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Problem Solved: No More Traffic!

Isn't life just fabulous in Virginia now that the governor and legislators have completed this year's session of the General Assembly and settled that little road congestion problem? In less than three months, the lawmakers came together and raised the money and made the moves necessary to get everyone moving again.

Oh wait. This just in: They didn't accomplish anything in Richmond this session, and now the governor has summoned his friends back to town starting March 27 to try again.

The Republican leadership in Richmond protests that they did too accomplish great things during the session that ended Saturday. Why, they created a back-to-school sales tax holiday and they got tough on vicious dogs. Important stuff.

And actually, to be fair, what the legislature didn't do really was important: They ended up killing various bills that would have demonstrated raw anger against illegal immigrants by punishing those immigrants' children--banning them from public colleges and that sort of thing.

But all in all, what the Republicans were really focused on this session was political savaging, such as the move to expel former delegate Jim Dillard of Fairfax County from the board at the College of William and Mary--a way to show GOP displeasure at Dillard's decision to vote with then-Gov. Mark Warner to raise taxes and bail Virginia out of its financial mess. And then there was the Republican leadership's glorious triumph over Gov. Tim Kaine a few days ago, when they nixed Kaine's appointment of former labor leader Danny LeBlanc to be secretary of the commonwealth.

And yes indeed, there was one other big accomplishment: The Repos managed to assure that this fall's ballot will include a ratification vote on a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. This has little to do with public policy and everything to do with making certain that social conservatives come on out to the polls this November when the Republicans will need every bit of their base to show up. (Of course, activists on the Democratic side hope to use the same measure to frighten their supporters into showing up, too. But as ever, it's the murky middle of voters who don't have very strong feelings in either direction on this issue and therefore might be inclined to stay home, and thus, the polarizers win again.)

In any event, the special session at the end of this month promises even more stalemate, even more sniping, and then, a real test of the new governor's political skills and this legislature's ability to figure out a way to come home emptyhanded while spinning the results as a victory for traffic-stunned commuters.


By Marc Fisher |  March 14, 2006; 7:52 AM ET
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Comments

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"Of course, activists on the Democratic side hope to use the same measure to frighten their supporters into showing up, too." And so I assume these Democratic folks voted for it too? Right? Otherwise how could you insinuate they are at fault here?

If they oppose this extremely harshly worded amendment (harsher than what other states have done, anyway), then they are just part of the polarizing political problem? I don't understand.

Posted by: Drew | March 14, 2006 10:45 AM

I appreciate the value of do-nothing legislatures. Admittedly, it would be nice if they would get something useful done. The fact is, however, day-to-life moves along pretty smoothly without much interference from a legislature. Individual legislators are prone to proposing all sorts of ridiculous legislation that harms some minority, but which furthers that hack's ambitions. I suggest that the purpose of a legislature is mainly to keep idiots from getting their ideas put into law, rather than to get new laws passed. The passage of new laws is a mere ratification of a course that the citizenry already has chosen.

Sensible zoning seems like the most effective long-term solution to traffic problems -- since that's a regulatory matter, it shouldn't have to go through the legislature. But maybe I don't recall my high school civics class well enough.

Posted by: Tim | March 14, 2006 10:51 AM

"But as ever, it's the murky middle of voters who don't have very strong feelings in either direction on this issue and therefore might be inclined to stay home, and thus, the polarizers win again."

Do you really think that moderate voters will stay home because of this amendment? Seems more likely that the disinterested will not even hear about the amendment. Should the legislators have put an amendment on the ballot that would fire up swing voters? Would that have brought them out? Or perhaps they should have put no amendment at all. Would that have fired up swing voters?

Face it - the MSM story line on swing voters (that ideologues on both sides turn them off) is getting a bit old. When are we going to own up to the fact that most of these people are just not interested in politics? There are tons of moderate candidates out there...but it doesn't matter how many moderates you throw at these people, they just don't care.

