Sharp Eye for Pennies, Blind Eye for Pounds

Journalists focus on problems they understand. As a result, they address trivial matters while overlooking systemic ones. Nowhere is this truism more evident than the realm of transportation policy. Take the latest mini-scandal at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel Commission.

It turns out that board members racked up a $900 restaurant tab at topless cabaret in Paris two years ago, putatively while learning how other toll roads operate. When the (Newport News) Daily Press disclosed this abuse of public funds, people were understandably outraged. The press flogged the story and now the Commission has changed its travel policy: No more than $45 per day food allowance while on travel.

I have no problem with changing the policy. Here’s my concern. At the bottom of today’s Daily Press’ wrap-up on the policy changes, we read: “Lawmakers also criticized the commission for a plan to spend an estimated $900 million for two additional tunnels. … Commissioners say the tunnels are needed to handle increased traffic in 20 years. Lawmakers said traffic projections do not justify the expenditure.”

Whoah, Nelly! I’d say the $900 million construction is a lot more important than the $900 bill for food and champagne in a Paris strip club. But what gets the attention — the strip club, or the new tunnels and higher tolls directly impacting the lives of thousands of Virginians? The strip club, of course. Where are the headlines about the $900 million boondoggle?

Hopefully, the Daily Press will continue its coverage of Bridge-Tunnel governance by digging into the proposed Bridge-Tunnel expansion. Which lawmakers are opposed? Why are they opposed? Who developed the idea for the project? What are the numbers in the traffic projections? Are those projections, in fact, flawed? Those are the kinds of questions we need to be asking. And we need to ask them not just about the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, we need to ask them about the other $108 billion (that’s billion with a “b”) worth of transportation projects that the Warner administration asserts in VTrans2025 that Virginia needs but cannot pay for.

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  1. Salt Lick Avatar
    Salt Lick

    Jim, FWIW from a SW Virginian who visits Virginia Beach occasionally, I always drive in “the back way,” on 460. Many of us from over here have given up on the tunnel route, which I guess is no surprise to you city-dwellers.

  2. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    I took 460 last week, too, when visiting my parents in Sandbridge. The Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel is just too iffy on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

  3. Will Vehrs Avatar
    Will Vehrs

    Jim, you beat me to this story.

    While I agree that the $900 million ought to be of the most interest, we can’t let Chairman Kellam’s justification for convention travel go unnoticed: “‘He said the association’s conventions are eye-opening ways for commissioners to learn how other toll roads operate, “especially if you’ve never been before.’”

    I’m sure eyes were wide open in Paris.

  4. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Too bad you didn’t write the story instead. You would have had a much better headline: “Eyes Wide Open in Paris.”

  5. Is there any way that traffic projections for the Hampton area will be anything other than:

    “Complete and utter hell. Stab yourself in the eye with a fork traffic.”

    So they’re trying to plan ahead. And nobody wants to see it happen.

    So we’ll sit on our hands for 20 more years.

  6. Anonymous Avatar

    In 20 years a 900 million boodoggle will cost how much?

  7. 900 million is a small fraction of the cost of say…expansion of the Metro to Dulles.

  8. SDH4VBT Avatar

    Philistines. When Bill Howell sells the bridge to French investors and THEY use our toll money to go to the Crazy Horse (a bit more that just a topless cafe, I hear) we won’t have a darn thing to say about it. Vive le capitalism.

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