Commission on the Future of Transportation in VirginiaDecember 15, 1998, Richmond
The major focus of the meeting was on two presentations summarizing (i) the current state of Virginia's highway construction program and (ii) the broader impact of the recently passed federal Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) on Virginia's transportation program as a whole.
Virginia's Secretary of Transportation began her comments by stressing the importance of planning and cooperation between the administration and the commission to the success of Virginia's transportation program and urged that preconceived notions and "so-called needs lists" be left at the door.
As the result of TEA-21, federal revenues available to support Virginia's transportation program would be significantly greater than those projected last year by the commission. Because of this increase in federal aid (the equivalent of a 6-cents-per-gallon increase in the state motor fuels tax) and the booming Virginia economy, the Commonwealth's highway construction program has been able to grow from a $4.5 billion program two years ago to a $6.6 billion program today. The good news, the secretary added, was not limited to Virginia's highway construction program: funds available to mass transit programs had also increased 22 percent in the past year. In total, a combination of increased federal aid, issuance of additional debt, and projects undertaken under the Public-Private Transportation Act have added $2.3 billion to the total state transportation program in the past year.
The Secretary concluded her remarks by pointing to major financial issues that still need to be addressed, among them the need to create a new federal program to fund harbor channel dredging (the existing program having been held unconstitutional by the Supreme Court) and the equally urgent need for Congress to renew the federal Airport Improvement Program.
Additional detail was supplied by the Commonwealth's Transportation Commissioner, particularly as to "high priority programs" (sometimes referred to as "demonstration projects") under TEA-21. Of the 1,800 such projects identified in the federal act, 54 are Virginia projects. Federal funding for these projects, ranging from major highway and rail improvements to the construction of a music center, will bring $201 million to Virginia over the six-year life of the act.
Responding to a question from Delegate Rollison as to ways in which the General Assembly might act to enhance resources available for transportation purposes and reduce the time lag between planning for and construction of highway construction projects, the secretary advocated the enactment of legislation that would provide for collection of motor fuel taxes "at the rack" and continue efforts to streamline not only the federal permitting process, but that at the state level as well. Based on the experience of other states, she predicted that Virginia could experience as much as a six percent increase in motor fuel tax collections if "tax at the rack" legislation were enacted.
Following these presentations, the commission unanimously agreed to request an extension of the commission's study mandate.
The Honorable William P. Robinson, Jr., Chairman
Legislative Services contact: Alan B. Wambold