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Committee of 500 calls for VRE push

The Committee of 500 sent out a mass e-mail to dig up support for the Virginia Railway Express. I will just post it and you guys and gals can discuss it, if you wish:

C500 Members and Friends:

As you may have heard or read, the Spotsylvania Board of Supervisors will soon debate whether the county should join VRE, the Virginia Railway Express commuter train system. Fredericksburg and Stafford have been VRE members for many years.

The Committee of 500 strongly endorses Spotsylvania membership in VRE. We encourage you to write a letter to the editor at http://www.fredericksburg.com/News/Feedback/sendLetterForm or send an e-mail to the entire Board of Supervisors at bos@spotsylvania.va.us or make a comment on the Free Lance Star website when a VRE letter to the editor or article appears.

On our web site (www.committeee500.org) you’ll find a set of VRE talking points (click "VRE – Join NOW") and a link to an exhaustive study of gas prices in Spotsylvania, Fredericksburg and Stafford. The data is irrefutable: gas prices are set by regional market forces, the 2% surcharge has negligible impact.

We would greatly appreciate notification of any correspondence you initiate so we can track the activity. We will let you know when VRE will be on the supervisors’ meeting agenda.

There are sound reasons for joining VRE related to the environment and to relieving raffic congestion. However, in these rough economic times, the most compelling argument for joining VRE is a fiscal one.

Membership in VRE requires a 2% gas surcharge in each member jurisdiction. This revenue is used to pay the county’s VRE costs and fund other county transportation projects. Since 2001, Stafford and Fredericksburg have collected $25 million for their local transporation projects, over and above their VRE costs! Spotsylvania is missing out on many millions of dollars that could be used for rural roads, upgrading existing roads, or other projects. And think about this–Spotsylvania would collect this revenue from I-95 travelers who stop here to fill up their tank!

But why, you may ask, should I pay an extra 2% for gas to subsidize VRE riders? The reality is you already pay it! When you buy gas in Fredericksburg (e.g. Central Park) or Stafford, 2% goes to fund their local transportation projects. When you buy gas in Spotsylvania, that 2% goes to the fossil fuel industry. Gas is no less expensive in Spotsylvania than it is in Fredericksburg and Stafford, both of which belong to VRE. That is because market forces equalize the cost of gasoline across the region. Look at these figures from the gas price study (data from gasbuddy.com):

Average Per Gallon Price per Brand

Two months ending 1/27/09

Spotsylvania Fredericksburg* Stafford*

Wawa $1.59 $1.59 $1.58

Valero 1.58 1.58 1.58

7-Eleven 1.58 1.59 1.59

Shell 1.68 1.66 1.72

* Fredericksburg and Stafford averages include the 2% surcharge

For more information and details on the gas price study, go to www.committee500.org and click on "VRE – Join NOW".

Spotyslvania should join VRE and start reaping the benefits of membership for the ENTIRE county, just like Fredericksburg and Stafford have been doing for years.

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Permalink: http://news.fredericksburg.com/spotsygovt/2009/03/24/committee-of-500-calls-for-vre-push/

  • lgross

    used VRE, vanpools and commuter buses – the
    same per person subsidy.

    or.. let those who advocate that VRE be the only
    recipient of the 2% and not others who also
    commute using other mass transit explain why
    we should favor only VRE with the subsidy.

    You have two problems here:

    1. – first – we want to subsidize the folks who do
    not actually practice Smart Growth and we want
    the folks who actually do practice Smart Growth
    by living AND working locally to pay for the ones
    that don’t.

    2. – assume even if this disparity, we agree to
    subsidize commuters – why do the VRE riders
    deserve to be the only recipient of the gas tax
    when we have a ton of other people taking van
    pools and buses?

    I think the advocates owe everyone a clear and
    unambiguous explanation… and not the usual
    rah rah blather.

  • f4td4ddy

    is it $1.59 meaning $1.589 or $1.599 per gallon? Why ignore that extra 0.9 cents? Also, it appears to me that the 2% tax WOULD BE A MARKET FORCE and thus affect the price of gas. Additionally, if one is driven to the poorhouse because an additional 2% cost of a tank of gas, perhaps one should reconsider other life choices that pot one in such dire economic circumstances.

  • lgross

    but we still collect several million dollars.

    Tell me again.. why we give that money to VRE
    riders and not to bus and vanpool riders also?

    or for that matter… give some of it to the folks
    that actually do the Smart Growth thing and live
    and work locally and get lower salaries as a
    result?

