By Peter Galuszka

Old Dominion politicians and economic boosters love to tout the state’s typically high ranking in various surveys of the “best states to do business.” But the latest such ranking, by CNBC, shows Virginia dropping from first place to third.

One reason is roads. “Infrastructure – specifically the state’s perpetually clogged highways – has long been an issue in fast-growing Virginia, and there’s fresh evidence this year that the state is having trouble keeping pace,” CNBC says. Virginia dropped from 10th to 33rd place in this category.

The other big problem is that Virginia, a traditional big government state that enjoyed billions in federal defense spending after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, faces a major cut in such spending.

That’s especially curious since cutting government spending which so benefits Virginia is the political cry of every GOP politician and libertarian, including the Big Blogger himself.  It is terribly amusing how they campaign against the Big Deficit yet tout every friendly survey that paints Virginia as “pro-business,” often without recognizing why it is so.

Personally, I don’t take too these surveys all that seriously. It may be useful to know who generally ranks in the top, the middle and the bottom and why. But having worked as a staffer or freelancer for such major business publications as BusinessWeek, Fortune Small Business and some of Forbes’ outlets I know first-hand how hit-or-miss the data and reporting for such rankings can be.

Nonetheless, there are takeaways. The CNBC survey is not good news for Robert F. McDonnell, our photogenic governor who basks in the GOP Republican spotlight as the convention approaches. While it is true that McDonnell has made more funding available for highways, he also spends too much time on complex and controversial projects that large municipalities don’t want such as expanding U.S. 460.

The effort and money would be better spent ending traffic jams on the Beltway in Northern Virginia, the state’s real economic engine, and unsnarling bridges and tunnels in Hampton Roads. A simple solution is raising the state’s ridiculously low gasoline tax, but that’s anathema for tax-averse Republicans.

Another distraction confronts McDonnell and Lt. Gov. Bill “The Jobs Guy” Bolling, who is being set up by the state’s Republican establishment to run against maverick Atty. Gen. Ken Cuccinelli in the next gubernatorial race. Both could have spent more time preparing the state for all-important federal jobs cuts. Instead, McDonnell has squandered precious time on his offbeat idea to turn Virginia into the “Energy Capital of the East Coast.”

He’s pushed offshore drilling in the wake of Deepwater Horizon, nuclear power after Fukushima and North Anna earthquakes and coal after the deadly Upper Big Branch disaster that has been blamed squarely on Massey Energy, a coal operator formerly headquartered in Richmond. He’s getting nowhere on any of these fronts.

If CNBC’s rating trend keeps up, it will only benefit former Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine who is running for U.S. Senate against George Allen, a perennial GOP favorite. Allen, who had also been a governor and a U.S. Senator before the “macaca” moment has spent some of his recent years as an energy lobbyist. Oh, forgive me, I meant “political consultant.” Sorry, George.

For ordinary Virginians such as me, the problems remain although I was very lucky yesterday. I needed to take someone to Baltimore Washington International Airport yesterday. It was an unusually quick trip. As we turned off the George Washington Memorial Parkway and headed east into Maryland, the Beltway traffic was backed up for five miles going into the Old Dominion. My prayers had been answered.

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  1. Getting rather deep here. Over-crowded roads. I spent part of yesterday morning with employers, landowners and developers from Tysons. What was the biggest topic of discussion? How can they pare transportation projects from Table 7 of the Tysons Comp Plan? Concomitant phasing of density? No way! Better flowing traffic is not a priority when the rubber meets the road. (Couldn’t resist.)

  2. DJRippert Avatar

    Let’s see ….

    We have a General Assembly that doesn’t believe in inflation. So, they cap the gas tax for 26 years and presume all will be well. Now, the chickens are coming home to roost on that bit of gross incompetence and culpable negligence. The CNBC story is dead on. I cannot get talented people to relocate to Northern Virginia. They only have one complaint – the traffic. So, I hire them and put them in our Cambridge, MA or San Francisco offices. Funny for the Republitards in Virginia – these two high tax locales seem to be attracting talented people by the drove.

    The second self-inflicted crisis is the inept approach to job creation in the state. Weak STEM programs in universities located near economic centers means no boost from higher ed to economic development. The State of Maryland spent the last 15 – 20 years bulking up their STEM programs – especially computer science – at UMD, College Park. A funny thing happened – UMD now has a far better CS program than any Virginia university.

    Blaming McDonnell is silly. The travesty of the Imperial Clown Show in Richmond has been ongoing for decades – perhaps centuries. The worst and most corrupt legislature in the United States has done a fine job of putting Virginia on a course for collapse.

    And the ever-so-clever political class in Richmond won’t fare well either. No federal crutch = state economic meltdown = fewer state taxes and employment = Richmond shrinkage as well.

    If you own real estate in Virginia – do yourself a favor – sell it.


    Peter makes a number of valid points in this post, but, as is his wont, he totally mischaracterizes my position. He implies that I am unaware that Virginia’s favorable economic performance and superior business climate stem largely from the high level of federal spending in the state. That, of course, is absurd. I have frequently inveighed against Virginia’s dependence upon federal spending and warned that our economy will suffer when federal spending is cut.

