Maybe We’ll Take Aging Infrastructure Seriously Now

Nine dead and 60 injured, 20 missing in Minneapolis– and that’s just the latest count. Reports the Star-Tribune: “The 1,907-foot bridge fell into the Mississippi River and onto roadways below. The span was packed with rush hour traffic, and dozens of vehicles fell with the bridge leaving scores of dazed commuters scrambling for their lives.”

Virginia has its share of old bridges in need of maintenance and repair. The state highway allocation formula allocates more money for fixing them than it used to, with the goal of working down the backlog of projects over 20 years or so. However, my impression is that Virginia places a higher priority on maintenance than most states, many of which prefer to steer funds into new construction.

It’s tempting to short-change maintenance in favor of new construction — until a disaster like this reminds us what’s at stake.

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21 responses to “Maybe We’ll Take Aging Infrastructure Seriously Now”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    And this isn’t the first time. There was the Connecticut incident and the South Bronx Expressway.

    If something happens once, it’s an accident. If it happens twice, it’s somebody’s fault.

    But this is only the dramatic tip of the iceberg. A recent letter to the editor described two crashes on Route 29. According to the author, poor shoulders were partly to blame in both cases. In both cases VDOT was there the next day, regrading the shoulders to remove the bear traps.

    These dramatic incidents get all the attention, but the cumulative small impacts of many things left undone is much greater, probably.

    I’ve written several times about a blind T shaped intersction near my home. Repairs have been done there dozens of times, but the problem never gets fixed. It shouldn’t be a big deal: an hour wth a bulldozer to make an emergency ramp. But, we make it way too hard.


  2. Tom James Avatar
    Tom James

    Ah but we have a new driveway for the State Fair in Hanover and Caroline on RT 30, built with Richmond, Fredericksburg maintenance funds to the tune of $17,000,000 million.

    And we will get a peek this month at how much taxpayers will be asked to cough up for water and sewer for the SFVA a private not-for-profit.

    “History fails to record a single precedent in which nations subject to moral decay have not passed into political and economic decline. There has been either a spiritual awakening to overcome the moral lapse, or a progressive deterioration leading to ultimate national disaster.”
    Douglas MacArthur

  3. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    It’s all about priorities and budget.

    and the truth is that there is such pressure on VDOT from localities for new roads and for capacity expansion of existing roads (like the Fair Grounds) that there is not enough left over to meet simple safety standards like the shoulders that Ray points out.

    Many places in Spotsylvania where people have been injured because of poorly maintained shoulders – and rural roads that are not up to current standards – and the common refrain is that there is not enough money to “fix” them… but yes.. there is enough money to build new roads.

  4. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I believe it is a requirement for all bridges to have sufficiency ratings.

    So – here’s a good government question.

    Where is Virginia’s list of bridges with their sufficiency rating?

    second thought: if YOU knew in your own county the bridges that were rated low on sufficiency – would you ask your local elected and VDOT to allocate the funds to fix those bridges?

    Third Question: Do you know what criteria are used to prioritize your own county’s road improvement funds?

  5. Anonymous Avatar

    My observation is that in Maryland, the shoulders are uniformly better than in Virginia.

    Just an observation, unsupported by measured or measurable facts.

    Larry’s right. Everythng is about priorities. But even before priorities, you have to know the criteria. Do you save more lives with simple and inexpensive shoulder grading, or do you save more by preventing major bridge collapses?

    Assuming you knew the bridge would collapse (it will), you could save lives “for free”. Close the bridge.

    Of course, that isn’t free either. Now you have two choices: fix the bridge and give up on grading a bunch of shoulders, or absorb the cost of not having a bridge and give up on grading a bunch of shoulders.

    If it turns out that grading shoulders is a more cost effective way of saving lives and promoting commerce, than both of those options, then both options are wrong.

    Knowing what the criteria and priorites are doesn’t mean you have the revenue to fix the problem.

    Politically, I’d wager they find the revenue to fix the bridge. We’ll never know know many thousands went quietly in the ditch while we were looking the other way.


