2nd Half 2005
December 18, 2005 - The Roanoke Times
One is by rail; two is by sea
The United States must prepare
for the inevitable day when fuel oil supplies run short. If the White
House won't lead, the states should.Gov.-elect Tim Kaine's transportation
listening tour has brought out the rail enthusiasts along the congested
Interstate 81 corridor.
The need for massive improvements, including dedicated truck lanes and expensive tolls, could be avoided if only truck traffic were diverted off the highways and onto the railroads, chants the rising chorus of rail enthusiasts.
They have a point. But making the case on congestion alone won't sway the argument.
Running short on fuel oil should. The world, according to energy experts, has either reached or is nearing peak oil supply. That isn't to say that we've pumped oil reserves dry, but that much of it will remain inaccessible to today's technology that would consume as much energy extracting the oil as it would produce.
"Oil peaking represents a liquid fuels problem, not an 'energy crisis' in the sense that term has often been used," said Dr. Robert L. Hirsch, energy consultant and former chairman of the Board on Energy and Environmental Systems at the National Academies, while testifying Dec. 7 before the House Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality. "Motor vehicles, aircraft, trains and ships simply have no ready alternative to liquid fuels."
Matthew Simmons, investment banker and author of "Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy" warns, "The idea that this (energy crunch ) is just another spike is the greatest myth of all time."
One of Simmons' suggestions to keep the economy from collapsing once fuel oil becomes scarce is to move freight off the highways and ship goods by the more energy-efficient means of rails and barges.
But it is difficult to entice industry and the government to begin thinking that way when fuel remains relatively inexpensive, the state of "our railroads would make Bulgaria embarrassed" and the time to move goods is extended.
Simmons said that shipping freight from San Diego to Portland, Maine, takes 4.5 days by truck, 12.5 days by barge and 25 days by train. With abundant, cheap fuel, the incentive to move off road is nonexistent.
The challenge for leaders is to project the future, energy-efficient modes of transportation and to persuade the public and industry of the need and means to arrive there. That type of leadership is absent from the White House. The Bush administration's Energy Policy Act ignores the impending liquid fuels crunch, and continues pushing Alaska's limited oil reserves as the saving fuel.
The United States cannot afford to wait three more years to get started, which leaves the initiative to the states.
But Virginia, even with Kaine's favorable view of rail improvements, can't rebuild transcontinental lines. The new governor can spur his counterparts in the I-81 corridor to make ready the way for when fuel oil runs short.
Precedents already exist for such alliances, as when states joined together to address greenhouse gas emissions while the administration foolishly pretended global warming was a myth.
Impending fuel shortages are just as real. (C)2005 The Roanoke Times |||
December 18, 2005 - Roanoke Times
Do an independent freight analysis
by William T. Hickman Hickman
lives in Roanoke.
It has become a contentious problem to come up with the right solution for handling the anticipated increased truck traffic either on Interstate 81 or by rail or both. As of now, however, I have never heard of the results of an independent analysis.
By independent, I mean a study by people with the expertise to make a thorough analysis and recommendations, not by people intimately associated with the trucking industry, the railroads or the politicians.
For example, has there been any independent study spelling out current total capacity of the railroads (not related to the current number of locomotives and personnel) versus cargo current loading? Notice, please, I said railroads, meaning not just Norfolk Southern.
Have there been any studies and recommendations made to improve operating efficiencies for the railroads and to increase total capacities utilizing more efficient scheduling? What positive impact would additional sidings for passing trains have on total capacity and efficiency versus a complete new additional set of tracks?
The same criteria should also be applied to the trucking industry. For example, truck traffic seems to have peaks and valleys. Is it practical to propose a scheduling organization to tell trucking companies when to put their trucks on the highway (including Saturdays and Sundays) and/or to tell companies to rail ship for long-distance locations if loading conditions exceed a predetermined level?
Are requirements for tandem (hauling two trailers with one truck) units a possibility, and would they reduce total truck traffic through this "compaction" technique used in many states? What about a ruling to require multiple drivers for each truck to assure trucks keep moving?
I am not trying to pick fault with Norfolk Southern or the trucking industry. I just believe that we taxpayers would be much happier with whatever program is adopted if the problems associated with the increased traffic were approached with respectable professionalism. |||
December 15, 2005 - Roanoke Times
Price of fuel will determine economics of shipping by rail
by Frank Goodpasture III
Goodpasture is president of Goodpasture Motor Co., Inc., in Bristol.
In all the reporting and debate over the truck traffic on Interstate 81, there has been little, if any, discussion about the root causes of why the trucks are there in the first place. A better understanding of this might shed light on the pros and cons of both the Star and rail "solutions."
Shipping by truck in this country began in earnest with the development of the interstate highway system, along with increased weight and length limits plus improved truck-building technology. These factors set the stage for vast amounts of freight to shift from rail to the highways. Growth continued with deregulation of the trucking industry and "just-in-time" inventory practices.
