Quo Vadimus?

(Cross-posted at Dem Bones)

Quo vadimus?

Latin for “where are we going,” it’s a question that should be floating around many offices on Capitol Hill. For freshman Democrat Tom Perriello, the challenge is even more daunting. Tom promised a different kind of politics on the trail through the Fifth, a promise he followed through on by staying above Virgil Goode’s false, negative attack ads. The old kind of politics that Goode had waged in his 12 years in office was most notable for his tendency to secure appropriations earmarks for certain community projects, giving him the opportunity to go to a ribbon-cutting and drum up goodwill, and then quietly vote against the federal programs that would make those projects last long into the future.

Tom faces the difficult task of not getting sucked into Goode’s old, tired tactics, while still getting himself the notoriety within the district that will get him reelected so he can keep fighting the good fight. With his seat on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, he’s well positioned to provide Southside and the Danville/Martinsville corridor with the framework they need for future economic development. Below are two short-term and two long-term initiatives that will both do real good, more than just a Band-Aid fix, and give Tom the chance to stand beside “his” projects in the District.

Short-Term
U.S. 58: It’s been begun, but the money isn’t there to complete it. Tom has expressed his support for the project, and his expectation that it should be near the top of the Transportation/Infrastructure agenda. One need look only at the Rt. 288 development around the West End of Richmond, connecting 64 to 95, to see what roadways can do. Oilville and the far West End was once the back of beyond, but now there are stores and new communities along much of the length of 288. For Martinsville and Southside to keep digging themselves out of the hole that they’re in, they need new tax base. Completing US-58 helps, and Tom will have the chance to stand with a hard-hat and a shovel, breaking ground and working his double shift.

Amtrak from Lynchburg to DC: Commuter rail connecting the Lynchburg area to D.C. would do much the same for Southside as US-58. Any rail going to D.C. goes through some of the state’s economic driving areas, including Charlottesville and virtually all of Northern Virginia (Leesburg, Gainesville, Herndon, etc.). Better communication and collaboration between those areas and Southside’s cornucopia of semi-skilled and highly skilled laborers lifts the Commonwealth as a whole, but especially Southside. Amtrak has submitted to the Commonwealth Transportation Board its desire to establish commuter service; the only issue is finding the funding. The state doesn’t have it now, so Tom will need to secure it through Congress.

Long-Term
I-73: If some highway is good, more highway is better. Tom can insure great strides on US-58 in his first term; I-73 can be a second-term (or beyond) project to keep federal funds and improved infrastructure flowing into Southside.

Expansion of the Youthbuild program: This morning, I worked on a Habitat for Humanity project in Florida with a group of young men and women from the Space Coast Youthbuild program. Youthbuild is a Department of Labor initiative that takes high school dropouts, and trains them in trade skills as they work for their GED. Here in Florida, the participants are paired with Habitat; when they’re on a job site, they’re paid minimum wage while developing carpentry, masonry, plumbing, and electrical skills. In addition to school and trade skill training, the program also provides life skill training: financial responsibility, leadership skills, and so on. Tom’s Volunteer Tithing Initiative (donating 10% of volunteer time on the campaign trail to work with local charities) meshes perfectly with Youthbuild. Development of infrastructure projects in Southside can use Youthbuild labor, providing a catalyst for expansion of Youthbuild into another area of the state.

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Tom has good staff with him in D.C., staff that is tapped into what the Fifth District wants and needs. Hopefully these initiatives will get onto his radar; judged on Tom’s track record of getting results, I’m excited to see where he’ll take the Fifth.

Earmark?

Is what you are asking for an earmark? Because normally, wouldn't the money be allocated to the states and then each applicable state agency would determine how that money was spent? If transportation money comes in the form of a block grant or loan, the applicable state agency that has jurisdiction over those projects would be the one determining how those funds are used.

I don't know where these projects (the ones related to highways) lie on VDOT's transportation improvement plan. If other projects are a higher priority, what is your expectation?

I'm not sure

The Rebuild America proposal on the committee's website says

Distribution: Distribute Federal-Aid Highway funds to States and cities pursuant to existing statutory highway formula under the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (“SAFETEA-LU”). A percentage of these funds would be suballocated to large metropolitan areas. Distribute National Park Road funds pursuant to existing Federal Highway Administration administrative process.

Prioritization: Prioritize funds on projects that are ready to go to construction and can be underway within 90 days. Formula funds that are not obligated within 180 days of the date of enactment of this Act shall be redistributed to States that are able to obligate the funds.

So there are apparently pre-existing statutory requirements for how the funding gets sent out, but with an emphasis on shovel-ready. I don't know how much of VA's money can be tagged by Congress for specific projects.

That said, this is the kind of earmark I wouldn't mind. It's not a kickback to cronies, it's an attempt to truly revitalize an economically depressed area. Hopefully the money that's already coming will go to US-58; if it doesn't, I'd hope there's an earmark to get it.