Tag Archives: transportation

VA Gov. McDonnell Suffering from Legacy Fever

VA Gov. Bob McDonnell does not see any reason why a comprehensive transportation package should not include corduroy roads.

VA Gov. Bob McDonnell does not see any reason why a comprehensive transportation package should not include corduroy roads.

Judging from Gov. Bob McDonnell preoccupation with liquids one would almost think he’s a naval man, rather than an Army reservist. First he tried to free demon rum from state control by privatizing Virginia’s liquor stores.

ABC privatization was DOA even with a Republican House of Delegates for reasons outlined here. Now Gov Bob is intent on reinforcing failure with his latest proposal to free gasoline from Virginia’s fuel tax.

Doesn’t the governor realize that as far as legacies go drinking and driving don’t mix?

Initiatives like these are the result of a severe case of legacy fever — a condition characterized by a politician’s feverish attempt to pass a law voters will remember after their term ends. Symptoms include policy delirium, proposal vomiting and head–count headaches.

Legacy fever doesn’t confine its damage to the infected politician. Visible scars include Obamacare, No Child Left Behind and The Great Society.

This is the last session of the legislature for McDonnell. And unless he wants to be smeared as “Gov. Ultrasound” for all time, he must convince the House and Senate to pass a major legislative proposal.

McDonnell wants his legacy to be a major transportation package that will inject $3.2 billion into Virginia’s transportation fund and give the Commonwealth enough money to both build and repair roads — a twofer that’s been missing in recent years.

The governor’s proposal eliminates the tax on gasoline, increases vehicle registration fees by $15, raises the sales tax by 0.8 percent, increases the portion of sales tax revenue dedicated to transportation by 50 percent and slaps a $100 fee on pretentious alternative fuel vehicles that burn French fry oil mixed with taxpayer subsidies.

In addition, Gov Bob is hoping for some kindness from strangers in DC. Part of the money comes from a tax he hopes Congress will authorize on internet sales, meaning those lazy shop–at–homers (who by the way aren’t cluttering up the roads) will be paying sales tax AND shipping on their purchases.

Unless additional money is found the fund for new construction will be completely empty by 2017 as every last penny goes to maintenance on roads already built.

Fortunately there is a simple solution to this problem. First index the state’s gas tax to inflation, since it has not been increased in 27 years. Then the increase from the gas tax should be offset by a decrease in the income tax making the result revenue neutral.

This also has the advantage of being the responsible conservative solution since people who buy gas tend to burn it on highways, in effect making it a user tax paid by those using the roads.

Unfortunately, we have a legislature dominated by irresponsible conservatives that refuse to raise any tax, regardless of need or justification. Grover Norquist speaks for them when he issued a fatwa against raising the gas tax ruling that voting in favor of indexing violates the No Tax Pledge.

Instead, Norquist says plenty of money for roads can be found by cutting spending in other areas of the budget. This is the policy equivalent of saying, “God bless you” after a sneeze. It does nothing to prevent the spread of germs but gives the speaker a benevolent glow without spending any time in theology school.

If it were possible to cut spending elsewhere to fund roads, it would have been done before now. The potholes you dodge and the gridlock you endure proves this is easier said than done.

McDonnell is obviously appreciates the value of a revenue neutral bill, but removing the tax from gasoline is a ham–handed attempt and profoundly unconservative. It means out of state drivers — which constitute 30 percent of the traffic on Virginia roads — pay nothing for the use of Virginia roads. In effect Virginia taxpayers will be subsidizing the beach traffic jamming our highways on summer weekends.

Transportation is a core government function, and if Gov Bob was certain Republicans would be in charge of government from now on, funding roads from the general fund might be marginally acceptable. But there is no guarantee Virginia voters won’t lose their mind and put Democrats back in charge.

Once you mingle transportation money with the rest of the general fund, it means that money is no longer earmarked for roads. Democrats have no problem raiding the transportation trust fund to spend on their social justice priorities, and they have done it in the past. Tinkering with the percentage of the sales tax that goes to roads will be child’s play for them.

On the other hand, when Republicans want to reverse the process and use general fund money on roads, the likes of Majority Leader Dick Saslaw (D–Spending) will accuse you of wanting to boil school children in asphalt.

My suggestion is the GOP leadership put a cold compress on the governor’s forehead and urge him to lie down in a darkened caucus room. Meanwhile, they can put all their efforts behind a transportation solution like mine that has the twin virtues of being both simple and conservative.

Obama Chasing Spain’s Failure

Just last year Obama was telling America how “green” energy technology was the guaranteed pathway to energy security and independence:

“The future is here. We are poised to transform the ways we power our homes and our cars and our businesses”.

He said America risked falling behind the rest of the world in the design, production and implementation of renewable or “green” technology.  The nation he most often cited as the example for America’s green energy development to follow was Spain.


Spain announced on April 7, 2012 that they would halt all new renewable energy and co-generation projects.  Spain’s unemployment is running at more than 24%.  Every job created in Spain’s “green” energy sector cost 2.2 private sector jobs.

