In the Commonwealth of Virginia the Department of Transportation is guided on financial allocations and decisions by an appointed board named the Commonwealth Transportation Board. The CTB is similar to a board of directors for a college, possessing no ability to enact policy or make final budget decisions, but capable of guiding the conversation, acting as go-betweens in the process from public need to master plan to construction. At least that is the intended purpose.
Over the past decade there has been growing discontent from the public that transportation needs are not being adequately met. Some projects which face local opposition are strong armed through politically, while others that enjoy near universal approval (such as a comprehensive plan for the Safe Routes to School project) are ignored or otherwise unfunded.
So who are these appointed members who are meant to make our transportation network work better? And why is Virginia’s transportation network, specifically Northern Virginia’s, continuously ranked below average or near the bottom even though our spending per capita on transportation (at approximately $4 billion per year) is consistently at the top.
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Gregory A. Whirley
As a long time VDOT employee Mr. Whirley’s credentials are strong for public policy and accounting. If he were to be an exception to a board full of knowledgeable transportation design experts the board would be stronger for it. Unfortunately, his knowledge of accounting won’t help with prioritization and feasibility selection of transportation projects.
Thelma D. Drake
Current director of the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transit, an agency that has seen steep budget cuts under the McDonnell administration. Those cuts can’t be blamed on Ms. Drake of course, but perhaps her department could be the best group to let Governor McDonnell know that the cost of fuel has actually created a huge surge in freight rail in this country. Perhaps the DRPT should be insisting that instead of increasing truck capacity through suburban regions of Northern Virginia we should be improving our freight rail system in coordination with private companies such as Norfolk Southern, which would have the added benefit of improving Amtrak service between NOVA, Richmond, and Norfolk.
These would all be things that an expert in the transport of freight goods, an expert in train facility design, or perhaps just someone who has actually ridden a train before could answer. Ms. Drake instead comes from a background of…
Real estate and politics, a theme that will become evident.
John K. Matney
Mr. Matney is the CTB representative from Southwestern Virginia, an area which has seen nearly 2 billion dollars in mega project construction despite a steady population, no visible traffic (except on game days in Blacksburg of course), and no real ground swell from the community.
Mr. Matney is quite the east coast traveler. He is President of the Harbor Club, a golf community in Georgia, President of Stearns Company, a mineral reserve leasing company in Kentucky, managing partner of over 150 gas wells in the Allegheny Mountain region, and of course a former Board member of the Virginia Coal Association Board.
The only real question I have is, was he for or against the spending of over $1 billion to create the Coalfields Expressway, a rural highway serving almost exclusively freight traffic from the coal industry in Southwest Virginia.
Cord A. Sterling
Mr. Sterling from all accounts has been a strong member of the CTB. He has spanned two administrations and has significant experience in public policy as a board of supervisors member for Stafford County. What he doesn’t have is any background with relation to transportation networks modelling, design, or construction. As a correction Mr. Sterling has noted that his family has worked in road construction previously which he also assisted with.
Mark J. Peake
Mr. Peake has been practicing law in the areas of insurance defense, civil litigation, products liability, personal injury and criminal defense since 1988. I am not sure what his legal experience really does to assist his ability to determine the viability and importance of transportation projects.
Mr. Garczynsky isn’t just from the home building and real estate industry, he’s a hall of famer. As Northern Virginia’s representative on the CTB he has been silent on popular small scale transit solutions such as Light Rail in Arlington, bus route expansion, or urban development. That might be because when you develop over 6000 houses and serve as president of the Northern Virginia Building Industry Association AND president of the Home Builders Association of Virginia, you often find yourself out pushing the fringes of the existing development zones. Which might explain why he is such a vocal proponent of the Outer Beltway, a project that will benefit less than 0.3% of the Northern Virginia population, while using up over $1 billion dollars of much needed funds. The project will come very close to his offices in Woodbridge (a town on the cross roads of the Prince William Parkway and I-95).
Current President of Highway Service Ventures. I know the name sounds indicting… but the actual business plan is even more so. They create truck rest areas and services in Virginia along major freight routes. Hmmmm, I wonder who is going to get a lot more business with the Coalfields Expressway, the North South Corridor for freight between Dulles and Norfolk, and the 460 freight bypass (total of over $3 billion spent or intended in public funds). Some might call this… a conflict of interest.
Dana M. Martin
Not a lot of information was found on Mr. Martin. He once worked for the Southwest Voice newspaper as the editor. He has served as a VDOT board member for some time and a State Representative from Salem. Perhaps… just perhaps Mr. Martin might have some experience in actual transportation design.
F. Dixon Whitworth Jr.
Former president of BB&T bank Blue Ridge Region, Mr. Whitworth has had a career in financial services. While there is no conflict of interest with Mr. Whitworth, it is confusing as to why he is serving on a Transportation Board.
Ms. Fisher has a very strong business background as the president and CEO of Revenue Recovery Consultants, a financial services corporation. Her background would be great for an economic staff position in our state as a proven leader in the field. The only question I have is, why is she so integral to transportation and why did Governor McDonnell appoint her to the Transportation Transition Team in 2009 as he was beginning his first year in office?
President and CEO of Powell Valley National Bank of Virginia. Another question of… what are you doing on a transportation board? I do know one thing from my former life in land development; bankers and home builders work together on land development projects quite often. I have no idea how Powell Valley National Bank does business, so I will only assume Mr. Martin is not nearly an expert in what will fix Virginia’s transportation woes or which projects need higher priority than others.
Allen L. Louderback
Delegate Louderback has served the commonwealth for over a decade in the House of Delegates. He is a fellow hokie alum and he was founder and CEO of Louderback Enterprises, an Agro supplier. He is a successful businessman, and if it weren’t for his lack of knowledge on transportation systems, I would say he would be a great political and economic resource for the Governor… for anything other than the CTB.
W. Sheppard Mill III
President and CEO of Light Tech Fiber Optics. Oh man, if only our transportation network could run as efficiently as the trillions of photons that traverse a fiber optic cable. Unfortunately, humans are lot less reliable than photons, and require all sorts of considerations that a transportation engineer, or someone with a background in transportation systems would understand better.
Hollis D. Ellis
Alright an engineer!!! Call up the parade organizers we finally have an engineer on the transportation board! I assume he’s an engineer as Principal of the Norfolk based CAE Inc., an engineering consultant firm.
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The problem isn’t with each of the individual members of the CTB, although a few of them are egregious examples of economic conflicts of interest; it is with the board as a whole. The idea that this board is in anyways capable of indicating what the state needs for transportation is laughable.
What is even more disturbing, is that the head of the Board, Secretary of VDOT Sean Connaughton, believes that critics of the board’s decisions, priorities, and transportation solutions are not in a position to question the judgement of the board. What is the most disturbing is that Sean Connaughton, overseer of $5 billion of annual spending, has no background in transportation design or implementation himself.
His largest transportation feats were the creation of the Prince William County Department of Transportation, and former US Maritime Department of Transportation head. Now that is a fine career path, and of course something that should garner respect, but it provides him almost no insight on how to run transportation systems for the Commonwealth of Virginia, a state with minimal maritime activity not associated with the Department of Defense.
So why is the CTB so reluctant to listen to transportation engineers, planners, and residents who actually use the transportation network? Why is the process so opaque to the public when it comes to the real priorities that Virginia should be implementing into our vast and important transportation network?