In the early 1980s, Congress deregulated trucking routes, giving ease of entry into the trucking business. The result was more trucks competing for freight, driving down the rates and drawing more freight to the highways.
In conjunction with deregulation, just-in-time inventory practices gained popularity. Shipping parts to a manufacturing plant just in time eliminates the need for warehousing. The time that an asset sits idle is reduced, thus saving money.
Dedicated or "truck load carriers" allow manufacturing facilities to have tractor-trailers back up to the docks and unload parts that will be assembled on their products that day. The warehouse is effectively moved to the highway.
The critical element in the success of this logistical model is cheap fuel.
In the late 1990s, gasoline and diesel fuel prices, adjusted for inflation, were at a post-World War II low.
Even with market fluctuation, prices in the United States are some of the lowest in the world due mostly to relatively low fuel taxes. This is maintained by a national energy policy dependent on imported oil, undergirded by a huge military commitment to protect the sea-lanes and the awkward alliance with the Arab states.
Rail proponents are correct in that freight can be moved more fuel efficiently on rail as compared to truck.
The reality is that, with current fuel prices, the energy savings are offset by the time it takes to handle freight by rail. The loading and off-loading, versus a truck that can carry the load from point to point without interruption, yields a significant time advantage.
Eventually freight that is not critically time sensitive will shift from I-81 to rail, but only when fuel prices increase to the point where it makes economic sense.
This eventuality calls to question the timeline and immense expenditure contemplated by Star Solution.
Will higher fuel prices cause a freight-balance shift to railroad, jeopardizing the funding scheme to pay for the project?
For now and for the future, corporate traffic managers will place freight on the most economical modes of transportation.
The price of fuel will determine these economies.
Our leaders need to recognize that fact as they formulate solutions to the problem of truck traffic on Interstate 81. (C)2005 The Roanoke Times |||
December 10, 2005 - The Roanoke Times
Alleviate congestion, save fuel and the environment
by Clay Chastain.
Chastain, a semi-retired engineer, lives in Bedford.
Fact: The United States is facing
an energy and trade imbalance crisis because it has to import too much
Fact: Oil prices are poised to skyrocket again and remain high due to a chronic world-wide decline in oil reserves, amid increasing demand.
Fact: The Virginia Department of Transportation paves the way for more cars and millions more diesel trucks to plow across Virginia's Interstate 81 during the next 30 years.
In a front-page news article on Nov. 30, The Roanoke Times dubbed VDOT's I-81 study, "The road to the future." A more apt description would have been to call this predictable study "A road to ruin."
No doubt heavily influenced by the road-building industry, the VDOT study proposed only token rail improvements ($500 million) along I-81 in favor of, you guessed it, $8.3 billion for widening the entire road with two lanes, and several billion more for widening another half its length by four lanes.
This massive public expenditure is being proposed primarily to
accommodate the ever-increasing through truck traffic.
If this plan is implemented, we can say goodbye to our clean blue skies and the peaceful, charming serenity of Western Virginia, and say hello to more visual yuck, economic waste and environmental degradation.
This primitive, lopsided approach to solving Virginia's transportation woes doesn't comport with what I heard Gov.-elect Tim Kaine tell me and 300 other people at his first transportation forum in Roanoke.
He said we needed a transportation system in Virginia that was
"balanced" between cars, trucks, rail and bicycle rights-of-way.
VDOT's I-81 study is to transportation balance what a box full of
donuts is to a balanced diet.
Here is why we need more rail transportation in the I-81 equation:
• Long-haul diesel trucks placed on rail use far less energy than
long-haul freight trucks on the roadways.
• Freight on rail greatly reduces harmful emissions over freight on diesel trucks.
• It costs far less to upgrade I-81 with two new rail lines than to
add additional freeway lanes primarily for trucks.
• It's far, far, far safer to isolate on rail these often dangerous,
speeding, diesel tractor-trailers, as opposed to having to sweat bulletsdodging them on our interstate.
Two new rail lines will not pave over more prime farmland and
threaten species and historic battlefields, as will widening the interstate to accommodate more trucks.
A $3.7 billion dual rail line (proposed by Rail Solutions) along
I-81 would handle the increase in truck traffic over the next 30 years, precluding the need to widen I-81 except in a few trouble spots.
• Per ton, transport by rail greatly reduces harmful CO2 emissions (global warming) versus transport by diesel trucks.
Incredibly though, the VDOT study waves off all this economic and environmental common sense by declaring that Rail Solution's solution "doesn't offer enough benefits to justify the cost."
Funny though, the study never tells us exactly what the benefits are of spending four times that much to widen the interstate so that thousands more belching, streaking, nerve-wracking diesel trucks can pollute their way across Virginia on their way to somewhere else.
And as I said, VDOT's proposal completely disregards our nation's rising fuel costs and looming energy crisis.
VDOT's faulty transportation equation apparently treats the future cost and availability of diesel and gasoline fuel as a nonvariable over the next 30 years.