  6. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    …”Knowing what the criteria and priorites are doesn’t mean you have the revenue to fix the problem.”

    You NEVER do.

    That the purpose of priorities.

    Look at your farm and tell me what needs to be done.

    Now tell me what you can actually afford to do.

    Governments work the same way.

    you set your criteria then you fund according to that criteria.

    That’s called prioritization.

    Every company that stays in business does this every single day if it is going to stay in business.

    Unfortunately, when it comes to government – we bail out of this simple concept.

  7. Anonymous Avatar

    I see them as three different things.

    Criteria are the objective rules, facts-on-the-ground, physics, known social behavior, economics. Things that you can measure and analyze dispassionately and without regard to liberal or conservative position.

    Priority, on the other hand is the order in which the concievable projects rank, when the proven criteria are applied. IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH WHAT YOU THINK IS IMPORTANT OR WHAT YOU CAN AFFORD.

    Funding is what gets you from the top of the list to the bottom. Maybe the best idea, that saves the most lives and the planet to boot costs 100 million. No matter how good that idea is, you have to drop down the list if all you’ve got is a million. You do not fund according to your criteria. They are what they are.

    Ideally, you fund in order of the priorities that fall out, but my example shows that may not be the case. If you haven’t got the funding, you haven’t got it. That doesn’t mean you can’t spend the money on the best priority that fits your budget. It also doesn’t mean that you should do nothing until you have saved up the money.

    We spend so much time worrying about funding, who pays, no new taxes etc. that we never get around to measuring and agreeing to the facts on the ground, the criteria. Even worse, we hire “think tanks” to create unsubstantiated criteria out of nothing to reinforce our spending plans.

    My position has consistently been that we need to measure more and argue less.


    What I can afford to do is anything that generates enough return such that I can borrow the money safely. But even then, my priority is to do those things that generate the highest rate of return, first. Affordability isn’t the issue if there is a sufficient return: the issue is how you can NOT aford it.

    How do I know what generates the highest rate of return? I go measure.

    The nature of the farm is that it generates almost no return. It takes a very long time to scramble from this level of the ledge to the next. Because so many off farm things uniformly generate more return, the farm gets pushed to the bottom of the list.

    In fact, the real way the game is played is to invest less in the farm than I would have to spend in additional taxes if I didn’t farm it. And then, with that amount of money, get the best return I can.

    In other words, spend the same amount of money and get something I want, instead of handing it over to the government to spend on what other taxpayers want. Once you hit that limit, it gets real hard justifying spending any more on the farm. It is better off in my 401K.

    A lot of what needs to be done on the farm generates no return to me, so it isn’t getting done. When the people that it does benefit realize that, then maybe they will step up to the plate and pay me to do those things.

    Part of that is already happening, which I why I get the tax “break” that lets me keep the farm going. We are just not being up front about it, and it isn’t nearly enough, which is why we keep losing farms.

    When we really understand the full body of criteria, and then get our priorities straight, then that will stop happening, I think.

    We can try to punish people into farming by disallowing anything else, or we can promote them into proftability with investments that bring a fair return to ourselves. ie. We get to keep “our” land as the league of conservation voters likes to call it.

    If that happens, then redevelopement and New Urbanism gets a natural boost. No tolls required, No subsidies needed.

    All we gotta do is go measure the facts on the ground that establish the criteria.

    You tell me. What happens if we go do that and find out that Metro doesn’t pay, or we only need one tenth the farms we have? What happens if it turns out that the indisputable, number one, world changing priority is proven to be a cultural anathema to one party or the other?

    What if we prove beyond any shadow of a doubt using the global simulator that the first priority is either more abortions or more executions?

    I suspect you would have trouble finding funding.


  8. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    geeze Ray… do you not use criteria and prioritzation to determine how much money you have and what you spend it for?

    Most folks do.

    You have an electric bill. You gotta pay it. If your electric bill exceeds your ability to pay it – the electric company will help you “prioritize” quite nicely.

