Commission on the Future of Transportation in Virginia
November 15, 1999, Wise
Among the 15 presentations before the commission, the most frequently heard theme was that the transportation needs of Southwest Virginia, though very different from those of Northern Virginia, Hampton Roads, or other parts of the "Golden Crescent," were no less vital than those of Eastern Virginia. While Eastern Virginia needs transportation improvements (including expansion of mass transit systems) to maintain its economic vitality and quality of life by keeping traffic congestion from strangling the economy and degrading air quality, Western Virginia looks to transportation improvements (particularly highway construction) as the foundation of its economic development. Speaker after speaker stressed that failure to address the region's transportation needs will not only frustrate efforts to provide new jobs, but will almost certainly result in the loss of many existing jobs.
Transportation NeedsAmong the needs most frequently identified were:
- Construction of the Coal Fields Expressway (from the West Virginia/Virginia boundary to the Kentucky/Virginia boundary in the vicinity of Grundy);
- Completion of the "Super 58" (US Route 58) project, particularly west of Martinsville;
- Construction (in conjunction with the US Route 58 project) or completion of bypasses around major population centers (specifically Jonesville, Pennington Gap, Big Stone Gap, and Coeburn);
- Improvement of highway links between US Route 23/58 and (i) the planned Technology Park at the Lonesome Pine (Wise County) Airport and (ii) the University of Virginia's College at Wise;
- Elimination of traffic "choke points" on US Route 23/58 in the vicinity of Gate City and Weber City;
- Construction of an improved highway connection via Moccasin Gap between the US Route 23/58/421 corridor and Kingsport, Tennessee; and
- Allocation of additional resources to specialized transportation services for the rural poor (those who cannot afford to own motor vehicles) and disabled persons (whose disabilities prevent their operation of motor vehicles) who are unserved by conventional mass transit systems.
Other RecommendationsIn addition to these points of consensus, the commission was urged to recommend that:
- The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) be required to use competitive bidding for all highway construction and maintenance projects not carried out exclusively by VDOT employees, eliminating awarding of contracts for construction and maintenance under the Public Private Transportation Act or in other ways not involving competitive bidding;
- VDOT eliminate (or at least sharply curtail) is use of consultants; and
- The General Assembly continue to fund VDOT's administrative overhead (internal costs not directly involving highway construction or maintenance) from dedicated transportation revenues and not from general fund revenues.
Bicycle SafetyOne speaker focused on bicycle and pedestrian safety, particularly in urban areas, such as the City of Roanoke and urbanized portions of Roanoke County. He suggested:
- Development of statewide bicycle safety standards;
- Production of a uniform statewide bicycle safety manual;
- Education in these standards and distribution of this manual through programs in all elementary, middle, and high schools in the Commonwealth;
- Implementation and monitoring of a statewide bicycle safety program by a citizen advisory panel; and
- Employment of a bicycle safety officer in every VDOT district office.
FundingIn response to questions from commission members, several speakers suggested that additional funds required to meet presently unfunded transportation needs be raised by either an increase in the motor fuel tax, an increase in the sales tax, or increased issuance of bonds. One speaker, however, did mention several additional options:
The Chairman announced his intention to hold the commission's fifth public hearing in the greater Roanoke area during the first week in December.
- Dedication of the proceeds from the sales tax on auto parts to the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF);
- Leasing of operation of highway rest areas to private operators;
- Collection of tolls from trucks at highway weigh stations;
- Implementation of a escalating scale of fines for repeated violations of vehicle weight limits and dedication of the proceeds to the TTF;
- Increasing the motor vehicle registration fee; and
- Elimination of the final phase-in of the "car tax" reduction and dedication of the savings to the TTF.
The Honorable William P. Robinson, Jr., Chairman
Legislative Services contact: Alan B. Wambold