Transportation Abomination — the E-zine Version

I have been much dissatisfied with the coverage that the Mainstream Media has given the transportation debate. Reporters and editorial writers alike have employed a primitive analytical framework for understanding the issues. By and large, the MSM has depicted the debate as taking place between “Democrats” and “moderate” Republicans on the one hand and “hard core”, “anti-tax”, “obstructionist” Republicans on the other.

As I write in my latest column, “Transportation Abomination” (stealing the headline from a previous blog entry), this schema is largely useless, if not outright misleading. It is absurd to call Sen. John Chichester, R-Northumberland, a “moderate” when he has advocated tax increases that even Gov. Timothy M. Kaine and former Gov. Mark R. Warner, both Democrats, were unwilling to embrace.

A more useful continuum, I suggest, is between the Big Government party and the Small Government party. The Big Government party consists mainly of Democrats, while the Small Government party consists mainly of Republicans, but there are plenty of exceptions in both camps. Insofar as Sen. Chichester and Sen. Russell Potts, R-Winchester, and others consistently support an expansion in the size, scope and funding of state government, they have far more in common with Democrats of like mind than most Republicans. These gentlemen may have sentimental ties to the GOP, but it is their commitment to Big Government that defines them, not their commitment to the Republican Party.

But that’s only part of the story. When it comes to transportation, there’s another continuum that cuts across party lines: a spectrum that runs from Business As Usual (the vested interests who buttress the status quo) to the Reformers (those who insist that institutional change must be part of any comprehensive transportation solution).

Along this continuum, Sen. Chichester has plenty of company among legislators who like things just the way they are: There’s nothing wrong with the transportation that more money won’t fix. Moving towards the middle is Gov. Kaine, who acknowledges that we can’t “build our way out of congestion,” but isn’t willing to spend much political capital in achieving institutional reform. Moving further along the spectrum is House Speaker William J. Howell, who has proposed restructuring the way the state and local governments build and maintain roads, and took considerable political risks to push his vision. At the far end of the continuum are the Smart Growth movement, free marketeers and others who, to varying degrees, call for a total overhaul Virginia’s zoning codes, land use policies and governance structures.

There is almost no overlap whatsoever between the Reform/Business As Usual polarity and the Democratic/Republican polarity. Indeed, members of both parties include both zealous defenders of, and critics of, the status quo.

In my column, I interpret the transportation debate as an interplay between Democrats and Republicans seeking partisan political advantage, between advocates of Big Government and Small Government in a battle over the size and scope of state government, and between various constituencies either defending or attacking the status quo.

Frankly, I did not have the time to carry through this line of thought as thoroughly as I would have liked. But it considerably more helpful, in my humble opinion, in understanding how Virginia has gotten to where it is — with a handful of General Assembly conferees trying to cobble together a legislative package before the session expires — than you’ll read anywhere in the MSM.

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18 responses to “Transportation Abomination — the E-zine Version”

  1. Amazing.

    The city is in decline but the MSA which includes the city is growing, more than offsetting the city’s decline.

    How can that be?

    As for Italy, they have had, what, 80 governments since the war? If that’s fundamental change, then no thanks.

  2. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    Jim: Maybe you can develop a color code for transportation and use a graphic for the seats in each house to show the colors.

    Pretty confusing. The MSM harms more than helps with their lousy lack of discerning anything on the issues.

  3. Phil Rodokanakis Avatar
    Phil Rodokanakis


    Your article today “Transportation Abominiation” was one of the best. If only the MSM reported the facts like you do, we wouldn’t be in thi mess.

    Best Regards, Phil

  4. Anonymous Avatar

    It is ashame that Jim Bacon does not seek public office …. it would be interesting to watch put
    his views to work.

  5. nova_middle_man Avatar

    Could we self-identify ourselves even?

    Heres me

    R, small government, reformer, conservationalist/conservative split

    Here are some other “easy” ones

    EMR-Third Party, large? government, reformer, conservationalist

    Larry-Third Party, small government, reformer, split

    Ray Hyde-R, small government, business as usual

    Jim Bacon R, small government reformer, split???

    Rodger Provo, D, large government, business as usual

    I think I got these right provide corrections as needed. The rest of you I don’t know as well feel free to self-identfiy.

  6. Jim Wamsley Avatar
    Jim Wamsley


    You misread vTrans2025 when you credited it with estimated that Virginia faced a funding gap of $108 billion to build our way out of traffic congestion.

    The vTrans2025 study reflects the best thinking of the Virginia Department of Transportation. The front half of the study provided the changes needed to improve transportation in Virginia.

    vTrans2025 followed this with an allocation formula driven estimate for funding requirements based on business as usual. There is a difference between “best thinking” and “business as usual.” The “best thinking” list is shorter. The “business as usual” list seems endless. One example, “best thinking” would not waste $50 million on I-66 spot improvements. No one has calculated a “best thinking” funding requirement.