    Ditto with your other expenses.

    No one is going to provide you with goods and services on a promise that if you agree with the criteria that you’ll pay them back.

    When government buys more goods and services than it can afford – they take the money out of your pocket to make up the shortfall instead of having established criteria and prioritization.

    What if your government could raise your taxes in real-time – everytime the monthly bill exceeded their monthly revenues – they’d increase your taxes…. and if you could not pay -they’d take your property.

    and you’ll like this one.

    what if a really irresistable project was up for a rezone but it would result in a shortfall in infrastructure and your government said “no problem”, we’ll just raise taxes at the same time we approve the project.

    Ray – that’s exactly what they do – except with a “delay”….

    The government needs to be like your offspring that you give an allowance to…. make them learn to use it wisely.

  9. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: list of Va bridges and their ratings… posted in RTD today.

  10. Anonymous Avatar

    Most folks do it wrong, then.

    Priority has nothing to do with how much money you have. The priorities are still the same, but you may not have the choice of choosing the first priority because you don’t have and can’t raise the money.

    Sometimes you have to settle for goodness instad of excellence, but excellence is still better.


    Government has no business taxing property divorced from ability to pay, and they kknow it. That’s why we have breaks for senior citizens and handicapped. The same breaks ought to apply to everybody.

    In my neighborhood, homes are being supersized. Mansions next to bungalows. Today in another area, I noticed a small cottage on a very large lot, set far back from the road surrounded by several subdivisions of massive Toll Brothers homes.

    That little cottage now has a four lane boulevard and convenient shopping centers where ten years ago was a dirt road. On the one hand, he has a lot more infrastructure and amenities that he didn’t pay (much) for. On the other hand he probably now has a home he can’t afford to keep. I see no reason why his value should be allowed to increase beyond an amount he can afford to pay taxes on, just because of what happened around him that he had nothing to do with.

    But, eventually he will sell and make a killing, and then we can tax the cash flow. In the meantime, we and his Toll Brothers neighbors have a duty not to screw him over, to let him keep his home if he wants.

    My argument is exactly that the government should not be allowed to raise real taxes indiscriminately in real time. They need to be limited as to ability to pay and rate of growth. Such an arrangement would offer the same protection to existing residents as proffers. It would shift costs to newer neighbors, but only temporarily: eventually everyone gets back on a level playing field.

    It is the governments job to provide the infrastruture needed and to pay for it fairly. That does not include any right to tell someone they cannot do something. it doesn’t mean that the government has a right to set an arbitray price.

    The government should set the standards for performance, and let the market figure out the cost of meeting the standards. The government sets the criteria. But the priorities (of what gets built first and where) will wind up being a result of costs and demand, not government fiat or neighbors whiny complaints that someone else might get what they have.

    In Fauquier there is a case of a man with substantial land and a few building rights. His rights to build are not in dispute. Fauquier has an ordinance against any “experimental” septic systems, and this mans land won’t perk. As far as I can figure out,this is an engineering problem. If he can meet the same effluent standards and runoff as anyone else, he should be allowed to build. It is up to him as to whether the costs are worth it.

    The Fauquier rule was not set to guarantee health or safety, although it is phrased tht way. It was designed and implemented spressly to prevent development. It was implemented AFTER another individual was allowed an alternaitve system because no rule prevented it. Now, facing a lawsuit, Fauquier will probably back down.


    Speaking of priorities. I notice there seems to be no shortage of rescue and analysis money after the collapse. A proper and full life cycle cost analysis would have considered that up front, and probably did, but no one listened.


  11. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I think we’re getting confused on what the phrase “budget prioritization” actually means.

    To me it means – that you have a certain amount of money coming in – revenues. Whether you are an individual or a company or a government – it is the same.

    Whatever that amount of money coming in – is – you have to decide what to spend it on.

    Most states, most companies, and most individuals accept the concept that you cannot spend more than you have in revenues without debt and that your budget must include the payments on that debt.

    So your budget is an articulation of how you will spend your revenues.

