Coalition criticizes Va. transportation plan
The Coalition for Smarter Growth stepped up its criticism of Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell's transportation plan soon after House gave tentative approval to the $3 billion package.
As momentum built for the plan's approval, Stewart Schwartz, the coalition's executive director, warned that the initiative could soak taxpayers and worsen sprawl. Schwartz also questioned a George Mason University study that predicts major economic benefits from the governor's plan.
Schwartz called GMU's Stephen Fuller's study "very flawed" because, among other things, it fails to account for the state dollars that would flow into public-private highway projects. Schwartz said the study also overestimates the benefits of the sort of project contemplated in the plan. Nor does Fuller's study identify a single public transit project, Schwartz said.
The study, commissioned by Virginia's Secretary of Transportation and released in time for this week's floor debates, focuses on 16 proposed public-private highway projects.
Schwartz said earlier this week in an interview that the $1.5 billion in borrowed money for the public-private fund would be like the "governor's private bank," doling out very low-interest loans to private highway construction firms that would then receive 75 years of toll revenues in return.
"This transportation bill is about borrowing billions of dollars from our future and from education, health care, and public safety and channeling it to subsidize the multinational companies that build PPTA projects," Schwartz said in a press release. "While Fuller shows no state construction funds for Route 460, Cintra, a Spanish multinational firm, is asking for $782 million or 52 percent of the cost to be paid by taxpayers and for $491 million in loans (33 percent) and to put up only 15 percent of its own money, in return for 75 years or more of toll revenues."
The Republican-dominated House, following a sometimes strident debate, gave tentative approval to the measure by a vote of 62-35. The measure is scheduled for final consideration Friday. A similar measure sponsored by Wampler in the Senate will be aired in the Senate on Monday.
Supporters say the governor's initiative will jumpstart 900 shovel-ready projects without affecting the state's creditworthiness or piling on more debt. Del. S. Chris Jones (R-Suffolk) argued that the debt, which has already been authorized in a 2007 transportation bill, would simply be accelerated so that the commonwealth could take advantage of currently low interest rates and construction costs.
"This is exactly the time you want to be borrowing money to fix roads," Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax) said Thursday. Albo said a report by the Federal Highway Authority found that construction costs have declined by 40 percent since 2006. Given current interest rates, Albo said, Virginia could save as much as $17 million by acting now to repair Rolling Road for $30 million, a Fairfax County artery that would otherwise cost $46.6 million if the state waits.
But critics said the governor's plan was nothing but borrowing and spending. They warned also that the plan will siphon money from schools, higher education, corrections, law enforcement, health care and other programs supported by the general fund.
The governor's office did not address directly criticism from the Coalition for Smarter Growth, instead suggesting that the plan has already gained an unstoppable head of steam.
"We are pleased by the growing and broad bipartisan support in both chambers for this plan that will get 900 road, bridge and transit projects underway and represent the biggest investment in transportation in Virginia in decades," McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin said.
--Staff writer Anita Kumar contributed to this posting.
| February 3, 2011; 6:41 PM ET
Save & Share: Previous: McDonnell, conservative legislators mingle at the mansion
Next: Republican delegate asks Cuccinelli for opinion on autism bill
Posted by: Batavia | February 4, 2011 10:04 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: rvanneman | February 4, 2011 10:41 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: jrmil | February 4, 2011 11:48 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: LukasWP | February 4, 2011 11:09 PM | Report abuse