Son of HB 3202: Making a Bad Problem Even Worse

Top headline from today’s Wall Street Journal: “Oil Hits $100, Jolting Markets.” Writes the Journal:

The surging price of oil, from just over $10 a barrel a decade ago to $100 yesterday, is altering the wealth and influence of nations and industries around the world. … Steep gasoline prices … threaten America’s long love affair with the automobile, while putting strains on many lower-income people outside big cities, who must spend an increasing share of their budgets just on fuel to get to work.

Top headline from today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch: “Area Transportation Authority Sought.” Del. Franklin P. Hall, D-Richmond, plans to introduce legislation to create a regional transportation authority, similar to authorities in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads, that would raise $105 million annually for regional transportation projects. The money would come from an add-on 2 percent gas tax as well as increased fees for car registrations, inspections and repairs.

Hall wants to issue bonds and build the roads to “deal with the transportation issue in central Virginia before it becomes a crisis,” writes reporter Will Jones. Apparently, Hall has the backing of some regional business leaders. Jim Dunn, president of the Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce, says businessmen should give Hall’s proposal “some thought,” citing extensive needs, such as widening Interstate 64 east of Richmond, extending the Powhite Parkway, and improving Hull Street Road — all of which would encourage people to settle on the metropolitan periphery and drive greater distances. Oh, and Dunn says we need to promote regional transit, too.

Bacon’s Bottom Line: Thus, while oil hits $100 per barrel and the nation’s leading business publication calls into question the viability of America’s auto-centric economy, Richmond political and business leaders propose to double down their bets on an auto-centric transportation system adapted to $10-per-barrel oil. Nowhere in the article is there any mention of addressing the dysfunctional human settlement patterns at the root of Richmond’s surging transportation needs.

As Trip Pollard with the Southern Environmental Law Center pointed out in his recent study on land use, transportation and climate change in Virginia, “New Directions,” the Richmond region is developing land at a more prodigious rate — converting 58,000 acres of land between 1992 and 1997, compared to 49,300 acres in the far more populous Northern Virginia region and 43,300 acres in Hampton Roads. (Admittedly, those numbers are a decade old, but there is little to indicate that the pattern has changed.)

Scattered, disconnected, low-density development is the root cause of transportation dysfunction. Not only would Hall do absolutely nothing to reverse this “suburban sprawl,” he would, in fact, subsidize it. Instead of advocating a “user pays” system, in which those who drive more pay more, Hall would finance the scheme largely through a sales tax. Thus, those who walk to work, bicycle to work, telecommute, carpool, ride the bus or simply live a short drive from work, would subsidize those who choose to live ever increasing distances from employment centers and put increasing strain on the transportation system.

Then there’s the issue of the transportation authority itself — an unelected and largely unaccountable body empowered to increase taxes. Hall seems blandly unconcerned by the objections raised by citizens in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads, much less by the legal challenges to the constitutionality of the authorities. Says Hall, “We have been assured by the attorney general … that it meets the test and those statutes are valid.”

More money for sprawl-inducing mega-projects as oil tops $100 per barrel. Wow, that’s a real formula for regional success. NOT! This abomination — the Son of HB 3202 — must be strangled in its cradle before it locks into place a dysfunctional transportation system that does immeasurable harm to the future prosperity, liveability and sustainability of the Richmond region

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22 responses to “Son of HB 3202: Making a Bad Problem Even Worse”

  1. Norman Leahy Avatar
    Norman Leahy

    Consider who else is supporting this, Jim: The Chamber of Commerce.

    First they rallied behind the performing arts center (and a bevy of new regional taxes to support it). Then they rally behind the idea of scrapping school board elections. They also back and support a convention center that stands largely vacant, a proposed baseball stadium downtown that would have been funded, in part, with a new local tax…there are more examples, I’m sure.

    The pattern here is very disturbing.

  2. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Not necessarily.

    Regional Transportation Planning is not inherently an evil pursuit.

    It could also be a unifying way to involve citizens in how to better shape the development patterns of the region and perhaps even some level of consensus on priorities.

