Is the free lunch vegan?

Interesting transportation news from Northern Virginia:

The region’s airports authority has reached a deal with Virginia officials to take control of the Dulles Toll Road and use the revenue to move quickly to build a Metrorail line to Dulles International Airport, sources familiar with the agreement said last night.

I hope it succeeds because traffic in the Northern Virginia area is ridiculous. However, the details of the plan aren’t important for my discussion. Instead, I want to focus on an informative statement surrounding the deal. Consider:

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D) said the agreement, which was described to him yesterday, “has promise.” But he said the state has ignored the interests of commuters on the toll road.

“I’ve got constituents who will be paying tolls in perpetuity,” Connolly said. “That’s a long time. My constituents want some assurances that there is going to be some cap on the tolls they will be paying.”

“Lost in the haste to accept a proposal are the interests of the commuters,” Connolly said.

What is Chairman Connolly really saying behind his concern for his constituents? The tolls aren’t going away, but no one’s surprised by that. But, if the local authorities figure out a way to make the tolls suddenly stop, who pays for the roads? Fairfax County constituents are happy, but who pays for the roads? Lady Luck doesn’t wave her magic wand for VDOT, pouring new asphalt out of pixie dust. Someone will still pay for the roads. What Chairman Connolly is saying is that he wants someone else to pay for the roads his constituents use. Better to have some poor schmo in Roanoke pay for a portion of the road than the local (voting) soccer moms.

“We get the benefits, but we all pay for the public good” is a popular, winning stance for politicians. Just ask Sen. Ted Stevens. Unfortunately, it’s also wrong. If the Dulles rail line deal is unwise, he should attack it on its merits. He shouldn’t attack it because he expects something for nothing.