Commission on the Future of Transportation in Virginia
October 18, 1999, Norfolk
The purpose of the commission's Norfolk hearing, and that of other public hearings to be held throughout the Commonwealth, is to take testimony concerning regional strategic transportation needs. The commission will formulate a plan to meet those needs and submit the plan, including a mechanism to fund it, to the 2000 Session of the General Assembly.
The commission heard 11 presentations from elected local government officials; representatives of business associations; transportation builders, planners, and consultants; and individual citizens.
Transportation NeedsThe most frequently heard theme was that the most vital and most strategically important transportation needs of Greater Hampton Roads were all so large and enormously expensive that it was extremely unlikely (if not impossible) that their construction could be funded from existing or reasonably projected revenues. The needs described included:
- A "third crossing" of Hampton Roads,
- Widening of Interstate Route 64 on the Peninsula,
- Light rail service along the CSX corridor,
- An interstate-style highway parallel to US Route 460 between Petersburg and Portsmouth,
- Light rail service between Norfolk and Virginia Beach,
- A second tunnel tube at the Midtown Tunnel and its connection to Interstate Route 264, and
- The southeastern parkway and greenbelt (between I-264 and the Oak Grove connector in Chesapeake).
FundingIn addition to these points of consensus, the commission was urged by the Virginia Chamber of Commerce to recommend "taking the politics out of transportation planning," a reiteration of the chamber's testimony at the Fairfax public hearing in September. In essence, the chamber proposes replacing the present planning process used by the Virginia Department of Transportation and the Commonwealth Transportation Board with a more objective system of transportation planning and prioritizing.
Virtually all speakers were aware of the region's residents' considerable opposition to financing any or all of these projects either wholly or partially through tolls, but many of these same speakers suggested the absence of any realistic alternative to the use of tolls.
In addition to tolls, the members were urged by various speakers to either increase the state motor fuel tax, increase the state and/or local sales tax (and reserve the proceeds for transportation), or authorize the imposition of a regional motor fuel tax. Failure to do so, in the words of one speaker, was "like making $300-a-month payments on a $1,000-a-month mortgage," and would, sooner or later, adversely affect the regional economy, the quality of life in general, and air quality in particular.
Mass TransitA second theme sounded by many speakers was the need for increased attention to (and funding of) transportation needs other than highway construction, particularly expansion of mass transit service, either through expanded bus service or construction and operation of light rail systems. Several speakers urged the Commonwealth to increase its funding of all forms of mass transit, thus reducing mass transit's dependence upon often financially stressed local governments. High-speed passenger rail service connecting Hampton Roads to Richmond and the Washington, DC, metropolitan areas was also put forward as a means of increasing inter-regional mobility without additional highway construction.
One speaker reminded the panel of the role of Virginia's airport system in supporting local, regional, and statewide economic development and pointed out that the costs of constructing, maintaining, and operating attractive, convenient, and safe airports cannot be met by airport operators and local governments alone. "If we don't keep facilities adequate, the carriers will go elsewhere," the commission was warned, and if no "seed money" is made available, actions by the 1999 Session of the General Assembly to enable revolving loans to airports by the Virginia Resources Authority will be unavailing.
The Honorable William P. Robinson, Jr., Chairman
Legislative Services contact: Alan B. Wambold