VDOT’s Budget Cut Again

6 12 2009

Once again, the state is once again cutting money off of VDOT’s budget. This time, however, there is nothing left but bones. In fact, as early as 2011, Hampton Roads will get zero (you read that right) dollars for road construction. Statewide that same year, Northern Virginia would receive $225 million (93.2%) from VDOT. Even sooner, in 2010, the overall budget will grow 3% despite Hampton Roads’ funding getting cut another 13% for that same year! In 2010, Northern Virginia’s budget actually increases by 5%. Our luck would not change until 2015, when we get a whopping $100 million. Of course, seeing as 2015 is six years from now in the six year budget, our actual chances of seeing anything are very slim. When are we, as Hampton Roads residents going to stand up for ourselves? When will we decide that allowing Northern Virginia rob us blind is no longer acceptable? You know when? When we decide that we are a single, unified voice. Northern Virginia can say that, as suburbs of DC, they all need the same general projects to get by. Hampton Roads, on the other hand, can do nothing of the sort. Norfolk wants money for the Midtown Tunnel. Virginia Beach wants money for the Southeastern ‘Parked’way (which is what it really will be when it is full of traffic). Chesapeake wants a new Dominion Blvd. Portsmouth wants the MLK extended. Hampton wants the HRBT redone. Newport News wants I-64 expanded north. None of the cities here realize that we all need the same things to function. Without one of our major connectors, the whole place is gridlocked. Look at any interstate when one gets all lanes blocked during rush hour. The whole area shuts down. We can’t court new business if we don’t have a reliable road system. We need to work together as one region to secure our road money. We need to tell our legislature that Northern Virginia has robbed us enough and we demand our fair share. People here complain when a city spends tax money on something light Town Center, light rail, Downtown, etc., but they seem to have no problem paying taxes to a state that is ripping us off. Its not VDOTs fault. It is completely the legislature’s fault. We cannot allow current elected state representatives to serve another term. They have not fixed our problem yet and they will never fix it. Short of seceding from the Commonwealth of Virginia, regionalism and voting out our incumbents is our only option.

Computer Model Assists Prioritizing

19 11 2009

According to today’s (11/19/09) front page Virginian-Pilot article, VDOT spent $150,000 on a consultant to help prioritize our transportation projects. The first round of rankings (43 projects) seem very similar to most peoples’ current opinions. There are a few interesting projects, however. Number 5 under highway projects, for example, is a reconstruction project for the I-64 interchange at Norview Ave. I know from experience that it is a terrible (and incomplete) interchange and sometimes it might just be safer to drive over the edge of the overpass. Despite this well-known fact, I am not quite sure that I would put it on a top-ten list of projects. In fact, I think that most around here would agree that widening US 460 (#9) would be of more importance and benefit than a new Norview interchange.

Also part of this model were transit projects. The model ranked the need for a Light Rail line to the Naval Base higher than a line to Virginia Beach. Personally, I think they go hand-in-hand. There are a lot of people in Virginia Beach that would take LRT to the base. I think that if we can build a line to the Beach sooner rather than later, we all win. If we were to lose in Virginia Beach, however, and instead built a line to the Base, I think that Virginia Beach would once again reconsider, realizing that they are making the worst mistake in their history as a city.

Their next step is to feed the model a list of 200 Hampton Roads projects. I didn’t realize we had 200 projects, but apparently we do. Hopefully this model will help our transportation leaders figure out what they want and help us get the road funds we need to actually get something built.

Better Get Ready To Walk

17 11 2009

The Future of Hampton "Crumbling" Roads

The state is getting ready to cut another billion dollars from VDOT. This is in addition to the over $3 billion that has already been cut out.We already can no longer afford to build roads or even maintain them. Now, we will be unable to plan and design them, meaning that we will be ineligible for future federal stimulus money that requires projects be ‘shovel-ready.’ In other words, you might want to look at moving closer to your work, because in the not-to-distant future, the roads will not only be completely gridlocked, but also reverting to gravel. We need to think outside of the box on this. We can no longer rely on the State legislature to fund our transportation projects. We have to start looking at options that we would have thought unthinkable in years past. Nobody wants tolls or new taxes. But I can guarantee you that there are even fewer people that want to have to walk to work because our roads are closed or crumbling. To make it worse, our new Governor wants to pay for roads with education money and money from profit sharing oil operation off of the coast of Virginia. We need to make it known to our representatives that we will not tolerate lack of action.

