Will Anything Better Emerge? You Bet!

A week ago John J. McGlennon, chairman of the James City County Board, summed up the attitude that many Hampton Roads residents take toward the proposed plan to create a regional transportation authority and empower it to raise roughly $170 million a year in new levies: “Everyone understands that this is pretty terrible legislation,” he told the Virginian-Pilot. “The real question is whether anything better will emerge if we reject it.”

Jim Bowden and other bloggers have attacked the regional transportation authority for its lack of transparency and accountability to taxpayers. I share those concerns. But my problems with the transportation authority run even deeper: By raising revenues through a variety of sources, most of which have nothing to do with when or how far people drive, the funding mechanisms would sever the connection between those who pay for Hampton Roads transportation projects and those who use/benefit from them. Furthermore, there is nothing in the plan that acknowledges the connection between transportation and land use. It’s the same old tax-and-build policy that has gotten the region into its current predicament.

There is no escaping the necessity of raising money from some source in order to build infrastructure for a growing population. There is no free lunch. But it matters very much how the money is raised and what it pays for. To answer McGlennon’s question, almost anything that emerges from a rejection of the transportation authority would be better than the plan now under consideration.

Conceptually, the solution is simple: Devise a system where road users and beneficiaries (property owners whose land is made more valuable by transportation improvements) pay for the improvements. The more direct and transparent the connection between using the roads and paying for them, the better.

Where would the money come from?

  1. Congestion tolls — user pays. Create transportation corridor authorities empowered to implement time-of-day pricing on the most congested bridges and thoroughfares. Tolls that vary according to the level of congestion would: (1) reduce reduce traffic to the level of optimal throughput, thus maximizing capacity; (2) allow the authorities to fund transportation improvements within the corridor such as adding extra lanes, setting up Bus Rapid Transit bus stations, synchronizing stop lights, or making micro-improvements to improve traffic flow; and (3) incentivize drivers to seek alternatives to the one-car-one-rider commute.
  2. Community Development Authorities — property owners pay. Encourage builders of large projects, such as Pat Robertson’s proposed 500-acre Blenheim development, to pay for Interstate interchanges and secondary road upgrades by creating CDAs and issuing bonds.
  3. Hampton Roads Foundation — community pays. Privatize the Ports of Virginia, an idea that has been raised recently, and use the proceeds, conceivably as much as $5 billion, to endow a regional foundation. The foundation could underwrite projects, such as the Third Crossing, an upgraded U.S. 460, or improved rail freight to the ports, that could not support themselves through a user-pays system but might have overriding public benefits such as economic development or hurricane evacuation.

Charging people the full cost of their transportation choices will have beneficial long-term effects. Hampton Roads would see more entrepreneurial approaches to shared ridership systems. Developers would devise communities with a better match between jobs, housing and amenities. Local governments would encourage more transportation-efficient patterns of development. The region would match its commitment to increasing transportation capacity with a commitment to reduce transportation demand.

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7 responses to “Will Anything Better Emerge? You Bet!”

  1. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    JB: Then there is the fundamental problem the Transportation Plan does NOT reduce congestion. Hello… It does NOT solve the issue – therefor good governance is to not do something that makes the situation WORSE. Richmond, we have a problem….

  2. Reid Greenmun Avatar
    Reid Greenmun

    I have a better plan than HB 3202. Her is the one-page overview of my 12-page plan.

    Improving and Paying for
    Transportation Infrastructure and
    Traffic Congestion Relief in Tidewater

    A Better Plan

    Basic Proposal:

    For major highway improvements combine congestion pricing tolls with TIF (Tax Incremental Finance Districts) managed by individual authorities. No new regional authority required. Use the existing HRPDC/MPO as a place for regional governments to meet and discuss regional priority setting. Require each local government to take regional matters back to their respective local governing body (BOS or City Council) and require a majority vote of the local governing body to be recorded. The results of the local government vote will result in a single directed vote at the HRPDC/MPO’s next meeting. All votes are weighted based on the population of the local governing bodies. Projects over $100M in total construction and land acquisition cost require a regional referendum for approval.

    • Use of State Gas Tax increase, TIF Districts and Tolls to pay for new projects/lane miles

    • Stand up multiple individual commissions to oversee the construction of each new major infrastructure improvement:

    o The 3Rd Crossing Commission (includes the MMMBT)

    o The RT 460 to Southeastern Parkway Commission (includes more lanes at the high rise bridge)

    o The RT 64 Richmond to Norfolk Commission (includes more lanes at HRBT)

    o Leave Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel Commission as is

    o Tidewater Passenger and Freight Rail Commission (includes Light Rail)

    o Norfolk and Portsmouth Tunnel Commission (Midtown Tunnel, Downtown Tunnel, Pinners Point, MLK Extension, and any new tunnels connecting the two cities)

    • No new regional authority – local governments BOS or City Council required to vote on all regional matters. Citizens granted statutory rights to speak on regional matters.

    • Projects over $100M cost require a regional referendum for approval.

