Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Shocking news: newspaper owned by an oilman doesn't support raising gas taxes

From "Commuters have clear choice in Virginia Senate race" in today's Examiner:

Ordinarily, political neophytes have little chance of ousting incumbents like Sen. Chap Petersen, D-34th. But the Oakton resident has two unlikely advantages, both courtesy of the Democratic Party.

The first is a bill Petersen sponsored this past session to raise the state gas tax every year. Opposed by Gov. Bob McDonnell and a majority of Virginia voters and legislators, the bill died, but not before exposing Petersen's belief that commuters forced to crawl along in Northern Virginia's unbearable traffic on $4 gasoline, are undertaxed.

The facts prove otherwise. Ron Utt of the Heritage Foundation calculated that Virginians get back only 89.5 cents for every federal gas tax dollar they pay into the Federal Highway Trust Fund, which is then returned to the states. Richmond takes another big bite out of the 17.5 cents per gallon state gas tax Northern Virginians pay, ultimately leaving the region with far less highway money than its residents have paid.

Culipher supports proposals by Del. Jim LeMunyon, R-Fairfax, that would prioritize road construction based on congestion and change the state funding formula to benefit Northern Virginians. Petersen would make local drivers continue to pay more for less.

The opinion column needs a more accurate headline, something like "Automobile drivers have clear choice to keep their minds and eyes closed in Virginia Senate race."

While road construction projects do need to be prioritized, and typically states prioritize rural highway projects at the expense of urbanized areas, the concept of "induced demand" means that road-centric transportation projects are a losing game--congestion can't be eased all that much because the more that more distant trips are enabled, the more people drive.

That's why Arlington County's master transportation plan prioritizes tighter links between land use and transportation, to reduce the need to travel overall and to reduce the distance of trips, and by focusing on total throughput of people overall rather than motor vehicles.

I can't comment on the Utt study referenced in the article because I haven't read it, but it's not necessarily the case that states should expect dollar for dollar returns on federal gasoline tax revenues, given that this supports the entire roadway network, which supports the entire nation, including trips that originate elsewhere but support Virginia residents and Virginia commerce.

If Virginia did increase its state excise tax it would increase the costs to residents, but would also generate a great deal of revenue from through travelers in the I-95 and I-81 corridors. Such money could also support the rest areas that the state wanted to close down etc.

There's no such thing as a free lunch. Unless you own your own supplies of oil.

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