    All you folks who decry the “big government” approach and espouse local approaches to local problems seem downright xenophobic when it comes to opportunities for more local involvement in transportation decision-making.

    Is it really “better” to leave this to the State?

    do we really fear our own local/regional leaders more than we trust the State and VDOT to provide us with local/regional solutions?

    I just find this mindset curious.. coming from folks who say they are not in favor of government-dictated solutions.

    I’m not saying that local elected are not capable of usurping local government for their own profit motive purposes… aka the “pro-growth” folks but we all do know that it is much easier to dump a local government than it is a state government…

    so.. you take the opportunity along with the risk and you take responsibility to make sure that the local elected DO pay attention to what citizens want…

    sounds like.. we are afraid to take more responsibility for our own regional decisions .. to me.

  3. Anonymous Avatar

    Those who drive more DO pay more. They wear out cars faster, pay more insurance, use more fuel, pay more fuel taxes, and since they live on larger lots in bigger homes farther out, they pay a higher proportion of their costs than smaller homes closer in, as noted in the posts below.

    Whether they pay enough more, is another issue, but you could say the same for transit riders.

    Then again, maybe they are smart enought to see that NOVA is about tapped out, as far as being a rational place to live.


  4. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Larry, I have no problem with regional transportation planning. MPOs are a good thing. My problems with the Hall proposal are three-fold:

    (1) The lack of a connection between regional transportation and land use planning;

    (2) The financing mechanism that would sever the link between who uses/benefits from the transportation system and who pays for it; and

    (3) The unelected, unaccountable set-up of the regional transportation authority.

  5. Anonymous Avatar

    It’s the OPiuM talking…

    Other People’s Money…

  6. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    Why am I not surprised?

    If a political con works once, why not try it again?

  7. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: link between transportation planning and land-use planning…

    well.. what is better:

    local land use decisions coupled with state level transportation


    local land use decisions coupled with local transportation decisions

    In our area the MPO is part of the Planning District and they are looking at land-use and transportation more regionally than ever before.

    re: financing mechanism

    same deal. Collect money at the state level and allocate at the state level

    OR collect money at the local level and allocate at the local level

    opportunity for mischief? You bet.

    again.. are we more worried about mischief at the local level than we are at the state level.

    this is all about the OPPORTUNITY to take more control of a regions destiny. Pitfalls galore -yes.

    give me a better alternative?

    This IS, in fact, a type of HOME RULE that people spend their time yammering about the Dillon Rule.

    re: unelected.

    let’s get this clear.

    The locals can’t decide to tax your property. Only the state can decide that and then the locals can collect and spend it and change the tax rate.

    but I would ask folks – are there not already a slew, in fact, thousands of local authorities that have the opportunity to spend funds unwisely or against the wishes of citizens…

    Local water/sewer and transportation and fire districts can set rates and collect money AND spend it badly… and most are not elected either.

    Okay.. so that’s not such a hot idea, I agree.

    But take the Transportation Authority and lobby for changes to make it elective…

    I see this as imperfect opportunity with pitfalls and warts as opposed to rejecting the concept of regional authorities out of hand…

    I note also.. in the hopper at the GA – a proposal to raise the gas tax in Virginia by 10 cents.

    Guess who will get that 10 cents and who will decide where to spend it?

    there is opportunity here for more local control of planning – land use and transportation.

    Are we so fearful of the potential of the “pro-growth” folks to get a hold of it and use it for their vision that we would rather not have it at all?

    Here are the folks who want it:

    Fredericksburg, Richmond, Charlottesville, Roanoke, Lynchburg.

    So .. at the end of the day.. some localities will ‘take it” and others may not but the ability to have it will probably remain.

    I would be pretty shocked to see the GA take off the table Regional Transportation Authorities.

    So.. you’ll have a place like Richmond that will say, in essence, No Thanks… we cannot trust our local leaders to use this opportunity for better regional planning.


  8. Groveton Avatar

    I am with Larry on this one. I am happy to have a regional transportation authority in NoVA. They may bungle around for a while but the state government has bungled around on transportation issues for 50 years.

