HJR 519

Commission on the Future of Transportation in Virginia

May 19, 1997, Richmond

Chairman Robinson opened the meeting with a report from Delegate Marian Van Landingham, chair of the commission's Subcommittee on the Transportation Disadvantaged. Delegate Van Landingham commented that the provision of transportation services for rural residents, the disabled, and the poor is funded by a patchwork of federal, state, and local sources that are insufficient to support the creation of new transportation services for these persons. She noted that a regular funding scheme is needed to provide adequate services to the transportation disadvantaged and stated that this issue will be addressed in future subcommittee meetings. Following the subcommittee report, staff from the Senate Finance and House Appropriations Committees summarized three previous transportation studies for the commission.

The Dulles Rail Project

The director of the Department of Rail and Public Transportation described the proposed financing plan for the design and construction of a metro-like rail system from Falls Church to Dulles Airport, continuing into Loudoun County and terminating in the vicinity of Route 772. The financing plan for the project is based on a 1995 projection of $1.45 billion in capital costs. This estimate includes $620 million for construction of the rail line and stations and $240 million for systems for power collection and distribution, train controls, communication, and a new rail vehicle storage facility. The projection also contemplates expenditures of $40 million to expand park and ride facilities and $140 million to purchase buses and 100 rail vehicles. Start-up and testing costs of $280 million and contingency fund of $130 million complete the total capital cost projection.

The financing plan for the project relies on the following five funding sources: (i) federal grants, (ii) Dulles Airport contribution, (iii) state contribution, (iv) cross-border leases, and (v) special tax district revenues. The director noted that Virginia is seeking 80 percent of the capital financing from federal grants and will apply these funds under the Federal Transit Administration's Innovative Financing Program, which will allow the state to front-load federal funds and apply state and local funds at later stages of the construction project. He also commented that the department recently received and was encouraged by a proposal for private funding and operation of the rail system. However, he emphasized that consideration of the proposal is still in the early stages and an opportunity for the submission of other private funding proposals must be provided.

Virginia's Ports

The deputy director of the Virginia Port Authority provided the commission with a brief overview of Virginia's ports. Prior to 1971, Virginia's general cargo marine terminals were owned and operated by the three port cities of Norfolk, Newport News, and Portsmouth. Competition for cargo business among these cities resulted in inefficiency and prevented central marketing strategies, thereby hampering Virginia's efforts to improve its shipping industry. To address these problems, the Commonwealth acquired all three port facilities in 1971 and centralized the operation of the ports in 1981 by creating Virginia International Terminals (VIT), a private non-stock corporation supervised by the Virginia Port Authority (VPA) and the Secretary of Transportation. In order to fund port operations, the 1987 Virginia General Assembly created the Commonwealth Port Fund, which receives an annual allocation of 4.2 percent of the Transportation Trust Fund or approximately $20 million per year.

The Virginia Port Authority currently operates four facilities. The Norfolk International Terminal is Virginia's largest container facility (811 acres) and has on-dock rail in addition to roll-on/roll-off and project cargo capabilities. Portsmouth Marine Terminal rests upon 219 acres and is primarily a container facility. The Commonwealth's third largest port is the Newport News Marine Terminal which handles bulk freight, such as rubber and tobacco, and container cargo. The VPA is presently constructing facilities to enhance Newport News' cruise ship terminal to expand this port's base of operations. The fourth major facility operated by the VPA is the Inland Port at Front Royal. This "port" is not located on a body of water, but serves as an intermodal ramp where tractor-trailers deliver container cargo to freight trains, which then transport the containers to the three Hampton Roads ports. Principal exports from Virginia's port facilities include pulp and waste paper, lumber, paper and paperboard, alcoholic beverages, and auto parts. Leading imports include natural rubber, auto parts, iron, steel, and alcoholic beverages.

The VPA's deputy director noted that 80 percent of all inbound freight is transported outside of Virginia, primarily to the Midwestern states. Because New York City and several Canadian ports also rely on Midwestern markets, these ports remain Virginia's chief competition for shipping business. The deputy director concluded his presentation by stating that Virginia's ports provide a full package of dockage facilities, labor, railroads, and highways necessary to successfully compete with any port along the Atlantic coast.

Advisory Committee on Needs

The co-chairman of the commission's Advisory Committee on Needs reported that it is presently gathering additional information from transportation agencies throughout the Commonwealth and is analyzing potential projects on the basis of time to complete, cost to complete, and financial shortfall. Chairman Robinson requested that the advisory committee match up categories of needs by geographic regions. The next meeting of the Advisory Committee on Needs is scheduled for July 21.

Future Meetings

Full commission meetings are planned for August 11 (final report of the Transportation Needs Advisory Committee), September 3 (final report of the Education Advisory Committee), November 17, and December 10 (consideration of the commission's Final Report).

The Honorable William P. Robinson, Jr., Chairman
Legislative Services contact: Alan B. Wambold