And what if we spend billions of dollars over the coming years to widen I-81 and fuel goes between $10 and $15 a gallon? Then what?
Long-haul diesel trucks will be forced to ride on fuel-efficient rail
elsewhere, as will many auto travelers.
Such an outcome would leave Virginia with an underused, overbuilt multibillion-dollar eyesore and its associated fixings (more asphalt, truck stops, fast-food outlets, billboards and gas stations) carved into our beautiful commonwealth.
So, Virginians will either be stuck with a dangerous, expensive,
noisy, unsightly, polluted I-81 corridor full of streaming diesel trucks (if gas prices remain stable), or a needless gargantuan expenditure of everyone's money if gas prices go through the roof.
You need not be an electrical engineer with 21 hours of mathematics and years of transportation planning experience (like me) to know that not only does VDOT's plan not add up, nor will it be a role model transportation plan for the rest of the country to follow, but it's an absolute insult to the environment, sound economics and the intelligence of the people of the great commonwealth of Virginia.
(C)2005 The Roanoke Times |||
December 9, 2005 - Staunton News Leader
Kaine lends ear to I-81
Congestion causes concern
By David Royer/staff, email@example.com
STAUNTON — They want rail
solutions, they want truck solutions — most of all they just want
bottleneck solutions for Interstate 81, the clogged artery that channels
commerce through the Valley.
More than 150 people, some from as far away as Abingdon, crowded into a conference room at the Stonewall Jackson Hotel and Conference Center in Staunton on Thursday to give Gov.-elect Tim Kaine a piece of their minds about transportation issues in the Valley.
Predictably, most comments focused on I-81, which cuts through the heart of Augusta County. Audience members who spoke overwhelmingly supported fixing traffic "choke points" rather than widening the entire length of the roadway.
None spoke in favor of the $13 billion plan pushed by Star Solutions, a coalition of construction firms, to widen the 325 miles of I-81 in Virginia using funds generated by truck tolls.
"If we simply widen the interstate, it's just going to encourage more traffic, and the bottom line is, we're not going to solve the problem," said Wendell Coleman, vice chairman of the Augusta County Board of Supervisors.
Coleman said the board opposes proposals for tolls along the interstate, while it encourages the state to consider rail options.
Bobby Whitescarver of Swoope took the rail position a step further, advocating more support for train transit to relieve crowded roads and interstates.
"If we're going to move freight on rail, let's move people on rail, too," Whitescarver said.
At one point, Kaine asked audience members to raise their hand if they supported a rail option to alleviate interstate congestion. Nearly every hand in the room went up.
"It certainly has been a big focus of a lot of the comments in places like Roanoke and Bristol," Kaine spokeswoman Delacey Skinner said.
Thursday's meeting was the sixth of a planned 12 transportation town hall meetings throughout the state.
Kaine, who made transportation one of the main themes of his bid for the governor's office, said he hoped the meetings would help bring him up to speed on problems across the state before his inauguration Jan. 14.
"I think that 2006 needs to be a year for action," Kaine told the audience. "There's a sense of urgency. We need to do something in 2006."
Skinner said Kaine is expected to release a full transportation package near the beginning of next year's legislative session. |||
December 9, 2005 - Bristol Herald Courier
Editorial: Tolling I-81: The wrong approach
Interstate 81 reborn as a toll
road is a recurrent theme in a state study of expansion plans for the
The Virginia Department of Transportation’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement on I-81 appears to assume tolls are inevitable. The only question: How much will we pay for the privilege of driving on the bigger, better road?
This is the wrong approach. It assumes a decision to use toll-financing to build the road has been made, when that simply isn’t the case.
State law – unless it is changed in the 2006 legislative session – prohibits tolling passenger vehicles on existing highways, including I-81, although tolling commercial vehicles is possible. State Sen. William Wampler, R-Bristol, fought to write that protection into law five years ago. In the years since, lawmakers have introduced various schemes to toll I-81, but none have received enough votes to pass. There isn’t the political will to make motorists pay to travel a road that is the economic lifeline of Southwest Virginia.
Paying a toll would be a hardship for many in the region, where average incomes are well below those in more prosperous parts of the state. It is unseemly to require area residents struggling to improve their lot in life to pay a toll to drive from their home to work or to visit family in the next town.
Tolls also are a burden for local trucking firms, manufacturers, agribusinesses and the regional timber industry. Some of these homegrown businesses operate on a small margin.
The potential hardship might be alleviated by granting waivers for short trips or by allowing locals to purchase discount passes, but that isn’t the only concern. Diversion of traffic onto Lee Highway is an equally important consideration.
VDOT downplays that concern, saying traffic on Lee Highway will get worse no matter what happens on the interstate. The report concludes even a high toll would only increase diversion by a small amount – no specifics are given.
"The resulting increase is slight for this type of roadway (a rural principal arterial) and the overall impact is low," the report says, rather cryptically.
In a moment of candor, the report’s writers admit Bristol and Abingdon would suffer the ill effects of diversion to a greater extent than the rest of the state.