    I’m waiting for someone to say what the
    justification is to give money to VRE riders and
    not other folks who commute.

    We need to unite our community by looking out
    for all folks in this community and not ramrod
    proposals that will divide it.

    We need to be just as supportive of the
    teachers, deputies, med techs.. that live in this
    county as well as the folks who ALSO commute
    north but do so on buses and vanpools.

    Take gas tax but allocate it to Spotsy citizens on
    a fair basis.

  • Minuteman

    I already subsidize buses, vanpools, FRED, state
    roads, and Federal highways through a variety of
    taxes and fees. If Spotsy joins VRE and
    implements the 2% tax, by law those revenues
    must be used for transportation projects. So,
    after the VRE bill is paid, the remainder of
    revenue will augment the funding for current and
    planned transportation projects at the local level.
    The 2% tax is not an exclusive benefit for VRE
    riders. This revenue will benefit all
    Spotsylvanians. Since VDOT is no longer in the
    business of building new roads, the 2% gas tax
    is a partial answer to that deficiency.

    In addition to being an obvious transportation
    benefit to the County, it’s my opinion that VRE
    will put Spotsy on better footing for future
    business development. But that’s a whole other
    post.

  • dantelvock

    Minuteman, if it is a whole new post, then post it. What do you want to say? I’ve heard the economic development argument, but as a journalist, I’d like to see some proof of the argument before I write anything about it. Matt Kelly says it will spur economic development…..but has it is Stafford and Fredericksburg?

  • Minuteman

    I’ve been in IT consulting/DoD contracting business
    for 20 years. Stafford and the City are different
    animals. Spotsy does not have base in its
    backyard like Stafford. (Is there an easier job in
    the world than Stafford County Economic
    Development Director?) The City’s train began as
    Amtrak-only and then added VRE service in the 90′s
    but their not interested in creating tech jobs.

    Spotsy has no military presence but quite a few
    tech contractors are here already. I’m convinced
    that base of IT/DoD companies will expand if they
    could get to DC/NoVA easier. Part of the answer is
    to put the train station in a location with other
    services like restaurants, hotels, and other
    “general” office space. It’s not enough just to build
    a station in the middle of nowhere. It needs
    support.

  • Minuteman

    As for “evidence,” talk to a few existing tech
    companies and ask them if Spotsy’s economic
    potential is enhanced or diminished with a
    commuter rail station. Ask them if they think
    other companies or the Fed govt is more or less
    likely to locate in Spotsy with commuter rail.

    At a minimum, can’t we say that joining VRE
    creates more opportunities for the county at a
    cost that’s nearly negligible?

  • lgross

    no one has explained why if we collection millions
    of dollars…why we give some of it to VRE riders
    and not give the riders of vanpools and buses an
    equivalent amount.

    What is the justification for helping VRE riders but
    not other riders of vans and buses with that
    same money?

    I’m not arguing against VRE as a service nor am
    I arguing against the 2%.

    I’m asking why we treat commuters differently
    according to what they ride.

    answers please.

  • lgross

    I can see the promise of a high speed rail line
    (that goes both ways) between Washington and
    Fredericksburg (and perhaps to Richmond) but it
    will cost money to do that…and you’ll need
    strong support from the community to achieve
    that vision.

    And you won’t get it if you set up an unequal and
    unfair system that provides a separate additional
    subsidy for VRE riders and not for riders of buses
    and carpools.

    When you do that – you’ve automatically built in
    major opposition now.. and in the future.

    Supporters who feel that the way forward is to
    ramrod this … are on a wrong track…

    You want and need strong community support
    and this path is doing the opposite.

    Even if VRE passes.. there are going to be more
    than a few people not pleased with the process.

  • Dang

    The reason VRE would be funded and not Martz Bus and vanpools concerns who owns them. VRE is a joint operation of two govt entities: N.VA Transportation Commission & Potomac & Rappahannock Transportation Commission. Martz and the co’s that operate the van pools are PRIVATE COMPANIES, not gov’t entities. Because of this, no proceeds from the gas tax would go to them. The gas tax is meant to support public (govt owned and operated) mass transit, not private for profit companies. But hey, if we can convince them to sell themselves to a govt entity and could find a govt entity willing to buy and then operate them, they could receive gas tax funding too! Somehow, I don’t think that is likely to happen.