As recently as January, Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy was making the campaign promise that he would not raise taxes.  This week he admitted that there would be a new Spanish VAT hike ranging between 18% and 21% and that budgets for local communities would have to be slashed.

“I said I would lower taxes and I am actually raising them. Circumstances change and I have to adapt to them.  The excesses of the past are being paid for right now” Rajoy said.

Thousands of people joined in a protest and marched in Madrid to support miners, who have been fighting against major cuts to industry subsidies.   Protesters supporting the miners threw objects at riot police, including fireworks, bottles and stones.  Police officers charged demonstrators and fired rubber bullets.  Five people were arrested and three people suffered minor injuries.

That is Obama’s grand vision for America?

Since Obama took office in January 2009, five million “green” jobs were promised, and as of 2010 225,000 had been created.  80% of the green loans, loan guarantees, and grants given out by Department of Energy went to Obama backers:

•SunPower, after receiving $1.5 billion from DOE, is reorganizing, cutting jobs.

•First Solar, after receiving $1.46 billion from DOE, is reorganizing, cutting jobs.

•Solyndra, after receiving $535 million from DOE, filed for bankruptcy protection.

•Ener1, after receiving $118.5 million from DOE, filed for bankruptcy protection.

•Evergreen Solar, after receiving millions of dollars from the state of Massachusetts, filed for bankruptcy protection.

•SpectraWatt, backed by Intel and Goldman Sachs, filed for bankruptcy protection.

•Beacon Power, after receiving $43 million from DOE, filed for bankruptcy protection.

•Abound Solar, after receiving $400 million from DOE, filed for bankruptcy protection.

•Amonix, after receiving $5.9 million from DOE, filed for bankruptcy protection.

•Babcock & Brown (an Australian company), after receiving $178 million from DOE, filed for bankruptcy protection.

•A123 Systems, after receiving $279 million from DOE, shipped some bad batteries and is barely operating. It cut jobs.

•Solar Trust for America, after receiving a $2.1-billion loan guarantee from DOE, filed for bankruptcy protection.

•Nevada Geothermal, after receiving $98.5 million from DOE, warns of potential defaults in new SEC filings.

That is only a partial list.

If this all sounds eerily familiar, it should.

Especially the part about how an elected politician is breaking a campaign promise to not raise taxes.  Obama said he would lower taxes and is actually raising them.   He will claim that circumstances change and American have to adapt to them.

One similarity is inescapable.  The excesses of the past are going to have to be paid.  Thanks to the failed presidency of Obama, those excesses have grown disproportionately larger.


Clogged traffic arteries are genetic

Police in Prince William County, VA just released a list of the most dangerous intersections and I discovered that on a single trip to Chantilly I managed to drive through the most dangerous intersection in Manassas, the most hazardous in Manassas Park and the third most threatening in the rest of the county.
This is because I live in the land of “you can’t get there from here.” Northern Virginia residents have only a very limited number of through streets and major thoroughfares. Drivers are forced to crowd into a handful of routes when they want to go east or west and even fewer when they want to go north. Any tourist ever stuck on I–95 knows what I’m talking about.
There is no way to plan a route avoiding dangerous, packed intersections because there are no alternatives. Much of this can be blamed on what I call the Stonewall Jackson school of traffic engineering: “Why Stonewall whipped the Yankee’s behind using this very road network. There is no need to improve on perfection.”
In effect this means replacing a one–lane corduroy road with a winding two–lane asphalt design is viewed as a technological breakthrough rivaling that of the flush toilet.
And it’s not going to get any better where I live.
County planners are in the process of approving a 22–acre mixed use development that will have 360 apartments, two hotels and an office building. And oh yes, there will be only a single exit from the development linking it to neighboring roads.
Once more state and local government succeeds where national government and Richard Branson failed. The county and the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) have managed to monetize space. The right to drive into or out of a parcel of land makes it extremely valuable, because curb cuts are rationed tighter than ethics at a GSA convention. Gaining permission for that vital absence of concrete curbing often requires a lobbyist.
I’m sure the thinking here was you can drain a bathtub with a single exit, why not a real estate development? Yet the same planners would not approve a movie theatre with one exit and they wouldn’t approve a shopping mall interior with a single exit either. Maybe we should give the fire marshal authority to approve road and development design. Installing a sprinkler system in your car would be a small price to pay for more efficient transportation.
Fortunately, due to cul–de–sac laden, backward road design theory, most of the crashes here are low speed encounters. According to a press release from TomTom, the GPS people, the Washington, DC area has the most congested traffic and slowest average speeds in the nation.
Many drivers serve a positively organic role in the Capitol’s traffic circulatory system, functioning as automotive plaque that clogs the artery and slows us down.
I recently returned from a trip to Dallas and traffic there was a revelation. At 4 PM on Friday I was driving down LBJ Freeway and Central Expressway, two major thoroughfares that are packed daily with rush hour traffic. Auto density was the same as on I–95, but guess what? I was moving at speeds in excess of 40 mph! I felt like a Swiss neutron racing the speed of light.
What’s more, I passed two sets of parked police cruisers with their lights flashing and traffic did not grind to a complete halt. I know this is hard to believe for DC drivers, because here any blinking light more intense than a turn signal has a tendency to stupefy motorists. The sun glinting off a jack handle while changing a flat, the reflection from a trooper’s radar detector or shiny bling worn by someone waiting for AAA all cause motorists to immediately hit the brake.
The only hint of good news regarding our congestion is the number of teenagers who don’t have or want a driver’s license is at an all time low. Unfortunately, those with a new license are going to be just as incompetent as the rest of their family. This is because in Virginia getting a driver’s license no longer requires actual driving in a car with a grim state trooper waiting for you to make a mistake.
Instead teenagers are supposed to drive for 40 hours with their parents beside them and follow parental advice. Later, when they get the coveted license, teenagers can boast: “I drive whatever speed I like in left lane, just like peepaw.” “I always slow down when a car is stopped on the shoulder. It might be Uncle Tran.” “Mom says leave three car lengths between me and the car ahead at a stoplight, in case I start to roll while texting.” Or “Like granny, I always brake when approaching a green light, because you never know.”
And driving incompetence, with its accompanying congestion, will be passed down from generation to generation just like a genetic abnormality.

