A silly proposal

Published 8:03 pm Monday, January 23, 2012

Among all of the important things Virginia’s legislators consider each year when they head to Richmond for the annual General Assembly session, there are always at least a few things up for consideration that seem to have been put on the agenda to prove legislators have a sense of humor — or perhaps it’s just that Virginia citizens must have a sense of humor when dealing with the fallout from the annual congress of the people’s representatives at the state capitol.

Whichever the case, one of the most serious things before the General Assembly this year is the perennial debate over how to fund the transportation improvements that have been needed in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia since the last part of the 20th century.

Now that the governor has called for tolls on the tunnels that cross the Elizabeth River, will the region’s delegation to Richmond be able to hold back the costly tide? Will the western and rural central areas of Virginia finally be called upon to contribute to solving the gridlock problems that result, in part, from providing them with an effective and tax-producing port system? Will Virginia enact higher gas taxes to help raise more money for highway construction and maintenance?

Email newsletter signup

These are all very important questions, vital elements of a comprehensive transportation policy — all very serious stuff. But it’s hard to stifle a grin over one proposal Gov. Bob McDonnell has made regarding transportation. The governor’s proposed initiative to authorize the Commonwealth Transportation Board to sell naming rights for highways, interchanges, bridges and other transportation infrastructure seems designed to provide a bit of comic relief to the delegates and senators putting in such long hours during the Assembly’s 60-day session.

Surely, it’s easy to understand the governor’s desire to find new revenue streams for transportation that will avoid dipping deeper into taxpayers’ pockets. But one strains to think of the highway, bridge, tunnel or other transportation feature that would be enticing as a namesake for corporations.

Corporations are famously worried about public relations. Why would they want to be associated with highways that seem to consist of brief strips of asphalt connected by long stretches of bumpy patching material, tunnels that are choked with traffic belching out nausea-inducing fumes, bridges too narrow to accommodate 21st-century traffic volume or electronic message systems whose patterns of working lights sometimes cause one to wonder whether they’re being programmed to give commuter messages in English?

It’s commendable for the governor to be thinking outside of the box in relation to Virginia’s transportation needs, but it would be helpful if he and legislators in Richmond confined themselves to solutions that had some chance of actually making a difference.