  • lgross

    nice try. The Feds allow them employees to use
    transit vouchers on those buses and vans.

    If the Feds – you know – the Government – allows
    this …then it kind of undercuts your claim that
    because it’s a “government” service that they
    can’t subsidize private.

    Are you saying that Spotsylvania cannot use the
    gas tax money for private transit?

    I find it hard to believe that the same Feds that
    provide the vouchers for private transit say that
    the 2% tax can’t be used for that purpose also.

    are we saying that it is specifically outlawed?

  • lgross

    were you also aware that some of the revenues
    from the HOT lanes would be made available to
    the private carriers..

    Also.. these carriers receive Federally-subsidized
    insurance.

    so what justifies VRE getting the 2% subsidy and
    not the private companies again – since we now
    know that the Feds approve of subsidizing both
    of them?

  • Dang

    But, does the VA general assembly approve? That is the question. It is the laws concerning the VA gas tax and the PRTC that govern where the gas tax money is spent, not the federal govt. Why don’t you try to get the answer to your question straight from the horse’s mouth by writing to the PRTC? Their web site is http://www.prtctransit.org/index.php and click on the Contact Us link.

  • lgross

    I’m following up on this …but

    the answer to this question should be something that the advocates should themselves want to know and fix if there is a
    problem because it is the crux of at least some the opposition.

    The advocates … if they wanted VRE to go forward with wide community support would want to advocate fair treatment of
    ALL riders… as part of their advocacy – a clear message to those opposed that they want to find and respond to the things
    that are causing the opposition..

    as opposed to an overt political attempt to essentially convince the BOS to ignore opposition themselves.

    By not dealing with the issues that are at the root of substantial opposition.. we are continuing a divisive “us against them”
    divide in the county – not a good thing IMHO.

  • gramps

    Let us assume that a county (or city) gets $2 million after their VRE “bill” is paid out of the 2% gas tax revenue. It is my understanding that the county (or city) must use that $2 million for transportation issues like paving or building roads. Is not additional money for county (or city) roads a benefit to all of the citizens and thereby a “subsidy” paid to all? Granted, that the “bill” paid to VRE for operations and comes out of the gas tax money first, can be viewed as giving more subsidy to riders than non-riders. But, in general, life is not always nice and tidy as some would want. Consider the “fiasco” playing out inside the beltway these days.

  • lgross

    My focus is has been to try to understand why we have opposition and my approach is to listen to it and a belief that we do better when the
    county citizens widely support initiatives. In other words, let’s try not to do things that divide the citizens if we can help it.

    I used to support VRE carte blanche as a “good idea” until I better understood the opposition.

    We have a situation where the most efficient service is being provided by a for-profit private services and instead of letting it thrive…we are
    subsidizing a competing service that could not survive in a level-field competitive environment without a subsidy – ironically paid by the
    folks who ride vans and buses.

    If the concept of VRE is a greater community -”good”.. it has to be more than a PR motto of the advocates.

  • gramps

    One additional point that just came to me. (I am 71 years old and sometimes a little slow on the uptake) Did the van owners, bus companies, and their riders pay for the commuter lots they use free of charge? I suspect that those lots were paid for by all of us, commuter or not. However, they also enjoy that “subsidy” on a daily basis. On Mr. Gross’s point about reaching a “consensus,” on the VRE issue, or almost any other issue in Spotsy politics…good luck, I doubt that is even remotely possible.

  • lgross

    Here’s the GA words on the PRTC trans district:

    “Transportation facilities,” “transit facilities” or
    “facilities” mean all those matters and things
    utilized in rendering transportation service by
    means of rail, bus, water or air and any other
    mode of travel, including without limitation
    tracks, rights-of-way, bridges, tunnels, subways,
    rolling stock for rail, motor vehicle, marine and
    air transportation, stations, terminals and ports,
    areas for parking, buildings, structures and all
    equipment, fixtures and business activities
    reasonably required for the performance of
    transportation service, but shall not include any
    such facilities owned by any person, company,
    association or corporation, the major part of
    whose transportation service extends beyond a
    transportation district created hereunder.

  • lgross

    Virginia Code § 15.2-4502 – Definitions

    http://law.justia.com/virginia/codes/toc1502000/
    15.2-4502.html

    the key phrase in the definition:

    ….”but shall not include any such facilities owned
    by any person, company, association or
    corporation, the major part of whose
    transportation service extends beyond a
    transportation district created hereunder.”