    Prioritization is the process of determining how you want to allocate your budget.

    In your world – apparently – you’d write down everything you wanted – then look at the difference between what your actual revenues are and what they would need to be to completely fund your wish list – then raise taxes on everyone to the level necessary to fund your wish list.

    You can’t do this with your personal budget.

    You don’t go to your boss and tell him/her that after you’ve totaled up all the things you need that he/she will have to double your salary.

    Businesses can’t do this. They can’t double the price of their product if their competitors don’t.

    and governments can’t do this – without serious consequences -usually involving voting out of office – those who think that taxes can be raised at will.

    So Ray.. VDOT tells us that they have 100 billion dollars of “needs” .

    Do we raise taxes to fund that “billion” dollars?

    How do we approach how much money to give VDOT in the context of other competing “needs” such as education?

    Do we give education all the money they say that they need?

    Well.. exactly how do you sort out how much to give VDOT and how much to give Education?

    I would submit that you what you cannot do is fully fund both of their budget requests by increasing taxes to whatever level it takes to fund those requests.

    I will admit, however, there are folks around both elected and unelected who would do exactly that if they could get away with it.

    Lucky for us – most folks will vote those out of office who harbor such thoughts and instead settle for elected officials who will look at revenues and allocate monies based on prioritization.

  12. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: bridge collapse

    yes… the vultures are gathering to use the collapse to demonstrate that we have “underfunded” – translation – we should have had higher taxes.

    The problem with this logic is that even if we had – had higher taxes – they would not have spent the money on that bridge but instead would have spent the extra money on more new roads.

    And so we have this classic textbook illustration of how budgets are prioritized.

    No matter how much money you have – you will NEVER have enough to build all the new roads that you want nor fix all of the safety flaws that exist.

    So … how do you deal with this?

    Well.. you establish criteria for what is more important – and you focus your funding in that way.

    Will this bridge collpase result in raising taxes on everyone to the level needed to replace every single bridge that has a rating of less than 50?

    well… no…..

    will we raise taxes to replace .. say HALF of the bridges – no matter the cost and no matter high how taxes must be raised to accomplish that?

    well… no….

    do we need to raise taxes to fix bridges?

    well.. no…

    what if you diverted money from some new bridges to nowhere to fix/repair/replace existing bridges that are no longer safe?

    I would submit – that the PROCESS of deciding how to spend limited funds… on new bridges or fixing old ones – is, in fact, a process known as budget prioritization.

    There is no way anyone in their right mind (I hope) who would advocate that we need to raise taxes to whatever level it takes to replace all bridges as soon as contractors can be hired.

  13. Anonymous Avatar

    “Whatever that amount of money coming in – is – you have to decide what to spend it on.”

    Exactly. the matter of prioritization is one of deciding , whatever amount of money you actually have, what are the best things to spend it on. The best things to spend it on have no relationship whatsoever to how much you actually have.

    Then you have the matter of choosing which project to spend the money you actually have on. If you don;t have enough money for the best or second best option, then you might have to choose the third best option.

    But that does not make it the priority. What you have done in that case is not prioritizing, but sub-optimizing. The priorities have already been set by the facts on the ground. You can’t change that, and it has nothing to do with the money at hand.

    You have chosen to ignore the facts and choose a lesser option, or even worse, you may have deliberately measured the facts on the ground falsely, in order to get what you want to be first priority. Agenda driven drivel.


  14. Anonymous Avatar

    “what if you diverted money from some new bridges to nowhere to fix/repair/replace existing bridges that are no longer safe?”

    What I hear you saying is that we are presently spending money on bridges to nowhere that would have been on the bottom of the list anyway if we had adequately done the cost benefit analysis.

    No, we will never have enough to do all we want, but we ought to at least have enough to do the thing that is first in line: the one with highest payback. This bridge has been in line for seventeen years. How many bridges have we repaired in seventeen years, and how many of them would have fallen down had they not been fixed?

