Will Six Nix the H.R. Transportation Fix?

Once seen as a sure thing, approval of a regional transportation authority for Hampton Roads is now uncertain. Seven of the region’s 12 localities representing more than half the population must vote to create the authority, which would be empowered to impose roughly $170 million a year in new levies. Rejection by six localities could scuttle the entire enterprise.

Earlier this week, the tiny city of Poquoson voted no. Mayor Gordon Helsel called the proposal “sheer arrogance” by members of the General Assembly, noting that Hampton Roads voters had decisively defeated a similar plan five years ago. (Read the account in the Daily Press.)

Poquoson’s action follows a similar “no” vote by York County. According to the editorial pundits at the Daily Press, no one should be surprised if the City of Hampton votes “no” next month. Meanwhile, Isle of Wight and James City counties have delayed their votes, reflecting reservations on the part of local officials. Likewise, according to accounts in the Virginian-Pilot, local leaders in the City of Chesapeake have major concerns. I haven’t seen anything reflecting the temperament in Suffolk, but the fact that it has taken no action yet hints at a lack of enthusiasm. If all six localities rebuff the regional authority, the idea dies.

(The five cities that have voted to create the authority include Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Newport News and Williamsburg.)

I took it for granted that the measure would win approval, so I haven’t followed developments as closely as I should have. Bacon’s Rebellion columnist Jim Bowden, by contrast, has been riding the issue hard. His latest column, “Speak to the Camera,” raises issues for which the Axis of Taxes has no good answers.

Now that it’s clear that the approval of the H.R. transportation authority is, in fact, in play, I will start paying closer attention to developments.

Update: The fate of the transportation authority hinges upon the votes of a handful of undecided local elected officials, reports Tom Holden with the Virginian-Pilot. There is a widespread sentiment that the enabling legislation is bad. If people had a clear idea what might replace it, they might reject it more decisively.

Said John J. McGlennon, chairman of the James City County Board: “Everyone understands that this is pretty terrible legislation. The real question is whether anything better will emerge if we reject it.”

Share this article


(comments below)


(comments below)


17 responses to “Will Six Nix the H.R. Transportation Fix?”

  1. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I think the context is interesting and contrasting…. and many localities in Va will be paying attention.

    It is clear – that VDOT is going to “devolve”. Sources have told me that VDOT is holding meetings with counties and MPOs to lay out planning for “Regional Governance”.

    VDOT wants to focus primarily on the Interstates and the JLARC-monikered “Roads of Statewide Interest” – Primary roads and other roads that “connect” regions.

    I know of at least one other MPO that is actively considering forming a GA-enabled Authority similiar to what NoVa and TW/HR have been offered.

    I would not be suprised at all to see… other urban areas such as Roanoke, Charlottesville, Harrisonburg, Lynchburg, etc also want to have the same ability to plan Regionally.

    So.. if TW/HR decides to “opt out” of it… at the same time that other Va localities try to “opt in”… it will be an interesting dynamic.

    I see the question as – “do you want the opportunity to have better self-destiny with regard to regional transporation planning”?

    Not perfect by any means but isn’t it an improvement over having VDOT Richmond dictate priorities and funding?

  2. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    Jim: I almost posted on this today, but didn’t want to engage in ad hominem attacks on the Daily Press. I just couldn’t figure out how to write about their editorial without using the word ‘Stalinist’.

    I still think the fix is in with Tommy Norment leaning on Republicans in James City County and the abundance of Dems in Isle of Wight County.

    What the GA giveth, the GA can taketh away. So, if Tricia Stall is nominated on 12 June (full disclosure: I support her) and wins in November there will be someone with a positive bill to fund the 460 corridor and connection the Port of Virginia – and repeal the Regional Government. That is, of course, if a lawsuit doesn’t kill the monster of HB 3202 in the courts.

    Larry Gross: I’ve tried to explain this, but I’m an absolute failure at communicating the essentials to you. Consider Tidewater only…

    1. The Plan doesn’t work. Hello…. it ADDS congestion after 20 years of construction congestion delays, accidents and deaths. It does NOT solve the problem. Does anyone not grasp this simple fact? The elected politicians are going to raise taxes and spend billions for no return on the money – it won’t work as designed.

    The DP said “But something beats nothing. The best interests – economic and cultural – of Hampton Roads are served by approval of the authority.” What utter rot.

    Something does beat nothing. But, nothing beats something bad or wrong. Nothing for now – is far superior to something terribly bad.

    2. Regional Government is wrong. When the voters vote in 98 and 02 NO to Regional Government what part of NO is not understood? Are The People sovereign – as our Virginia Constitution says or not? You don’t have to have a new layer of government to build the roads and improvements (not pouring concrete) to decrease congestion.