    Since VRE operates within both the PRTC and the
    NVTA districts.. it would seem that the 2% could
    also be spent on any other transit services within
    those same boundaries – and it would include
    private providers.

    but even if it did not -the proponents of VRE – if
    they truly want to arrive at a win-win proposition –
    in the opinion of non-VRE riders – they should be
    pushing for a more equitable approach IMHO.

    the current proposal as is – is divisive.

  • lgross

    commuter lots not paid for by commuters…

    true for BOTH bus/van lots AND VRE Lots.

    all things being equal here … EXCEPT the specific additional VRE subsidy.

    The existing subsidies are not inconsequential for either of the services to start with… the Feds give vouchers worth 100 – 200 dollars monthly to
    ALL riders – VRE and van/bus….

    If VRE were a dual-direction transit service that was accessible to and served any Spotsylvania resident wanting to go to Washington – we could
    have the debate on taxes verses services but the current service is a more of a boutique amenity rather than a true transit service and I don’t have
    a problem with boutique amenities that are paid for by those that want them.

    and that’s the ultimate goal and I support it – but you’ll need a LOT of support for that

  • lgross

    and if we make this current proposal a winner-take-all political contest – we’re going to not
    gain wider support for a better future service that may well require even higher taxes to pay for
    it.

    so …by engaging in a political contest.. rather than seeking a better consensus.. we are
    dividing citizens.. and furthering an “us against them” mindset.. that really does distract us as
    a county from focusing on what is best for the County as a whole.

    I’m a supporter of Commuter Rail. van and buses. I think we do need the options for the
    commuter-centric county that we clearly are.

    We need to have a shared vision of the future.. It does not mean that we’ll ever get 100%
    agreement but it does mean that 51-49 where essentially half the county is unhappy.

  • lgross

    Naw… let’s take out the first part and say: “I’m [insert your favorite description of yourself] and sometimes.. I don’t
    understand.

    Then to the advocates:

    “How about ya’ll lay out the facts – pro and con so us citizens will know more about the issue and why you advocates want
    me to support it also?

    So far – the VRE NOW folks have one good point – the market equalization of the cost of gasoline – get the credit – but
    they’ve fallen short on making a strong case for ALL county citizens – and.. are..IMHO dancing close to making this a
    pure overt political.. we’ll get more votes than you – contest….

    which is a loser.. even if you win.. you lose.. because you’ll need the folks you beat later on.. and they’ll have long
    memories and not be so inclined…

    so if YOU have questions – others do also

  • gramps

    I understand your points lgross. Perhaps you presume that my favorite description of myself is different than the one I used parenthetically; it isn’t. On your 51-49 argument, I wonder how you view President Obamas approx 53-47 margin?

  • Minuteman

    For decades, taxes were raised and new fees
    were created all to subsidize every mode of
    transit except for one: commuter rail service for
    Spotsy. While I appreciate the sentiment that a
    new VRE “tax” must benefit all, where was that
    sentiment in the past? Where was the need to
    ensure rail got its fair share when we started
    subsidizing commuter lots, FRED, and others?

    The gas tax revenue will benefit all residents
    event though not all residents will use the
    service. If we say no to VRE, then we should
    definitely pull the plug on FRED.

    Let’s also not forget that the gas tax will
    generate a portion of its revenue from those who
    aren’t residents of Spotsy in the same way that
    we currently contribute to VRE by gassing up in
    any locality north of us.

  • lgross

    Obama’s margin.. same deal. when elections
    are that close – enduring decisions need to
    respond to a wide majority or else it will simply
    get overturned later.

    the big “gotcha” with VRE is that there is no
    going back… a “yes” is apparently FOREVER
    even if VRE eats up the entire subsidy and
    comes back for more.

  • lgross

    I’m in favor of transit. I’m more in favor of
    private sector “for-profit” transit than I am –
    subsidized Transit.

    FRED is misunderstood. FRED is funded
    specifically as transportation of last resort for
    folks who have no other means ….

    it’s not an “amenity”.

    Look at FRED like you would think of subsidized
    lunch programs for Kids.

    VRE is like providing a personalized taxi service –
    at taxpayer expense… ONLY to certain people
    and not to others.

    VRE could not …for instance, handle all the
    current van pools and buses.

