Upfront - State of Hampton Roads

It is past time to assert our rights as America's First Region

By Michael Jon Khandelwal

Hampton Roads lost some representation due to population shifts and gerrymandering in 2011. This Upfront was going to be a letter to the newly elected Virginia House and Senate, reminding its members of the importance of Hampton Roads to the commonwealth as well as outlining some of our most pressing needs.

Why bother?

It is becoming more and more evident that our state government, including the assembly and our governor (from Virginia Beach), don’t care at all about Hampton Roads.

They certainly love our money and our tax dollars: from our port, Navy, Army, Air Force and Marine bases, tourism, arts and cultural resources, large and small corporations, farms, NASA Langley, modeling and simulation industry, waterways, small businesses and schools and universities.

But when it’s time to improve or maintain the infrastructure and quality of life of the region, the state backs off.

Enough is enough.

It’s nothing new. In the 1800s when the railroads were being created, leaders in Richmond wanted the end of the line in Richmond. They envisioned container ships chugging up the James River to the beautiful port of Richmond. Even then, they didn’t see the state as one vast commonwealth. They saw it as “us” and “them.” And we were “them.”

Forget the fact that Hampton Roads boasts the world’s best natural port and harbor. They wanted that port money in Richmond, where it belonged!

Well, the only way that Hampton Roads leaders got the railroad here was to threaten to succeed from Virginia and align with North Carolina. Not a bad idea. This time, though, let’s forget joining North Carolina—let’s just form the State of Hampton Roads.

We’d be bigger than 12 other states: Idaho, Hawaii, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Montana, Delaware, South Dakota, Alaska, North Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming. We are one of the primary economic engines of Virginia with a regional gross domestic product of nearly $80 billion per year.

We’d do just fine on our own, but the rest of Virginia would not do very well without us. In one of my first Upfronts I showed that in the late ’90s and early 2000s, Hampton Roads received 20 percent less road funding per capita than Richmond. They’ve been using our money for projects in other parts of the state for years.

In the 1990s, the federal government funded an interstate to the Raleigh-Durham area. North Carolina was for it, but the Virginia State Legislature killed it. It didn’t want to help spur the growth of Northeastern North Carolina. The real effect was the stunting of Hampton Roads’ growth by tying us to Richmond and the Rust Belt.

The governor wants public-private partnerships to create tolls on our roads—avoiding dreaded taxes. But tolls and taxes are the same thing, except taxes affect everyone equally, where tolls affect only a small portion of those who benefit from the roads.

If you don’t use a tunnel, why should you have to pay an increased tax? An equal gas tax increase, statewide, would probably cost no more than $25 yearly per person. Tolling a high-tech worker on his or her way to a simulation job or to work at NASA might cost that one person $2,000 per year in tolls. Everyone benefits from an easy commute to work. Employed people eat at restaurants, buy things in stores and spend money on local services. You take $2,000 away from them, and that’s $2,000 less in the local economy. And much of that money will go to non-local investors on the “private” side of the partnership.

A new survey from the Texas Transportation Institute lists the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel as the fifth most congested roadway in the United States. These are hard economic times. We hear it from our leaders, and we know it ourselves. We’ve spent decades sending our tax money—as all good citizens in a commonwealth do—to help improve lives and the infrastructure throughout the rest of the state. But our needs never seem to be met or even addressed.

What are the best ways to seriously assert the rights of Hampton Roads as a region? What options do we have, not just about transportation, but about all the other issues facing us today? Are you angry, too, that the state seems to constantly abandon us? Join the conversation online at www.hrmag.com.

Look for the link to comment on this Upfront. Together we can help Hampton Roads gain its rightful place as the crown jewel of the Atlantic Seaboard.

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