Kilgore Releases Transportation Plan, Press Snoozes

Transportation, as many would agree, is shaping up as the No. 1 policy issue in Virginia this year. Yet when presumptive Republican nominee Jerry Kilgore publishes his comprehensive strategy for addressing the Commonwealth’s transportation needs, it warrants two bullet items at the tail end of an article buried on the inside of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. I guess we’re doomed to have the gubernatorial campaign treated as a horse race with the emphasis all on process–campaign signs, polls, debates, etc. What a shame.

Kilgore has proposed some good ideas and some bad ones. They all deserve to be debated. Here are the highlights:

Regional transportation authority. Kilgore will enable metro areas to create authorities to address transportation on a regional basis, empowering them “to issue bonds, hold referenda to involve taxpayers in certain financing decisions, sign private maintenance contracts, enter into public-private partnerships, and use other financing mechanisms to fund new road, bridge and mass transit projects over and above existing funding from the state. “

Transportation trust fund. Kilgore will push for a constitutional amendment that would prevent the gas taxes paid into the transportation fund to be raided for other purposes.

Public-private partnerships. Kilgore will streamline the process for establishing public-private partnerships for the purpose of funding new transportation projects, and would direct VDOT to seek out such partnerships.

Intelligent transportation system. Kilgore will”seek private sector proposals to create the most comprehensive, state-of-the-art, statewide traveler communications network in the nation. In addition, he will employ technology to improve mobility by converting all toll facilities to electronic tolls by 2008, synchronizing traffic signals, and use of modeling to improve our access management strategies.”

I have problems with this platform: Public-private partnerships make me queasy, and the plan ignores the critical connection between land use and transportation demand. On the plus side, Kilgore is pushing solutions that don’t require a statewide increase in taxes. And he’s serious about employing techology to increase the capacity of the existing transportation system. All in all, these are serious ideas and they deserve a serious airing. Read the full platform here.

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  1. You left out the abuser fees plan…he’s resurrecting that as well.

    I think this plan is fine – but why kick the ball down to the localities on tax increases? Aren’t they already allowed to raise taxes with local referendums? I guess he’s moving it to regional referendums.

    I’m still wondering how a DUI LAWYER (Albo) can put in a bill that brings more business to his law firm. No one has ever answered me to my satisfaction. Are we that cynical in Virginia that we just allow this sort of thing to happen without making any noise?

  2. Anonymous Avatar

    The following is from the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance’s website, JK would pass the buck to localities which are already raising taxes hand over fist, and then impose a constitutional limit on their ability to respond….curious.
    You are right to be queasy about PPTA’s, or the “People Paying Tolls Act”, but the real problem is it still takes hard dollars to buiid the roads. The PUBLIC partner is putting up most of the dough….

    From NVTA:

    Here’s the increase local governments are requiring the average single family homeowner to pay in local property taxes in just one year — 2005 as opposed to 2004.

    Arlington County $482
    City of Alexandria $760*
    Fairfax County $364
    Loudoun County $484
    Prince William County $174

    * Recommended for adoption May 2nd.

    Here’s the increase state government has required homeowner/motorists to pay in state gas taxes each year for nearly 20 years —


  3. Anonymous Avatar

    “the plan ignores the critical connection between land use and transportation demand”

    Kaine has this covered: “we must dramatically improve the link between land use and transportation planning so that our transportation expenditures are calculated to promote the greatest benefit” (quote from his website)

    But here’s the real problem with the Kilgore plan: It’s still totally unclear how he’ll pay for it. Kilgore keeps doing the same thing with these proposals he puts out: he either gives no budget impact analysis or he tries to get away with something like “abuser fees” to pay for expensive pledges. He wants a wider 66, a couple of bridges, a Coalfields Expressway, improvements to I-81 – that’s BILLIONS, and he’s going to do what? Write billions of dollars worth of speeding tickets?

    Here’s what happened in Massachusetts with that: people started contesting every ticket, so the police were constantly in court. Meanwhile, the politicians had made so many promises of what they were going to do with the money that they didn’t have any left over for the police, who got so pissed they refused to give out tickets over $50 so that people wouldn’t contest them and they could do their real jobs of protecting the public. Result: No billions for the state. In the end, people got so pissed that they elected a Republican governor (watch out VA Republicans – driver revolts swing both ways) who raised the speed limit and eliminated tolls to boot. Massachusetts has had Republican Governors ever since, and many people think it’s because of the whole move to soak drivers for tons of money through user and abuser fees.