    It is now obvious that someone had their priorities set wrong. Or, maybe they had the priorities right, but they CHOSE to suboptimize their spending. Anytime you CHOOSE to suboptimize you are not spending your money to best advantage.

    My observation is that if the parties committed half the money they spend on silly, false, and competing arguments actually going out and measuring things we can agree on, then we would have a lot less to argue about wastefully.


  15. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    RH – help me out with this:

    “….The best things to spend it on have no relationship whatsoever to how much you actually have.”

    If you believed had an unlimited budget – there would be no problem – right?

    you just figure out what the best things are – and tax the hell out of everyone to pay for it.

    If you had an unlimited budget, you’d not have highway congestion, you’d not have idiots like be advocating for toll roads and we’d have full access to whatever level of medical care that folks wanted and you’d not have to choose between fixing existing bridges or building new ones to nowhere.

    I’m trying to understand how you reconcile these things without getting down to the point where you figure out what you can afford which in most cases will never be anywhere close to what you would do if you had unlimited funds.

    when you do your home budget – do you start with what you want or do you start with what funds you have available to buy what you want?

  16. Anonymous Avatar

    How much money you have has no relationship whatsoever to what is the best thing to spend it on.

    Look, Vanguard, Fidelity, T. Rowe Price and many others have very similar offerings for S&P 500 funds. They all try to mimic the performance of the S&P 500. some do better than others, ans some hacve lower fees than others.

    Past performance is no guarantee of the future.

    But, based on the evidence at hand, you can choose what you think is the best among them, without any reference to how much you have to invest.

    It is no different with any other set of “Choices” except you may discover that no matter how good a particular option is, you can’t afford it. With a mutual fund, you can buy as much as you can afford.

    But if you want to buy a share of Berkshire Hathaway, then you better have $30,000 lying around, because that option, while it might be better than VG50, can only be purchaased in discrete quanta.

    For more exotic investments it might be all or nothing. It is hard to buy your wife half a diamond.

    When I do my home budget, I figure out what I have to have: food clothing shelter, taxes.

    After that, I’m free to spend my money any way I choose.

    That has nothing whatsoever to do with the BEST way to spend my money.

    At a certain point in time, the BEST way to spend my money might have been on Google, but I missed that opportunity.

    At a much earlier point in time the BEST way might have been IBM.


    At any point in time there is only one way to best invest your money: incur the greatest return or the minimum loss.

    Whether you can afford that investment is a separate calculation. If you cannot afford it, then you can be sure that someone smarter than you, or someone with more resources will step up to the plate.

    You will be stuck with second best, even if you made the best (suboptimal) “Choice” available to you.

    If I had ten or fifteen million dollars, I could buy enough stuff to make this farm profitable. All at once.

    But then I would have to pay myself back the ten or fifteen, plus interest, and that might be a lot harder. In fact, if I had ten or fifteen million to invest, I’m 100% certain I could find a much better place for it.

    If I had that kind of money, why in God’s name would I be working my self to death trying to keep this place going?

    What I want, has nothing to do with what the best investment is. The best investment is defined by events outside my control, or desire.

    I might desire a chocolate bar, and the return I get is a sugar rush, but then it is gone. But I get it right now, so my discount cost is low.

    Or, I could buy a sugar cane seed and wait a 2 years, and then have all the sugar I need, forever.

    In most cases what you can do will never be anywhere close to what you would do if you had unlimited funds. But that does not change the fact of what the optimum solution is.

    If you cannot afford it, or you are not smart enough to figure out how to afford it, then someone else will, and they will eventually grind you to dust. They will be able to do that because they profited when you could not. As a result, they will have even more money to grab the best investment next time around.

    When the best choices you have are not the best available, then you
    are in an economic trap.

    The Alpha hummingbird perches on top of the feeder, and chases eveyone else away. He can do that because he is a brute in the hummingbird world. Bigger, faster, stronger, sleeps less. He has the best investment.

    Everyone else has to flit from flower to flower, picking up the dregs, the old hard way.