This Toll, Tolls for You

Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell’s successful effort to open the rest stops on I–95 was a very good idea. His current effort to open tollbooths on I–95 is not.

McDonnell obviously faces a dilemma: Virginia desperately needs road improvements and faces a backlog of maintenance expenses. Yet the General Assembly refuses to increase funding, much like other GOP–controlled legislatures across the country who are trying to deal with years of Democrat overspending.

McDonnell’s situation reminds me of a high school booster club president trying to buy desperately needed new uniforms. Bake sales are over–regulated. Car washes face competition from pee–wee teams. And the parents refuse to pony up additional contributions. So the wet t–shirt contest is looking better and better. The governor justifies his wet t–shirt contest that charges a toll on a road that’s already paid for by calling it a “user fee.” But this toll is simply a tax on your destination.

Goods shipped North to Prince William County via I–95 will be subject to a destination tax that goods shipped to Petersburg via I–85 will avoid. The same goes for travelers to those destinations.

McDonnell has received permission to put one tollbooth on the North Carolina border and the second South of Fredericksburg. Drivers will soon discover that both locations will function as construction zones that never go away. Even with E–ZPass there will be new slowdowns adding the lost time insult to the increased expense injury. Strangely enough, the American Trucking Association (ATA) supports an alternative that is not only more practical and has the added bonus of being supported by business. According to the ATA, adding a few pennies to the gas tax is a more equitable and efficient way of raising road money “because it doesn’t require governments to hire workers to man toll booths or spend millions of dollars to build and maintain toll plazas.”

Virginia’s 17.5 cent a gallon gas tax has not been raised since the mid–1980’s and prospects for an increase in this century are dim even though a gas tax is a reasonable pay–as–you–go user fee on highways.

Morally superior types who operate granola–burning vehicles or only drive two days per week— to allow their electric vehicles time to recharge —will hardly pay anything at all. While modern day road warriors will pay their fair share.

Unfortunately drivers are deadlocked between Republicans who won’t raise taxes a penny and Democrats who won’t cut spending by a penny. Conservative Republicans contend the state has plenty of money and it’s time to repay the money that has been “borrowed” over the years from the highway trust fund.

In theory this is true. In practice Democrats won’t allow it to happen. You can’t even get Democrats to end subsidies for “public broadcasting” during a recession. (Although, “public broadcasting” could be part of Democrat’s long–term transportation strategy for world domination. Drivers stuck in a traffic jam could tune to NPR out of boredom and be subject to “progressive” indoctrination in spite of themselves.)

Another Republican objection is that under Obama’s leadership from behind, gas prices have approached record levels and Virginia drivers can’t afford the additional expense. This is untrue (the driver’s part not the Obama part). North Carolina’s gas tax is almost double Virginia’s, but per–gallon prices on a recent trip to Charlotte were about the same or occasionally lower than in PWC.

A better solution to transportation funding is for Republicans to lead from the front and increase the gas tax and make it a percentage instead of a fixed amount. If conservatives in state and local government can’t persuade voters that paying for highways is a core function of government then we won’t ever be able to persuade voters to stop wasting money on non–core functions.

Both arguments require the courage of your convictions in the face of kneejerk criticism. If this bit of candor is too bracing for my fellow conservatives, then let’s try the semantics approach. Republicans support cost of living increases for social security recipients and cost of living increases for government employees, so how about a cost of living increase for the gas tax?

Or Republicans could take Norman Leahy’s advice and increase a gas fee that already exists. In addition to the 17.5-cent gas tax, Virginia also charges 2.2 cents per gallon in fees. This is very low. West Virginia charges 11.7 cents in fees, in addition to 20.5 cents in gas tax. Raising the gas “fee” doesn’t make a politician any more vulnerable to the “tax raiser” charge than increasing the charge to renew your driver’s license.

Every driver uses Virginia’s roads and every driver should be responsible for paying their share. A toll on an already completed road is double taxation: once for the gas and once for the trip.