Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Speaker weighs in

Here is the text of the Op-ed run by the Speaker of the House Bill Howell.

There is an old saying that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

With commuters stymied by gridlock in Northern Virginia, the delivery of goods from the ports in Hampton Roads impeded by congestion, and the safety of those who use I-81 a genuine concern, it would be foolish for Virginia to address transportation with the same outdated approaches it has utilized for the past century and expect improvement. It is imperative to the livelihood of all Virginians that we develop new ideas, shift broken mindsets, and turn the inertia of government to support a 21st Century approach to improve our transportation network.

This year and last, House Republicans initiated and supported innovative solutions to transform VDOT, better coordinate land use, and increase investments in our transportation system. An acknowledgement that Virginia cannot afford to accept the status quo system that has failed our Commonwealth is inherent in the proposals we have advanced. The notion that this challenge would be solved solely by throwing more money at it has already failed, as evidenced by our current circumstance.

House Republicans know that real solutions to Virginia’s transportation ills can – and must – be implemented without further burdening our citizens. Embracing an outdated and failed approach to address this challenge, the Governor and his supporters have chosen to advance another record-breaking tax increase. In contrast, House Republicans know that a problem as complex as this requires a multi-faceted plan, making transportation as a top priority and delivering real solutions.

With the implementation of the Public-Private Transportation Act over a decade ago, Virginia was poised to be a national leader in delivering innovative transportation services. Sadly, bureaucratic resistance, incoherent goals, and the absence of continued, focused leadership in VDOT have caused a lack of progress in developing real solutions.

Because our current model of doing business is clearly not working, we need to enact concrete measures to ensure a thriving transportation system for the long-term. VDOT must institute quantitative performance measures that advance projects based on reducing congestion, enhancing safety and improving mobility in a cost-effective way. This may sound obvious, but VDOT’s current process has failed to implement these common-sense goals that are not only clear but measurable so accountability can be assured.

While being “on time” and “on budget” is a laudable goal for a business, the allocation of resources by VDOT should be focused on the two areas – improving safety and reducing congestion – that most directly benefit commuters, businesses, and communities. Increased accountability and tangible analysis of the costs and benefits of investing in certain projects based on those goals will deliver economical solutions and real progress. This is the most practical way to ease congestion and guarantee a safer network.

Opponents of a comprehensive approach to transportation dwell on the lack of massive tax hikes in the House’s plan. But, it would be reckless and irresponsible to demand more of Virginians’ hard earned dollars to be thrown into a broken system. The House has repeatedly demonstrated a commitment to improving transportation by having government live within its means and implementing innovative measures that go straight to the heart of the problems. Raising taxes and claiming the problem will somehow disappear is disingenuous and does a disservice to taxpayers who already are paying their fair share.

Opening Virginia up to the vast market of private equity interested in investing in our transportation assets is neither a fairy tale nor a dream. Rather, it is a critical component to securing a modern, multimodal system. The same can be said about innovative traffic demand management tools, widespread use of technological advances, expanded teleworking opportunities, and increased linkage of land use decisions with transportation impacts. For Virginia to realize real results, we must cast aside failed Byrd-era policies and adopt new remedies that are available and used successfully in other states and countries.

Overhauling the way Virginia does business in transportation is no small task. Throwing money at the problem and expecting better results will not deliver the improvements Virginians rightly expect. Voters elect legislators to make the tough decisions on how their tax dollars are spent. House Republicans have embraced that charge. We will keep working to make transportation a top priority and shall continue to seek new ways to deliver the tangible transportation results Virginians want and deserve.

William J. Howell is the Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates.