Friday, August 18, 2006

West Virginia Ranks 49th Again

To the shock of no one, a national ranking of state business climates by Forbes magazine finds that West Virginia is the 49th best state for business. Only Louisiana ranked worse; Mississippi ranked 48th. Neighboring Virginia ranked number one; the rankings of other surrounding states included Maryland at 11, Kentucky at 33, Ohio at 34, and Pennsylvania at 41.

The Forbes index rated states on business costs, labor, regulatory environment, economic climate, growth prospects, and quality of life. West Virginia ranked dead last in the growth prospects subranking.

Sadly, the fact West Virginia remains not open for business, notwithstanding the message of the governor's beautiful new road signs, has been long evident to residents of most border counties who often commute to neighboring states for work, shopping, and entertainment.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Back from the Beach; Back to School

It seems like just yesterday, I was leaving for a quick beach weekend before law school starts. Well, I guess it was really almost yesterday. Now I'm back and about to start law school next week--actually, the 3-day orientation session for first-year law students starts tomorrow.

Although I was only gone for 3 days, there was plenty of the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The good: While it was a rather short trip, I did get a chance to unwind & relax at Nags Head and Virginia Beach, as well as just get out of Dodge for a while. Temperatures on the coast held at a nice 80 degrees all day each day I was there and the rain stayed away.

The bad: In one word, traffic. Mapquest said my trip would take just over 6 hours. While I usually take only 80% of the time it estimates, I figured that just by having to drive a bit slower in Virginia, I might take a bit longer. My drive took over 8 hours. Almost every highway I drove in Virginia was clogged, from I-81 near Winchester to I-66 between I-81 and Manassas to I-95 from Woodbridge to Richmond to I-64 from Richmond to the beach. The only relief would be found on US 522 northwest of Winchester, the PW Parkway between I-66 and I-95 in Prince William County.

While one of the things I love about my ancestral (and maybe future personal) home of the Commonwealth of Virginia is their lower taxes, the extension of this policy to gas taxes and road funding has resulted in no major widening of most of Virginia's interstates since they were built over 40 years ago; some small progress is being made in the most congested parts of Northern Virginia and the Hampton Roads area, but it, like the existing traffic, has been moving at a snail's pace. I can understand how Virginia Republicans have lost almost two-thirds of the 12 seats they gained in the House of Delegates 5 years ago--all of which have come from those two traffic-clogged urban regions. If I had to deal with it daily, I too would be ready to bite the bullet and take another dime of gas taxes to unclog Virginia's major highways.

Receiving a honorable mention on the bad side are (1) almost being denied check-in at my hotel, (2) the fire alarm while I was in the shower, (3) the near-disaster I had with some personal electronics while at the beach, and (4) the brevity of this trip. When I got to my hotel Friday night (after making reservations only the night before), I found that someone else had checked in under that reservation. After managing to work into my conversation with the desk clerk that I was a law student, this problem was quickly resolved. The next morning, the fire alarm went off while I was in the shower; I was not amused to say the least. When I got to Nags Head, I decided to just take a very long walk in the surf; within a few minutes, after most waves coming just above ankle-high, one came to my waist and soaked the cell phone, Ipod, camera, et al, in my pockets; everything would eventually dry and survive except the memory card in the camera. Of course, my greatest lament was that I did not get the 4 or so days I originally planned to do & see all I wanted to and instead had just two days to do everything because of some things that came up last week that I had to handle before leaving.

The ugly: I-95. While I covered traffic in the above section, I-95 wins the gold medal. Since I traveled it in the afternoon, I got to wait and wait and wait just south of Woodbridge as the 2 reversible HOV lanes (northbound to Washington in the morning; southbound in the evening) ended and merged with the 3 regular lanes. When traffic did finally unclog itself south of Fredericksburg, someone apparently did not notice--or at least I hope that's what happened--as one vehicle in the center lane was going about 70 as everyone else in every lane was approaching 80; when I passed this vehicle, I looked over and noticed the driver working on some spreadsheet with both hands and steering with his knees. However, I was glad to see that at least he was not talking on his cell phone; that could have caused an accident.

I did get to take a few pictures at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnels with another camera after the little mishap at the beach:

Ships passing over the Thimble Shoal Channel Tunnel 4 miles north of Virginia Beach, looking northeast.

The north shore of Virginia Beach, 4 miles to the south.

The Thimble Shoal Channel, facing north. The northern portal of the Thimble Shoal Channel Tunnel lies one mile to the north.

Another view.

The fishing pier at the Thimble Shoal overlook, looking southwest.

From the same location, looking at the water's edge of this man-made island.

This photo was taken at the overlook at the north end of the CBBT in Northampton County about 30 minutes before sunset.

Looking south from the same location; the northern leg of the CBBT is in the far background.

Returning south, I arrived at the Thimble Shoal overlook just in time to capture this sunset photo; unfortunately, the auto-focus on the camera didn't work properly for this one.

Just a few seconds later, the last light of day slips below the horizon.

At the Thimble Shoal overlook is this map of the CBBT. While the bridges carry 4-lane traffic, US 13 narrows to 2 lanes in each tunnel.

Looking north into the southern portal of the Thimble Shoal Channel Tunnel.

Looking south from the same location.