HJR 211: Joint Subcommittee Studying JLARC's Recommendations on Virginia's Transportation Programs

May 20, 2003

Six-Year Plan

The members of the joint subcommittee were briefed by Transportation Secretary Clement on the Virginia Department of Transportation’s tentative six-year improvement plan for fiscal years 2004 through 2009. Secretary Clement identified, as key goals of the plan:

  • Safety,
  • Maintenance of existing facilities,
  • Congestion relief,
  • Increased funding of non-highway projects (specifically including transit, rail, and bicycle and pedestrian facilities),
  • Prudent use of debt,
  • Repair or replacement of deficient bridges,
  • Ensuring eligibility of projects for federal funding,
  • Encouragement of public-private partnerships, and
  • Use of realistic cost estimates.

According to the tentative plan, in the next six years, $6.4 billion would pass through the “allocation formula,” with a high priority being given to “cleaning up the books” by paying off projects (some of them already completed) for which earlier plans had provided inadequate funding. The plan assumes the issuance of no additional federal reimbursement anticipation notes (FRANs). The Secretary pointed out that financial constraints had caused the elimination of several high-cost, highly controversial projects for which no funding had been identified (such as the so-called Western Transportation Corridor); however, the plan does provide for continued development of the U.S. Route 460 project, high-speed passenger rail service, and several projects to be carried out under the Public-Private Transportation Act. The Commonwealth Transportation Board is expected to give its final approval to the plan at its June meeting.

Revenue Trends

House Appropriations Committee staff reviewed recent trends in transportation-dedicated revenues and the availability of funds for the state transportation construction program. Even though low interest rates have been helpful in keeping down the cost of transportation-related debt service, growth in the revenues dedicated to transportation continue to be, at best, stagnant, and by next year highway maintenance costs will exceed those of highway construction. Even given low interest rates, debt service costs will continue to drive down the amount of revenue available for construction. If present trends continue, before the end of the decade insufficient construction funds will be available to match federal funds otherwise available for projects in Virginia. If this happens, federal funds that would have come to Virginia will go to projects in other states.

Legislative Proposals

The members next considered legislative proposals intended to improve the Commonwealth’s transportation program and financing of those improvements. The first such proposal, put forward by Delegate Rollison, is similar to HB 2750 (2003) and would dedicate one-third of the annual insurance license tax revenue to transportation projects in Northern Virginia, Hampton Roads, and the Interstate Route 81 corridor.

Senator Blevins spoke in support of his legislation (SB 778 of 2003, referred by letter to the joint subcommittee from the House Transportation Committee) that would take funds “off the top” of the allocation formula to reimburse the City of Chesapeake for its actual costs incurred in maintenance and operation of drawbridges within its boundaries. Similarly, Delegate Nutter presented legislation (HB 2718 of 2003, also referred by letter from the House Transportation Committee) that would provide for the adjustment of all allocations to primary, secondary, and urban system highway projects to reflect construction cost differentials based on topography, elevation, and soil conditions.

Delegate Watts urged the consideration of legislation (HB 2249 of 2003, also referred by letter) that would apportion primary system highway construction funds among the nine highway construction districts on the basis of vehicle miles traveled in primary system components divided by lane-miles of primary system components in each district. She explained that, while this legislation was largely a “Northern Virginia solution,” and would probably not be of benefit to less-congested regions of the Commonwealth, congestion in Northern Virginia had become so severe that such an approach should be considered. In closing, Delegate Watts displayed a chart that indicated that the “buying power” of the “new revenues” dedicated to transportation construction by the 1986 Special Session of the General Assembly had been eroded to such an extent that an increase of more than 10 cents per gallon in the motor fuel tax would be needed to restore that “buying power” of the Transportation Trust Fund to its 1986 level.

Three other “Northern Virginia bills” (HB 1485, HB 2147, and HB 2144 of 2003), also referred to the subcommittee by letter, were presented by Delegate Rust. These bills would revise the formula for allocating primary, secondary and urban system construction funds and allow use of the “Dirt Road Fund” for any qualifying secondary system projects, rather than only for paving unpaved roads.

Northern Virginia Air Quality

The chairman of the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority warned that traffic congestion in Northern Virginia and the air pollution caused by such congestion have become so severe that the region is in danger of being unable to meet air quality improvement goals set by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). If the region (in cooperation with the District of Columbia and its Maryland suburbs) is unable to develop an air quality improvement plan acceptable to the EPA, it faces the possibility of a cut-off of federal highway construction funds and possibly other onerous limitations at the hands of the federal government.

The VDOT chair of Planning and Environment stressed that Northern Virginia is already a noncompliance area and that proposed new federal air quality standards, soon to come into effect, will be much more difficult to meet than present standards. He warned that noncompliance could lead to the delay or cancellation of highway construction projects, loss of federal funds, and limitation on other expenditures by the Commonwealth.

The Hon. Vincent F. Callahan, Jr.

For information, contact:
Alan B. Wambold
Division of Legislative Services



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