Virginia Secretary of Transportation says the sky is falllllllling

Actually, Pierce Homer said, according to the Washington Post on June 4, “I’ve got to be honest. Congestion relief has fallen as a major priority of our transportation program… We’re trying to keep bridges from falling.”

Homer does a convincing routine as Chicken Little.  Like General Motors, VDOT is running out of money. 

What happens if it does?

The trend lines of decreasing revenue/increasing maintenance costs will require 100% of transportation funding to be allocated to maintenance in the next 5-10 years.  That means no new roads, and no VRE expansion – though existing roads/bridges will be repaved occasionally.

Homer is setting the stage for the General Assembly to approve a massive increase in taxes for transportation.  The voters rejected a sales tax increase for roadbuilding in 2002.  In 2008, the Virginia Supreme Court rejected the General Assembly attempt to raise taxes without voter approval. 

Still, a coordinated effort is now underway, with cheerleading by the Washington Post and its advertisers in the Real Estate section, to convince the voters that new transportation taxes need to be the #1 priority of the 2010 General Assembly (and the new governor we elect in November).  You can hear the drumbeat:  “voters gotta pay more, much more, in taxes to build more roads – and a small percentage will go to transit, so ain’t we progressive?”

Listen for claims that the national security of Washington is threatened by congestion.  Because we can’t evacuate all DC commuters in an hour, we’ll need to expand I-66, build the Tri-County Parkway between Gainesville and Dulles, widen Route 28 between Broad Run and the Rappahannock River, add Amtrak service to Bristol on the Tennessee border… the list never stops.

The high-cost, big government solution is to build more transportation infrastructure.  However, we know that expanding I-66 to Centreville, then Manassas, then Haymarket, then Front Royal, then West Virginia simply moves congestion rather than eliminates it.  Expanding VRE forever is no smarter.  

The simplistic “solution” of building more commuter corridors to Culpeper and the Shenandoah Valley meets the politician’s requirement to do something.  However, more-of-the-same development supported by more-of-the-same roads (and a spice of rail, nowadays) just perpetuates sprawl, subsidizes the commercial property tax base of DC/Arlington/Fairfax, and dooms the suburban communities to high property taxes and overcrowded schools.

The low-cost, long-term solution is to reduce the need to drive everywhere between home, work, school, soccer practice, dry cleaners, etc.  Imagine if the Washington Post and our elected leaders sang a different tune other than “Sky is Falling.  Need More Taxes To Prop It Up A Little Longer.”

Imagine if our opinion leaders focused on how we could grow our way out of the transportation crisis – and grow not by building new roads in new places and offering train service to low-density suburbs, but by building new housing in old places.   

Imagine redeveloping the parking lots on Route 1 and at Potomac Mills with high-quality housing, adding neighborhood parks with ballfields and trails to the Wegmans.  Imagine living in walking distance to Starbucks.  Imagine walking home from a restaurant meal with friends, instead of chosing a designated driver at the start of dinner.

And imagine a politician promising to solve the congestion problem without requring a massive new tax increase every 20 years for a death spiral of new construction costs, higher maintenance costs, higher taxes, new construction costs, higher…  Might be interesting to see if any politicians want to play a role other than Chicken Little.

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