is in use at any time.
    9. Total miles per capita went up no where near as much as total miles. The average mileage per day is less than what I log on my tractor mowing an eight acre field.

    The idea that disperse development makes people dependent on the automobile is not correct and hysterically funny in true perspective. I live in the boonies on a farm that has been there over two hundred years. If we are totally dependent on the auto, how did all my ancestors make it? I guess they were totally dependent on the horse. The population is aging and it is likely that people will walk less than more. In my Alexandria neighborhood the residents overwhelmingly opposed and turned down a proposal to provide the neighborhood with sidewalks. When I observe the centrally located and convenient grocery in my little town I see that when people drive to the store, they park as near possible to the door. Around here people drive to the end of their farm lane to pick up the mail, and I seriously doubt anyone ever walked to the feed store for a fifty pound sack of grain.

    The reason people use the auto is that it is the most useful, economical, convenient, flexible, and fun tool ever invented for its purpose. I have no doubt that when people go to the anti-sprawl meetings they drive to get there.

    Without that scattered low-density development, where would these people keep their horses which are a mainstay of Virginia culture and economy? Not to mention that they are customers for hay from my farm, which requires seven, count em, seven vehicles to run. The amount of land contiguous with a city goes up like the square of its radius. 95% of farms are supported by off-farm jobs. That means the more the city sprawls the more jobs are available to support more and larger farms. It also means that the area of roads goes up like the square of the city radius and the cost with it.

    One of the factors I have to consider when I build a fence is the cost of maintaining it. The more fence, the more cows, the more cows, the more money, the more work, and soon I can’t do it all. Roads are no different. Welcome to reality.

    Despite what you say it turns out that rural people drive only a little more that city people, city people are as likely to own a car, and their expenses are higher than their country cousins, according to the PA Dept of Agriculture and the state of Colorado. Turns out that country folk drive a little farther but their trip times are shorter, they pollute less, and consequently they get more done. Their trafiic density is less and their access is better. City folk, I imagine drive nicer cars, spend more time in traffic, and their cars get stolen more often.

    Published figures don’t support your contention.

    We have enough roads to accommodate our cars, just not all at the same place and time. Congestion is not a sign of road failure, but a sign of road success. When congestion relief is short lived it is only because the demand is so high. The last I knew reducing the supply has never reduced the demand: if building roads won’t reduce congestion, what will not building roads do? In order to reduce congestion we must move the location of demand by moving the opportunities. Business has to be relocated to the country faster, in order that we can take advantage of the extra space that becomes available farther from the city.

    We need more sprawl in order to reduce congestion. Yeah, yeah, I know, but today’s sprawl is tomorrow’s infill. Anyway we have already a lot of places we cannot infill much more because if we try, we discover right away that the only thing people dislike more than sprawl is density. As it is Metro based development means that Metro capacity is tapped out at rush hour. If you think roads are expensive, wait till you see the bill for doubling Metro.

    The push to prevent sprawl is a total cost and social failure. Restrictive building rules have cause home prices to soar, and taxes with them. We can either have more homes or more expensive homes. If you are wealthy, the choice is obvious. If you are not the choice is rapidly becoming West Virginia. ESL classes that used to be in Arlington are now being demanded in Front Royal, Winchester, and farther.

    Every time someone gets on Metro or VRE it opens up another highway space. That space is immediately used opportunistically on account of high road demand. You can’t relieve congestion with rail any more than you can with roads, and it is more expensive, less flexible, and not even efficient. You have to drag a lot of heavy, mostly empty railcars around most of the time. Cars very seldom run around empty.

    You said it yourself, sprawl in Richmond is growing faster because of highway spending there. That means the state has taken money out of Northern Virginia and spent it elsewhere. the sprawl in Richmond is helping to reduce the congestion in DC, and it is offering opportunity to poorer people who really need something other than picking tobacco. We KNOW that population growth is going to happen. All those school children we are scrambling to build schools for will need homes one day.

    Doing nothing is an ill considered plan. We’ve got work to do.

    Ray Hyde
    Delaplane, VA

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