    As for “unaccountable” – please…. A Dillon’s Rule based state legislature that buys votes in RoVA with money soaked from NoVA is unaccountable. NoVA’s voters could vote out every politician we send to Richmond and we’d still get the stumbling, bumbling incompetence of the General Assembly. Someday urban/suburban Richmond and urban/suburban Tidewater will think the same way. When that happens – look out! But what could possibly build an alliance of such different places?

    Maybe an alliance of 3 regional transportation authorities each of whom has figured out just how little of the locally generated taxes are actually spnt on local problems?

  9. Anonymous Avatar

    Groveton — The biggest problem with NoVA legislators is that they participate in the RoVA screwing of NoVA residents. How many of these “horrible” acts were passed in a vote that included a majority of NoVA legislators? Probably most of them. Why is the fault of RoVA that our senators and delegates are afraid to vote “no.”

    The second biggest problem is the clowns who live in NoVA and vote regularly for the above. We cause many of our own problems.

    I’m not arguing that we can pass helpful legislation. But we sure could probably stop a lot of harmful legislation from passing.

    What if the entire NoVA delegation announced that they would vote for no X,Y, or Z that did not also include Adequate Public Facilities authority?


  10. Groveton Avatar

    TMT –

    I agree with you that the voters in NoVA are “out to lunch” on a good day. The politicians all kowtow to the state parties and the beat goes on….

    As one of the winning candidates from NoVA said in the last election, “It’s going to cost $350,000 to get a job that pays $17,000 per year”. So, the candidates run to the state parties looking for donors and endorsements . And the state parties say, “You be a good little boy (or girl) and you’ll get the money and the endorsements”.

    But even if the voters in NoVA suddenly grew both soines and brains and elected an aggressive anti-NoVA-miliking candidate to each and every seat they’d still get outvoted in Richmond.

    A consolidated NoVA voting delegation would have force but not majority.

    So, NoVA legislators either team with their suburban collegues elsewhere in VA or things stay the same.

    Or, you wait for a bit of a fiscal emergency and hope that the state legislature makes a mistake and gives some power to the localities – which is what they’ve done with the transportation authorites. The transportation authority is raising money (through taxes) and setting priorities. The state legislature will find it very hard to ever put that toothpaste back in the tube.

    Now – if the state would just get the heck out of education and law enforcement – we’d be getting somewhere.

  11. Anonymous Avatar

    “A consolidated NoVA voting delegation would have force but not majority.”

    That’s the way I see it. Nothing will ever get better in NOVA. They will make lots of money, and send it to Richmond.


  12. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    EMR’s perspectives of NURs and Balanced communities notwithstanding…

    the Feds have decreed planning areas to … “have strong social and economic ties to the central counties as measured by commuting and employment.”

    They have based their Transportation/Mobility MPOs – Metropolitan Planning Organization on the Census MSAs.

    I’m not sure what Virginia’s Planning Districts are based on but the idea/concept is clear and that is that some issues require a broader planning perspective than at a locality level.

    The Feds clearly believe this or else their MPOs would have never seen the light of day.

    What has been missing in my view is incorporating land-use issues into the same planning “envelope”.

    3202 – basically nudged us closer to that goal by devolving more responsibility for local and regional transportation planning to the folks who – DANG what a concept – actually make land-use decisions..

    and what I sense for some jurisdictions is that .. they simply don’t want to engage in regional planning… and instead they want to essentially pretend that their planning world stops at their political jurisdictional boundaries…

    understanding perhaps from a human tenancy towards the “home team” but just totally disconnected from realities.

    Just take a look at any urban highway transportation network and draw in the various jurisdictional boundaries and ask yourself – what meaning do those boundaries actually have in the larger context of the “connected” region?

    They are, in many respects, artifacts.. from an earlier time.. much like the VDOT district boundaries that were based on the 1922 Congressional District boundaries.

    I’m not demeaning nor denigrating the importance of local culture and history but geeze .. it does not make any sense to not recognize the world around us…

    … ESPECIALLY when it comes to settlement patterns, commuting, sprawl, affordable housing, the viability of transit, and on and on.. it makes no sense…

    We need to recognize the NEED .. to EMBRACE regional planning.. as a necessary compliment to local and statewide planning.

