Governor Terry McAuliffe is working hard to clean up the transportation boondoggles of the McDonnell administration — but how many new boondoggles will he create of his own making? Yesterday, the governor announced $13.1 billion in transportation capital expenditures after making final adjustments to the state’s Six-Year Improvement Plan.
In the announcement, McAuliffe made much of the fact that his administration ramped up public involvement this spring “by getting out into the communities and holding hearings in nine regions across the state to solicit input. Nearly 400 people attended and 1,620 oral and written comments were collected. From that information, the CTB adjusted the program to reflect the needs and priorities of local officials, residents and the traveling public who use and know their transportation system better than anyone else.”
Cough! Cough! Hack! I think I just swallowed my tongue.
Who shows up to those public hearings? I blog about transportation and land use for a living and no one notified me. The overwhelming majority people who attended, I’ll wager, were people who are paid to track such meetings and represent a particular constituency or special interest. They are lobbyists, environmentalists, road builders, Chamber of Commerce executives and maybe the odd citizen gadfly with more time on his hands than he knows what to do with. McAuliffe didn’t consult with the public, he consulted Virginia’s political class.
What is the common thread of the people who showed up or submitted comments? If you read my previous post, you’ll know that they are people who want something for nothing. They want highways, rail service and other improvements to be paid for by someone else. Thanks to Bob McDonnell’s transportation “reform” (enthusiastically backed by McAuliffe, incidentally), that’s what we have — a transportation funding system that raises less money than ever from the people who use roads and rail and more from general revenue sources like the sales tax. That money goes into a giant slush fund that is allocated through the Six-Year Improvement Plan at the behest of local politicians and lobbyists. It’s one, big something-for-nothing scheme.
The outcome is hundreds of projects around the state, some of which, no doubt, are entirely justified and would pass any cost-benefit test, but some of which are entirely political in inception and would never see the light of day without massive subsidies from people who will never use them. So, according to Leesburg Today, McAuliffe justifies advancing the Bi-County Parkway in Northern Virginia on the grounds that Washington Dulles International Airport needs a boost to its cargo operations. (This project is one legacy of the McDonnell administration, it appears, that he is willing to live with.) Then there are $3.2 billion in transit and rail projects — nearly one quarter of the transportation budget — none of which would have a prayer of being built without massive public subsidies.
So, merrily we skip along, funding highway and transit projects and adding to a transportation asset base that will have to be maintained and operated at considerable expense — even as the state faces a billion-dollar shortfall in the next biennial budget. And we do this knowing full well that the world stands on the verge of the most incredible transportation revolution since the invention of the automobile — the marriage of automobility with the Internet of Things — that will scramble the demand for roads, highways and transit in ways that we can only dimly imagine at the moment.
Transportation is a complex system in the midst of a massive perturbation and we’re treating it as a complicated system that warrants conducting business as usual. (Read “Complex Cities.”) Folly, folly, everywhere! It’s enough to drive me to despair.
Important update: The Washington Post adds critical perspective to the Leesburg Today article: “During the campaign, McAuliffe was noncommittal on the proposed north-south highway in Prince William and Loudoun counties, just west of the Manassas National Battlefield and south of Dulles International Airport. In April, Leesburg Today reported that McAuliffe said during a visit in Manassas that he liked the Bi-County Parkway ‘conceptually,’ as a way to ease traffic in and out of Dulles International Airport. However, he went on to say he was not taking a position on the proposal, because it still must go through an evaluation process approved by the Virginia General Assembly during this year’s session.”
It is extremely reassuring to hear that the Bi-County Parkway project will go through the Return-on-Investment evaluation process. I erred in bundling the Bi-County Parkway project with other projects listed in the Six-Year Improvement Plan. My bad. My apologies.There are currently no comments highlighted.