A Seed of Wisdom at the Daily Press

Let us now praise the Daily Press, normally one of the more truculent voices for Business As Usual thinking in the Mainstream Media. Today’s editorial makes a key point that all too often goes missing from MSM reporting and punditry: that it matters not only how much money we raise for transportation maintenance and improvements, it matters who pays, and how.

The main thrust of the op-ed piece is to ask what ever happened to all the talk about privatization as an option for raising capital to invest in transportation improvements. That’s a worthwhile question. But more significant was a digression, towards the bottom of the piece, about the virtues of the gas tax (my italics):

It’s a simple concept: Them that use, pay. And they should pay according to demand, too. In Hampton Roads, you may have noticed, it’s pretty easy to get around the region from midnight to six in the morning. Logic suggests a system that discourages driving in peak demand periods.

“The growing stranglehold that congestion is placing on America’s transportation network calls for new ways of financing and maintaining our critical transportation infrastructure,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said recently.

The DP deserves credit for moving beyond the simplistic mantra, heard so often elsewhere, that limits the debate to how much money is needed and where to get it. In other words, if you’ll permit me to elaborate, there are two sides to the equation: supply and demand. The debate in Virginia focuses almost exclusively on the supply side (how to increase the capacity of the transportation system) and has overlooked demand (how to reduce usage of the system) through congestion pricing, zoning reforms and the overhaul of governance structures.

Let us hope that the DP follows this new line of logic. The editorialistas there will find that it opens up new realms of inquiry.

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8 responses to “A Seed of Wisdom at the Daily Press”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    Too bad the editors of the Post don’t understand anything about anything that does not involve a tax increase. Case in point, an editorial warning new Montgomery (MD) county executive Isaiah Leggett not to go too far in halting development that overwhelms public faciities (a key issue upon which he was elected to office — sounds similar to Tim Kaine). The Post agrees that some moderate regulation is appropriate if coupled with a plan to build more infrastructure. While Maryland certainly obtains impact fees, I suspect that the costs for building what is “needed” would require extra taxpayer spending.

    Who wins? Who loses? The great silent issues!

  2. Ray Hyde Avatar

    “if coupled with a plan to build more infrastructure.”

    We can’t be too sanguine that this will happen. More likely, there will still be thirty year delays in building infrastructure, brought on by the same people who are opposed to growth.

    If moderate controls are not accompanied by a plan, then this is a plan to halt growth entirely, which might be appropriate in some places.

    But then there is a question of what constitutes moderate controls. Last week paper outlined the plight of one nonprofit organization that had already spent four years and $200,000 navigating Montgomery County’s subdivision ordinances. There is no reason this should take so long or cost so much.

  3. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: “plight of one nonprofit organization that had already spent four years and $200,000 navigating Montgomery County’s subdivision ordinances.”

    This is what happens and worse when you do not collect enough to pay for infrastructure.

    The business community does not want the tax put on them and the homeowners don’t want it put on them… so it gets put on new construction ….

    The subject of this thread – Congestion Pricing….. is the way out of this.

    This whole dynamic is like someone having a roof leaking… moaning and groaning about it… have a way to pay for it .. but are too cheap to do so.

    Sympathy -ZERO!

    Pay the infrastructure bill or stand back and watch really ugly stuff happen.

  4. Ray Hyde Avatar

    OK, OK.

    I’m in favor of congestion pricing, too.

    But, what hapens if you successfully discourage driving during the peak hours, only to discover that it is still just as easy to get around at midnight?

    Isn’t this really an incentive in favor of sprawl?

    I don’t think the business community cares all that much, they just forward the bill to homeowners anyway.

    If we put the tax on new construction only, one of the ugly things that will happen is soaring property values, and the attendant taxes.

    Oh. Maybe tht isn’t so ugly. Especially if you haven’t any roots, or job security. You figure you will flip and get out anyway. Take the profits and stick the remaining homeownders with the bills.

    If you are really lucky, you”l get some nice new infrastructure or schools to sell with your property, and the old timers will still get stuck with what they have.

  5. Ray Hyde Avatar

    Who wins? Who loses? Who knows?

    The great silent issue.

  6. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Congestion pricing has a self-balancing mechanism.

    You have real live data that tells you just how “elastic” the demand is.

    When the demand doesn’t quell (becomes inflexible) even with higher tolls – you KNOW that you need more infrastructure.

    And you can find this out long before you actually need it by analysing peak hour demand (elasticity) trends.

    You cannot do this with normal infrastructure because this is no mechanism in place to “test” demand (a varibale toll).

    The idea is NOT to penalize people but instead to let people choose WHERE they want to live and work and WHEN they want to travel – but pay the locational and peak hour costs – and to have infrastructure needs acommodated on a more timely basis.

    here’s yet another example of what happens when there the infrastructure is not managed or planned:

    “Planning Commission rejects rezoning plan, cites traffic concerns”
    “”It all goes back to the safety and welfare of the people who live in this area,”
    said F. Wayne Bass, whose Matoaca District includes the proposed rezoning.”

    ….”It’s not about not having any growth,” he said. “I personally don’t believe they should be approving any more rezoning of residential land until we figure out our infrastructure issues.””


  7. Ray Hyde Avatar

    Yes, but, the very areas where congestion pricing is likely to indicate the need for more infrastructure will also be the very places where there is no room for more infrastructure. It won;t be built at any price, no matter how much money is available.

    As a result, it will be built someplace else.

    Then what happens to the concept of the user pays? He is going to pay for someone else’s infrastructure, just as happens today.

    Besides that the old BPH studied toll roads in 1938 and concluded they wouldn’t pay. We have at least some indication this is true today, as private enterprises ahve backed out of toll roads.

    I agree with what you say, but I still think the results will be far different from what the theory says.

  8. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Ray – if a road cannot be expanded – then that will set into motion a broader review – and most important – that review based on actual needs – as opposed to some of these roads that are proposed to “meet projected”, yadda yadda.

    This is what I call network optimization.

    It will take more sophisticated modelling especially at rush hour to determine why there might be an imbalance or it might be as simple as raising tolls to take the top off the peak hour by spreading it a little.

    The whole idea is that when you toll electronically- you are also collecting a load of good data that can be used to analyze and VALIDATE models.

    It’s a whole lot better approach to building and maintaining roads than the crystal ball schemes that VDOT sometimes employs.

    In effect – we’d start doing with roads – what the stores are doing with scanners and data mining… of that data to.. not only figure our which products are popular – but to look at their own “peak hour” issues.

    It is THE way to go. It would be the way to go if you didn’t even charge a toll but just used the sensors to sample traffic conditions.

    These same toll gantries could be used to generate IT traffic info… instant data transmitted to electronic signs througout the region and even into cell phones and auto GPS units.

    It IS the way to go. My only problem is that I fear that VDOT is still mired in it’s old engineering mentality

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