    Yes, it is true that I also advocate cutting federal spending. But I do so fully aware of the impact it will have on Virginia’s economy. The alternative is to *not* cut federal spending, wait for Boomergeddon, and have the whole system collapse. Only in Peter World, where Keynesian fairy dust cures all ills, will it be possible avoid the necessity of cutting federal spending. I say we need to take our lumps now rather than in the future, when the pain will be far worse to endure.

  4. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    When I say “The Big Blogger” why do you assume I referring to you?

  5. Traffic in Fairfax County will be getting worse, not better. And the decisions that will make it worse were made here by the Supervisors.
    Not only is Tysons Corner going to grow, but so will Reston and the rest of the Dulles Corridor because of added density triggered by Dulles Rail.
    Reston and points west are still being re-planned, so we don’t know what the results will be.
    But we know Tysons can be built to a level that is 30% higher than what Fairfax County DOT studied and submitted to VDOT in the December 2009 527 Traffic Impact Analysis. FC DOT is now restudying the impacts of the additional density.
    What about the previously studied density? It will require the expenditure of $2.1 billion by 2030 for road and non-rail transit improvements. That figure is in 2012 dollars and does not include inflation or bond interest costs. Once we build and operate everything on the 2030 list and development hits 84 MSF, any more growth must be served by transit. Every new vehicle trip to Tysons must be canceled by a transit or pedestrian trip. FC DOT estimates the additional transit costs from 2030 to 2051 to be $939 million, but excluding inflation, bond interest and the construction of two more Metrorail lines (specifics not yet known). So that’s roughly $3.04 billion between today and 2051.
    If we add inflation, the $3.04 billion swells to $5.046 billion, but still does not include interest on bonds or the two new Metrorail lines. Moreover, Fairfax County has not added the additional road and transit projects needed in and around Tysons to handle the additional 30% increase in possible density approved by the BoS on June 22, 2010. Ditto for new density added from Reston to the County Line.
    Fairfax County does not have a plan to fund these transportation improvements. The Tysons landowners are balking at paying $506 million, plus road club and proffer amounts. They are not stupid people. So how much more in taxes should Fairfax County residents and businesses pay towards the huge transportation costs triggered by the arrival of Dulles Rail? How much are they willing to pay? What do they get for their added tax burden? Our elected officials lied about Dulles Rail and are still lying. They led people to believe rail would help ease the traffic burden. Now they will be asked to pay more because rail triggers development that triggers much more traffic. I’m not sure that sells.
    Then let’s take this to Richmond. How does one argue that gas tax or sales tax needs to be raised to help pay for the needed roads and transit in Fairfax County caused by the building of mass transit?
    Fairfax County’s traffic problem has been caused over many years when the Supervisors approved more growth than the transportation network can handle.

  6. Additionally, there would be strong opposition to many road projects. Put aside the Smart Growth people who tend to believe no roads should be built. Many ordinary people don’t want more or wider roads in and around their communities. For example, the Dulles Toll Road needs widening because of Tyson and general growth. Fairfax County has predicted as many as three-to-five lanes would need to be added, at least to Reston Parkway and, probably, further west. Also, two-to-three ramps to and from the DTR need to be added.
    Let’s think about the impact of additional lanes on the DTR. VDOT doesn’t have sufficient RoW to build the lanes. It will need to purchase or condemn land – generally only strip takings, but some entire lots. Noise levels will be raised. Neighbors don’t like today’s noise levels. The construction would invade six or seven resource protection areas, all of which eventually empty into the Chesapeake Bay. The project would need a transfer of land frm the National Park Service – from Wolftrap to pavement. Also, the project would require WMATA to tear down and rebuild much of the support facilities being built today along the sides of the DTR.
    And then, the ramps will need to be highly elevated, much like the Springfield Interchange or the Whitehurst Freeway. What type of rebellion will these improvements trigger?
    So why did the Fairfax County BoS approve all of the density in view of these realities? It’s not the General Assembly’s fault.

  7. DJRippert Avatar


    You can rant and ramble all you want. The gas tac has been capped in cents per gallon for 26 years. That simply means that our General Assembly either doesn’t understand inflation or doesn’t believe it exists. Either way, they are hapless.

    Virginia’s gas tax has been frozen longer tan any other state other than oil-drenched Alaska. Again, that’s a fact, not a statement of opinion.

    Conservative North Carolina taxes gas at twice the rate of Virginia. Hence, they can grow in Charlotte and RTP without a transportation meltdown. Again, a fact, not opinion

    You arguments about the Fairfax County BoS would make more sense if Tidewater weren’t also drowning in traffic. Or, Loudoun. Or, Prince William. I guess this is a conspiracy of the localities against the state.

