Commission on the Future of Transportation in Virginia
August 11, 1997, Richmond
The major focus of the meeting was presentation to the full commission of the report of the Advisory Committee on Transportation Needs. The report showed that, in comparison to Virginia's highway and public transportation needs, the Commonwealth's needs for port and aviation programs through the first decade of the next century were in reasonable consonance with anticipated revenues over that same period. The needs of Virginia's ports are "economically driven," and present funding sources and levels allow them to be globally competitive and may not require additional state funding for the foreseeable future.
The major concern relating to Virginia's aviation program funding is the very considerable uncertainty of federal financial support, the single largest source of this program's funding. Unless federal support is substantially reduced, continued dedication of 2.4 percent of the state's Transportation Trust Fund should remain adequate to fund the state's share of its aviation program's costs.
Rail and Public Transportation
Whatever satisfaction the commission may have taken from the comments relative to Virginia's port and aviation needs was dispelled by the report's observations relative to rail and public transportation and highway programs. Depending on whether one used a no-growth, moderate-growth, or aggressive-growth scenario, the advisory committee foresaw annual shortfalls of $93.81 million, $143.96 million, or $251.35 million for the state's share of the costs of Virginia's public transportation and ride-sharing programs alone. Additional annual shortfalls of $5.4 million, $26.9 million, or $60.8 million were predicted for the state's costs for rail passenger and freight service.
The most troubling predictions, however, related to the Commonwealth's highway program, for which $446.7 billion would be needed to fund a "moderate" program of highway improvements. Current VDOT revenues are adequate to meet only about one-third of current needs, and this is expected to get worse. By 2015, projected highway needs will be four times anticipated highway revenues. Annual shortfalls in the highway construction program alone are expected to rise from $1.755 billion in fiscal year 1999 to $3.105 billion by fiscal year 2015. The problem of underfunding, the report concluded, is "statewide and pervasive"; it is not geographically based phenomenon, nor is it only an urban or a rural problem.
Virginians Who Do Not Drive
The commission also received the report of the Special Subcommittee Studying the Needs of Virginians Who Do Not Drive. The report stated that the provision of transportation services for rural residents, the disabled, the poor, and other Virginians who do not drive motor vehicles 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. Although the absence of readily available, detailed, and specific data on these needs have made it impossible for the special subcommittee fully to document these needs and recommend comprehensive statewide solutions within the time available, the panel recommended several specific smaller-scale legislative actions:
The director of the Department of Rail and Public Transportation briefed the commission on efforts to develop a performance-based formula for distributing state aid to public transit. Observing that the present system rewards inefficiency and penalizes cost-cutting and service improvements, the director nevertheless stated that this system is "not so bad as to scrap it." He reported that the department was working on a new system, supplemental to the existing one, that will be more closely keyed to transit improvements. The department's study will be completed in about 60 days.
The Honorable William P. Robinson, Jr., Chairman
Legislative Services contact: Alan B. Wambold