Is Prince William any smarter than monarch butterflies?

(August is nearly over.  Summer break is done, and we’re back to blogging again.)

Every year, monarch butterflies migrate to the same patch of woods in Mexico. The insects will spend the winter there, just as generations have done in the past.

How the butterflies know when to leave and how they know what direction to fly is a stunning example of the wonders of nature.  Every year, they do the same thing.  By overwintering as adults in Mexico, they get a head start so massive numbers can move north in the spring.  Each spring, multiple generations will hatch, fly further north, and take advantage of the emerging milkweed flowers. (For more on the science, see Journey North.)

The downside of having rigid genetic programming for this migration is that the monarchs are at risk if conditions change.  Their forest haven in Mexico provides a rare shelter for survival – but if illegal logging continues there, the monarchs will be exposed to cold and moisture and may not survive.  Their evolutionary ability to adapt to fast-changing conditions is limited.

These smart-but-limited insects provide a parallel for the PW County Planning Commission and Board of County Supervisors.

Everyone knows that to escape the worst economic recession since the Great Depression, the Federal government has gone deep into debt.  Deficit spending may stimulate the economy, but adding $7-9 trillion in debt will block future politicians from being able to afford new initiatives.

At the state level, budgets are being cut severely, and repeatedly.  In particular, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has been warning everyone that $$$ for new construction will disappear soon.  By the end of the Six Year Plan, it looks like 100% of VDOT funding will be dedicated to maintaining the deteriorating roads/bridges.

Sure, the General Assembly might raises taxes next year to “fix” the transportation crisis.  Our legislators have four choices:

  • pass a tax/fee increase so high we can finance the projects in various county comprehensive plans and VTRANS 2025 (and commit political suicide…)
  • do nothing (also political suicide)
  • pretend to do something, but kick the can down the road (i.e., propose a state referendum, or transfer the opportunity to raise taxes to some other group)
  • raise taxes/fees slightly, trumpet success because a few projects (such as the Third Crossing in Hampton Roads, or VRE expansion in Northern Virginia) will get funded, and postpone the inevitable depletion of the construction budget for a few more years

Perhaps our local politicians will be more effective than their peers from other jurisdictions, and we might squeeze a few more dollars from the turnip.  Members of Congress might even get us an extra lane on I-66 or I-95, over the next 20 years.   However, the 700 miles of new construction proposed in the Transportation Chapter of the PW County Comprehensive Plan… well, you gotta be looking through some mighty rosey glasses to see any way that construction will happen by 2030, 2050, or whatever time the chickens come to roost.

Times have changed.  If VDOT is broke and what we see today is basically the road network of the future, then we won’t be expanding existing highways to accommodate traffic from new housing located at the edge of suburbia.

So now’s the time for the Planning Commission and Board of County Supervisors to break the traditional pattern.  If we keep approving new housing and commercial development everywhere, and then ask VDOT to build more lanemiles to handle the extra congestion we created by our laissez-faire land use policies – we’re gonna discover that there’s no funding for more/wider roads.

It’s not rocket science.  Monarch butterflies may be trapped in behavior patterns they can’t alter, but the Planning Commission and Board of County Supervisors have choices.  We’ll see this fall, when county officials approve revisions to the Comp Plan, if they have brains bigger than insects…

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