Continuing with the series devoted to deconstructing the Issues page of Jeff Barnett (D), who is running for Congress against Rep. Frank Wolf (R) in VA’s 10th Congressional District, today we look at transportation.

We need to actually fix transportation gridlock. Traffic gets worse every year. Enough is enough.

Mr. Barnett, we have bad traffic in this area because we have good jobs. I do know some people who have decided not to move here because of the traffic. What that means is that, if we do improve the traffic situation, more people will move here because we would have good jobs and good traffic, and we would have bad traffic again.

This is not to say that we should not try to improve our roads. We should. But the end state is not better traffic, it is more good jobs.

First, we need to improve the efficiency of current roads, rail and bridges. We need better interchanges, additional lanes, metro extensions, and high-speed buses. These improvements will make life more bearable for our current population. They are necessary – but not enough. They won’t handle future growth.

As I said, it won’t make life more bearable, it will just encourage future growth. Build it, and they will come.

Our district has the most fiber-rich dirt on earth. We are the internet crossroads of the world. Dulles is the last major airport on the East Coast with expansion capacity. Our wealth will continue to attract floods of people. We need next-generation infrastructures to absorb them.

Well, Mr. Barnett has that right at least. It is a cycle — more jobs require more infrastructure which brings more jobs.  As for being “fiber-rich,” we need to encourage more telecommuting, especially in the federal government and its contractors.  This is an issue that Mr. Barnett could push as a congresscritter.  Telecommuting would improve the quality of life for the telecommuters and reduce traffic for those who still have to drive to work.  I also believe that it would reduce government costs, since the government would not have to pay for office space for those telecommuters.

Our parents showed us how to think ahead. They built I-66, I-81, the American Legion Bridge, the Beltway, and Metrorail. Since then, every solution to our traffic woes has been to widen or lengthen what we inherited. We can’t just “tweak” transportation infrastructures designed decades ago. Real growth requires next generation transportation. It requires renewed vision.

Now comes the rub. The problem is defined. Let us see what Mr. Barnett proposes.

I will lead a consensus towards that vision. The Congressman from the 10th District is uniquely positioned to bring people together. I can reach across state and party lines, across federal, state, and local agencies, across public and private sectors, to forge a new consensus that protects the environment, the economy and our quality of life.

Uh, OK. But how does that differ from Rep. Wolf?

This consensus will help us to identify and build the next generation of transportation across the 10th District and Northern Virginia. If we don’t act now, gridlock will get worse for everyone – and that’s no way to live.

Well, it seems that Mr. Barnett doesn’t have any answers, either.

I will say, though, that I think Mr. Barnett is barking up the wrong tree. The federal government really should not be involved in local transportation issues. This is a peculiar case, with DC in the middle of it. Only so far as Congress has the power “To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever….” regarding DC, would a Representative Barnett have any involvement in local transportation issues. I-66, for instance, is entirely within the State of Virginia. That said, through both the General Welfare of the States clause and the Common Defense of the States clause, we have the Interstate Highway System.

There is no question that the IHS, by facilitating the transportation of goods, has improved the General Welfare of the States. Nor can one deny that the IHS facilitates the transportation of men and materiel for the military. However, I believe a better way for the federal government to achieve these objective is through expanding and improving cargo rail.

We have all heard the ads on the radio saying how much more fuel efficient cargo rail is. Less well known is that, by reducing the numbers of long-haul trucks on the roads, cargo rail also reduces traffic fatalities. Finally, vehicles cause road damage proportional to the 4th power of their axle weight. A 10,000 lb. two-axle truck causes 625 times the road damage that a 2,000 lb. car does. A 50,000 lb. tractor-trailer, assuming that the weight is evenly distributed over all five axles, causes 1500 times the road damage that a 2000 lb. car does. (The maximum weight of a truck on the IHS is 80,000 lb.)

We need to bring our cargo rail system into the 21st Century, and get the long-haul trucks off the interstates.  The future and the past — the information superhighway and cargo rail — are the keys to alleviating our traffic woes.