    It is a very limited, very expensive service that
    basically serves folks high up on the salary scale
    - and we fund it by charging local deputies and
    teacher … folks who live AND work locally for
    much lower salaries.

    It’s a fundamentally unfair concept that breeds
    opposition.

  • lgross

    Most of us don’t like the 2year contracts… but at
    least it’s an equal contract.

    If they go up on the price.. you can bail.

    Now compare that the VRE contract which is
    apparently “forever” .. no matter whether it eats
    the entire 2% gas tax and requires “real”
    taxpayer money….

    So one of the things we need is a way to cap
    Spotsy’s potential liability.

    Ya’ll would shoot the BOS if they signed an open-
    ended cost+ contract that could not be canceled… right?

    You’d tell your relatives and friends that signed
    such a contract what fools they were – right?

    so why do we have rah rah support of such a
    thing?

    no matter how you feel about VRE as a service
    …do you advocate signing an open-ended
    “forever” contract?

    tell me again why this is good for the county.

  • Minuteman

    It’s convenient for you to reclassify FRED as an
    exception to the general discussion of transit
    when, in fact, the primary reason FRED was
    introduced to Spotsy was to shuttle people from
    commuter lots to the City’s train station. Only
    then did Marshall and Waddy see some value for
    other folks.

    Also, the tone of your observation has turned
    decidedly populist. If its true that only high-
    dollar people use the train, shouldn’t we
    encourage more ridership? After all, they’re
    bringing those fat salaries home to Spotsy to
    generate tax revenue for other things like
    transportation projects for all county residents.
    We should be nice to the rich commuters!
    They’re providing tax relief for the rest of us.

  • lgross

    I’m telling you the straight skinny on FRED. It’s a
    Federal program…. the same program that
    provides vans for the Elderly and Handicapped.

    and FRED initially refused to do the shuttles …
    saying that it was beyond their basic mission.

    I’m not redefining it.. you’ve not educated
    yourself on what it is and is not.

    Nice try on the high dollar folks but they don’t
    bring prosperity… they bring expenses because
    they overload the roads and schools and other
    services and …they demand that these services
    be upgraded to their accustomed lifestyles…

    Don’t get me wrong.. I think they are good
    people but to characterize them as “better” and
    thus deserving os “special” treatment is EXACTLY
    what is wrong with the advocacy… it’s not only
    elitist.. it wants those of lesser means to pay for
    it.

  • lgross

    “Affordable Mobility

    Affordable mobility for all is the most fundamental reason for offering transit service. All transit systems provide low cost mobility
    for people who do not, or cannot, operate a motor vehicle because of personal preference, low income, disability, youth or old
    age. An important characteristic of low cost affordable mobility service is that regular access is provided to as many destinations
    as possible. Trip types include, school, medical, business, shopping, recreation, social, etc. It is estimated that these types of
    trips comprise about 65 percent of total transit ridership.”

    http://www.fta.dot.gov/publications/reports/other_reports/publications_134.html

    FRED charges 25 cents per boarding. Somewhere I read it actually costs close to $15 per passenger.

    this is not VRE.

  • Minuteman

    Dear Larry:
    OK, OK, I give … there’s no way to keep up with
    the volume of your posts opposing VRE! I know
    exactly why I would vote for it and I think I
    understand why you’d vote against. Based on all
    that’s been said, I don’t see how either one of
    use could be talked out of our respective
    positions. We’ll just wait and see how the
    Supervisors vote. As they say, “Men of good
    conscience can disagree and still have the good
    of the community as their common bond.”

    Cordially,
    M

  • lgross

    Minuteman.. thank you.

    but I’d vote FOR VRE if we could find a path that
    provided VRE but also helped other commuters
    and the rural folks – equivalently.

    For instance, an offer of more FRED service to
    the rural areas.. or doing more of their unpaved
    roads quicker…

    things LIKE THIS… that basically put out a
    strong message that we’re looking out for all
    citizens and we’re not in the business of boosting
    up one group on the backs of the others.

    this is not an impossible task – but it is also not
    a quick and dirty fix either…

    I just don’t think we truly “win” with 4-3 votes.

  • GuvLuvr

    Big question: Why are Logan, Hagan, and Conners (Committee of 500) pushing for Spotsy to join VRE?
    Do residents of their districts want it? (Don’t think so!)
    They all brought us the Mall expansion..will VRE use this path? HMMM

    Also,iIt looks like by keeping the gas prices low, Spotsy is stabilizing prices in the region.

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