What that means for crowded Lee Highway – where rapid retail growth has pushed right up to the edges of the road – is anyone’s guess. Longer drive times, more wrecks and a deterioration of air quality from all that start-and-stop traffic are some possibilities.
Apparently, such matters aren’t important enough to concern those gung-ho toll supporters, who see tolls as the only way to pay for a massive road-widening project whose final cost is still a question mark.
If there is a silver lining, it is this: The toll issue is out in the open and ripe for debate. But its backers should tread carefully. Public sentiment and state law are against them.
Editor’s note: Last in a three-part series. |||
December 5, 2005 - Augusta Free Press
Picking apart the I-81
The Lighter Side of Politics
by Chris Graham, firstname.lastname@example.org
It has been a point of discussion in political circles for the past several months - and now it's out on the street.Meaning that it's time for those who have been breathlessly awaiting the arrival of the draft environmental-impact statement that the Virginia Department of Transportation has put together to guide future improvements to Interstate 81 to begin picking it apart.
"This is one of those things where you're seeing already some spin in different directions. You can almost make out of it what you want to make out of it. That's one of the shortcomings that I see with the process itself and the particular phase that we're in," said Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Mount Solon, who has been an outspoken critic of the belabored process that VDOT has been engaging in relative to I-81 improvements.
The issue of I-81 improvements has been a topic for the gristmill for much of the past decade. In that context, last week's release of the draft EIS is only another milestone along the way.
"It's still a lengthy process, and it all depends on what segment is selected and what environmental documents would be required," said Mal Kerley, VDOT's chief engineer, during a conference call with reporters held last week to discuss the environmental-impact statement.
"We can't move forward with any improvements on I-81 without moving through the environmental process," Kerley told reporters on the call.
Calling it an environmental process would seem to imply that detailed consideration was given as to how the improvements that are to be made will impact on Western Virginia from an environmental perspective - from air quality to water to other quality-of-life issues. But Trip Pollard, a policy advocate and senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, said that the reach of the draft statement is limited in that sense because it examined only direct impacts of road-building.
"They don't look at, and they didn't look at in any way, the indirect-lane-use impacts and sprawl and just the impacts that adding the number of lanes could have," Pollard told The Augusta Free Press.
"They have conclusions that adding a number of lanes would bring more jobs and bring more population, but if that's the case, you know that's going to make for more sprawl. They don't quantify that at all. They quantify the economic impact and the population impact that they project, but they don't quantify what's going to be the associated land-use environmental impacts of adding lanes to I-81," Pollard said.
"The impacts are going to be massive even within the parameters of this study, and I think that they are going to be much more substantial than this study suggests," Pollard said.
Rees Shearer, the chairman of Rail Solution, an advocacy group that has been pushing for consideration of the use of rail to ease traffic congestion on I-81, pointed to another area where the study might have underestimated a potential impact - regarding the ability of rail to divert truck traffic from the highway.
According to the draft EIS, full-level improvements to the Norfolk Southern Shenandoah line would lead to the diversion of less than 6 percent of trucks that currently use the interstate in Virginia - at a price tag of a hefty $5 billion.
"We find it almost impossible to believe that VDOT is correct about the impact of truck-time competitive rail on truck diversions to rail," Shearer told the AFP.
Shearer reserved further comment on the issue a bit out of necessity - the transportation department has yet to post the meta-analyses of the data used to justify the conclusions offered on rail to its www.i-81.org Web site that has made the draft environmental-impact statement available to the public.
That fact - and the seemingly rushed nature of last week's release of the draft statement - was met with criticism by Kim Sandum, the president of the Rockingham County-based Community Alliance for Preservation.
"They've released a very large study just before the holidays, and they're going to hold hearings on it early next year. How much publicity is it going to get right before the holidays? Minimal. How much time are people going to have to spend on studying it? Minimal. How ready are they going to be to go out in the cold and snow for a public hearing? Not so ready," Sandum told the AFP.
"There is a pattern that really makes me nuts with VDOT having hearings in early January," Sandum said. "The other alternative that they seem to have on their calendar is the week of the Fourth of July. You almost want to say, 'OK, see you same time next year.'
"This is so significant. You would think that they would really want people to have the most opportunity to dig through it and to comment on it," Sandum said.
Hanger, for his part, wonders aloud what the value is to spending the time and money on study after study.
"Obviously, we've had to spend a lot of money to come to this point, and almost any armchair observer, given a ride up and down Interstate 81, and about five minutes to think about it, would come to the basic same conclusions that the report comes to. There's too much traffic out there, and we've got to do something. And anyone who has an appreciation for our lifestyle, and some of the sensitive areas of the environment in Western Virginia, also would come to the same conclusion, that you would have to be careful how you do that. You don't want to overbuild, and yet there are places that need immediate attention," Hanger told the AFP.
