Virginia road funding to be cut another $877 million… so what’s Plan B for solving the transportation problem in Prince William?

Former Governor Baliles provided the old solution, when the Richmond Times-Dispatch asked for an assessment of the transportation challenge facing the new governor Virginia will elect on November 3.  Baliles had a one-word response to the “what’s needed to solve the transportation crisis” question.

His answer: “Money.”

We’re deep into another election cycle filled with the standard politics of “promise new projects, get elected, then give excuses.”  All the promises for new roads, expanded Metrorail/VRE, high-speed rail, and ferries on the Potomac River are empty, equivalent to what information technology professionals describe as vaporware.

Unless someone finds new money for new projects (i.e., raises taxes or cuts existing services to transfer $$$ to transportation…) , we’ll hit the wall in a year or two.  There will be no new road building, no new transit expansion, no increase in transportation capacity because there’s no new money.  Virginia is even running out of money to maintain what we have already built.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported on October 15 that the Commonwealth Transportation Board will cut the current budget for Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) by $134 million, and reduce the Six Year Plan for future funding by an additional $743 million.  We are draining the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) that finances new construction, shifting money to the Highway Maintenance and Operating Fund (HMOF) to fund maintenance and repairs of what we’ve already built.

Can we count on new Federal funding falling out of the sky?  Maybe the next Congress will ignore the ballooning Federal deficit when re-authorizing the Federal Highway Bill (see the Washington Post’s article, Record-High Deficit May Dash Big Plans), and Obama will sign another budget-busting appropriation – or even another “spend now, make the grandkids pay later” stimulus bill.

Congress might push the country one step closer to the economic cliff, just like the managers at AIG and General Motors.  It’s not a fiscally responsible approach, and there’s no one to bail out the government – but hey, it’s possible our elected Federal officials will lead the country up to and finally over the economic cliff.  We could merrily pave more and more lanemiles up to the very end, when the Chinese/Saudis quit buying Treasury bonds and the house of cards collapses.

Prince William could issue new road bonds, so local property taxes finance new roads.  The Progress Prince William bond schedule has been delayed by the current revenue crunch, but our developers and politicians are just waiting for an economic recovery before proposing to have local taxpayers pay for more roads in Prince William.

The Richmond paper had another answer to the funding crisis in a “Paying for Roads” editorial on October 16: If Americans really ought to be driving less, then in certain instances — primarily those contributing to sprawl — perhaps one way to keep them off the road is not to build it in the first place.”

Maybe, just maybe, we’ll wake up, smell the coffee, and stop building things we can’t afford. Economic constraints are forcing us the re-think the “build more, congestion will disappear, and we’ll never have to pay” approach.  The many, many lanemiles and bridges already built are getting older.  Pierce Homer, Virginia’s Secretary of Transportation, is telling everyone that we lack funding to maintain everything we already built.  

Homer is making clear to the General Assembly that it must raise taxes to pay for transportation.  After the economic recovery… the maintenance bill will suck up all the new revenues, unless we raise taxes.

There’s an alternative to new taxes, or to cutting existing programs to shift existing revenues to transportation:  when you’re in a hole – quit digging.

If the Richmond paper can understand the fiscal irresponsibility of perpetuating the old ways of doing business, then there is a silver lining in those financial disaster clouds.   The Media General editors suggest we steer development away from places with inadequate roads, so we don’t need to build new roads in the first place.  Gee, one day maybe even the Washington Post might get as savvy as the Times-Dispatch regarding smart/dumb growth.

Before approving higher taxes to build more roads/more rail so developers can build new subdivisions everywhere, let’s plan for growth where additional transportation costs can be minimized. In Prince William, Manassas, and Manassas Park, that’s within walking distance of where we have jobs in the county, or where we have bus/rail transit capabilities to get to those jobs.

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