Doesn't it make you reach for the spot just above your heart when you hear Neil Armstrong's majestic proclamation "that's one small step for a man, and one giant leap for mankind?" It was a spot much lower, where my lunch was settling, that I clutched when the Supreme Court of Virginia approved Governor Robert McDonnell's giant leap backward for the region we have known as Hampton Roads. Unlike the west-bound lanes of the Midtown Tunnel which will be newly built and thus subject to user fees, the hardly-changed east-bound lanes and the entire Downtown Tunnel will be arbitrarily taxed as well just because the Supreme Court says the state is big and bad and "rough" enough to do it. How fitting that this announcement came on Halloween--Devil's Day--as it is known in quarters like Downtown Detroit, where criminals use the occasion to torch large swaths of the city in celebration!
True friends of Hampton Roads removed tolls from all major tunnels in the 1970s and 1980s. They nixed long distance phone charges and erased tolls from the Virginia Beach expressway in the 1990s. These regional heroes even managed a Monitor-Merrimac Bridge tunnel that has never seen a user fee. These deeds brought our region of 1.5 million people closer and closer by the decade. How do you refer to people who bring a wrecking ball to a region though?
Every toll between two ends of a road is a barrier between them as much or more than it is a user fee. Each of them proposed in our area stands in the way of movies at the Commodore or Naro, dinner in Olde Town or Ghent, and ultimately excursions through these impediments on the way to work. On February 1st., Williamsburg becomes more accessible to Suffolk than Norfolk is. Portsmouth soon will be closer to Yorktown than to Virginia Beach. And all of us will have to rethink what the political map of our neighborhood looks like--Republican or Democrat--when those who operate the regional wrecking ball are ready to decide on whom to arbitrarily impose the next user fees. You are trivializing what is happening here if you do not consider the possibility that that the area might simply implode economically, i.e. break apart, if you will.
All of this has me thinking about a great new You Tube idea: Rough people with weapons, chains, and the like can stand in the middle of a road. As rich people, poor people, old people, young people and desperate people try to pass, these community leaders can demand money as a user fee for accessing the road. If they're paid, they can smile and let the person pass. If not, they can rattle the chain, shoot the weapon or otherwise terrorize the user while continuing their blockade. This can be videoed and uploaded, exemplifying a great new approach to "working" on the part of the roughnecks. You can call it the "efficiency" of not raising taxes when it's done by politicians or bureaucrats and assessed arbitrarily on travelers though.