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Posted at 3:27 PM ET, 01/27/2011

Lines drawn over McDonnell's transportation plan

By Peter Galuszka

Lines are being drawn over Gov. Robert F. McDonnell's ambitious plan to put $4 billion in transportation projects over the next three years, mostly through the sale of state and federal bonds.

A group of 15 business executives from across the state, including Bobbie Kilberg, head of the Northern Virginia Technology Council, and John Luke, chairman and CEO of Richmond-based packaging firm MeadWestvaco, have come out for the plan. They say 2 million Virginia jobs depend on having good transportation in the state and that funding upgrades has been neglected.

Yet three prominent environmental and smart-growth groups have come down the other way, saying the plan will do little to create real jobs, will push unneeded projects and will stick the state with too much debt. The groups, the Coaliton for Smarter Growth, the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club and the Piedmont Environmental Council, say smarter investment is needed.

The business types argue that every $100 million of road building creates 3,000 jobs. They note that the money would be used in part to pay for a new superhighway along U.S. Route 460 linking Petersburg with South Hampton Roads and for a Coalfields Expressway superhighway in the state's far western mountains near Kentucky.

The environmental types counter that McDonnell's plan would target new projects while some $3.5 billion worth of work needs to be done on existing and faltering roads, bridges and the Metro system. The road near U.S. 460 would end up costing near $3 billion
but run through sparsely populated areas, as would the $4.7 billion Coalfield Expressway.
Other new projects will exacerbate suburban sprawl of the type that has plagued the state, especially the Northern Virginia suburbs, for years.

I must admit that when I first heard of McDonnell's plan, I was for it, believing it to be a welcome change from the new-found deficit religion many Republicans have embraced. I am still Keynesian enough to believe that when you have high unemployment, it doesn't hurt to boost the economy with public works jobs.

But, as Stewart Schwartz, head of the Washington-based Coalition for Smarter Growth, told me, more jobs are created in maintaining existing transportation infrastructure than building new roads. He has a point. Given the location of the U.S. 460 and Coalfield projects, the new jobs may just as well go to North Carolina or Kentucky, both a stone's throw away. And those jobs will vanish anyway when the highways are finished.

Still, I'd rather see some action than the usual deficit-bashing and hand-wringing. A certain amount of the credit does go to McDonnell on this.

Peter Galuszka blogs at Bacon's Rebellion. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.

By Peter Galuszka  | January 27, 2011; 3:27 PM ET
Categories:  HotTopic, Local blog network, Metro, Va. Politics, Virginia, development, economy, energy, environment, housing, real estate, traffic, transportation  
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Another well-considered blog posting. I, too, am not reflexively opposed to new roads. One cannot simply ignore deteriorating service levels on overloaded road segments.

But Virginia desparately needs to maintain and upgrade existing infrastructure, underfunded for far too long. Gov. McDonnell is thinking in the right direction, but needs to adjust his aim a little here.

Posted by: krickey7 | January 27, 2011 4:19 PM | Report abuse

It figures that McDonnell would use transportation funding not to fix an actual problem, but to build state financed roads to benefit his downstate coal buddies. The massive amount of debt he will leave the state with mirrors the debt the national Republican party left our country with. This shows that his talk of fiscal responsibility is just more hypocritical bull.

Any northern Virginian who votes for this guy is being played for a sucker.

Posted by: Mendel | January 27, 2011 6:48 PM | Report abuse

"Other new projects will exacerbate suburban sprawl of the type that has plagued the state, especially the Northern Virginia suburbs, for years."

The usual tired canard that environmental types bleat out whenever plans for new roads are discussed as if the NOT building new roads ever prevented "sprawl".

What can limit "sprawl":

Here are today's new words, kids. Learn them:

1. Limited access (few exits on new roads.).

2. Zoning restrictions.

Funny how none of the environmental types ever have a problem with development spawned by some heavily-subsidized, money-bleeding rail line. Quite to the contrary, they encourage it. To them, dense ("transit-oriented" growth that occurs as a result of crowded subsidized rail is "smart". If it has a little space and elbow room and you can get there by yourself, it's "sprawl".

Posted by: ceefer66 | January 29, 2011 11:36 AM | Report abuse

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