    Hummingbirds are solar powered, so their resources are pretty much unlimited. But their ability to go collect those resources is limited.

    The alpha bird has figured it out. All he has to do is hog the feeder. He can rest most of the day, and just chase off the interlopers.

    In the business world we call it barrier to entry.

    He may be the smartest hummingbird in the world, but what he doesn’t know is that I just drove to town to buy a pound of sugar, the sugar was shipped from Brazil, and the net cost of all that shipping is that he will eventually suffocate.

    But, all those other birds, flitting from flower to flower will suffocate first.

    Hummingbirds live four or five years. They fly 400 miles a day. Next year, when he comes back from Mexico, If I don’t have the feeder out, he will hover in front of the window until I do. This has been going on for fifteen years.

    I don’t think the alpha bird has any interest in fundamental change. He has unlimited resources9thanks to me) and he could share them limitlessly, but he won’t. His friends and neighbors could starve first.


    I sailed across the ocean once, and when I got back I had friends that said “You went in that? I’d never go in that.” I looked at them and said, well, when are you going?

    Would I rather have traveled in an internationally known piece of sailing furniture, like Marionette, Bolero, Whitefoot, or Vertue XXV? You betcha. Read William Buckleys “Airborne” for a real hoot and to see how it should be. His major problem was he couldn’t keep the piano tuned.


    If you can’t afford the best, then you make do with what you can afford. But you still ought to know what is best. And don’t plan on winning.

    On the other hand, if you happen to be able to afford the best, and you are able to defend your position, then don’t presume that the other flitting birds made “their choices”.

  17. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    geeze Ray… “…no matter how good a particular option is, you can’t afford it”

    an option you cannot afford is NOT an option to start with.

    If you have 20K for a new car – you simply do not have the “option” of buying a 40K car.

    “BEST” is such a subjective term as to be meaninless unless you are able to quantify in such a way that you can actually show that over the longer run – it saves you money … but even then.. if you cannot afford the intial cost – it’s simply not an option.

    Your horizon of options from the get-go are determined by your available resources.

    You can’t pick the best option if there is a gap 3 times what your current funds are…

    You wanna fix every bridge in Virginia that falls below a SF of 50?

    Wouldn’t that be the BEST OPTION?

    where is the money going to come from?

    do you just tell all the voters that the best option will cost them an additional $1000 a year and it has already been decided that they will pay that tax so that Virginia can do the “best option”?

    Maybe in a dictatorship. In Virginia – that approach will get you out of office and replaced with someone who will promise to NOT pull such stunts on voters.

  18. Anonymous Avatar

    “an option you cannot afford is NOT an option to start with.”

    Not true. We are talking about oportunities. Projects or programs or expenditures, with a payback at the end that exceeds your expenditure.

    You may choose a program with a lower payback on acount of your budget, but that still doesn’t mean the better choice would not still have been better.

    If the payback is sufficiently higher, it would be better to do nothing until you can afford it. In the meantime, you can use your personal fortitude to make plans such that you can afford it.

    If the payback is not sufficiently higher, such that the wait eats up the rate of return, then your discount rate means that the better opportunity is not suffiently better to forgo your current opportunity.

    If you told the voters, and could prove it unequivocably, that the 1000 dollars extra paid now, for say the next five years, yould then result in a permanent “payback” of 1000 a year indefinitely, then at least some voters would understand and get on board.

    Say the tax rate is 25%. If you told them that a 1000 increase now would guarantee them a permanet 400% increase in income, starting five years from now, then that tax burden would not look so bad.

    The government’s job is to spend certain kinds of money in profitable ways that the private sector cannot. The government can do that because they carry litle risk, they will be around indefinitely, they can borrow money cheap, and they have loyal employees bound by security and power.

    It is common to beat up on the government for their innefficiencies, but really, would you want national security controlled by a corporation subject to takeover in the stock market?

    An option you think you can’t afford is still an option, just one you “choose” to pass over for financial reasons.

