Resolution lacks resolve

Published 12:15 am Tuesday, April 3, 2012

With many of their constituents set to hit for thousands of dollars a year in new tolls for using either the Downtown or Midtown tunnels, members of the Suffolk City Council are prepared to stand up to the governor on Wednesday and say — well, not much.

Council members are likely to adopt a resolution that does nothing to castigate a governor who pushed through a wildly unpopular public-private partnership that would require Hampton Roads residents to start paying now for a private company to build a tunnel that won’t be complete for years; that would give that company guaranteed profits, regardless of economic conditions, tunnel usage and any of the myriad factors that could normally cause a company to lose money; that would cost users more each year as annual toll-price increases went into effect.

Though economic development officials here in Suffolk would love to be able to say the city has a net influx of workers each day, the reality is that most folks work outside of Suffolk, and many of them have to cross the Elizabeth River to do so. Currently, they wait in long lines of traffic to make that crossing. That’s a situation that is bad and deteriorating. Gov. Bob McDonnell’s solution to the problem, though, is also bad — perhaps worse than the problem itself.

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Suffolk Delegate Chris Jones is working in Richmond to try to protect those folks from this bad deal. He’s put several proposals on the table to slow the start of toll collections, reduce the toll levels or kill the project entirely by taking advantage of an early-out clause with the commonwealth’s private partner.

Faced with the example of Jones’ courageous stand against tolls, however, City Council on Wednesday, will consider a resolution that states, in part: “We respectfully request the members of the Virginia General Assembly take action immediately to secure a dedicated source of transportation funding for high priority projects in the Hampton Roads region and to help solve our regional and statewide transportation issues.”

It’s the very definition of rhetorical vacuity. Boiled down to a few words: Please do something — anything. It’s just this sort of statement that has left Hampton Roads with unacceptable traffic conditions, despite the fact that everyone has seen them deteriorating for years. “Please do something — anything” results in nothing getting done until the governor steps in and says “Here’s how it’s going to be; deal with it.”

Jones, at least, has put forward concrete solutions that give legislators and the governor something substantive to talk about. If they don’t have their own such suggestions, Suffolk City Council members should at least throw their support behind their own state delegate, a man who lives in Suffolk, who has served in their seats and who understands what’s at stake for many of the people of Suffolk who are not members of City Council.

Empty rhetoric will prove extremely expensive for the people of Suffolk and the rest of Hampton Roads.