What a Bunch of Whiners!

Give Northern Virginia an extra $500 million a year to spend on transportation, and the first dime isn’t spent before people start carping that it’s not enough. “The plan as passed puts only $200 million into Northern Virginia roads,” Del. Vivian Watts, D-Annandale, told the Times-Community newspapers. “I’m certainly not going to sneeze at it. But a billion dollars over a 20-year period [from the state] is not sustained enough.” (I’m not sure if those numbers all add up; I’m just quoting what I read. The sentiment is clear enough.)

Northern Virginians are supposed to be so bloody smart. They’ve got the highest education levels of anywhere in the country. They deploy the world’s most advanced technology. They do business at Internet speed. But when it comes to transportation policy, they’re stuck in a 19th century mindset. Tax, spend, build. Tax, spend, build. And instead of thinking creatively, they mope excessively about how unfairly they’re treated.

Get over it! Apply some of that brainpower to public policy!

There are well-understood mechanisms for raising capital to underwrite transportation projects. These mechanisms engage market forces, hew to the bedrock principle of user/beneficiary pays, and avoid the shortfalls of funneling money through Richmond, where the politicians and bureaucrats take their vigorish before recycling it back to Northern Virginia. I’ve written extensively about these ideas, so I will note them only briefly:

  • Community Development Authorities. CDAs can finance improvements like Metro rail stations, bus lanes, interchanges, road widenings — any transportation infrastructure you can think of. Property owners pay off the bonds through the increased value of their real estate holdings that the transportation improvements make possible. If needed, local governments can give property owners an extra density allowance, which increases property values even more, as an added inducement.
  • Congestion tolls. Charge motorists tolls for entering congested corridors or zones at rates that vary by the time of day. Tolls do three things: (1) They reduce traffic to optimal levels, thus increasing effective capacity; (2) they encourage motorists to change their behavior, modifying word schedules, telecommuting, carpooling, riding vans, riding buses, whatever; and (3) they provide revenue that can be used to increase the capacity of the affected corridor/zone.

That’s not the end of the story, of course. Raising the money for transportation improvements is only a part of the solution. Other vital pieces are to plan balanced communities, and to adopt more transportation-efficient land use patterns.

Northern Virginians aren’t just the best educated people in Virginia, they’re the richest. They can invent new technologies and business models out the wazoo, but they don’t want to change the way they get around. In the public realm, they’re addicted to Business As Usual. But I’m not buying it. They’ve got all the tools they need. It’s time to start using them.

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15 responses to “What a Bunch of Whiners!”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    Can we really expect that much when you are paying these people around 18k a year

    There is propably 25% of me that wants to run for something someday but 18k a year is a joke. (I know most of the people have other jobs but still)

    Maybe if the pay went up you would get better candidates


  2. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    IMO, this is all politics. Before any deal was reached between Kaine and the GOP delegates, the local Democrats were beating the drum to protect the General Fund. As I recall, that was Kaine’s song as well.

    But then when the Governor agreed to tap the General Fund for even more money for transportation, albeit with a funding source — auto insurance premium taxes, the NoVA Democrats had the rug pulled out from them. This horrible solution was no longer horrible to Democratic Governor Tim Kaine.

    Now they are struggling to redeem themselves. The latest silliness I’ve been hearing is: If the GOP had been willing to give in and raise taxes, Tim Kaine would not have been required to compromise.
    Duh! Isn’t reasonable compromise between Republicans and Democrats supposedly what the bulk of Virginians, especially us smart folks here in NoVA, want?

    My question for Vivian Watts is: if transportation needs are so great in Fairfax County, why is Gerry Connolly’s target cash proffer for roads exactly “ZERO”? With a few exceptions, the Democrats’ solution to each and every problem is raise a tax.

    There are problems with the bill as passed and signed, but I suspect that 10 years from now, Kaine and the GOP will generally be regarded as having acted reasonably under the circumstances.

  3. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    The challenge is to “think” and “plan” and “execute” ….


    To date… NoVa has basically done what most other places including TW/HR – and that is depend on VDOT to “do” roads….. abeit… separately from land-use planning to boot.

    Now .. the ball IS thorougly in NoVa’s court –

    No.. you don’t have all the money you want. Who does?

    Have you heard of the “P” word – with respect to budgetting?

    It’s called PRIORITIZATION…

    This is not a political issue.

    This is about whether NoVa people want to have their taxes – go directly to Regional Transportation Planning… and ultimately design and construction.

    It’s a huge challenge.. for sure.

    .. look at how TW/HR are dealing with this… some of those localities have stated outright – they don’t like the idea of taking responsibility for Regional Planning… they preferred it when the rest of the State’s taxpayers kicked in the funding and VDOT did the roads…

    The folks in NoVa can see this as an opportunity .. to take more control of their own destiny … AND to hold their elected folks responsible for coordinated Regional land-use/transportation planning… or .. they can stand aside and just let the development community implement THEIR vision.

