Virginia commuters are in a capital jam

Marketplace Staff Mar 16, 2010

Virginia commuters are in a capital jam

Marketplace Staff Mar 16, 2010


Kai Ryssdal: A study from the traffic information company INRIX not too long ago told all of us here in Los Angeles what we already know, that our traffic is the worst in the country. New York and Chicago are two and three on the list. But there was a surprise in the number four slot. Up from 8th place just a couple of years ago, it’s Washington D.C. The capital’s Northern Virginia suburbs are especially clobbered. That’s put a huge strain on local businesses, which are now re-thinking their politics. David Schultz from WAMU reports.

David Schultz: Back in 2006, executives at the Janelia Farm Research Campus looked to expand into Northern Virginia. They chose a site just a few miles north of Dulles International Airport. The upside, the company’s team of cutting edge neuroscientists can quickly travel to a conference anywhere in the world.

The downside? Its campus is 35 miles from downtown D.C. and right in the middle of Northern Virginia’s crippling traffic.

CHERYL MOORE: We knew it was a certain number of miles, but we didn’t quite understand the variability in the traffic. And I think that’s some of what makes it most frustrating.

Cheryl Moore is the chief operating officer for Janelia Farm. When she first started hiring, she was shocked by how many people turned down their job offers after getting stuck in traffic on the way to an interview.

MOORE: We even had someone who, on the way to her first day of work after, she’d accepted the position, who was stuck in traffic for, I don’t know, an hour-and-a-half or two hours. She quit on her cell phone on her way into work.

Businesses throughout Northern Virginia have horror stories just like this one. The daily traffic jams make everything harder from scheduling meetings to receiving shipments.

But with Republicans in control of the state capital, it’s nearly impossible to raise taxes for transportation. Virginia hasn’t done it since 1987.

Mark Rozell is a political science professor at George Mason University. He says some Republicans from the north are open to a limited tax increase.

MARK ROZELL: But then you have the grass roots activists in the Republican Party, the conservative movement, that very strongly opposes increased taxes for any purpose. And so you have this battle brewing over the whole issue of transportation and taxes.

David Albo is a Republican legislator from Northern Virginia. He says he would support allowing his region to raise taxes on itself for itself, just not right now.

DAVID ALBO: You know, I’m an economics major from the University of Virginia, and it doesn’t take an economics major to know that you don’t raise taxes during a recession. That’s a recipe for disaster. So what we’ve been proposing is, you know, when the economy starts turning around we’ll come back and look at this.

For Tony Howard, that’s not an acceptable answer. He’s the president of the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce in Northern Virginia. Howard says the GOP’s refusal to even consider a tax increase is prompting local business leaders to rethink their political ties.

TONY HOWARD: Folks in the business community have given up, and I think this has happened in no less than the last 10 years. Have just given up caring what uniform color the politician is wearing, whether it’s red or it’s blue.

State legislators wrapped up their 2010 session this past weekend without even considering a comprehensive transportation bill. And with government gridlock mirroring gridlock on the highways, it’ll be a tough sell for the GOP to keep the support of Northern Virginia’s CEOs.

I’m David Schultz, for Marketplace.

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