"I really believe that we would be much better served if we could just basically as quickly as possible get that proposal behind us and come up with some immediate plans to expand by one additional lane in most locations on I-81 on both sides. A lot of that can be done with very limited environmental impact and study because of the fact that it can be accomplished within existing right-of-way, and the cost can be more manageable," Hanger said. |||
December 4, 2005 - Bristol Herald Courier
Kaine looks to secure place in history as transportation governor
BY ANDREA HOPKINS, Opinion
With his inauguration still weeks away, Virginia Gov.-elect Tim Kaine is on a crusade to keep his signature issue – dragging the state’s roads into the 21st Century – on track.
"Transportation is an issue I didn’t choose. It chose me," Kaine said.
Kaine conveys a sense of urgency as he stresses the need to get key road projects moving and to find a way to fund them. It was a theme he touched on frequently during his campaign, and a likely factor in his election day victory. The roads message was a positive note in a campaign season filled mostly with discordant ones.
VIRGINIANS, regardless of political stripe, are concerned about the roads they drive to get to work or school and home again. That’s obvious from the standing-room-only crowds which have greeted Kaine at all of the stops on his listening tour across the state. When the road show came to Bristol Thursday, Interstate 81 and the as-yet-unbuilt Coalfields Expressway dominated the discussion as expected.
Kaine focused on the same two regional projects when he met with the Bristol Herald Courier’s editorial board earlier in the day. While not endorsing any specific solution to either mammoth project, he pledged progress on both fronts – not an insignificant commitment considering the decade the Coalfields Expressway has spent on the drawing board and the protracted back-and-forth over I-81.
On I-81, Kaine confessed he hadn’t yet digested the draft environmental impact statement released by the Virginia Department of Transportation earlier in the week. The document isn’t a quick read; the executive summary alone comes in at an impressive 29 pages.
After two years of work, transportation experts found no single solution to relieve pressure on the interstate, which is crowded with many more tractor-trailers than it was designed to handle and is simply outmoded or poorly engineered in places along its 300-mile snake-like path across the state. The resulting report isn’t exactly an endorsement of Star Solutions’ plans to widen the highway to eight lanes from stem to stern, either.
KAINE FREQUENTLY uses the word "triage" as he talks about the most realistic way to make I-81 a safer ride. He leaves an impression that trouble spots along I-81 could see some money for upgrades in the near term.
"Safety of passenger vehicles is the key goal," he said, adding that I-81 is on any list of the top five immediate transportation needs in the state.
In this area, talk of I-81 is frequently coupled with calls for a "rail solution" – more specifically, upgrading freight lines so that more goods that are merely passing through the state are moved by train than semi-truck. The rail backers act out of pure hearts – a sincere desire to protect the region’s pastoral views, keep the air clear of diesel fumes and (further up the corridor) to preserve Civil War battlefields, an important piece of Virginia history, for the next generation.
Noble goals, but the draft reports all but rules out rail as the primary solution because of the high costs involved. The iron horse seems destined to play only a supporting role, unless the political will to invest significant sums of public and private capital develops.
OUTSIDE OF the Bristol metro area, the Coalfields Expressway dominates transportation discussions. Kaine seems committed to moving it forward, but, again, he didn’t fence himself in with specifics.
"To have it up in the air is debilitating," Kaine said of the road seen as a vital economic artery for the remotest reaches of the region. "I am serious about putting that project in (final) form and making a commitment to move forward with it."
Although the details vary from region to region, roads are a statewide worry. Unique to Southwest Virginia is the fear of being forgotten by those running things in Richmond, thus the frequent joke about the state ending at Roanoke.
Kaine seeks to calm those fears, promising to follow in the footsteps of Gov. Mark Warner, who has delivered on his pledge to recruit high technology jobs to Southwest Virginia. Kaine said he is considering area residents for posts in his government and toying with the idea of holding regular office hours in all corners of the state.
"WHEN I take on an initiative like transportation, I make it plain it is not just a Northern Virginia issue," he said. "Economic development is the key for Southwest Virginia. I’ll be hands on."
Kaine’s nimble mind and charm make you believe he will deliver on his promises – whether you live in Fairfax or Bristol. In these days of polarized politics when government too often devolves into a shouting match over trivial matters, that is a good place to start.
Andrea Hopkins is opinion editor of the Bristol Herald Courier. She may be reached at email@example.com or (276) 645-2534. |||
28, 2005 - The Roanoke Times
Governor must lead on transportation
by Gary M. Bowman
Bowman a Roanoke lawyer, is the author of "Highway Politics in Virginia."
When Gerald Baliles was elected governor in 1985, he faced what was then viewed as a transportation crisis that resulted from a decrease in federal highway construction funds and increased maintenance costs. Twenty years later, Virginia's transportation crisis remains unresolved.
Commuter congestion is worse and many projects that have been on "urgent needs" lists since 1985 remain unbuilt.
Throughout most of the 20th century, Virginia made transportation policy based on a consensus that the purpose of the highway program was to connect Virginia's cities and towns. Construction was limited by pay-as-you-go financing, supplemented by ample federal interstate-highway construction funds. Most construction was in rural areas, which was supported by the rural Democrats who controlled state government into the 1960s.
