How much longer must we suffer this idiocracy?

Column by Chris Graham
freepress2@ntelos.net

Most of us agree that Virginia has itself a roads problem. You don’t have to sit in traffic for too long in Northern Virginia or Hampton Roads or Richmond or deal with congestion on U.S. 29 in Charlottesville or Interstate 81 anywhere in Western Virginia to recognize that much.

The devil is in the details of how to address the problem. I’m not 100 percent about this, but it seems to me that doing jack squat isn’t going to solve it.

“When it comes to protecting hard-pressed families from onerous new taxes on gas, vehicles and homes in tough economic times, our duty as representatives compels us to place the interests of the people we serve ahead of cooperating with the governor,” said Speaker of the House Bill Howell, R-Stafford, before adding a line about how Republicans are “continuing to advance substantive ideas on how to address Virginia’s transportation challenges,” and yet failing to delineate, as is typical, unfortunately, for our state GOP, what those “substantive ideas” might be.

And no, we can’t count getting the buffoons at Americans For Prosperity to organize a tax protest on the grounds of the State Capitol a “substantive idea.” Nor is House Majority Leader Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, calling Gov. Tim Kaine’s special session on transportation an attempt to “create an election issue for next year’s campaign” a “substantive idea,” either. But Griffith’s remark there is telling. Republicans, devoid of anything substantive on transportation or much else of consequence, are clearly politicizing everything they can get their hands on with the idea in mind that gridlock will play to their advantage in the 2009 state elections.

In the meantime, of course, we, the people, get to drive, er, sit on roads that are used well beyond their original capacities and wear and tear.

“I’ve heard from frustrated commuters in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads whose quality of life deteriorates as they spend hours sitting in traffic every week,” Kaine said today in an address to members of the Virginia General Assembly. “Parents are missing family dinners and soccer games. Businesses that move goods and services on the road network can’t set reliable work schedules. Firefighters and EMTs who race to fires, accidents and health emergencies lose precious time as congestion blocks their paths. And working families already struggling with the price of gas feel frustrations rise when a short commute turns into hours of stop and go traffic, while the gas burns out of their tanks,” said Kaine, citing data from a 2007 report that showed that 81 percent of drivers in NoVa are trapped in congestion during their drives to work, wasting the equivalent of a two-week vacation on the road each year.

“All Virginians care about basic safety issues. What will we do to maintain safety on the state’s nearly 20,000 bridges, with an average age of 47 years? How can we pave rural dirt roads that school buses navigate if the state’s unpaved road fund keeps being reduced? As you know from our annual budget, we have experienced a deficit in road maintenance funding each fiscal year since 2002. This coming fiscal year, our maintenance fund will be short by nearly $400 million, and if we do nothing, that shortfall will grow to nearly $600 million in the next six years,” Kaine said.

But those are real issues affecting real people who really don’t care one way or the other who wins the ’09 elections as long as they can go about their lives.

You want to know how plain dumb this is getting? “We have been listening to our constituents, and they do not want higher statewide taxes, especially in the middle of a severe economic downturn, with pocketbooks already pinched by high gas and food prices. They tell us that higher taxes now would only add insult to injury,” said State Sen. Ken Stolle, R-Virginia Beach. Yes, the same Ken Stolle who has proposed placing tolls on interstate highways to provide $500 million to go toward interstate maintenance costs.

Or to put it another way, he would have you stop by the side of the road to pay your taxes the slow and traffic-congesting way so he could score a political gotcha point on the governor for the folks back home to ooh and ah over.

How much longer must we suffer this idiocracy?





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