Senators, START Your Engines

The Virginia Senate’s START transportation task force held its first meeting Tuesday on the VCU campus. It was mostly a dry affair of Powerpoint presentations, which you can find here. A Daily Press report on the event is here. Senator Charles Hawkins started with a strong “we can’t keep doing things this way” speech that was right out of the Bacon’s Rebellion phrase book, but he also stressed that the purpose of the legislative and citizen panel is to produce a bill — not some report that will join others on the shelf.

A couple of highlights:

A top analyst from the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission reported on his review of the VTRANS 2025 projection of $203 billion in future transportation “needs”, which is $108 billion beyond the projected revenue. He poked some holes in the assumptions, especially the use of the highest end rail and transit options and the cost to build some roads that really cannot be built. But he didn’t argue with the projections of growing congestion and gridlock that underlie the assumptions, and in some areas he said the VTRANS data might be too low. My read: He gave the VTANS document a decent grade, if not an A. “It puts you in the ball park,” was his comment in response to questions.

The emotional high came from Phil Shucet, who was tasked with reporting on the transportation challenges in his home area of Hampton Roads. He had some frightening projections on the tunnels, which already produce one five-mile back up per day on average. No longer a state employee, he also let the legislators have it with a major broadside. He said it is their job to do something. People don’t want to pay more, but they will hate life in the congestion to come.

You were not elected to promise without knowledge. You are elected and you have a duty to deliver promise based on knowledge. Isn’t it ironic that the very network established to give people their freedom is now stealing that same freedom from them?”


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Comments

  1. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    I couldn’t download the files. Thanks for posting them for those who can. What is the time frame for this $108b whatever – 2005to 2010 or 15 or what? Makes a difference on options for financing – assuming the number is correct.

  2. Anonymous Avatar

    The time line is twenty years, through 2025.

    Yes, the Senate Finance website uses a Lotus based system, I think. There was something I had to download a while back before I could access all their stuff, but the technical details are beyond me. SDH

  3. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    Thanks! So the funding stream is roughly $5b a year. Now, where to find that $5b and what is it going to do? Pave, pave, pave? or what?

  4. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Best quote of the day, from Del. Leo C. Wardrup, R-Virginia Beach, who heads the House Transportation Committee: “We can’t build our way out of the problem.”

  5. Anonymous Avatar

    Memo

    TO: Del. Leo C. Wardrup

    From: Frustrated Driver

    Re: Transportation

    Del. Wardrup:

    How are we going to fix the problem?

  6. To me the best quote of the day would be the one that says what we can do with the money likely to be available and what the likely results would be, not the quote that says what we can’t do.

  7. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Memo

    TO: Frustrated Driver

    From: Jim Bacon

    Re: Transportation

    Here’s how we fix the problem:

    (1) Put an end to scattered, disconnected, low-density development and start building (and redeveloping) communities with a balance of housing, jobs, shopping and amenities. It’s nice if people would start walking and biking more, but the key is to make it possible for people to conduct their lives by taking shorter, local trips rather than hopping on the regional transportation grid.

    (2) Promote telecommunication and the mobile work force. With cell phones, blackberries and wireless laptops, people don’t have to drive to the office every day, at the same time, along the same routes. The state should support companies that move to more flexible work arrangements.

    (3) Increase capacity of existing roads and facilities through micro improvements like highway ramp metering, traffic light synchronization and incident response.

    (4) Implement demand-management strategies — in other words, figure out how to reduce the number of cars on the road. Ride sharing is one obvious alternative. Sharing car ownership (as in Zip Car) is another. Sending congestion alerts to motorists by cell phone or e-mail would allow people to adjust their routes or the time of their trips to avoid the congestion.

    (5) Encourage outside-the-box thinking. Why doesn’t Virginia have more water taxis? Why don’t we see jitneys, which are smaller and more flexible than buses? How do state regulations stifle innovation? We don’t know. Has anyone even asked the question?

    (6) Implement the asset-management plan outlined by Philip Shucet to bring down the cost of maintaining Virginia’s roads and highways. Continue investing in technology to boost VDOT productivity and reduce head count.

    (7) Collect tolls to pay for new mega-projects.

    (8) Employ HOT lanes to ration scarce transportation capacity during periods of peak demand.

    Other than the last two items, none of these items is getting serious discussion. But it’s just totally, flat-out wrong to say that there are no alternatives to raising taxes.

    In the final analysis, we may have to raise taxes, too. But let’s make that the last step, not the first one. Because if we raise taxes, we’ll sit back and relax, think we’ve solved the problem, and do nothing for another 15 to 20 years until the system inevitably reaches another crisis.

  8. I agree with Jims numbered comments, except 1) and 4).

    1) How will we “put an end” to scattered development? We can do that by fiat and simply order that such development not proceed. Jim has stated he is not in favor of this method.

    We can offer incentives (pay, raise taxes) to encourage or subsidize people to live in denser areas. Some people will still choose to live in scattered areas. These will have to be very strong incentives to get people to give up what is apparently a strongly preferred suburban lifestyle. It won’t be cheap, and we will have to bring a lot of other amenities into the picture as well (more parks, infrastrucute, better schools, transit).

    We can offer incentives (pay, raise taxes) to people NOT to develop their land. Some people will still want their cabin in the mountains. Since there is far more undeveloped land than developed land this is likely to be far more expensive than urban incentives.

    We can buy up the land we dont want developed (pay, raise taxes) We will likely see some of this in New Orleans. By contrast, in Oregon, the law now is that if you prevent someone from building, then you must pay him for his loss of value, again this means (pay, raise taxes).

    It appears that whatever we do to “put an end” to scattered development will be unpopular, expensive, and only partially successful. If we “put an end” to scattered development, it will create two classes of land owners: those with rights and those without. Somehow we will have to compensate those whose rights we remove or find some other way to ameliorate their effective removal from accepted society.

    WE might find out that just building roads is a lot cheaper.

    4)Implementing demand management strategies means one of two things: either we will not meet the demand and probably cause major dislocations to our economy, or we will encourage the demand to move elsewhere. This can occur through pricing, or through congestion. Either way it tends to promote more scattered development, so it is counter to #1. And it is a tacit admission that there is a density limit.

    I believe all the others are valuable, and also marginal compared to the problem at hand.

    If the choice is spending money and then relaxing for another 15 to 20 years until the next crisis, or enjoying the current crisis for another 15 to 20 years and then spending four times as much money, then I would choose the former.

  9. Abitmorered Avatar
    Abitmorered

    Great stuff Jim. Sure beats the heck out of that ‘ol sage in Winchester.

    How ’bout Jim Bacon for Governor, Ray Hyde for LT. Gov…who would be the AG.

  10. How about it, Jim? Steve Haner?

  11. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Haner could run the AG’s office in his sleep. But some people might think that being a practicing attorney is a necessary qualification for the top spot.

  12. Where did the 203 billion number come from? JAB dinged me for using a number like that. I thought I didn’t pull it out of the air.

    DHS plans to spend 200 billion to repair Katrina damage. NASA’s plan for going to the moon is only 104 billion; surely we ought to be able to get from Falls Church to Tyson’s for that kind of money.

  13. Jim Bacon Avatar

    $203 billion is how much VTrans2025 says Virginia needs to spend on transportation over the next 20 years to meet projected demand. Existing revenue sources will provide an estimated $95 billion. That leaves $108 billion in “unmet needs.”

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