    And does anyone really think that “public-private partnerships” are going to get another bridge built across the Potomac or in Hampton Roads? I just don’t really believe that that’s going to happen. Here’s another question about that: When you bring a private company in, doesn’t that mean that a chunk of your toll revenue goes to Bechtel or Halliburton or someone like that? At least if we’re going to add tolls, let’s have the money go for transportation and not for out-of-state companies.

  4. Ouch! Local taxing authorities?

    Surely you are jesting … Mr. Low Tax & Limited Government.

    The Blue Dog is not a ‘happy camper’ with these ‘happy trail’ transportation plans tailored for Virginia’s special interests juggernaut.

    State taxation without ‘elected’ representation?

    The Kilgore campaign needs to explain the rationale behind that logic — and while you’re at it: Lets talk about the Governor Warner’s 2001 regional transportation referendum that bombed at the polls in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads with a 60-percent vote.

    ‘PUB anti-taxers and DEM environmentalist and NIMBY citizens who were simply tired of runaway growth — along with local taxing and spending — joined forces to wipe that neo-Marxist thinking proposal off the face of the Virginia’s landscape forever.

    (That ‘unholy alliance’ can happen again in the GOP primary 2005)

    What’s George Fitch’s phone number?

  5. Nice work Blue Dog. I didn’t think any conservatives would call Kilgore on this, but someone did.

  6. Cold Harbor Avatar
    Cold Harbor

    I agreethat the Kilgore plan is not all bad. But a recurring theme from both sides of the spectrum in this primary season is to avoid resolving fiscal matters at the state level and instead find ingenious ways to punt back to the localities. There may be instances where this makes sense, but as a general theme for approaching the enormity of the state’s dysfunction in dealing with transportation and education, it is largely a cop-out. Every time things get sticky on major financial matters, I start hearing the pols in Richmond advocate referenda or local options. To me they’re telling us they lack the guts and/or the competence to take strong measures and simply are going to push it back in the laps of the local authorities and voters. At the same time, these same folks are injecting themselves in schemes to limit the few options the local governments have to raise revenues. In Northern Virginia, counties like Prince William and, to a lesser extent, Fairfax, have just about given up on the State and have started using local funds to improve long-neglected road projects. They then take heat from state pols for spending local resources. Someone has to step up and be a mensch about this stuff

  7. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Cold Harbor, I beg to differ with part of your analysis. The idea of creating regional transportation authorities is not just a means of punting responsibility back to localities. Planning for transportation should take place at the regional level, or, more precisely, the metropolitan region level. Individual localities cannot solve regional transportation problems individually. They have to act in concert.

    Kilgore’s plan envisions giving regions the authority to issue bonds, raise taxes regionally and contract with public-private partnerships. Those are all worthy ideas. Where he misses the boat is failing to recognize that a regional authority without the power to shape land use decisions is like a wrestler with only one arm. The pattern and density of development, controlled by localities, is what determines the demand for transportation capacity. A regional authority must be able to address the demand well as the supply of capacity.

    Of course, localities will not willingly relinquish their control over zoning and other land use decisions. But they may not have to. Regional authorities also could become the repositories of regional transportation/land use/GIS models. The purpose of these models would be to simulate the effect of land use decisions on regional transportation demand. Any time a locality was faced with a major development project, it could run a simulation to view the impact on traffic. Likewise, the authority could run simulations to see what the impact would be of its own initiatives.

    Now, THAT would put some real meat on the bones of Kilgore’s idea.

  8. Anonymous Avatar

    The tax referendum issue is a tough one. On the one hand, the idea that Kilgore talks about – “People should tell government how much it’s going to get” is attractive because it’s democratic. But it’s also no way to solve transportation problems, as voters showed four years ago (good point, Blue Dog). The problem is that it’s so easy to defeat tax referenda – which isn’t a problem if you think all taxes are bad (like if you would honestly rather sit in traffic than pay more taxes). But it sucks if you’re a business that has to use the roads to deliver goods when you’re paying drivers and burning $2/gallon in gas to sit in traffic while your customers complain that their orders are late.