    JLARC delt with this same concept in 2001… in the context of VDOT but if you go read about WHY they separated roads into local, regional and state-wide… there was/is a lot of clarity in the need to do this.

    So.. I see the Transportation Authorities as .. imperfect – but no mistake – opportunities.. with ample room for bad unresponsive government…

    Staying where we are – without regionalism – is no solution but instead .. in my mind… an obstacle to more holistic approaches to transportation and land-use decisions…

    My main caveat is I’d like to see the MSAs and MPOs aligned with Virginia’s Planning Districts and VDOT’s District Offices.

  13. Anonymous Avatar

    “and what I sense for some jurisdictions is that .. they simply don’t want to engage in regional planning… and instead they want to essentially pretend that their planning world stops at their political jurisdictional boundaries…”

    Yup. You nailed it.

    Case in Point….Western Loudoun County. For example, Rt. 17 which connects Rt. 50 and I-66 is a HEAVILY traveled commuter route (everyone coming from the west, i.e. Winchester & W. Virginia must use it to access I-66). So what do the folks in Loudoun County do (along w/ some help from Sen. Potts)….they pass legislation that prohibits truck traffic on the road AND they reduce the speed limit from 55 to 45….so now we have a speed trap!

    Now, I am not saying widen rt. 17 but for heavens sake….raise the speed limit! Talk about road rage…all you do when you drive down the road is think about how the landed gentry ultimately control the system.

  14. Groveton Avatar

    “Just take a look at any urban highway transportation network and draw in the various jurisdictional boundaries and ask yourself – what meaning do those boundaries actually have in the larger context of the “connected” region?”.

    They mean more to me than the boundaries of the Commonwealth of Virginia!

    The people of Northern Virginia have a lot more in commonn with the people of Maryland’s Washington suburbs and Washington, DC than we will ever have with the people of SW Virginia.

    The regional transportation authorities may be flawed but they have a chance of working someday. The state legislature, representing a commonwealth that was defined in a series of historical accidents, has no chance.

    Anon 8:59 – Western Loudoun has been behaving badly for years. Once horse country, it is increasingly part of the Washingtom metropolitan area. I am sure this doesn’t sit well with Robert Duvall and the other centa-millionaires who like Washington’s airports, operas, etc but have no plans to support the area economically. Your point about the “landed gentry” is very well taken.

  15. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    There are differences between MPOs and Virginia’s Transportation Authorities.. and potential problems.

    First, if the boundaries don’t align.. there will be significant potential for confusion and complications.

    Second, MPOs already have procedures for expanding their boundaries and that includes taking in only a portion of a county.

    So, if Virginia’s Transportation authorities membership is fixed in the legislation and not changeable except by legislation.. it will be cumbersome for them to adapt to changing demographics and/or evolve their boundaries in tandem with MPOs.

    finally, keep in mind that at least some of the taxes are levied region-wide and can only be spent on projects agreed to by the majority of the members and that will tend to focus projects that benefit all the jurisdictions or at least enough to get a majority vote.

  16. Anonymous Avatar

    Anonymous has it wrong on Rte 17.

    Rte 17 was heavily traveld by trucks as a short cut between 66 and 81, which also avoided the weigh scales.

    There were a number of serious truck accidents, including one which resulted in a fatality to the son of a prominent resident.

    On several occasions trucks broke in half going over the poorly graded rail crossing.

    Because the road is hilly, trucks used their Jake brakes excessively. Even though I live far from Route 17 they would wake me up in the night.

    The residents resented this constant assault on their safety and sensibilities and lobbied for a speed reduction, which they got.

    As I understand it, they initially wanted to restrict trucks, but were told they could not. It took special legislation introduced by Wolfe to ban the through trucks.

    However, after the trucks were banned the speed limit was not revised back upward. So, what was a reasonable approach before the ban, later became unnecessary.