    The Founders said in the Federalist Papers that if any two of the three main functions of government (legislate, administer, adjudicate) are in one person or group that defines tyranny. All three – with no appealing authority – are put in the Regional Government – which has eminent domain authority and billions to spend.

    I asked in my op ed this week some specific questions – because this Regional Government is how we do corruption in Virginia. Unlike our neighbors in MD and WVA who pass bags of money and go to jail. We have politicians give huge amounts of money to the ‘right’ people who give business to the ‘right’ people who give contributions to the ‘right’ people etc. It is very gentlemanly and polite. Why is the first legal services contract going to Kaufmann and Canoles (with partners Sen. Stolle and Norment) for $50k?

    The Regional Government can hire anyone at any wage, buy any service, products, etc at any price and let any consulting contract for any fee – with NO reviewing authority or appeal. Is a light coming on somewhere? The voters hereabouts get it. The Regional Government will have $200m in fun money in Year One.

    The Regional Government is Unelected. The elected officials are appointed to the Government. No one faces with voters with Grand Poobah for Transportation and Corruption on a ballot. No taxation without representation.

    A Regional Government – unelected and unaccountable with no separation of powers doesn’t give the voters diddly squat for a voice in their Transportation issues. It provides the easy access of the ‘right’ businesses who will grow rich from tax dollars.

    3. The taxes are unnecessary. Taxes kill jobs. Lower taxes increases revenue to the Commonwealth, cities and counties. There is enough money in the Transportation Trust fund, General Fund and state bonds – if you actually set vertical priorities instead of a government gotta have it horizontal priorities. But, of course,that would take the vision and leadership lacking in the current ‘leadership’.

  3. E M Risse Avatar
    E M Risse

    The word “Fix” is important in the heading of this post. What has been passed is not a “solution” and is a “fix” only in the sense of “the fix is in” to get us re-elected in November.

    “Regional Government is wrong.”

    Not so, real Regional Governace systems work much better everywhere they have been tried in North America and in the EU.

    By “much better” we mean much better than those systems based on the 18th centruy economic, social and physical distribution of human activitiey that no longer exists.

    The systems that exist are not perfect but much better than the status quo.

    Sound Regional Governace does not mean there are not three branches, it means there are three branched levels of governance that match economic, social and physical reality.

    “When the voters vote in 98 and 02 NO to Regional Government what part of NO is not understood?”

    There has been never been a vote on a functional Regional Governance system in the Commonwealth.

    Voters were correct to turn down unworkable solutions to Mobility and Access problems.

    Those votes had nothing to do with Regional Governace.


  4. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: “The Plan doesn’t work. Hello…. it ADDS congestion after 20 years of construction congestion delays, accidents and deaths. It does NOT solve the problem. Does anyone not grasp this simple fact? The elected politicians are going to raise taxes and spend billions for no return on the money – it won’t work as designed.”

    Is there A PLAN that “works”?

    Does VDOT have a PLAN that works?

    What is your alternative to a Regional Authority in terms of funding options?

    Do you think that if NoVa accepts the authority and HR/TR turns it down that the next GA is going to allocate more funding to TW/HR .. than say other localities?

    Even if you elected folks that agreed to whack the authority and seek a return to the VDOT funding model – do you think there would be enough GA votes to make it happen?

    Why would other localities want to agree to allocate more money to HR/TW in the first place?

    Is there a realistic and pragmatic course of action for TW/HR with respect to transportation planning and funding if they reject the authority?

  5. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    Larry: I don’t know of a comprehensive plan that deals with multiplicity of traffic issues. The current one is pour concrete, pour concrete, pour concrete.

    I doubt VDOT has anything other than a wish list of projects.

    For any single major project (only one part of multi-faceted solutions) you could put together the funding from a fair share of the Transportation Trust Fund, GF, state bonds, or tolls as needed.

    I have no idea what the GA would do

    Eventually there will be enough votes in the GA for good governance and important projects like Port of Virginia-460 Corridor.

    Other localities wouldn’t allocate more money to HR/TW in the first place – the GA would for projects that serve Virginia.

    The realistic and pragmatic course of action for TW/HR with respect to transportation planning and funding is for elected politicians to put together the bills and funding for the single and second most important projects – Port/460 and HRBT. Then, as revenues increase go on to the mid-town (Norfolk) tunnel etc.

  6. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: HR/TW Ports

    I saw this in the paper the other day…

    any thoughts?

    Cutline: “Train traffic expected to snarl Suffolk roads this summer”
    Beginning this summer, train traffic through the city will dramatically increase, lengthening the time intersections are blocked and raising concerns about public safety, clogged roads and where to get money to fix the problems.