    Major Source of Traffic Congestion in Tidewater

    • Accidents not being removed from the flow of traffic fast enough

    • Construction reducing available lanes impeding t traffic flow

    • Over development without including adequate road expansion and mobility (APF)

    • Major employers establishing the same hours of operation for majority of workforce

    • Tourism in warmer weather

    • Coming soon, too many trucks for current capacity due to port expansion

    Unaddressed by HB 3202

    • Increased cost of bond debt due to lack of state or local obligation to pay

    • A regional, comprehensive strategy for identifying, funding, and coordinated oversight and accountability of interior roadways and traffic congestion bottlenecks within our cities and towns – a strategy for funding required needs based on reducing congestion, not speculative “economic development” projects

    • A open and transparent process of prioritizing transportation improvements and setting firm dates for their completion

    • Making better use of ITS and ATMS coordinated through our Smart Traffic Center (STC)

    o A missed opportunity for mitigating traffic congestion and reaping a ROI in the STC. Use STC to deploy new rapid accident removal teams (state police/FIRT)

    The details of hoe to mitigate and reduce traffic congestion are explained in the longer document.

    This plan may not be the “be all, end all”, but it is far superior to HB 3202.

    One concept I am considering is what would be the impact of adding a $2.00 per container surcharge to all containers moving in and out of the port terminals of Hampton Roads?

    Why not? The traffic congestion created by those containers is a major reason the new highway capacity is needed.

    Secondly, these transportation projects involve BILLIONS in “tax free” bonds.

    A lot of folks are going to get very wealthy from the sale of those bonds.

    Why aren’t they being taxed on their windfall?

    Why not a surcharge on the bonds being floated?

    Nothing too radical, perhaps a 1% charge to the lending institutions profiting from the sale of the bonds???

    Why aren’t they paying something into the pot?

    They are raking in a few Billion in profits off of these bonds.

    Follow the money . . .

  3. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Reid has thought a LOT about how to devlop an alternative plan and Mr. Bowden is just flat wrong in my view.

    No prospective Regional Transportation Plan – VDOT or Regional or otherwise will “fix” congestion in TW/HR or any other Region for that matter but it’s pretty clear if you do nothing, it will get much worse.

    I’ve not seen plan in the entire USA for that matter that promises to “fix” congestion …

    The option of Congestion pricing will certainly affect congestion levels – most imortantly rush hour congestion levels AND at the same time generate funds for new projects – and might just generate enough money so that other taxes/fees are not as necessary as originally thought.

    I’ve never seen a study that projects how much money congestion pricing would generate in TW/HR but it certainly would be something all the jurisdictions could agree to regionally cooperate on – even without an authority.

    But I’d also point out that the option Reid is suggesting – has been on the table all along and, in fact, could have been worked out prior to this years GA, or during this years GA negotiations or even right now ….

    the opposing jurisdictions can .. right now put something like this on the table as an alternative…

    so what does that say about regional planning and cooperation to start with? It tells me that the region – as a whole – does not agree… governance gridlock.

    The TIFF idea is interesting – because unless I misunderstand – it would require some level of regional land-use planning… as not every jurisdiction is going to have the same proportional geographic opportunities to do this – and even if they did – would you want them doing this kind of thing in competition with each other rather than coordinating with each other?

    Reid’s suggestion could be implemented in NoVa or any other region in the State …that wanted to do it.. right?

    But I ask the same question I did before.

    What if NoVa approves and HR/TW turns it down?

    Some folks say that if either locality approves it – that it will then be legally challenged so this could be a long, long road.

  4. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross


    “Hysterical claims against road plan”


    The Pilot Online.. editorializes on most of the points covered in this blog…

    For those who remain opposed – are there media in the HR/TW Region that have or are editorializing against?

  5. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Here’s the deal.

    HR/TW turns down the Transportation Authority…

    Next year, Chevrolet starts selling it’s plug-in electric Volt followed in quick succession by Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, et all with their own versions.

    All the folks in HR/TW buy plug-in electrics and stop buying gasoline…

    Ditto in NoVa …. even though they voted FOR the Authority..

    but since the two regions generate the lions share of gasoline tax revenues.. the entire concept of gasoline tax-financed highway infrastructure goes belly up statewide as more and more folks just say “no” to gasoline…

    oh.. except for those fellas who live in Farmville… still driving those beaters that run on gasoline down that way…

    In the meantime – the entire Eastern Shore is converted to solar/wind to feed the plug-in elecrics in TW/HR…

    Both the feared Transportation Authority as well as HR/TW roads and tunnels are …. road kill.

    remember..you read it here .. first.

  6. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    Larry Gross: You haven’t read any of the analysis on Tidewater roads. I have – straight from Sen. Marty Williams’ office. The ‘plan’ increases congestion.

    No what part of that do you think is flat wrong – having never read the analysis?

  7. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    JaB – are you telling me that if you charge $20 per tunnel crossing that congestion will INCREASE?

    How about $25 per tunnel crossing?

    in most places where congestion pricing is implemented… congestion IS affected and does not generall increase.

    Let’s be clear.. I’m not advocating raising fees so high that it causes economic harm.

    On the other hand.. if you charge drivers for driving at peak hour – they will utilize individual strategies that will – at the end of the day mean less congestion.

    At the same time.. money spent on increasing capacity.. will also reduce congestion as long as the new capacity is not free but also congestion priced.

    or .. are we saying that no matter what is done – that congestion in TW/HR cannot be affected?

    I’d posit that I’d have to see congestion pricing tried first – and fail – before I believe it won’t be effective.

    It’s been effective in other areas and to date.. I don’t know of any place that has implemented congestion pricing – that “failed”.

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