Either we act now to raise money for our roads or we need to raise money for new welcome signs. They will read:

Welcome to _______
A Hampton ‘Crumbling’ Roads Community
Proudly Sponsored By:

More Money for a New HRTA

14 10 2009

I think it is agreed by everyone that 86 years is too long to wait to finish our roads. The first attempt at the HRTA was to utilize the following taxes/fees:

  • $10 automobile inspection fee
  • 5 percent tax on automobile repairs
  • Grantor’s tax of 40 cents for every $100 of assessed value when selling a home
  • Motor vehicle rental tax of 2 percent
  • One-time vehicle registration fee of 1 percent
  • Annual vehicle registration fee of $10
  • 2 percent gas tax

The hardest thing to think about is what you can charge for without making people feel put out or overwhelmed. I think that any fee/tax needs to benefit those who drive cars that wear lightly on the roads and cost those with heavier vehicles more. Virginia should raise overall registration fees for vehicles. Right now, there is only an $11 dollar difference in fee cost for registering a small car ($38.75) versus a a heavy truck (7,500 GVW – $49.75). Compare this to someplace like D.C., where the same comparison shows that a small car costs $72 and a similarly sized truck costs $300. Don’t get me wrong, if VA raised our rates that high I think a revolution would be necessary, but we should go higher. These rates would be applied statewide. Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia’s collected fees would go to our respective Authorities. The rest of the state’s collections would go right into the capital budget of VDOT. While we are re-evaluating fees, we should consider a discount for fuel economy. I was thinking 30 mpg would be a good start. This would encourage people to buy more fuel efficient cars which are usually lighter and wear less on the roads.

The next source of revenue is one which makes most people cringe. I am talking about the gas tax. Nobody wants to pay more for gas. Interestingly, those that oppose it the most are usually the same people that either drive gas-guzzlers or drive hours each way for their daily commute. I know that it will be tough. For me, for you, for everyone. We need to raise the money. I think an additional 5 cents would be a good start. It would put VA right around the national average (we are below it now) and well below the national maximum. If we had raised the rate when the prices started going down, the effect would have been near unnoticed.

The next touchy subject that nobody wants to talk about but most kind of know in the back of their minds that they would be beneficial in the long run: tolls. Hampton Roads has a number of proposed Public/Private Partnerships brewing right now. Each of them has something in common. Tolls. If our area could fund more road projects like the Chesapeake Expressway, we might get further. For those of you that may not know, the CE was funded by a loan from VDOT and by bonds, both of which are repayed through tolls. These tolls don’t need to be high. They can be simple 5 or 10 cent tolls on heavily traveled thoroughfares. A toll as low as 5 cents would only cost the average commuter $1 per month. As low as this seems, a 5-cent toll on, hypothetically, the I-64/264 interchange, could generate $6 million per year. Or a 20-cent toll on the Midtown Tunnel, which would generate $5 million/year. A 5-cent toll on the HRBT, the Midtown, the Downtown, the High-Rise, and the MMBT could generate a combined $7 million per year. All of these are hypothetical of course, but if we looked at small tolls that wouldn’t hurt anybody but would collectively raise enough money to matter, we might be able to get somewhere. After our projects are built and paid for, we could keep the tolls low (around $.05) and perhaps only toll in one direction, so that we can continue to pay for maintenance. All of these tolls would be collected completely electronically and could be billed monthly or paid online.

All of these proposals are hypothetical. They are just a sample of what we should do. We can no longer rely on state or federal money to pay for our roads. While I find that deplorable on multiple other levels, we have to keep thinking about our future. Remember: No Transportation = No Economy = No Jobs. Our roads are as important as water and electricity.

A New Hampton Roads Transportation Authority

13 10 2009

The HRTA was created as an effort by the General Assembly to give Hampton Roads what it so desperately needs: a dedicated funding source for major highway construction. However woefully inadequate this funding was, it was a start. Using the latest cost estimates (and including the HRBT), there are an estimated $14.6 billion worth of “high priority” road projects in Hampton Roads. The HRTA would have raised an estimated $170 million per year. It stand to reason then, that without outside help, the total amounts would not be covered until the year 2095. By then, of course, we will have reverted back to farms and bartering because of a lack of connectivity.So we have tow problems. First, how can it collect money and second, how can it collect more money.

The reason the initiative failed was due to the lack of research by the GA. They should have known that a non-elected body could not tax. There are two possible solutions to breath life back into the HRTA. The first is that the GA could impose the fees and taxes and then earmark them to be devoted to the HRTA. The GA, however, being made up mostly of those that lack the testicular fortitude of a flea, refuse to take leadership of anything above cashing their paychecks. The second and slightly more plausible solution would be to create an HRTA board that we actually got to elect. If each city’s residents got to elect the representative to serve on the board, then theoretically, it would be constitutionally acceptable for it to levy taxes. The problem with this, however, is that the board might deteriorate into a bunch of whiny kids wanting to get the most for their city. I think a practical solution would involve making sure that the mission plan of the board is written clearly enough to make it impossible for them force one issue over another. They would also need both an end strategy and a process to get other projects added to the end of the list.

The second issue is how would they collect more money. I will save that for the next post.