    The trains, many more than a mile long, will be traveling to and from the new $450 million APM Terminals port scheduled to open in Portsmouth by early September.

    Trains cross Suffolk roads at 31 places, and wait times will increase at almost every location. Motorists will have to wait between 3-1/2 and nine minutes for a train to pass. At 13 locations, the wait time will jump to nine minutes from one.

    With the increased traffic, some crossings will be blocked for more than two hours a day, according to a new study from the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission, a regional planning group.

    T he trains also will cross roads at 14 places in Chesapeake and Portsmouth, but a $60 million state plan is under way to relocate those tracks to highway medians by the end of 2009.”


    I guess my view is that if the Ports were used to EXPORT Virginia-produced goods – that yes – they would be something that all of Virginia should pay for… a direct nexus to jobs…

    but if those ports are being used to import products to be sold to Virginia’s are we not simply subsidizing the private investor/distributors?

  7. E M Risse Avatar
    E M Risse

    When discussing Fundamenal Change in governace structure it is important to keep in focus the wisdom of maintaining the THREE BRANCHES of governace at every level and checks and balances at and between levels of governace.

    It is far more important to keep in mind the need for more than THREE LEVELS (or 3 1/2 given the position of Counties in the Northwest Ordinance). Governace structure needs to evolve to reflect economic, social and physical reality.

    That means reflecting the organic components of contemporary human settlement patterns.


  8. Anonymous Avatar

    To those of you who think regional government is a good thing, I say think again. We have a regional government here in the Portland Oregon area and it’s horrible. While they don’t have control over everything, they have control over somethings mainly transportation for a 3 county area. While co-operation between towns, counties, etc is important, regional government is NOT the way to do it.

    Think of it this way. Many studies have shown that it’s easier to manage a group of 10 to 30 people (employees) than it is to manage one of 100 to 300. The smaller the government, the better the possibility that it’s in touch with the average Joe Citizen. Our regional government is a bust. I really can’t think of anything that it has been tasked with (running the zoo, waste management control, transportation) that it has done that has been an improvement over what was in place prior to it’s existence. It does suck up tax money nicely. It does what it wants, typically ignoring the citizens. Folks, regional government is just a bad idea.

  9. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: regional government

    given the rationale used to claim that regional governance is a bad idea because of the “mangagement” problem…

    wouldn’t we have to say that even bigger scope governance is even more wrong?

    State and Fed Government?

    State and Fed Regional offices for things like Courts, planning districts, etc?

    why select a level of governance between local and state/federal as not good?

    Each has it proper place and each can be done badly or well… but there is nothing unique about regional government that makes it inherently wrong and in fact, regional government is all around you.. performing vital functions – that we all take for granted.

    Virtually every urban area in this country is classified as an MSA and already has hundreds, thousands, millions of Regional Authorities that deliver vital services such as water/sewer, libraries, jails, even electricity, law enforcement, and, not the least of – roads and transit – virtually ALL of these based on the fact that the MSA is treated as a region in terms of planning….

    How would you get something simple like water/sewer done in a multi-jurisdictional region – without some kind of regional governance?

    There are hundreds of MPOs – Metropolitan Policy Organizations – Federally-mandated Regional Entities responsible for REGIONAL transportation planning..

    These MPOs insure that multi-jurisdictional roads – are designed, built and maintained uniformly so the roads operate seamlessly… as people expect them to.

    Your cable, electricity, even your local WalMart or Sears works the same way….

    Can it be done badly? Yes it can.

    Can you drive a car badly or use a hammer badly?

    Regional government can function badly but no more or less than local, or State or Fed government.

    Show me something unique about regional government that makes it inherently wrong as compared to local, state and Fed government.

  10. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    The problem with regional governments — at least in Virginia, I can’t speak for Oregon — is the way they are structured. Representatives in regional governments are not directly elected by the people. There are different standards for accountability and transparency.

    I agree totally with Ed Risse that governments should reflect the organic components of society. The powers and responsibilities of a metropolitan-region-wide government should be those that address region-wide issues — transportation and land use foremost among them. But those regional bodies should function like other levels of government, with directly elected representatives, open meetings, subject to Freedom of Information Act, etc.

  11. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    ooooh ooooh.. WHAT a SOFTBALL!

    “….The problem …Representatives are not directly elected by the people. There are different standards for accountability and transparency.”


    and how about our MPOs?

    Actually, I’d support having direct elections of Regional Authorities.

    You know .. we actually have such a system for… Soil and Water Conservation Agencies in Va.