  19. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    ….”..with a payback at the end that exceeds your expenditure.”

    okay.. I’m trying hard to figure out how a Mercedes if going to pay me more back than a Honda Civic…

    tell me again that even though the Mercedes costs more.. that.. in the end.. I’ll come out ahead on the money part of it…

    How does VDOT or the local government come out ahead on their expenditures?

    Is there a way for VDOT to ultimately bring in more money than they spend on roads?

    How about local government?

    Is there a way for them to charge for infrastructure in such a way that they make a profit and return taxes to taxpayers? (I thought you’d particularily like this example!)

    or… are you talking about getting some kind of “value” for the money and that “value” is not only not tangible but it’s “worth” is subjective…

    I don’t see government “making money” but perhaps I have a brain problem in understanding how that might be done…

    educate me. are we going about the budget and prioritization process at the GA all wrong?

  20. Anonymous Avatar

    Only a few weeks ago the Governor of Minnesota vetoed a transportation bill because it included a gas tax increase that he was philosophically opposed to. Previously he vetoed and earlier bill because it increased revenues (No new taxes.)

    Now he is calling a special legislative session which will almost certainy result in a higher gas tax.

    We now have tragic confirmation that philosophy is no way to make financial decisions.

    Interviewing one voter, NPR asked if they werein favor of the gas tax increase and the response was yes. “Would you have been in favor last Tuesday?” The disturbingly honest answer was “Probably not.”


  21. Anonymous Avatar

    At one time, Loudoun County and Fauquier County were quite similar. Now, Loudoun county has higher taxes and spends more than Fauquier. But Loudoun residents earn more and own more property per person than Fauquier residents. Loudoun county has mre debt, and a AAA rating because growth means the debt will surely be repaid.

    Maybe it isn’t a true cause and effect relationship, but the fact remains that Loudoun residents get a better return in persoanal wealth on their taxes spent, and a lower proportion of their wealth goes to taxes.

    Fauquier has bucolic country charm. But the cost of that charm is the difference in net wealth between Fauquier and Loudoun. In this case the value is subjective, but the cost is not. It ought to be up to Fauquier residents, if that is how they want to spend their money. But that isn’t what is happening.

    Fauquier residents are not buying bucolic charm. Instead, they require those that provide it to pay more and work harder than other residents. Whatever the value of that bucolic charm is, it is being stolen and not purchased.

    In the case of VDOT, we know that there is almoste a one to one correlation bbetween miles traveled and the state domestic product. Since the state domestic product is much larger than VDOT’s budget it stands to reason that road construction will create economic development.

    Now, it is possible to build bad roads. Roads and bridges to nowhere. But generally we hear more complaints about roads causing economic development than we hear about road funds being wasted. Huey Long and Truman became political heroes on the basis of road building. In a general sense it is hard to see how we can claim road funds don’t have a positive return. It is true that if you take funds from a broad base and spend them locally there will be some temporary and local inequities, and the government does have a long term interest in evening these out, eventually.

    But the same thing is true if you talk about Metro. While the state might provide road improvements that benefit you, someday, the odds that you will benefit from Metro are far smaller.

    As for the Mercedes, if the criteria is only transportation, then the usual rule is the lower the capital cost, the lower the eventual cost per mile traveled when you junk it. But, if you are a real estate agent and your car is your office and sales room, then maybe there are other criteria that need to be valued.

    Yes, there are thngs that we think of as intangible, but usually there are ways to measure and price them, if we work at it. What we often do instead is adopt a philosophical or political approach instead of doing the hard work of thinking and measuring.

    Even worse, we deliberately provide false or distorted “measures” to support our philosophical position, which we have adopted to avoid facing facts.

    The best way to gain more conservatives is to win over the liberals. It’s hard to see how you can do that by lying to them. Better to find a way to give them what they want, allow everybody to profit, and find a way to do it conservatively.

    I support strong property rights, a conservative position, because I think it is what allows that woman in Maine to say, “It’s my property, I can make a nature preserve if I want.” Strong protperty rights help us set values, and values allow us to decide what we can afford and not.


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