  9. anonymous: the problem here is that many people on this blog
    (and many people on both the left and the right) don’t believe that more roads will solve the traffic problem. So how can they support a gas tax increase that would go directly to road projects?

  10. Anonymous Avatar

    I think it’s only Potts who wants to raise the gas tax to pay for roads. Kaine’s been quiet on transportation other than to say that he recognizes the problem and thinks that land use and sprawl and that sort of thing need to be taken into account…he’s also for regional planning (no comment yet from him on taxing/borrowing authority for the regions). Presumably, he’ll come out with a plan of his own, and we can debate the merits of that.

  11. Ray Hyde Avatar

    We keep talking about the connection between land use and transportation capacity, but a major transportation problem is that where there is the most need for transportation capacity is the same place there is the heaviest land use.

    To fix the transportation problem in those places will be the most expensive part of the problem because additional land for roads there is not available, much more expensive, or more valuable for something else. It costs more to expand existing infrastructures than to build new, whether the structures are roads, bridges, hospitals, or schools.

    If regional monies are used to fix those problems it is going to boil down to a commuter tax because the fringe areas will pay for transportation improvements in the congested areas. In turn, that will free up money those places are now spending on transportation for other needs.

    In one respect that is fine, because the people on the fringe traveling to the congested areas only add to the congestion and there is no reason they shouldn’t pay to fix the problem. A higher gas tax would achieve a similar result – those that travel most in the biggest gas guzzlers would pay more.

    Whatever transportation money is spent in those areas (whatever the modes of transport chosen) will add to the property values there. Those places already have the highest property values. The result will be that more people and businesses will flee those areas where we just spent a bunch of money to upgrade existing infrastructure, and we will have to build new infrastructure elsewhere.

    The funny thing is, that the land use/transportation argument offers no realistic suggestions as to what land use patterns might solve the issue of congestion which pretty much occurs anywhere traffic funnels into a built-up area. The obvious solution is to spread out even more, but that involves using a lot of unused or underused land.

    The argument goes that we don’t want to do that because we want to save conservation land and “prime farmland”. But, it’s not prime farmland if you can’t farm it economically. Statistically speaking, every farm in Fauquier, Warren, Clarke, and Montgomery counties has lost money for the past five years. This year an additional 25,000 acres will be taken out of service on account of fuel prices.

    We promote mixed use everywhere except where there is vacant land: that, we want to keep separate. Never mind that it has catastrophic economic results.

    Eventually ywe have to confront several problems: 1) Why promote a land use policy that can only result a net deficit and financial hardship to the landowners? 2) Why promote additional wealth in the wealthiest areas using transportation subsidies? 3) Where are an additional 2 million people going to live? 4) Why does every local authority wants growth to happen somewhere else?

    Local areas have been asking for more authority for years. The state proposes to give it to them in the form of transportation. That is the last thing localities want, because then they might be confronted with actually solving their own problems. Any location that does that will be rewarded with – Growth. What they really want is the authority to prevent growth, actually to foist it on the neighbors.

    I can’t see Loudoun and Fauquier Counties willingly taxing themselves to solve transportation knotholes in PW and Fairfax, let alone Arlington. Loudoun needs to address its own transportation problems and Fauquier doesn’t want any transportation, anywhere because any improvements hasten the day when they face Loudoun’s problems. If they wind up paying more money to further increase property values in Arlington, and line the pockets of Metro Friendly Developers, they are going to want something in return, other than an influx of people who can no longer afford to live in town. It is going to cost money to save all that vacant land. Since the vacant land is needed there to clean and protect the cities, the cost of protecting it should be billed to the cities.

    No matter what answer(s) you choose, it is going to take a lot more money than we are spending now, and that means more taxes. If you add private enterprise profits on top of that, it is even more money. On the other hand, if we let NOVA choke on its own SUV fumes, we all suffer, ecologically and economically.

    If you read up on the transportation models, one thing you learn is that they are still pretty crude. There are obvious socio-economic factors they do not address at all, they address transportation costs but not land or housing costs. As yet, there is no integrated model that can fully predict the costs and demands from various land use scenarios.

