Pocahontas Parkway Sparks Regional Feud

pocahontasBy Peter Galuszka

The Pocahontas Parkway east of Richmond has proved one of the biggest disasters Virginia has ever conjured up in recent years. Now it is provoking regional feuds over transportation policy power.

The Richmond Metropolitan Authority which oversees the city’s Downtown Expressway, part of the Powhite Parkway, some parking lots and the Diamond minor league baseball stadium, is considering trying to operate the bankrupt, 8.8 mile-long parkway that was the first road build under Virginia’s supposedly pioneering public-private partnership law.

Transurban, an Australian firm, has unloaded the underused parkway which it leased for $611 million in 2006 to three European banks which now are trying to find a new operator.

RMA has experience in that field but its ploy is seen as a power grab by board members from Chesterfield and Henrico Counties, which have only two representatives each on the RMA’s board of directors. Six are picked by Richmond. County folks think that is unfair. Their efforts to get the General Assembly to go to equal representation failed this year but it might come up again.

The issue is straining the concept of regionalism that Richmond’s ruling elite wants you to believe is a happening thing that’s all fine and dandy. One can’t get past the Commentary section of the Sunday Richmond Times-Dispatch without being fed another delusional tome by the newspaper’s publisher about how wonderful and important regionalism is.

Fact is, it stinks in Greater Richmond. It seems to work a lot better in Hampton Roads. The jury’s out on Washington.

So you have a story here that shows, once again, why public private-partnerships can stink and are not always the have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too way to finance transportation. The lack of regional cooperation in Richmond is the back story.

For more, read my piece in the Chesterfield Observer.

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7 responses to “Pocahontas Parkway Sparks Regional Feud

  1. Regionalism works in Hampton Roads because a group of counties turned themselves into cities and cut The Imperial Clown Show in Richmond largely out of the equation. The “city” of Chesapeake is 350 sq mi. The “independent city” of Virginia Beach is almost 500 sq mi (although quite a bit is water0.

    In contrast, Henrico County is 245 sq mi.

    I have always admired the counties of Tidewater which (over a long period of time) converted themselves into independent cities. Since cities have city charters and some autonomy in Virginia, converting into an independent city is the equivalent of giving the Imperial Clown Show in Richmond a stiff arm.

    Of course cooperation works better among semi-autonomous entities which have reduced the pernicious influence of the clowns in Richmond.

    However, the clowns in Richmond can’t be stiff armed forever. In 1987 the Imperial Clown Show in Richmond adopted a “temporary” annexation moratorium while they studied the matter of local government in the state. As always, the half-wits we send to Richmond have decided to kick the can down the road rather than to make any decisions. In 2009 the moratorium was extended to 2018. This moratorium also prohibits the establishment of new independent cities. Hampton Roads may have been able to take some power away from The Imperial Clown Show in Richmond but that approach has been stopped by the clowns.

    Regionalism in Northern Virginia and the Richmond area will never really work until the major entities in those areas convert from counties to cities, establish city charters and start to operate autonomously.

  2. The Pocahontas Parkway was built in anticipation of a housing and industrial development boom out in that part of Eastern Henrico that never materialized. The other problem was there was initially no direct link to the airport, which was dumber than dirt. It was quite speculative and quite risky and the real problem was/is the private investors didn’t feel sufficiently threatened. You use the word bankrupt but I don’t think it ever has been — perhaps receivership would help.

    And don’t overplay the regional harmony in Hampton Roads. There is still a major problem between the Peninsula and Southside, and their transportation planners do not sing that well together. Now that they have a purely regional pot of money, we’ll see how that goes. Richmond has no such regional pot of money and won’t if it can’t get its act together.

  3. why is VDOT “anticipating” housing booms and why did they do that without producer an investor-grade analysis ?

    and I point this out when VDOT is currently considering a Western Corridor because of anticipated “growth”.

    where is that investor grade analysis that tells us if that road can sustain itself as a toll road? And if it cannot sustain itself as a toll road (like the Pocahontas Parkway cannot) – why should we be spending money on it?

    re: regional harmony –

    waiting for Darrell.. last I heard there was no MPO love down that way either.

    MPOs are by their very nature contentious in that they jealously defend their tax base, especially commercial and they see transportation and water/sewer infrastructure as vital to their interests.

    But the Federal Govt – and VDOT got sick of trying to please the transportation wants of adjacent counties and jurisdictions with projects
    that did not make sense regionally and were ungodly expensive so the Feds created the MPOs to force the regions to deal with regional transportation issue and it has never been a wonderful thing for many MPOs – it just surfaces the tensions between them.

    They will often divvy up as much money as they can for each individual jurisdiction and only deal with the regional issues that VDOT/FHWA force them to do or threaten them with sending the money elsewhere.

    Regional approaches to infrastructure and services is a good idea. It’s much more cost-effective. Virginia created the Planning Districts even before the Feds created the MPOs and in fact many MPOs in Va have adopted the same jurisdictions in the original planning districts to be the membership of the MPOs.

    The State encourages regional water/sewer, libraries, jails, solid waste, social services, courts, etc… but there is always push-back especially when it comes to schools and law enforcement.

    Of course the biggest irony is that the jurisdictional boundaries in Va are historical artifacts from the King of England and we have these ludicrous situations now where census MSAs often basically ignore those boundaries’

    For instance, for some things Northern Stafford is considered to be in the Northern Va MSA and for other things, southern Stafford in the Fredericksburg area MSA.

  4. Fairfax County supervisors thought long and hard about making a request to turn the county into a city. But the fear of controlling, and being responsible for, local roads scared them off. The greater the autonomy, the greater the responsibility.

    • How did they think long and hard about turning Fairfax County into a city when that conversion has been banned by the General Assembly since 1987?

      It also sounds like the General Assembly members are the only ones wringing their hands over the possibility of Fairfax County becoming a city:


      • Despite the statute, there was a significant discussion among the Fairfax County supervisors a few years ago on the topic of the County becoming a city. I suspect that, had the supervisors felt differently, they would have made an attempt to repeal or revise the statute, counting on groups such as the Chamber of Commerce, the Fairfax County Federation, and the NVTC to help lobby the General Assembly. However, the view of the supervisors was generally against conversion to a city, so the entire issue was moot.
        As I recall, one of the major reasons why the supervisors dropped the idea of conversion was the requirement for cities to control and maintain their own local streets. The County strongly opposes any devolution of local streets to counties.

  5. I’m starting to believe along the lines of what DJ has alluded to with respect to “citizen” representatives when it comes to complex issues of a long standing nature.

    Here we have citizen legislators in Richmond deciding on the intricacies of laws that govern PPTAs.

    We have local elected BOS who usually have no experience, professional or otherwise in things like transportation, education and finance voting on things of which they barely understand sometimes – almost totally dependent on “staff”.

    I’ve watched my own BOS continue to not understand what proffers are supposed to pay for verses taxes – simply concepts such as capital facilities vs operational costs and they continue to argue against proffers as a “penalty’ tax as if the hook-up fees for water/sewer are also “unfair taxes”.

    After years, some elected officials actually start to “get it” but as people retire or get voted out and replaced – we have a conveyor belt of newbies who know virtually nothing about such issues but more than willing to take votes… like abolishing proffers as “unfair” and “anti-business”.

    People vote for people – based on their philosophies… conservative or something else… and not on qualifications for the job.

    Often our “choices” are two folks – neither of which have a clue how things like transportation, or proffers, or school funding really works. They fly by the seat of their pants… and “we the people” are just as clueless.

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