The Commonwealth Iconoclast

A site dedicated to covering issues relevant to the Commonwealth of Virginia, and nation at large, plus other interesting things too, as I see fit...

Monday, January 02, 2006

Baby You Can Drive My Car

Transportation funding will be all the rage this legislative session. Virginia roads are overflowing with cars and trucks. A quick trip to Northern Virginia (or Harrisonburg Crossings for that matter) will provide amble evidence that things are getting desperate. Millions, if not billions, of dollars are wasted because of gridlock

Clearly poor planning and almost no investment in mass transit are to blame for the current debacle. The gist of the problem is that there are too many entities that do not work together to solve problems. Poor land-use planning on the local level leads to traffic congestion. The lack of a national plan and investment in rail continues to push commercial transportation onto the roads in the form of tractor-trailers. SUVs and cars continue to grow in size which only adds to the problem. So, how can the Commonwealth solve the problem when it can only control one portion of the solution?

Leaving aside, the fact that the Commonwealth only controls one portion of the solution, what ever is done is going to cost money. So the General Assembly will be considering raising revenue for the second year in a row. Already the House Republicans are splitting over how to pay for the states long overdue transportation needs. The funding options are fairly simple. The more interesting thing is who will carry the burden of these choices.

  • General Tax Increase - raising income and/or sales tax
    • Who pays - All Virginia taxpayers including businesses
    • Who doesn't have to pay - Out of state commuters and businesses that use Virginia roads and thereby make money from Virginia without paying anything.
    • Likelihood of passing - same as the Winter Olympics being held in Tahiti
  • Fuel Tax Increase - adding to the gas tax which hasn't been raised since 1986
    • Who pays - anyone who pumps gas in Virginia
    • Who doesn't pay - anyone who pumps gas outside of Virginia
    • Likelihood of passing - same as the Skins going to the Super Bowl.
  • Regional Tax Increase - not sure how this work, but I think it would raise income taxes in the regions where transportation improvements are
    • Who pays - the people who use the roads the most
    • Who doesn't pay - anyone not living in the defined region. This excludes businesses that use the roads in transit as well as those who commute to the region.
    • Likelihood of passing - tough call pits moderate Republicans and Democrats from the urban and suburban districts against the conservatives from the Valley and rural areas. Since the conservatives lost last year, the chances are as good as the chances that the Republitarian gets the Republican nomination for, well, anything.
  • Tolls - if your reading this blog you know what tolls are
    • Who pays - anyone on the road
    • Who doesn't - bicyclists
    • Likelihood of passing - same as George W. Bush being impreached
  • GA punts and localities pay through proffers from developers
    • Who pays - developers and those who buy houses in developments
    • Who doesn't - everyone else
    • Likelihood of passing - same as the Colts winning the Super Bowl (the GA loves to make someone else solve their problems.
This was the basic rundown. There are probably other options that I haven't thought of. Tolls and the fuel tax are the fairest but are highly unpopular so hard to see it happening. Although one can vote for tolls and still claim they didn't vote to raise taxes. Its going to be interesting January.


  • At 1/03/2006 8:32 AM, Blogger Will Vaught said…

    Good post. I know here Rockingham the MPO (which does transportation planning for both Hburg and Rockingham) released a study a few months ago in which 5 - 10 crucial projects were listed, and the funding streams that the localities can expect (thus far) from the State and Federal sources. Well, the MPO put together a very nice wish list (like the expansion of Port Road) but the funding sources were of a few months ago I believe the MPO identified almost a billion dollars worth of needed road improvements in the MPO area (some of which will never be built), with something like 20 million in future promises from the state and other words, the local governments are expected to be on the hook for most of the improvements. I'll try to get a copy of the MPO's study, and post it here...