    Validation and verification of the models is problematic at best. The models are a total failure at addressing one of our main problems, which is the growth of intersuburban travel as new job centers spring up.

    The models are subject to manipulation. The last thing you want is some organization with a vested interest in the outcome managing them. Anyway, we know development increases traffic demand, and we know pretty much how much. If we either predict the problem and don’t raise the money to fix it, or prevent the development on account of the predicted problem, then we are no better off than now and we paid for the model.

    The idea of balanced communities and some fixed relationship between land use and transportation demand is simply grasping at a simpleminded steady state solution which does not and never will exist. Any attempt to manipulate those things will result in market distortions that cost more than they save and result in political maneuvering to change the way they are manipulated. In addition it will create economic forces that were unforeseen, just as the planning that resulted in our present situation did.

    We are ignoring the fact that we still have a tremendous amount of underused road capacity, even in locations that are frequently congested.

    A peak travel time trip that takes an hour and a half takes maybe 55 minutes off-peak. The extra half hour of congestion time constitutes a third of the time but only one tenth of the miles: the rest of the miles are uncongested even during rush hour. Those kinds of figures are typical.

    It is not that we don’t have enough roads, just that everone wants to go the same place at the same time. Yet whenever we address this problem the starting premise is that job centers will remain downtown. Indeed, we lambaste those businesses that try to locate elsewhere, yet promote telecommuting, which really amounts to nearly the same thing.

    We say that mixed use will reduce our need to travel, but we persist in facilitating the biggest source of non-mixed use problems – the CBD. We facilitate and subsidise it with ever-increasing transit options which can never solve the congestion problem and also exacerbate the lack of opportunity eleswhere.

    The lack of opportunity elsewhere is a matter the state has an interest in and the metropolitan area does not. Regional transportation authorities will benefit the few at the cost of many, won’t solve the congestion problem, won’t improve the city’s problems, and won’t lower city costs.

    Rather than dismissing low cost areas as low value areas, we should unleash them, allow them to improve their value and compete on the value of the assets they have and the city doesn’t, yet all sorts of home based businesses that would reduce the need to travel are prohibited or restricted.

    I’m going to be attacked as geographically illiterate, but it makes no sense to pour more money into the most expensive, most highly taxed, and most dysfuntional areas for the purpose of encouraging and subsidising more people to go where they don’t want to be and sit on already cowded transit sytems to do so.

  12. Mattaponi Avatar

    Ray’s last comment typifies the value of this blog. There’s a lot of good thinking going on here. I wish the political debate could generate even 10% of the value of thought that goes into these comments. I go back to my earlier observation that all of the approaches I’ve heard to date from candidates of both parties seem to be constructed around ways to get the problem out of Richmond and into someone else’s lap. I concur with Jim that regional (sub-state) planning is an essential and valuable part of an improved approach. But the elephant in the room is funding. I don’t see anyone brave or smart enough (perhaps I should have said “brave or foolish enough”) to face that issue openly other than by saying they’ll permit other folks to take the heat on funds.

  13. Ray Hyde Avatar

    Thank you. Apparently the ideas are better than the typing/spelling.

    When I was in high school typing was restricted to females, and slide rule was a required course.

    Times change.

  14. Ray Hyde Avatar

    See for the full story.

    This is the argument I have benn making.

    “But in order to get residents working inside the county, the best jobs have to be located here. And luring new business here is where the houses come in.

    About 51,000 new jobs were created in Northern Virginia last year, which means 40,000 new homes should have gone up in the region to keep up with demand. Only 28,000 were actually built, leaving the region with a serious housing shortage.

    Businesses will locate where the workers are, he said, and by building more homes to fill the soaring demand, Prince William can ensure that this is where the workers are.

    “Those smart people … they’re going to be what attracts more firms,” he said. “(Businesses) don’t want tax incentives, they want productive labor.”

    That’s not a popular idea in western Prince William, which is already faced with staggering gridlock. Most public hearings in Prince William — especially in western Prince William — include at least a few tirades from angry residents demanding that supervisors halt all residential development until the road system is upgraded.

    But Fuller said they’ve got it backwards. The way to solve gridlock, he said, is to build the homes to lure the jobs, which will keep the homeowners from clogging the roads by commuting.”

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