    TMT, your arguments are those of the NIMBY. You want the population to magically freeze and economic growth to stop. As to where America’s growing population should live or where they should work – I guess it’s just their tough luck to have been born after the Baby Boomers drained the national coffers and destroyed the state infrastructure. Let ’em eat cake, huh – TMT?

  8. DJRippert Avatar

    As for your “strong opposition” and “Smart Growth” arguments – how well did they work for the Charlottesville Bypass? For the Rail to Dulles, Phase 2?

    TMT, you and your “no growth” friends are increasingly alone. Not even Bob McDonnell is listening anymore.

  9. larryg Avatar

    Charlotte is HOT LANEs bound DJ. NCDOT is broke and is looking at tolls in most major urban areas.

    NCDOT is broke because like Va – they take care of all roads and every tom, dick and harry town, city and county in North Caroline has build a bypass, connector or “loop” over the years and as a result NCDOT is just as broke as VDOT – they do have more bypasses to show for their efforts but their urban areas like Charlotte and Raleigh are congested and NCDOT is looking at tolls.

    It’s the WAY that road funding works in Va that has frozen the gas tax. People know that the gas tax goes into a slush fund that becomes the apple of the eye of developers who get themselves appointed to the CTB.

    Now.. here lately.. it looks to me that TMT is opposed to growth and to new roads so if he represents the average Fairfax guy – do we presume that most in Fairfax are also opposed to more density and more roads much less cough up taxes to pay for them?

    If that is the case, then blaming Richmond seems to be the mother of all excuses… Fairfax is on the dime for growth and roads. They can blame Richmond but at the end of the day if Fairfax citizens are opposed then blaming Richmond is silly.

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      First, I’d like you to cite some corroborating evidence of NCDOT being broke. It may be broke but that’s the kind of statement people sometimes make when they just don’t like an entity.

      Second, if NCDOT is broke at twice the gas the gas tax of Virginia – what does that say about Virginia? VADOT is brilliantly managed? Spare me. VADOT just doesn’t care about the condition of the roads in much of the state? Maybe.

    2. DJRippert Avatar

      “Fairfax is on the dime for growth and roads.”.

      On the dime? What does that mean?

      You and TMT suffer from the same delusion. You somehow believe that Virginia’s traffic chaos is confined to Fairfax County. It isn’t. It’s not even confined to NoVa. Tidewater is in traffic chaos. Even fun little Charlottesville can be pretty chaotic.

      So, LarryG – what do all these localities have in common? Oh, right – they are all located in a state where the legislature is too stupid to believe in inflation.

  10. larryg Avatar

    Here’s the actual 2009 vs 2010 ratings:

    much bigger swings in “economy”, “education” and inexplicably to me, “access to capital”.

    Category Score 2010 Rank 2009 Rank
    Cost of Doing Business 237 26 26
    Workforce 234 9 8
    Quality of Life 195 18 18
    Economy 164 11 7
    Transportation & Infrastructure 134 12 10
    Technology & Innovation 192 10 12
    Education 105 13 7
    Business Friendliness 161 2 2
    Access to Capital 42 9 18
    Cost of Living 13 27 27
    OVERALL 1477 2 1

    there seems to be a lot more involved in the rating than just infrastructure.

    how about some deeper wonkology on this?

  11. larryg Avatar

    formatting is a wretched affair …. I wish there was a better way to capture info – both data and formatting to cut/paste here.

    but go to the link – and infrastructure is not the whole story and the other criteria are, in my view, worth taking a closer look at.

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      Why are you referencing the 2010 survey? Isn’t the point the 2011 survey?

  12. larryg Avatar

    re: wrong survey! oops… did not see a link in the blog… so I went looking and apparently did not get the latest.

    re: NCDOT “broke”.

    the fact that they are seeking toll roads for the urbanized areas tells you how much money they DON’T have for urban roads – just like VDOT and NoVa which you blame on the Clown show. Fair is fair, does NC also have a “clown show”?

    re: survey – how many people in Va support an increase in the gas tax?
    is that a “clown show” problem or do they actually truly represent the sentiment of most Virginians?

    nothing keeps Fairfax from increasing property and other taxes to build roads they say they need if the rest of Va does not want to increase taxes for roads they don’t want. Why do you persist in making NoVas’ problems the rest of the State’s problems? What happened to personal and regional responsibility?

    North Carolina and Virginia are very similar when it comes to how transportation is done. Both states do what 46 other states do not do and that is they “try” to take care of all roads no matter how irresponsible a locality is in approving development that requires additional infrastructure.

    NCDOT has a higher tax, yes, but they have the same problem – developers and developer-friendly localities suck it up until there is whatever is in the fund – is exhausted. That’s why BOTH states are now getting into toll roads.

  13. larryg Avatar

    hmmm… the 2011 report I am looking at rates Virginia #1:

    Perhaps the more important point here is that DJ’s beloved Maryland and NC are 29th and 3rd respectively yet he knows no limits in his diatribes against the “clown show”.

    How can Richmond be the “clown show” and number 29 Maryland be better?

    what about that DJ? why is Maryland better than Va if it ranks 20 positions lower on the best business state?

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