Lines drawn over McDonnell’s trans­porta­tion plan

The Washington Post Sunday - - LOCAL OPINIONS -

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

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