Lines drawn over McDonnell’s transportation plan
Lines are being drawn over Virginia 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 have 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 Coalition 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 Route 460 would end up costing nearly $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 in building new roads. He has a point. Given the location of the Route 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 instead of the usual deficit-bashing and hand-wringing. A certain amount of credit does go to McDonnell on this.
Peter Galuszka, Bacon’s Rebellion