    I know.. I am sooooo nasty for saying these things… 🙂

    seriously.. NoVa can drive this car… or they can let it run off them….

  4. Anonymous Avatar

    “Can we really expect that much when you are paying these people around 18k a year”

    This my friend is how the political class keeps the average citizen out of office…..anyone that has to work and pay a mortgage and support a family is all but eliminated from seeking public office…..it’s not worth it to 95% of the population.

    That being the case, you must, as a prerequisite, be independently wealthy and be able to take off 90 days a year to go to richmond…more time is required during an election year……and then, if you really crunched the numbers, it’s still probably not “worth” it.

  5. Anonymous Avatar

    Whine, whine, whine … Bacon’s
    spin has no sizzle … the great
    2007 transportation deal you love
    gives the truckers up and down the
    East Coast a free ride off of the
    backs of your neighbors – stuck with this tax increase package, while out of state users of our
    roads do not contribute more … gee whiz … now that is something
    to whine about!!!!!!!

  6. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Anonymous 6:51, Criticize me all you want — but do get your facts straight. I was a non-stop critic of the funding portion of the 2007 transportation deal. You’re absolutely right. Out-of-staters driving through Virginia do get a free ride. They pay no gas tax, no tolls, no congestion fees, nothing.

  7. Anonymous Avatar

    Ignored here, is the fact that this “regional taxing authority” is so unconstitutional, that it will never in fact happen. Pat McSweeny has made a legal case under Virginia code as well as under the Virginia Constitution for its illegality. (remember the Constitution guys?) This is not about “regional thinking” its about uncontrolled borrowing, uncontrolled taxing power and politicians that think they won’t have to pay the price for their treachory at the polls. If you want “regional think” just call up Lord Darth Collins at the HRPDC, who was the evil master mind behind most of this illegal garbage.

    The fact is, the roads will never be built. Here’s what HB3202 authorizes the money to be spent on, and roads is way, way, way down the list:
    1. To construct, maintain, and operate such facilities and equipment as may be necessary or desirable to provide additional, more complete, or more timely governmental services within a service district, including but not limited to water supply, sewerage, garbage removal and disposal, heat, light, fire-fighting equipment and power and gas systems and sidewalks; economic development services; promotion of business and retail development services; beautification and landscaping; beach and shoreline management and restoration; control of infestations of insects that may carry a disease that is dangerous to humans, gypsy moths, cankerworms or other pests identified by the Commissioner of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in accordance with the Virginia Pest Law (§ 3.1-188.20 et seq.); public parking; extra security, street cleaning, snow removal and refuse collection services; sponsorship and promotion of recreational and cultural activities; upon petition of over 50 percent of the property owners who own not less than 50 percent of the property to be served, construction, maintenance, and general upkeep of streets and roads that are not under the operation and jurisdiction of the Virginia Department of Transportation; construction, maintenance, and general upkeep of streets and roads through creation of urban transportation service districts pursuant to § 15.2-2403.1; and other services, events, or activities that will enhance the public use and enjoyment of and the public safety, public convenience, and public well-being within a service district. Such services, events, or activities shall not be undertaken for the sole or dominant benefit of any particular individual, business or other private entity.

    Unelected, unaccountable, bureaucrats raising taxes and spending it on everything but what is needed! JUST LIKE VDOT!

  8. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    anon 6:51 seems to have a familiar style… that’s been seen before…hmmm..

    no matter.

    here’s the deal:

    1. – this is essentially NO money to expand the interstates in Va despite the fact that VDOT has chosen to expend taxpayer monies to “study” I-81, I-95 and I-64 (disquised as dual-corridor US 460).

    2. – there IS a way to pay for the expansions/upgrades.

    That solution also presents the perfect opportunity to address truck traffic and out of state drivers in general.

    It’s called electronic tolling.

    Virginia is so far behind the times, it’s embarassing – as most 18-wheelers ALREADY have EZ-pass transponders on-board – as well as almost anyone who lives NORTH of Virginia in states where electronic tolling has been in place – for years.

    The thing that we Virginians seems to be best at – superior to all othes – is whining and nattering – and failing to agree even among ourselves as a a course of action to address congestion and a lack of adequate funding for transportation.

    Folks – we have the 3rd largest highway system in the 50 states. It’s time for us to join the 21st century.

  9. Anonymous Avatar

    It looks like the HR authority might get killed

    NoVa is really excited to get more money that stays in the region

    Watts main issue is we need more. Jim is rightly frustrated because there are plenty of ways to get more money. Watts is just focused on taxes.

    I am really excited about the HOT lanes coming along I-95 and 495. I really think they will work and based on their success maybe some lanes can be added to I-66. of course then there is the whole Arlington issue.


  10. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: “Ignored here, is the fact that this “regional taxing authority” is so unconstitutional,”

    and WHO are the elected officials that spend your local gas tax money for roads right now?

    They are .. unelected VDOT officials – who make the decisions about what to spend local gas taxes on – right now.

    Virginia already allows the formation of Regional Authorities including Transportation Districts – which grant those jurisdictions that agree to operate Regionally – the ability to put a 2% tax on fuel.

