So far, Ken Cuccinelli’s campaign for Virginia governor has been long on rhetoric and short on specifics. Such was the case with his piece on Sunday’s Local Opinions page headlined: “Taking the politics of roads funding in Virginia.”
What caught my eye were two of Cuccinelli’s ideas. The first is that building roads and other transportation links in the state is a muddle of cronyism that can be laid at the feet of Democrats – a curious observation since almost all of the big road projects undertaken in the state since 2010 have been the brainchildren of Republicans.
The second idea is even more intriguing. Political hacks pick Virginia’s road projects in that swamp known as Richmond, Cuccinelli says. So, Cuccinelli wants to introduce some kind of “point system” that will track traffic congestion in localities. This empirical point regime will then be used to pick which road ideas get funded and when.
As he writes: “Instead of political reasoning, my administration would rely on a statewide traffic congestion index to determine how new construction is prioritized. Every locality in Virginia would have independent trigger mechanisms — based on quantifiable measures of traffic congestion and road capacity — that would determine funding and prioritization of projects. No matter how vigorously certain localities or special interests try to sway lawmakers in Richmond, every new project would be considered under the same guidelines.”
Interesting idea, but how would it work? Cuccinelli says he’ll spell out details “in coming weeks.” My understanding is that under the current system, localities and the Virginia Department of Transportation make plans for new roads and include congestion relief as part of their analysis. They then go to the Commonwealth Transportation Board, which sets priorities.
It isn’t clear whether Cuccinelli would replace the board or what else he might do. Eliminating the CTB would be a very big deal. But we don’t know yet.
Cuccinelli notes that he tried as a legislator to reform planning and funding by allowing congestion-prone Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia to set their own taxes. That’s actually a good idea. Having Richmond dictate everything goes back to Virginia’s stubborn use of the so-called “Dillon Rule,” which dates back about a century to a long-gone jurist who thought that localities should only have the power afforded to them by their state capitals.
What I don’t get, however, is why Cuccinelli tries to paint Democrats like his opponent Terry McAuliffe as being the centers of road cronyism. In recent years, McDonnell and his Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton, a fellow Republican, have been steamrolling ahead with a number of new projects of questionable value, such as a toll superhighway paralleling U.S. 460 in southeastern Virginia and a north-south connector near Manassas.
Is Cuccinelli running against McDonnell or McAuliffe? It isn’t clear. Meanwhile, I anxiously await details on his road point system plan.