Out of Control Policy Blog

Mary Peters on McDonnell's Transportation Agenda

In a new National Review column, former U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters reflects on the role that transportation policy played in Virginia Governor-Elect Bob McDonnell's election victory last week:

Much has been written about the "pragmatic" platform of Virginia governor-elect Bob McDonnell. The common wisdom is true as far as it goes — McDonnell ran on "kitchen table" issues that were of special concern to suburban voters — but the media has paid too little attention to one of the election's most important topics: transportation. [...]

McDonnell did this, in part, by explaining his policies to voters in one of the most comprehensive transportation documents ever compiled for a statewide race. Whereas most transportation discussions concentrate on the need for new revenues and the completion of specific projects, McDonnell's plan laid out a fundamental policy shift. McDonnell presented "four primary pillars": 1) making investments based on projects' value to taxpayers, not political influence; 2) reducing the time it takes to deliver projects without sacrificing environmental protection; 3) advancing a new strategy to operate and maintain existing infrastructure (and reduce congestion) that relies more extensively on technology and private-sector partnerships; and 4) transitioning toward a funding model that reduces congestion and establishes a stable revenue stream.

The dirty little secret behind transportation funding is that the best projects are not always those that get funded. Often, political influence, the need for geographical balance in road building, and the desire to bring economic development to disadvantaged areas trump more meritorious criteria such as congestion reduction and highway safety. McDonnell's plan advanced the notion that transportation funds should be allocated to projects on a cost-benefit basis, using consistent metrics and focusing on the most acute challenges.

Read the whole thing here.

Leonard Gilroy is Director of Government Reform


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Comments to "Mary Peters on McDonnell's Transportation Agenda":

Allen | November 9, 2009, 4:33pm | #

It's really too bad that it's secret. People are always amazed, to the point that they think I'm full of crap, when I point out projects that occur that don't make sense. For example, they think I'm full of crap when I try explaining that there were several other more cost effective options to address congestion on I70 and Pena Blvd to Denver's airport yet planners chose the worst option, a $1.5 billion rail line to the airport.

Adrian | November 10, 2009, 4:11pm | #

It really is too bad this is so low key. Kudos to Mary Peters for trying to bring it to a more national stage.

State transportation funding and planning is plagued by bad politics. Too many state leaders only care about the short run when making decisions on long term investments. So chronic underfunding and maintenance backlogs are the result. And there is a vicious cycle where lousy transportation policy undermines peoples trust in the system, so when a politician does try to get real about it, people are justifiably skeptical of the outcome.

Worse, few governors really try to think through the solutions comprehensively like McDonnell has. His plan goes a very long ways in the right direction.

It comes the closest I have seen in a while to key steps needed to make fixing our transportation investments that I laid out at http://reason.org/files/59f2e045a676b9c69bb9139b2c217bf3.pdf

Against the grain | November 10, 2009, 7:28pm | #

Seems to me a very good start, but don't forget the incentives of the public private partnership can bring crony monopsinies just as likely as competition on value to the tax/user fee payer.

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