Posted by: Virginia Centrist | March 14, 2006 11:28 AM

The solution to NoVa's traffic problems is really quite simple according to Economics 101: peak load pricing, i.e., impose tolls on major roads (using EZ Pass) at levels that keep traffic moving at defined speeds. Thus, if the desired speed is 40 mph, tolls would be increased instantly and automatically to maintain that flow. Drivers would decide if they want to continue at the higher toll, or take an alternate route. Tolls could be very high.
Of course we won't do anything that rational, so we are better off doing nothing rather than paving over everything.

Posted by: Paul | March 14, 2006 11:41 AM

Tim wrote:

> Sensible zoning seems like the
> most effective long-term solution
> to traffic problems -- since that's
> a regulatory matter, it shouldn't
> have to go through the legislature.

No, no, no, a thousand times NO. I
live in Montgomery County (Md.),
where the linking of land use and
transportation has been an obsession
since, well, since as long as I
can remember. I've lived in
eastern Montgomery since 1960, so I
can speak to this with some historical
perspective.

Ever taken a look at A.M. or P.M. rush
hour conditions on I-495 through
Bethesda and Silver Spring? I-270?
U.S. 29?

My part of Montgomery had the
infamous Eastern Montgomery County
Master Plan (approved in 1981,
superceded in 1997) which was based
on something called "a concept of
transit serviceability," which was
intended to compel people to not
drive. Didn't work then, isn't
going to work now.

I do agree that land use is an issue
for county and municipal governments
to deal with - this is not something
that a state legislature should
deeply involve itself in.

Paul wrote:

> The solution to NoVa's traffic
> problems is really quite simple
> according to Economics 101: peak
> load pricing, i.e., impose tolls on
> major roads (using EZ Pass) at
> levels that keep traffic moving
> at defined speeds. Thus, if the
> desired speed is 40 mph, tolls would
> be increased instantly and
> automatically to maintain that
> flow. Drivers would decide if they
> want to continue at the higher toll,
> or take an alternate route. Tolls
> could be very high.

Paul, this is how the HOT lanes on
Ca. 91 (the Riverside Freeway) in
Orange County, California and
on I-15 (Escondido Freeway) in San
Diego County work. It is also the
intent, I believe, behind the
proposed public-private partnership
lanes on part of the Virginia Beltway
would work.

Posted by: Patrick | March 14, 2006 12:08 PM

Marc,

Please be a little more careful with your leads. Leading with the Guv and lumping him in with the General Assembly in failing to pass a budget is the kind of thing that gets the brickbats flying towards the Post.

Remember please, both houses of the Virginia General Assembly have been in Republican hands for quite some time now. Those Repubs have failed to do their jobs and pass a budget during the regular session of the ledge several years running. They are recidivists.

The fervor for legislative gay bashing comes from the Repubs. It strains credulity to suggest that the Dems would defile the State Constitution by championing ugly, repressive and punitive amendments that they oppose simply to stir up their base.

Remember too who is on the ballot in Virginia this year, mr macho man hisself, George Allen. Who knows, maybe he's wearing Toni Llamas these days and the boys are sending him a message about who not to pick should he decide to take a 3rd wife. Or, more likely, he's got precious little to commend him for re election. That means they are trying to change the subject and, as you noted, pulling out all the stops to scare the faithful zombies to the polls. That worked so well for Kilgore, if it were not such an ugly tactic, we'd encourage him to go for it.


Posted by: Cliff | March 14, 2006 12:09 PM

Traffic would also improve if there weren't a stoplight every 10 feet. How does money solve the behavioral changes that impact driving, e.g., rubbernecking at accidents, slowing down because a cop is on the shoulder w/ his lights on, oops, somebody 3 lanes over and six cars ahead put on his brakes, better put mine on too!?

Posted by: Stick | March 14, 2006 12:09 PM

Re: Paul's comment that Virginia should try peak load pricing to ease congestion and his comment that "Of course we won't do anything that rational, so we are better off doing nothing rather than paving over everything."
In fact, Virginia is moving, like Maryland, toward a HOT-lane system on portions of the Beltway that would work exactly like those places in California and elsewhere that raise toll levels according to the level of congestion at any given hour. Under the current thinking, the new lanes being planned for the Beltway would be funded by and would include congestion pricing.