In the 1970s, the rise of suburban populations diminished the political power of rural Democrats and created an increasing demand for new road projects to reduce commuter congestion.
By the time Baliles was elected in 1985, the political power of Virginia's suburbs required that the "transportation crisis" be addressed, and Baliles pursued a transformation of transportation policy that resulted in an abandonment of pay-as-you-go financing, an acceleration in highway construction to meet political demands and a reorganization of the Highway Department, which became the Virginia Department of Transportation, to be more responsive to public and political demands.
The effect of Baliles' transportation initiative was to politicize transportation policy and move the locus of decision-making from the professional bureaucracy to the political arena. Baliles was successful in increasing VDOT's responsiveness to public demands, shifting focus to reducing commuter traffic congestion, but at the cost of making transportation policy a political game in which legislative bargaining, rather than a rational strategy, determines which transportation projects will be funded.
Another effect of the politicization of transportation policy has been the gradual deprofessionalization of VDOT. After 20 years, it will require a determined effort to restore the professionalism that characterized Virginia's highway department for most of its history. The basic problem with transportation policy since the early 1980s has been a lack of consensus as to where projects should be built and how to fund them.
Today, a consensus is again emerging. Highway funds should be used to get commuter traffic moving again in Northern Virginia and Tidewater by eliminating choke points that impede the flow of traffic. Building new roads, or even widening roads, is often not necessary to improve the performance of traffic systems if the choke points in the system are identified and funds are targeted at those points.
Part-time legislators cannot perform the analysis and develop the strategy to improve traffic systems, nor can they effectively oversee the continuous work of VDOT; the politicians need to allow the engineers to do their work, and the governor needs to perform the oversight to make sure the engineers use highway funds responsibly.
At the same time, major regional projects, such as the extension of the Metro system in Northern Virginia, a third crossing of Hampton Roads, the diversion of truck traffic onto rail along the Interstate 81 corridor and the expansion of passenger rail across the state, will require the building of consensus within the legislature.
Land-use reform and reform of Virginia's local government structure to allow greater regionalism will require action by the Republican-controlled legislature, which is not likely to occur without strong leadership.
Virginia's transportation needs will not be met until the governor asserts control of the transportation policy process, formulates a strategy and consolidates a consensus in support of the strategy. Increased funding will merely be wasted without a strategy and leadership.
Gov.-elect Tim Kaine has a unique opportunity to lead, since he is inheriting a well-managed government with which he is already familiar, and he can devote the time required to develop and implement a transportation policy.
The past three governors have come to office promising to make transportation a priority, but other priorities overwhelmed transportation.
An important test of Gov. Kaine's effectiveness will be whether he can recognize where consensus exists, and lead VDOT to exploit it, and recognize where consensus does not exist, and work with the General Assembly to build it. (C)2005 The Roanoke Times |||
November 16, 2005 - Bristol Herald Courier
Kaine begins town-hall tour focused on transportation issues
By SUE LINDSEY Associated
ROANOKE, Va. - Greater use of railroads to haul freight, higher taxes and more state police patrols were some of the suggestions Wednesday to Gov.-elect Tim Kaine to help ease western Virginia's transportation woes.
Many who offered the various solutions agreed on the region's No. 1 transportation problem _ tractor-trailer congestion on Interstate 81.
Kaine was the first to suggest greater use of the rails in his opening remarks to some 250 people packed into a room of the Virginia Transportation Museum where railroad cars once were built.
He noted that an extra carload on a freight train takes the place of about 12 trucks. "I-81 comes to mind," he said to applause.
The forum was the first of five scheduled town hall-style meetings around the state that Kaine promised during the campaign to hear from elected officials, citizens and experts in the field about their transportation problems.
On Wednesday he said there probably would be five more in addition to those scheduled Monday in Newport News, Tuesday in Henrico County, Nov. 29 in Manassas and Dec. 1 in Bristol.
"I believe the most urgent issue facing the next governor is transportation," Kaine said, promising it would be a theme in the 2006 General Assembly session.
Kaine reiterated his opposition to the use of transportation trust fund money for other purposes, and said he advocates greater coordination between local land-use planning and plans for roads.
After several speakers suggested switching more freight to trains, eighth-grader Aaron Lyles asked Kaine whether his truck-driver father would lose his job.
"This is about balance," Kaine said, noting that not all of the trucks on the interstate constituted "pass-through traffic" as some suggested. He said businesses such as Coors Brewing Co. located in the Shenandoah Valley to be close to I-81, and promised the highway would not be closed to them.
One speaker suggested raising the state tax on diesel fuel, which he said was 1 1/2 cents less than the gasoline tax and lower than diesel taxes in surrounding states. Another called for an increase in the gas tax to help reduce traffic, and Pulaski County Supervisor Ranny Akers urged a 2-cent increase in the sales tax, with a half-cent to education and the rest to roads.
