HJR 152

Commission on the Future of Transportation in Virginia

October 27, 1998, Richmond

Chairman Robinson reminded the commission of the previous year's efforts to compile a definitive list of the Commonwealth's transportation needs and the lack of any alternative to the commission's assessment of transportation needs and projection of available revenues. Although the Secretary of Transportation and agency representatives had been invited to attend the day's meeting to present their views of the commission's work to date, commitments of the administration prevented their attending.

Noting that he was speaking only for himself and not on anyone else's behalf, Senator Wampler stated that he intended to recommend that the 1999 Session of the General Assembly make general fund revenues available to support additional transportation construction projects. He felt that increased revenues made available to Virginia under the recently passed federal Transportation Equity Act for the Twenty-First Century (TEA-21) obliged the Commonwealth to "ante up" additional revenues for transportation without increasing taxes or issuing additional debt.

Commonwealth Transportation Alliance

A senior vice president with the Virginia Chamber of Commerce addressed the panel on behalf of the Commonwealth Transportation Alliance. She expressed her pleasure at the additional federal revenues that would flow to Virginia under TEA-21 but suggested that Virginia and its transportation system were "now entering a new phase," one that would require the commitment of additional state revenues to transportation under a new, long-range, strategic plan. Proceeding from the observation that transportation improvement is a "long-range deal" and that Virginia's prohibition on successive gubernatorial terms and the short terms of members of the legislature hampers strategic planning by elected state officials, she suggested that development of a truly effective statewide strategic transportation plan would have to be developed from "the grass roots."

However, she cautioned that the general public was poorly informed about the importance of transportation to the economic well being of Commonwealth and the magnitude of Virginia's transportation needs and that a really effective grass roots campaign for transportation improvements would have to begin with a public education and information campaign led by concerned elements of the private sector. She felt that this approach would lead in time to a statewide strategic transportation plan that would be "multi-modal, rigorous, and economical" for at least 20 years. Based on this conviction, the Commonwealth Transportation Alliance, she explained, is contracting with transportation experts to "paint a picture" of what needs to be done and the best way of doing it. She concluded by pointing out that a statewide transportation summit would be convened by the alliance to "pull this all together" in 1999 and that, accordingly, neither the Chamber of Commerce nor the alliance had yet reached any conclusions about the need to raise taxes or the adequacy of existing revenues.

Another View

A retired attorney, speaking as a private citizen, urged the commission to consider actions that would improve transportation in Virginia "quickly and easily": (i) increase the taxes and fees paid by owners of heavy trucks so that their tax burden would be more in line with the incremental increase in highway construction and maintenance costs occasioned by heavy duty vehicles; (ii) revise highway construction fund allocations to include more "cost/benefit analysis" and eliminate unnecessary construction of four-lane highways where two-lane facilities are adequate; (iii) discourage "frivolous travel" and increase revenues by imposing tolls for use of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, bridges and tunnels in the Hampton Roads region, Interstate 95 in the Richmond area and other high-volume facilities, using the New Jersey and Connecticut Turnpikes as models; (iv) reject expensive "glamour projects" such as high-speed rail service between Richmond and Washington and contribute "a few nickels" to AMTRAK instead; and (v) impose a region-wide tax to provide bus service between the city and surrounding suburbs. He held out the possibility of increasing motor fuel taxes in Virginia, observing that "we pay less for gasoline than for bottled water."

Virginia Transit Association

The executive director of the Virginia Transit Association commended the commission for its efforts to obtain increased funding for the transit components of Virginia's transportation system. Decrying the lack of significant increases for transit projects in TEA-21, she repeatedly underscored the critical role of mass transit programs in efforts to address the Commonwealth's transportation needs. All too often, she lamented, transit services "stop at city boundaries" (citing the Greater Richmond area as an example). She urged the commission to recommend the removal of legislative barriers to region-wide transit projects and make transit programs less dependent on local revenues by increasing the amount of state revenues dedicated to transit-related programs and projects. Pointing to the key role of transit in economic development and welfare reform programs, she advocated the extension of mass transit services into the I-66 and Dulles Airport corridors and the construction of a light rail system linking the communities of Hampton Roads. She also endorsed the call of the Transportation Alliance for a long-range, comprehensive, statewide transportation plan, called for making the director of the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (VDRPT) a member of the Commonwealth Transportation Board and for the creation of a separate board to advise and oversee VDRPT.

Coalition for Smarter Growth

The executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth called for stronger and more numerous links between land-use planning and transportation programs. Observing that "patterns of growth are causing greater burdens on localities" and that "development follows roads," he concluded that expansion of the secondary highway system was contributing to suburban sprawl and fiscal stress among suburban localities. He asked the commission "to give the public options of visions of the future," seek integrated solutions, impose impact fees on developers, eliminate fee parking, increase the number of toll roads, and allow the waiver of high-occupancy vehicle restrictions for vehicles whose owners had paid a fee therefor (so-called high-occupancy toll or "HOT" lanes).

Hampton Roads PDC

The day's last presentation was by the chief transportation engineer with the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission, who gave a brief critique of the recently passed federal TEA-21 legislation and VDOT's six-year transportation improvement plan. He pointed out that, although Virginia would be receiving more federal funding under TEA-21 than the commission had anticipated, these additional federal dollars would, at least as far as Greater Hampton Roads was concerned, not result in the acceleration of any construction projects contained in the present six-year plan. Even though increased federal funding under TEA-21 might make up as much as 20 percent of the revenue shortfall projected by the commission last year, full funding of the remaining funding gap, would require an increase of 25 to 30 cents per gallon in the Virginia motor fuels tax (if the entire gap were funded from this one source).

Following a wide-ranging general discussion, the chairman announced plans for a commission meeting, following the November elections, to hear from administration representatives and discuss the future of the commission.

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