Posted by: Fisher | March 14, 2006 12:41 PM

If you think traffic is a problem that can be "solved" you should be prepared for pertpetual disappointment.

Posted by: Contrarian | March 14, 2006 12:49 PM

If the so-called murky middle can't be motivated to form an opinion on the gay marriage amendment, what does that say about them? Fine, the polar ends do the driving, but that doesn't mean that the middle has to sit around shuffling their feet, afraid to take a stand.

Posted by: Soulie | March 14, 2006 12:54 PM

Tim & Patrick: Planning and zoning do help, some. But these days much traffic is being generated in the outlying areas and clogging things up with the inner 'burbs traffic. Think "sprawl". One of Virginia's big problems, that is a statewide issue, is its reliance on private property rights. More than one of the NOVA jurisdictions has tried various "slow-growth" schemes, only to be shot down by the courts. I recall a case where a Virgina judge in essence told the jurisdiction that their duty was to provide the services needed for new development. Not providing the services because they couldn't afford them wasn't an option.

Posted by: ebtnut | March 14, 2006 1:04 PM

Placing HOT tolls on major roads will not make traffic disappear. The Beltway may be clearer, but surface roads will simply clog up that much more.

It's an unending cycle. Traffic gets heavy because lots of people want to live in a particular place. Eventually that place becomes clogged, and road improvements are made to smooth out and accommodate the traffic. This in turn makes that place more desirable to live in, which brings even more traffic, and it clogs up again. I suspect that we'll see this in action when the Springfield Interchange and new Woodrow Wilson Bridge open; watch how quickly they fill up.

It's easy to criticize a do-nothing legislature, but at some point it seems fair to ask whether we should keep spending billions chasing a goal that's impossible to achieve.

Posted by: Tom T. | March 14, 2006 2:06 PM

Of course, Tom T., it makes sense to throw more money at a problem. That's the Dem's raison d'ĂȘtre, to throw money at the problem. If it's not solved, then throw more money. If a problem isn't solved, it's because you haven't thrown enough money at it.

Posted by: Stick | March 14, 2006 2:38 PM

"Of course, Tom T., it makes sense to throw more money at a problem. That's the Dem's raison d'ĂȘtre, to throw money at the problem. If it's not solved, then throw more money. If a problem isn't solved, it's because you haven't thrown enough money at it."

One word- Iraq.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 14, 2006 3:11 PM

The love affair otherwise smart people like Marc Fisher are having with Tim Kaine: Just amazing.

Posted by: Carole S. | March 14, 2006 3:21 PM

Loved the Iraq reference. We're already at about $1,000 for every person in the U.S., and the cost of the Iraq War is forecasted to go up four to eight times that. Fairfax County has over a million people. There's a billion dollars right there--wasted by the Bush administration in Iraq. (Not to mention the lives lost.)

So, Carole S., did you vote for Bush?

Posted by: Peter | March 14, 2006 6:30 PM

The argument that adding traffic lanes makes more people move to the area where the lanes were added and therefore fills the new lanes up doesn't hold water when you're adding lanes in an area that is already fully built out, like I-66 inside the Beltway or most of the Beltway itself. Now maybe some people who have been using alternate surface roads will migrate to the new Interstate lanes (or HOT lanes, or whatever), but is that a bad thing, getting traffic out of neighborhoods?

And the idea that peak load pricing would make some people take alternate routes sounds attractive, until you try to figure out just where those "alternate routes" would be. Don't try using Route 1/Richmond Highway as an "alternate route" to I-95 south of the Beltway during rush hour, or you're doomed to an even lower circle of hell than you were already in. Been there, took an extra hour.

Posted by: Scott | March 14, 2006 11:23 PM

A question to people in Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and my own Prince William: Doesn't secession from the rest of these backward Southerners and forming a new state (North Virginia?) more and more seem like a smart idea?

Posted by: Vincent | March 19, 2006 4:11 PM

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