HJR 843

Commission on the Future of Transportation in Virginia

June 1, 1999, Richmond

During his opening remarks, Chairman Robinson expressed the hope that the Governor's Commission and the General Assembly's Commission on the Future of Transportation in Virginia would work cooperatively together rather than in competition with one another. "We all know where we need to go," he explained, "the question is how do we get there."

The Chairman stated that a crucial question before both commissions was how to achieve a "local focus" on transportation without sacrificing the Commonwealth's involvement. He conceded that though an estimate of $1.6 billion in annual statewide transportation needs might be realistic, satisfying all of those needs was not possible. He concluded his remarks by stressing the nexus between transportation and economic development and the need to de-politicize transportation policy-making, further suggesting that it might prove fruitful for the two transportation commissions to coordinate their efforts with those of the Commission on the Condition and Future of Virginia's Cities.

State Funding

Senator Wampler reminded the panel that Virginia's transportation needs are not only large but are constantly growing even larger. He felt that, since political realities make tax increases during times of considerable state revenue surpluses impossible, the General Assembly ought to look to general fund revenues to fund the administrative costs of the Department of Transportation and Department of Motor Vehicles, thus making it possible to direct a greater percentage of dedicated transportation revenues to meeting construction and maintenance needs, rather than administrative overhead. "The public doesn't care where transportation revenues come from," he observed.

Interstate 81

Two commission members argued the need for immediate and concentrated efforts to widen and improve the entire length of Interstate Route 81 in Virginia and expressed frustration with time consumed by study and by solicitation, receipt, and consideration of public comment. "If you don't pull the trigger," one stated, "nothing is going to get shot." The commissioner of VDOT explained that the need for widening I-81 has already been identified and that some construction has begun. He further pointed out the importance of setting priorities and the need for decisions to be "tempered by political realities." Environmental concerns, he cautioned, are constantly a factor.

In reply to a question as to how VDOT's processes could be streamlined and accelerated, the commissioner reminded the commission that many other states look to Virginia's Department of Transportation for ideas to improve their own operations.

Regional Meetings

The Chairman suggested that the commission hold a series of regional meetings throughout the Commonwealth to gain a better appreciation of regional strategic needs and their relative priorities. In a general discussion that followed, a consensus supported the division of the Commonwealth into seven regions, based on VDOT's highway construction districts, as follows: The members agreed on the need for these regional meetings to focus on major, strategic corridors and needs and to avoid relatively minor or exclusively local issues.

Public Support

Senator Walker observed that it "always takes a groundswell" of public support to get prompt General Assembly action on transportation, education, and other major issues. He felt that the commission needed to "do a marketing job" to inform the public on how critical Virginia's transportation situation is, in order to generate such public support. Chairman Robinson remarked that "if the press will do what it needs to do, the public would support the commission and the General Assembly would be comfortable in acting affirmatively on the commission's recommendations.

Staff will poll the members to schedule regional meetings spaced from July through October.

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