    I’m sure you guys have seen this on the ballots.. right?

  12. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Larry, VDOT is an agency of state government. As part of the executive branch, it is accountable to Gov. Tim Kaine, who is elected by the people and, as such, is accountable to the people. Is VDOT big and bureaucratic? Yes. But at least it reports to someone who can, if need be, kick butt and take names.

    By contrast, if there are problems in a regional transportation authority, who has the power to kick butt and take names? No one. Absolutely no one. Oversight and responsibility are so diffused that anyone/everyone can plausibly say, “It’s not my fault.”

  13. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    What is the alternative?

    do we stop having regional authorities .. for jails, libraries, waste management?

    Is the concept of regional management of infrastructure and services – wrongheaded?

    Even VDOT has district offices .. I assume to deal with regionalism – even if their implementation views regionalism differently than.. say MPOs…or JLARc.

    I think this problem is fixable.

    One thought. If there is a Regional Authority – the jurisdictional membership can only be occupied by at-large members of the jurisdiction – who can be recalled.

    But you know . .the MPOs are configured exactly like the Regional Authorities are in terms of membership AND .. they actually have as much or more authority over what projects can be built or not built by the legal requirements of TIPs and CLRPs.

    The Feds .. say that any Federal funding allocated to a region has “strings” which require the TIP and the CLRP.

    Even the Transportation Authorities must cede power and authority to the MPOs… on transportation decisions that involve Fed money and/or Fed control for interstates….

  14. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Larry, I think you’re creating a straw man. Nobody’s arguing against regional authorities — only regional authorities with taxing power. It’s one thing for the sanitation authority to raise fees related to waste disposal. It’s quite another for a transportation authority to have the power to raise taxes on hotel/restaurant receipts, property taxes, and whatever else is in the grab bag of goodies that the General Assembly has granted.

  15. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Jim –

    The idea behind the authorities is to allow a Region to better address their transportation construction needs in a more timely manner than will be possible than relying on VDOT.

    I acknowledge the unelected/unaccountable concern but what is the alternative and I don’t mean it is an all or nothing proposition…. I really am asking.. for alternatives….

    Local Officials in both regions have quite a bit of latitude to put in place more accountability including having referenda.

    Let’s get other ideas up on the table.

    I don’t think “hell no.. we don’t want that option.. and furthermore.. we refuse to do anything else either…” is going to lead to anything useful…

    if they don’t like what’s offered – make a counter-proposal… get in the game… and move the ball down the field..

    I think what is NOT on the table – is a continuation of statewide fuel tax funding of major regional transportation projects.

    This is the reality and although the alternatives are less appetizing and probably a bit intimidation to those used to relying on VDOT – and Blaming VDOT – the world has changed and the only option is to figure out the best way to adapt.

    If you think about it… the rest of the GA.. had to vote FOR the two Regional Authorities… and why should they?

    They could have walked away.. and left NoVa and HR/TW with NOTHING.. except what their own counties would be getting – very little.

    So.. as bad as it sounds.. and it may be bad… it’s better than the alternative..at least until something different happens.

  16. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Larry, I agree that New Urban Regions should approach transportation and land use on a regional basis. How about creating regional authorities that (a) have elected representatives, and (b) enjoy the same transparency as other levels of government?

  17. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Yes, of course but both those Regions GA reps and locally elected reps DID HAVE the opportunity to embed in the legislation – this common-sense approach.

    My alternative idea is to only allow at-large member jursidiction members (only those elected by all citizens in the respective jurisdictions).

    In some Midwest Areas – there are actually elected road commissions so yes.. I support any/all approaches.

    But I am pointing out.. that if the regions don’t like the current offering.. they can .. basically try to make it more transparent and accountable .. or they can walk away.

    What I’m sensing .. is that the local elected ..don’t want to take over Regional Planning in the first place.. they just want VDOT to continue to take care of their roads.. and for enough money collected at the state level to fund their Region’s needs.

    .. and I continue to point out the irony of opposing the Regional Authorities on the unelected and unaccountable basis when for years and years.. there are hundreds of examples of unelected VDOT bureacrats deciding priorities and allocating funding without transparency nor accountability.

    The problem got so bad that JLARC and most of the GA and Shuchet felt that VDOT was “out of control” and needed to be reformed.

    so.. no I don’t buy the idea that the Gov can “direct” VDOT to be more accountable… silly thought.

    These Regional Authorities have enabling legislation and bylaws and operational procedures.

    Any/all of the above are options to actively pursue to make the concept more acceptable to those opposed to the current form.

    Covering one’s eyes and ears and humming “we don’t want this” .. is not going to move the issue forward.

Leave a Reply