One of the big controversies during the 2015 Virginia election cycle was one ginned up by Republicans with the goal of using demagoguery, fear-mongering and outright lies to rile people up against Gov. McAuliffe’s “Transform 66” plan for smart, market-oriented, low-cost congestion relief on I-66. The key components of this plan are: “dynamically priced toll lanes during weekday rush hours between the Capitol Beltway and Rosslyn” and “multi-modal improvements that directly benefit the I-66 corridor.” The overall goal is to “help I-66 move more people reliably,” while allowing single-occupant vehicles – “who today are not permitted to use I-66 inside the Beltway during rush hours” – to do so by opting to pay a toll, instead of continuing to use the road illegally.
In the end, despite spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on TV ads that blared some variant of “Democrats Jennifer Boysko and Kathleen Murphy will make you pay $17 tolls on I-66!!!”, not a single targeted Democrat lost their election. Not only that, but in Fairfax County and Loudoun County, Democrats actually gained seats on their respective County Boards. In other words, people weren’t buying this nonsense — if anything, it backfired.
By the way, the alternative put forth by tolling opponents is basically adding more lanes to I-66 inside the Beltway. The problem? It turns out, according to the Virginia Secretary of Transportation, that I-66 widening inside the Beltway scores absolutely terribly, either in terms of its “HB599 score” (note: HB599 is a biased, anti-transit, pro-pavement, pro-sprawl scoring system set up under a bill by right-wingnut Del. Jim LeMunyon in 2012), or in terms of its benefit/cost ratio under HB599.
To the stark contrary, the McAuliffe administration’s “Transform 66” plan for congestion mitigation inside the Beltway scores 0.57, over six times more bang for the buck than I-66 inside-the-Beltway widening, which gets a pathetic 0.09 score. And again, that’s not even counting all the environmental smart growth, and other benefits not counted under HB599, whose real purpose was to force highway expansion and specifically the widening of I-66, while also seeking to undermine investment in transit.
Given those scores, as well as the failed politics of fearmongering on this issue, support for the “Transform66” plan should be a no-brainer. At least you’d think it would be, except perhaps for Virginia General Assembly members who happen to be: a) biased in favor of building more roads; b) ignorant (or in denial) of the concept of “induced demand;” c) bought and paid for the by the road-building industry; d) pro-sprawl for whatever crazy reason; or e) anti-environment for whatever crazy reason.
All of which raises the question: why in hell would any Democrat oppose the McAuliffe administration plans for mitigating traffic inside the Beltway, let alone actually put forward bills (e.g., see this one by Del. David Bulova or this forced-road-widening monstrosity by Sen. Chap Petersen)? After all, as McAuliffe explained this past Friday, his plan is “not proposing new tolls for anyone” legally using the road now, but will simply “give that [currently law-breaking] single driver an option; instead of getting off on 50 and 29 and causing local congestion, you can stay on 66 if you want to pay to stay on it. This is a choice.”
As for the consequences of rejecting this plan? Gov. McAuliffe put it this way: “if we don’t do inside the Beltway, it’s highly unlikely that outside the Beltway will happen, so you can go for another 15 years with no action on the most congested road in the most congested region in the country.…[Opponents] have no plan…But if we don’t move forward on 66, let me be very clear, that is not my responsibility, I put a plan out. It is YOUR legislators who have said no. They will own this; so we will be stuck in traffic once again for a very very long time…I have a solution, they’re trying to hide and duck.”
For my part, I’m going to be watching this one very closely, and definitely taking note of who supports bills to force widening of I-66 inside the Beltway (or outside, for that matter), who favors killing the only plan on the table that makes sense (that would be “Transform 66”), and who is “trying to hide and duck,” as Gov. McAuliffe so accurately put it.
P.S. Also see Dr. Gridlock’s column on I-66 in today’s Washington Post. As he correctly puts it, “No other plan on the table [other than “Transform 66″] offers so much potential to help the vast majority of commuters.”