Granger Macfarlane, a former state senator from Roanoke, suggested building climbing lanes for trucks on the hilly stretch of I-81 between Christiansburg and Staunton and the location of an inland port between Roanoke and Wytheville to reduce west-to-east truck traffic.
The stalled proposal for Interstate 73 through the region was mentioned by several speakers, who urged that if built it be on the north-south route of U.S. 220 rather than take farmland for a parallel route.
Americans' dependence on the automobile was a frustration to some.
One speaker, noting a great increase in the dependence on foreign oil since in the Arab oil embargo 30 years ago, was applauded when he said the state should make an effort to reconfigure its communities to reduce travel.
Another asked Kaine what he planned to do for pedestrians and bicyclists.
"I would ride my bike to work if I felt safe doing that," Mark Dominesey of Christiansburg said.
But what of the major road problem facing our end of the state... a jammed and at times unsafe Interstate 81? On that score, it doesn't appear Kaine will take any major step toward widening the entire road.
His staff tells me Kaine isn't a big fan of tolls, particularly tolls only on trucks because he believes it could hurt economic development. That means the Star Solutions plan, a private/public partnership that would have widened I-81 in part through tolls, could be in trouble.
Instead, Kaine's staff tells me he'll look for smaller ways to make the road safer through creating more passing lanes in some areas prone to accidents and improving some exit ramps. |||
November 3, 2005 - The Roanoke Times
Building roads won't fix transportation woes
by Michael Testerman
Testerman, of Richmond, is retired from the Richmond Department of Social Services where he worked as a social worker.
Virginia needs straight talk on roads.
Ronald Kosh of AAA posits these data: "In the 1990s, Virginia's population grew by 11 percent. . .but the number of cars on the road increased by 22 percent. Even more problematic, the number of vehicle miles traveled rose by 32 percent."
These astonishing numbers deserve our most strident attention. Kosh has evidently given them much consideration, as he concludes we must "immediately devote the resources needed to expand and improve Virginia's highways."
While the data may be indisputable, I think an alternative conclusion might be more in order.
The recent history of our nation's transportation patterns, primarily over the last 50 years, has emphasized automobile travel to the near-total exclusion of other means. For almost any trip -- to the store for some milk, Kevin's soccer practice, Sally's dance lesson, Tom's Kiwanis meeting, vacation at the beach or Granny's house in Richmond -- chances are you use your car.
Transportation has always driven the design of communities. Today's vast highway network, combined with a seemingly endless supply of affordable fuel, has transformed our communities from tightly packed, pedestrian-friendly cities to endless sprawl development. Cars dominate our lives in significant ways and virtually no construction, either residential or commercial, is done without addressing the needs of cars ahead of people.
Today's suburban development, according to social critic William Howard Kunstler, represents "the greatest misallocation of resources in human history."
The cruel irony is that the quiet we sought in the suburbs ended when everyone moved there. The convenience of drive-through food and banking is negated by overwhelming traffic.
Have you ever wondered why that new highway never seemed to solve any traffic congestion problems? It's because it quickly spawned new development to take advantage of the excess capacity. We have a transportation problem not because we have too few highways but because we have too many cars and too few options.
Our automobile fixation has had extensive negative impacts. Hundreds of millions of cars pollute our air, foul our streams, contribute to global warming and prevent us from getting the daily exercise we need, leading to an epidemic of obesity. We sacrifice millions of acres of prime land for highways and parking lots. We experience endless frustration and rage in communities we hate. Worst of all, we imperil our national security by overdependence on oil, a resource we cannot control.
Almost 30 years ago, facing a nation reeling from recession brought about by the oil embargo, President Jimmy Carter urged us to wage the "moral equivalent of war," to secure our energy independence.
"Beginning this moment," Carter said, "our nation will never use more foreign oil than we did in 1977 -- never. From now on, every new addition to our demand for energy will be met from our own production and our own conservation."
So much for that. In those days, roughly 30 percent of our petroleum came from foreign sources. Today, the number approaches 60 percent, and it's still growing.
Carter's energy crisis was political and temporary; the next will be real and lasting. To what lengths our nation will go in its quest to satisfy this addiction should terrify us all.
As with power plants and grasshoppers, the world will not tolerate the ongoing megagrowth of cars. We are entering a period when, due to peaking international supplies of petroleum, our automobile fleet will, by enlightened choice or by the hand of nature, begin to diminish.
Gasoline is destined to rise in price inexorably and dramatically. Barring the discovery of some new, magical energy source, every dollar spent on new roads will prove to be wasted. It may be politically untenable to say so, but traveling down the same road of yore is an economic and environmental dead end.
Our best hope for a mobile future is a rapid, radical reallocation of transportation resources toward a more diverse and efficient mix of transit, rail, bicycling and walking. These will relocalize and magnetize our communities, bringing new development to population centers rather than to the farms and forests at the perimeter, as in our current paradigm.