  7. Jim Wamsley Avatar
    Jim Wamsley

    8:01 am nova_middle_man had a post that may have been corrupted by spell checker.

    I suggest that we start with these divisions.

    I. Big Government vs. Small Government
    II. Business as Usual vs. Reform
    Under reform
    Conservationist/environmentalists vs. free market/property rights

    Split does not describe some one who blends positions. This is better characterized by using two descriptions and an ampersand.

    It is not easy when you get to the bottom level where you get a combination of business as usual and property rights parading as a reformer.

  8. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Jim W., Fair enough. The VTrans2025 cost estimates were based on Business As Usual assumptions and not the very good ideas included in the policy portion of the report. Instead of saying “best thinking” of VDOT I should have said “best Business As Usual estimates.”

  9. rodger provo Avatar
    rodger provo

    One of the postings this morning
    seeks to put me in a box: big
    government, business as usual.

    Anyone who has read by comments on
    this blog knows that is just not true.

    Bloggers can make any statements
    about an individual without regard
    to the facts.

  10. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Rodger – it fits my view of you.

    Defend yourself!

    Come back and tell us who you really are!

    I don’t feel my description was 100% either… I consider myself a conservationist … environmentalist.

    For the record – I feel exactly the same way about the environment as I do about land-use and transportation.

    stated simply: user pays

    I’m not opposed to more money for transportation – I’m opposed to money being taken away from everyone and given to specific groups for transportation on a slush fund basis….i.e. sans the JLARC recommendations for ranking and prioritizing and targetting for performance (congestion relief)

    I’d much rather see each of us have the ability to pay for as much or as little as we want.


  11. rodger provo Avatar
    rodger provo

    Why do I need to defend myself with
    the writers of this blog who spend
    their time throwing darts at others
    without regards to the truth. Nor
    do I need to “come back and tell us
    who you really are!” You guys have
    an excessive sense of yourselves.

  12. nova_middle_man Avatar

    Rodger I mean(t)no offense

    I was just trying to bin people to get where they are coming from. We are all intelligent with varying views on differnt issues and for me anyways it can be confusing to keep everyone striaght.

    I am just hypthisizingg again here but maybe you are more third party and you support some conservation aspects with your emphasis on mass transit.

    Also as I said before those were just my personal observations. Comment if you would like talk about JWs criteria whatevery its a free country. Just trying to move it forward.

  13. rodger provo Avatar
    rodger provo

    nova middle man, thanks!!

    For the record, I am a devoted
    political independent who votes
    for candidates fielded by both
    parties from time to time.

    I support good, meaningful government that solves our
    problems and improves our

    I am a businessman, who likes
    parks and a quality environment.

    I am not a guy easily put in a

  14. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    well geeze .. I claim to be everything Rodger is except for a business man.

    All the rest .. DITTO…

    Wow that WAS easy. 😉

    Thanks Rodger! 😉

  15. Rodger Provo Avatar
    Rodger Provo

    Wow, I have received the Larry Gross Good Housekeeping Stamp of Approval.

    I will sleep well tonight.

    Knock off the dart throwing, guys!

    You comments should be about the
    issues of the day and our needed

  16. Nova Middle man.

    I think JW is on the right track. We need a phylum, subphylum, species, subpecies, group, family approach.

    As for myself, D, barely, primarily by habit, and only because it is the lesser of two evils, otherwise solidly to the right of center, and will vote for a candidate of any party tht looks like his thinking is not canned.

    Small Government. Right on.

    Business as usual? Nope; Reformist/Scientist. Let’s make reforms when we can predict in advance the results, and let’s back them up with guarantees in case we are wrong.

    Conservationist/Pragmatist. Love everything truly associated with conservation that works. As stewards of the earth that supports us we have no higher calling. However, I believe the conservation movement has been spoiled by an unholy triad of lunatics, economic optimists, and communists/socialists.

    In short, it is going to take a healthy dose of business as usual in order to make conservation work at a profit. Without a profit, conservation is unsustainable.

  17. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “Small Government. Right on.

    Business as usual? Nope; Reformist/Scientist. Let’s make reforms when we can predict in advance the results, and let’s back them up with guarantees in case we are wrong.”

    ouch… and WHO does this?

    Surely not the government – right?

  18. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I’m still trying to figure out how folks that say they advocate small government … advocate – the government raising taxes – for things that are said to benefit everyone.

    If this is the idea behind roads – what would be wrong with extending it to education and to medical care and heck.. why not to electricity and gasoline?

    It’s not fair that gasoline prices keep going up – so let’s tax everyone whatever it takes to provide each of us with whatever we need.

    Ditto for College. It’s simply not fair that the big Universities are ripping off those who cannot afford college so let’s raise the taxes on everyone so that anyone who wants to go can – go.

    And it’s not fair that our roads are crowded and congested – so let’s raise the taxes on everyone so that we can all have enough roads so that congestion is no longer a problem.

    THESE are small Government, Conservative ideas?


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