    The primary difference with the new authorities is the forced participation – which I agree – may not pass legal muster but the fall back position.. is to still allow the taxing authority on a regional basis on a voluntary basis membership basis – just as localities do now with other kinds of regional authorities.

    I am thoroughly as concerned about unelected decision-making as those who question the concept of regional authorities but the folks who currently trumphet this as a serious flaw – apparently have absolutely no problem with unelected officials in Richmond
    deciding when and where to spend their locally-generated gas tax money.

    In fact, it appears to me.. that some of these folks actually support the idea because they think VDOT will FAVOR their locality in the allocation process.

    Let me explain.

    When VDOT tells one locality that they cannot build their priority roads for years … while it tells another locality that it will – WHERE do you think the funding comes from for the locality that DID get their roads built?

    What the locality who did not get it’s roads built got – was an IOU.

    And what happended .. with those IOUs? We all know.. VDOT.. promised far more IOUs than there was money.. and so many localities never got the gas tax money back that they had contributed… because it went to other localities.

    So my question is – if one is going to stand on the “unelected” issue – why not have some purity in your position?

    If one opposes the concept for Regional Authorities why not oppose it at the VDOT level also?

    It appears to me – that those opposed to Regional Authorities are not really opposed to them on the basis of unelected decisionmaking.

  11. Anonymous Avatar

    Jim Bacon –

    I seem to recall you fell all over
    yourself to sing the praises of
    the House GOP’s role in fashioning
    the 2007 transportation package that:

    -puts additional taxes on our own
    people while not placing a greater
    burden on out of state users of our

    -increaes the cost of housing with
    more fees, expeneses making it more
    difficult for our residents to find
    affordable housing

    -fails to recognize that job growth
    and the need for more workers is the
    force driving population
    growth and we need to find a balance in our
    system to provide funds for our
    needed services while not harming
    our economy

    We can kill the proposed authorities,
    attack those trying
    to provided much needed housing
    and ramble on about the politics
    of these issues … but our issues
    are the same … and the 2007 package
    failed to unite us behind
    a plan to solve the state’s problems
    and to provide the revenue and programs
    we need for a
    good transportation system ….

  12. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    so… if the current plan is wrong AND the regional authority approach is wrong…

    then..how would you pay and I pay and how should NoVa and HR/TW and the Fredericksburg Area pay?

    A penny of the gas tax brings in 80 million dollars.

    80 million dollars will not buy even one mile of urban interstate.

    80 million dollars is about 1/10th of what the Springfield Interchange cost.

    The NoVa folks say they need 700 million a YEAR.

    We would have to raise the gas tax in Va almost 10 cents a gallon JUST to pay for NoVa roads.

    We’d have to raise the gas tax statewide in Va more than 5 cents just to pay for HR/TW “needs”.

    So.. we’d have to raise the gas tax – across Va .. 15 cents JUST to pay for NoVa and HR/TW roads without even one cent being available to places like Fredericksburg, Richmond, Harrisonburg, Roanoke, etc.

    I can understand not liking the 2007 “compromise” and/or the proposed Regional Authorities. There’s a lot not to like in many respects…but until I see a better alternative from the whiners and nay sayers… I’ll consider their views as counter productive to dealing with realities.

    Either lead, follow or get out of the way.

  13. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    I think a gas tax more on the order of 50 cents would be about right. It would be high enough to encourage other behaviors, reducing the need for road improvements, and it would raise enough money to get at least a few of the highest priority items done.

    Gas would still be a lot cheaper than it is in Europe, where the additional money is used to fund transit that actully works.

    When Larry says a gas tax won’t work, it is because he is thinking far too small. While you are at it, make it an energy tax and be done with it: kill a bunch of birds with one comprehensive stone instead of attacking the problem scattershot with a toll road here and a tollroad there.

    Since the vast amojority of people and drivers are in the urban regions, they would pay most of their own bill. The remaining amounts raised in the rest of the state could benefit the rest of the state.

    I don’t see the problem, except for the money being funneled through Richmond. Anybody know how the toll road moneys will be allocated?

  14. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    “we need to find a balance in our
    tax system to provide funds for our
    needed services while not harming
    our economy”

    Yep, and today the index of leading economic indicators was down for the third month in a row, led by housing. The Fed now says the housin slump may take the sizzle out of the economy in the coming months.

    And all this is happening in the face of a crying need for more affordable and accessible housing.

    It won’t be long before the Fed trys to light a fire under the economy by heating up their usual whipping boy: construction. It will be interesting to watch what happens when the Feds finally figure out their efforts are being thwarted by local NIMBYism.

  15. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Ray may be right:


    “Gas prices, demographic shifts cut miles driven by Americans”

    The average American motorist is driving substantially fewer miles for
    the first time in 26 years because of high gas prices and demographic
    shifts, according to a USA TODAY analysis of federal highway data.


    but a question… if people drive LESS … won’t they be paying LESS gas tax also?

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