  • At 1/03/2006 10:37 AM, Blogger zen said…

    Interesting post to start the new year with, as these issues are a reality that needs to ba faced. Sooner the better.
    I think tolls are an option that may have appeal. But the problem with tolls are that they unfairly hit the poor worker that will now have to pay to get to work. (Aside from transportation costs)
    Which will be greatly increasing as gas prices will leap above the higest prices we paid last year. So on top of a poor worker paying for fuel, he now will also have to pay to drive to work.
    Higher costs for gas will also make slapping additional taxes on an already expensive commodity very unpopular. When it comes to high gas prices people (voters, consumers) look for someone to blame, so no politician is going to stick his neck out like that...even though that's exactly the kind of leadership we need. Can you imagine how long this crisis will go on without firm leadership and discipline? Remember Kilgore wanting to put taxes to a referendum?
    I imagine one long-term solution is more public transit. Get some cars off the road, cut down our consumption. Not likely to happen, as American's want what they want, and right now. They need 3 cars, and an SUV, and houses so far away from a city center that a car is a must. Perhaps high taxes and high fuel costs will be the only thing to drive this problem to a meaningful solution.

  • At 1/03/2006 12:24 PM, Blogger valley iconoclast said…

    Tolls and Fuel taxes will undoubtedly send people towards public transit. The problem with public transit is there is little existing infrastructure and it requires such a huge initial investment to build that structure. Rail would be the best alternative,except the pace and style of development there isn't a lot of room to run new lines. For people to use rail, the stop needs to be relatively close to where they live. No one wants to drive 30 minutes to ride an hour.

    Good points about how the tolls and taxes are regressive, although hopefully the increased cost in commute would but pressure on wages to make-up the difference. Ultimately a solution that encourage mass transit and discourages more and larger vehicles will be good for all.

  • At 1/03/2006 5:13 PM, Blogger republitarian said…

    Maybe if Mark Obenshain and Matt Lohr would tell everyone what a good guy I am I could get the republican nomination for something....

  • At 1/04/2006 8:31 AM, Blogger valley iconoclast said…

    i'll sprend the word for you anytime, Myron

  • At 1/15/2006 6:29 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said…

    VI: I don't understand how you can claim the current debacle is a result of almost no investment in mass transit, and then point out a few of the obvious problems with rail.

    Putting money in mass transit is thrwoing money down a black hole. Despite years of increasing investment, mass transit is now carrying a smaller percentage of travel than ever.

    Winston and Shirly of the Brookings Institute did a study, entitled Alternate Route. Based on actuall operating costs, load factors, required investment, pollution costs etc. they constructed a model that predicted the mix and location of modes that would result in the least total cost for all our transit needs.

    Their conclusion: there is no net benefit to rail transit and no reason to invest in it. The optimum mix according to their model would be to reduce rail tansit from 1.1% to 0.6%, keeping only the routes where they can make a profit, Reduce Bus service from 4.7 to 0.9%, for the same reasons, increase car pool use from 14.3 to 12.5%, and increase auto use from 790.1% to 82%.

    According to the model bus fares should increase from 13.2 cents per mile to 55.4 and rail fares should increase from 17.4 cents per mile to 34.8. Auto costs would also increase by application of congestion pricing.

    This is based on 1990 figures

    I know this is heresy according to current frequently voiced popular opinion but this plan would reduce overall transportation costs, considering the increase to consumers and decreses in current government subsidies by a net 11.5 billion nationally 1990 dollars.

    Among the other misconceptions the study examines is the idea that transit offers a lower cost per passenger mile. In fact because of their miserably low load factors, autos are mostly more efficient, faster, and offer a higher service frequency.

    While we are at it there are any number of researchers who have studied actual transportation use according to various land use patterns who have concluded that the idea that we can reduce travel by choosing the "correct" land use patterns is wholly unproven.

    It is imprtant to not that this is NOT the same as saying that land use patterns don't contribute to congestion. But the problem is not residential land use, it is excess concentration of jobs in one location. The primary beneficiaries of mass transit are employers who are getting huge subsidies from the provision of such service. If they had to pay their full allocated costs for the service they get from transit, they would most likely relocate to areas the really need the jobs and have little congestion problems.

    The current popularly proposed solutions are entirely upside down.


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