Political is not the only gridlock we experience in Hampton Roads. Our highways, at predicable (and sometimes unpredictable) times of the day are backlogged for miles. The electronic signs highlighting delays certainly help, but there’s only so much you can fit into a five pound sack of potatoes.
The City of Norfolk spent hundreds of millions on light rail (The Tide), yet downtown congestion during the evening rush hour is as bad, if not worse, than it was before The Tide began running (and the delays caused by The Tide stopping traffic appear to compound the problem). Police officers now direct traffic, essentially to ensure that motorists adhere to the traffic lights. And while The Tide may be meeting or exceeding its heavily-subsidized budget, from all appearances, few are taking The Tide instead of driving.
At the state level, our elected officials just passed the largest transportation bill in decades. But at a cost – one of the biggest tax increases in Virginia’s history. Was that the only option?
In contrast, expansion and/or improvements to tunnels in and around the downtown Norfolk-Portsmouth areas were to be funded, at least in part, by fairly significant tolls. Public outcry against the tolls was intense – and a Portsmouth court recently struck down the tolls (the ruling is on appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court).
Clearly, we need improvements to our transportation system, but no one wants to pay for the upgrades – or so it seems. Is there a solution or any hope in sight?
First, let me say that I could/would not have supported the transportation bill as drafted (and passed). Principally, I am opposed to tax increases (see my prior post on Taxation). While I agree we have to address transportation improvements, we need to fund, at least in part, the improvements through spending cuts elsewhere (I will address the “where” in future posts). Second, there is nothing wrong with requiring those that directly benefit from improvements to pay for portions of the improvements. Think about it for a moment – would you rather waste 15-30 minutes in line (burning up gas all the time) or pay $1.50 toll? The gas savings alone pay the toll.
An example may help. When I was young, we visited my grandparents in Clinton, Iowa every summer. Clinton is located on the Illinois/Iowa border. I knew our journey was concluding when we passed over the Mighty Mississippi. One summer, when we arrived at this final leg of our journey, we were greeted by a new toll bridge. For the next several summers, we dutifully paid the toll. Then one summer the toll booth was gone. We asked “why” and found out that enough tolls had been collected to pay for not only the bridge, but also its maintenance in perpetuity. No taxpayer dollars funding the bridge. No more tolls. A terrific solution.
While I recognize that model is simplistic, why couldn’t the core concept be replicated in our area? Think about it. Instead of mortgaging our children’s and grandchildren’s futures to foreign interests, we actually “pay it forward.” There is no “free lunch” here – solving our transportation issues requires long term approaches. No quick fixes. But we can work toward reasonable, fair solutions if we set our agendas aside long enough to consider viable alternatives.