VBTA does not envy the taxpayers of Norfolk that will find their wallets fleeced and their personal discretionary incomes permanently reduced by the continuing escalating construction costs and the equally understated annual operating costs to subsidize the Tide's operation.
VBTA does not favor additional federal or state money being allocated to bail out the Norfolk City Council for a project that would never have gotten off the ground if the truth had been told. The taxpayers of Norfolk should enforce accountability at the polls the next time they vote in the Norfolk City Council elections.
The Norfolk Tide’s spiraling cost experience is the canary in the coal mine for Virginia Beach taxpayers. It is clear the Norfolk City Council wanted light rail to happen come “hell or high water.” The HRTA Board had the message and made sure their appointee and President of HRTA, Michael Townes understood. When the initial project and its costs did not align favorably with the federal criteria for matching funds, the project was stripped down to fit. The proof is now out that the project as submitted for federal funding consideration was not truly viable.
Virginia Beach taxpayers’ should not lose sight of the larger story. The cost overruns are just a symptom of a much larger problem. The larger story is the root cause of disease not the symptoms. The root cause – the larger problem - is the attitude that the end justifies the means. It is amazing how quickly many people when they exercise power, forget the lessons our parents taught us about honor, honesty, and playing by the rules.
There was no way the Norfolk City Council and the HRTA Commissioners were going to allow the Norfolk Light Rail study to conclude that a light rail was not a viable project for funding under the federal criteria. Light rail in Norfolk was never about improving transportation, it was about Norfolk’s redevelopment – again an inefficient investment of scarce transportation dollars. Cost effectiveness is a very stringent criterion in the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) assessment of light rail projects.
The pressure to make the Norfolk Light Rail project fit the federal criteria and known, but ignored future cost overruns, is captured in the following comment made by Mr. Townes as documented in the Friday, December 18, 2009 edition of the Virginian Pilot –
“Townes noted that the original design of the light-rail project was "bare bones" to meet stringent criteria for federal money. He said the newest budget is close to the price tag HRT estimated several years ago before slashing more than $100 million in a "value engineering" exercise to reduce costs.
"Many of the elements removed have now been put back in the project," Townes said.”
To suggest that Chairman Wood and the HRTA Board were not willing partners of the actions taken by Mr. Townes is not credible. Beach Mayor, Will Sessoms, and City Councilmen Wood and Uhrin, HRTA Board members, have been unrestrained advocates for extending light rail to Virginia Beach. The same attitude of the end justifies the means that infected the Norfolk light rail study is a virus running rapid in the Virginia Beach light rail extension study.
Chairman Wood and Beach Mayor Sessoms are already trying to the practice the slight-of-hand and, “do not look behind the curtain” maneuvers hoping Beach taxpayers will be preoccupied with the symptom of light rail cost overruns thus overlooking the root cause.
Beach taxpayers need to constantly remind Mayor Sessoms of his promise for a binding voter referendum on light rail.
Mayor Sessoms and Chairman Wood want to throw Mr. Townes to the wolves and then say, “Look we hired a new management team and now everything is going to be better.”
The truth is that Mr. Townes has just been the agent for Mayor Fraim’s and Mayor Sessoms’ agenda. Now that events are exposing the hoax before the second part of the deal was sealed – the Virginia Beach light rail extension – a distraction is needed to get the taxpayers off the real trail.
Beach voters you are in control. The vote you cast this November for Beach City Council is an opportunity to restore fiscal sanity and honesty to City Council.
With the exception of Councilman Bill Desteph, not a single incumbent has earned the right to return. Light Rail is just one more symptom of a City Council addicted to your wallet and enslaved to special interests. Take charge and put Beach council members Jones, Woods, Uhrin, and Henley on unemployment roles this November 2, 2010. Liberate your wallet from big government on Election Day.
Step-up to the challenge you have earned it!
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