M. King Hubbert gained fame for proposing what is now known as "Hubbert's Peak," the mathematical postulation of oil production. According to Hubbert, if plotted over time, oil will yield production numbers that resemble the famous statistical bell-shaped curve, with a rise, a peak, and a decline.
Hubbert is deceased, but many experts continue his work and predict the international peak year is nigh. On the terrible, sempiternal downhill slope, we'll wish we'd invested in more efficient options. (c) 2005, The Roanoke Times |||
September 7, 2005 - The News Virginian
SEN. HANGER WEARY OF DELAYS
IN I-81 IMPROVEMENT
By Bob Stuart
By late fall, VDOT expects to have the first-draft results of a consulting environmental impact study detailing the effect of widening or other changes to Interstate 81 in Virginia.
The agency expects that many of the questions about additional I-81 lanes, the impact on traffic of tolls to pay for an expansion or the use of rail will be answered by the study.
VDOT spokeswoman Laura Bullock said the release of the study would be followed by public hearings along the interstate corridor in early 2006.
However, Shenandoah Valley legislators, especially Sen. Emmett Hanger, are growing weary of the cumbersome process to improve the interstate, particularly the potential partnership with the STAR Solutions group.
STAR has proposed widening I-81 to at least four lanes in each direction, separating cars from trucks and the charging of tolls to finance the 15-year project.
Hanger, R-Mount Solon, is leaning more and more toward ending any negotiation with STAR and using an annual appropriation of $100 million to improve I-81 where necessary.
Those improvements could include the addition of a third lane in selected locations, the upgrading of existing bridges and overpasses and realignment of some of the existing intersections.
Hanger said if Virginia had previously spent $100 million each year on I-81, "we would be well on our way to correcting problems."
"What we are not doing is committing ourselves to a plan of action,'' Hanger said.
Even if a large-scale plan for improving the interstate gains traction, Hanger said there will be other obstacles.
"There are legal hurdles and challenges from an environmental standpoint. How will we find the money to do that?'' he said.
Hanger said concentrating on a strategic improvement of I-81 "is more of what we need to do, instead of swinging hard and hitting the home run."
While Hanger is eager to see the environmental impact study, he doubts the study "will tell us intuitively what we don't already know. The road is crowded and we need to look at options."
Bullock said the environmental impact study does not prevent localized improvements to the interstate, just improvements across the entire 325 miles of I-81 in Virginia.
She said the study, being performed by the Richmond firm of Vanasse Hangen Brustlin Inc., will document the answers to questions people are assuming answers to.
Other Valley legislators want to see the environmental impact study but also lean toward the pragmatism Hanger has.
Del. Ben Cline, R-Rockbridge, said he and his Valley colleagues reject the idea of "four truck-only lanes."
"You are seeing a consensus for building third lanes on inclines combined with an increased trooper presence and an investment in rail,'' Cline said. "Hopefully, the environmental impact study will bolster that finding."
Del. Chris Saxman, R-Staunton, said he hasn't shifted in his desire to strategically widen I-81.
"We need to alleviate some congestion in areas around Harrisonburg and Roanoke,'' he said. "We don't need four lanes in each direction for 325 miles." |||
August 22, 2005 - The New Republic (see article online)
Don Young's Legacy: ROAD MODEL
by Clay Risen
Just after dawn on October 19, 1864, a force of 14,000 Confederate soldiers surprised a Union camp along Cedar Creek, at the northern edge of Virginia's Shenandoah Valley. The Union troops quickly retreated. But what looked like an easy Confederate victory fell apart when Major General Philip Sheridan arrived on horseback, rallied his troops, and won a crushing counterattack. The Battle of Cedar Creek not only signaled the end of the Confederates in western Virginia--making it possible for the Union to pressure their capital, Richmond--but it gave a political boost to Abraham Lincoln, who won reelection a few weeks later. In 2002, recognizing the significance of the site, President Bush made it a national park.
Today another battle is raging over Cedar Creek. Long before Bush--or anyone else--paid much attention to the battlefield, the federal government built Interstate 81 along its eastern edge. Now, traffic along the highway is bustling, in some places far exceeding the road's carrying capacity. To alleviate this congestion, a construction consortium led by Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR) is negotiating a $13 billion plan to expand Virginia's entire stretch of I-81 by adding at least two dedicated truck-toll lanes in each direction. The project takes advantage of a Virginia law--known as the Public Private Transportation Act (ppta)--that allows firms to propose, bid, and control state infrastructure. In this case, the construction consortium, called star Solutions, would require trucks to use its new lanes, reaping a profit off the tolls.
The idea of a superhighway running through the Valley has locals up in arms. A few weeks ago, I drove out to Cedar Creek to meet John Hutchinson, program manager for the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation and a leading opponent of star's plan. Showing me around the new park--still largely undeveloped, with no campgrounds or historical markers--Hutchinson said the expansion of I-81 would devastate not only Cedar Creek and the other Civil War battlefields strung along the Shenandoah Val