    You are correct that local people were actively involved, and some of them are prominent and well to do citizens. But not all of them are landed gentry by any means. Some of them are ordinary people who are, in fact, “land poor”. Robert Duvall lives no where near there.

    You are also correct about speed traps and road rage. I avoid Rte 17 because you have to make a choice between taking your chances with the speed traps or the speed maniacs. On a number of occasions I have been passed, against a double yellow line, when I was already 8 mph over the limit. Hauling farm equipment down there is a trip.

    The situation may have become a case of unintended consequences. It probably is time to raise the speed limit on 17, but only a little bit. On the other hand, from a regional perspective, part of the problem is that traffic calming has also taken Rte 50 out of practical use for commuters. Then of course there is the effort by JTHG to take Rte 15 off the map, too.

    Frankly, I can’t imagine commuting from Winchester to DC, but I do know people who commute to Manassas, or the Dulles area. We can expect to see more of that.


  17. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    gee.. I wonder why folks who live in Leesburg don’t commute to Winchester?

    Perhaps when Winchester gets the Eastern Half of their Route 37 beltway…

    If Route 7 were to magically become Interstate 67 – guess what would happen?

  18. Anonymous Avatar

    The way Winchester is growing, it may not be that long. I don’t know anyone in Leesburg, but I know people in Delaplane that do commute to Winchester.

    We find we are doing more and more of our shopping in Front Royal and Winchester: Warrenton and Manassas are just getting too hard to manage, and frequently more expensive.

    Note to Warrenton: kill that meals tax.


  19. Anonymous Avatar

    Interesting graph in todays WSJ concerning the price of oil. It plots the price of oil against Dollars, Euros, and Gold. If the dollar had kept paace with the Euro since 2000, the price of oil would be, not $100, but $57.

    Compared to the price of gold, oil has fallen since 2000.

    It is not so much that oil has gotten expensive as it is that dollars have gotten cheap.


  20. Anonymous Avatar

    RH –

    “Rte 17 was heavily traveled by trucks as a short cut between 66 and 81, which also avoided the weigh scales.”

    That was the PR used to pass the legislation….and Frank Wolf despises the trucking industry.

    The reality is that if the load was being delivered on I-81 b/w Stephens City (South on I-81) and Inwood, WV (North on I-81) then yes, a truck could “avoid” the scales. That’s basically a drop zone of about 25 miles b/w the scales. If you had to go south past Stephens City or North past Inwood you had to pass the scales. Trucks going north used Rt. 17 because it saved them time….no point to use it to get to I-81 if you are going south.

    “Because the road is hilly, trucks used their Jake brakes excessively.”

    As I understand it, this was the major reason for the change. I did not know about the fatality to the son of a prominent resident – that’s unfortunate. It is a dangerous road, particularly at night, and especially when you are dealing with a speed maniac.

    That being the case, one must ask if it’s “safer” to have the speed limit what it is now, 45 mph, or raise it to 55, which is what I would consider acceptable. There would be a lot less passing which I think would make the road safer.

    Great point on the dollar/oil connection… this,……I think you will enjoy it.

  21. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Let’s be honest.

    There are LOTs of roads where if the people who lived along those roads could have trucks outlawed – or if not outlawed outright – other measures taken that ended up having the same effect.

    So… all things equal.. why were folks successful with this road when virtually no where else have the same measures with the same impact been successful?

  22. Anonymous Avatar

    The boy who was killed was just one of many.

    Coincidentally my wife and farmhand were talking about 17 on Staurday, and reminscing over all the accidents. My wife was there when a father and child were killed, the wife cut out of the vehicle and flown out. The watermelon truck, the lettuce truck, the truck full of live chickens. Several more deaths.

    Sermons at my church used to be regularly punctuated by jake brakes.

    17 really was a mess, and it was all out of proprtion to the traffic it carried. Partly it was because truckers treated it like an interstate.

    But I’m not sure the cure wasn’t as bad as the disease. It is a lot quieter though. Trucks are too big, run too fast, and don’t pay enough. Think of all the times yo usee someone stopped on the highway. How often is it a truck?
    Why are cab drivers so rude and aggressive? We should have a higher standard for professional drivers.


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