This afternoon there was a Regional Futures Conference at the Crowne Plaza Marina Hotel In Hampton. The event was sponsored by Future of Hampton Roads (FHR).
The keynote speaker was Robert Puentes of The Brookings Institution's Metropolitan Policy Program, and an ODU alumnus. Puentes stated that the U.S. has twice the carbon emissions of other industrial nations, and that Hampton Roads was 60th (out of 366) among metropolitan areas in the U.S. for emissions. 65% of our country's population lives in the Top 100 metro areas. Even here in Virginia, 86% of our population and 93% of our GDP are in metro areas. Puentes said Hampton Roads' unique structure (i.e. a number of similar sized cities) was a double-edged sword that we should look at the pluses from. Our structure means no single city having problems can take the region down, and no one really bad city (read: Detroit) can sink the region. In fact, no one at Brookings could think of a similar region in the country.
FHR President Ray Taylor spoke on transportation policy. MPOs were established by the Federal government in response to localities complaining about interstate highway planning in Washington not taking into account local sensitivities. In fact, Federal law mandates that all transportation planning be done on a regional basis. Taylor noted that Puentes had written that you need to reform the previous part of the process before moving to the next. Governor McDonnell ordering of audits of transportation planning and programming will allow us to reform with best practices. In turn, we can then take on funding.
Finally, Newport News Mayor Joe Frank stated the challenge of regional governance was putting mechanisms in place to tackle needs while still keeping government close to the people. If he was Mayor of Hampton Roads (rather than Newport News), he couldn't read to all the elementary school classes and go to all the Rotary meetings that he does. An off-the-cuff comment by Frank during the final segment might produce the biggest long term effect of the conference. His statement on the need to legally reform local and regional governance generated a call for a state commission to take on that subject. It has been long noted the problems with Virginia's archaic tax system; the commission would also look at legal reforms to governance structure and powers.