Friday, January 04, 2008

Why Pay More Taxes for More Roads?

Who says that procrastination doesn’t pay off? If I had written this yesterday, when I first read about the proposed regional transportation authority, I would have had to write (and you to read) a seriously long piece. Fortunately, this morning, TD columnist Bart Hinkle wrote most of what I was thinking. ( Therefore, this will be relatively short.

In case you missed it, my very own delegate, Frank Hall, has proposed that the General Assembly create for us a regional transportation authority. (To be honest, it wasn’t all Frank’s fault. I think the very same chamber of commerce that brought us the Crupi Report is really the source of this proposal). The purpose of the authority would be to fund and implement transportation solutions for the central Virginia region that the General Assembly won’t fund. Projects would be paid for by issuing bonds. The bonds would be paid off by taxing and feeing residents of the region over $100,000,000 per year.

(By waiting until today to write this, I learned where this money is coming from. According to today’s TD, this is the way we will pay: 1- additional yearly $10 registration fee per car; 2- new car registration fee of 1% of vehicle’s value; 3- additional $10 vehicle inspection fee; 4-additional 5% sale on vehicle repairs and service; 5- regional congestion fee of 0.4% on real estate sales; 6- additional 2% sales tax on fuel; and 7- new 2% rental car fee.)

The area to be covered by the proposed authority would include nine jurisdictions, the cities of Richmond, Petersburg, Hopewell and Colonial Heights, and the counties of Chesterfield, Henrico, Hanover, Dinwiddie and Prince George. The authority would consist of the chairs of the boards of supervisors or the mayors of the jurisdictions involved, plus a business representative from each jurisdiction.

As Bart Hinkle pointed out, the transportation authority proposal is flawed because “it calcifies current thinking,” and because “IT IMPEDES progress toward new solutions (his emphasis).” The Hall-chamber of commerce thinking is locked into the idea that if roads are too crowded more roads are needed to fix the problem.

This kind of thinking is exemplified by a statement attributed to Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce (GRCC) President James Dunn in yesterday’s TD. According to the TD,

“He [Dunn] said the area has extensive transportation needs, including widening Interstate 64 east of Richmond, extending the Powhite Parkway and improving Hull Street Road in Chesterfield as well as better regional mass transit.”

I guess I should be happy that Mr. Dunn added mass transit as an afterthought to his “more roads” philosophy. However, when a business leader, who could be a member of the regional authority some day, lists road projects as the area’s greatest transportation needs, it is clear that the business community is "calcified” (thanks Bart for that great word) into outmoded thinking.

What should be obvious to anyone who pays even a little attention to our local growth pattern is that we are stuck in a cycle. It sort of goes like this:
1- We build or improve roads to solve or avoid a real or expected traffic problem;
2- The new or improved road encourages extensive new commercial and residential development;
3- The new development draws tens of thousands of new residents and businesses, which puts an equal number of additional cars on the new or improved road;
4- The result is a new, probably worse, traffic problem; and
5- The solution is—we again must build or improve the roads.

A perfect example of this is the construction of route 288. Route 288 was a road project that went from a nowhere point on Interstate 95 in Chesterfield County to a nowhere point on Interstate 64 in Goochland County crossing a virtually unpopulated stretch of Chesterfield County. Virginia taxpayers paid hundreds of millions of dollars to build this highway. When built, this western bypass of Richmond could hope to carry perhaps a hundred motorists a day routed from points south to Charlottesville. Did we spend hundreds of millions of dollars for these few voyagers? No! Route 288 was built to create development opportunities along every road that intersected its proposed path. The result is ten of thousands of new homes, thousands of new businesses and many thousands of new cars (just think of all that additional carbon dioxide being emitted). And, what a surprise, one of Mr. Dunn’s pet projects in Chesterfield—the improvement of Hull Street Road—is necessary only because route 288 caused such a growth explosion at its interchange with that street.

I am a resident of the City of Richmond. I see no reason why I should agree to increased taxes and fees to pay for improvements to Powhite Parkway, Hull Street Road and Interstate 64. Aside from the rather selfish fact that I rarely drive on those roads, I object to these road improvements because they will add to rather than fix our transportation problems.

Mr. Hall and GRCC: Go back to the drawing board. Come up with a transportation authority that is mandated to design, fund and construct a regional mass transportation system. We don’t need no stinking highways!


Paul Hammond said...

I agree that more roads are not the answer to currently crowded road, but a regional solution is definitely in order. I a believer that the law of supply and demand should help dictate transportation solutions. Higher gas prices are the best incentive to a more rational growth and transportation policy. When we punish inefficiency and waste and reward thrift and rational growth, we will take a big step towards improving not only transportation, but saving energy and building stronger, livable communities.

I find myself largely in agreement with you. Hmm... how'd that happen?


Andrew Stegmaier said...

>Aside from the rather selfish fact that I rarely drive on those roads, I object to these road improvements because they will add to rather than fix our transportation problems.

Don't be ashamed about being selfish--this objection gets to the heart of the problem. The proposal is an extremely clumsy way to finance transportation because it forces people like yourself--who don't need these road improvements--to pay for the people who will consume the roads.

That said, there is nothing wrong with roads like 288 being built, per se. Many people prefer that kind of lifestyle, and they should be able to choose it, as long as they pay their own way.