Division of Legislative Services > Legislative Record > 2006

SJR 60: Virginia's Future Transportation Needs

October 13, 2006

The joint subcommittee, chaired by Senator Williams, met on October 13, 2006, at Old Dominion University. Several guest speakers were invited to make presentations at the meeting.

David Ekern - Commissioner of Transportation
Commissioner Ekern used his experiences in Minnesota and Idaho, as well as the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) to illustrate initiatives and policy developments that are changing the face of the nation’s transportation agencies. He explained that, since the completion of the Interstate Highway System in the early 1990's, highway transporta-tion programs across the country have been changing to meet the challenges of the post-Interstate environment. He stated that the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) was experiencing these changes, too, evolving from a public works, project-focused, "reactive" agency to one that is more mobility- or outcomes-focused, customer-oriented, and performance-driven. Commissioner Ekern told the members that 21st century transportation programs would be characterized by increased use of intelligent transportation systems technologies and increased cooperation both among state and federal transportation agencies and more numerous public-private partner-ships, linking the governmental and private sectors of the economy.

In discussing the National Highway System (NHS), the Commissioner pointed out that, while Virginia has both more route-miles and lane-miles of non-NHS components, more vehicle miles are traveled in the Common-wealth on NHS components. Several members asked Commissioner Ekern to provide the members with a clearer understanding of who decides what highways become NHS components, the basis for that decision, and a map of the NHS in Virginia.

The discussions turned to questions of the transfer of control of certain Virginia highways to local governments. The Commissioner cautioned the members that devolution to local governments would involve both pluses and minuses. He stated that the transition would need to be carefully planned, cautiously managed, and performance-driven with particular attention to system ownership, function and design, funding, and the conversion process itself. A carefully revised business plan for VDOT, he stressed, would be essential.

Gregory Whirley, Sr. - Chief Deputy Commissioner of Transportation
Mr. Whirley briefed the members on VDOT's maintenance and operations functions, emphasiz-ing the rapidly rising costs of all aspects of highway system maintenance. He noted that statewide maintenance needs increased from $2.9 billion in 2004 to $3.3 billion only one year later. He also drew the members’ attention to the increased use by VDOT of an asset management system to predict maintenance needs and allocate maintenance resources both functionally and geographically. He reminded the members that VDOT is in the process of outsourcing its maintenance functions to the private sector state-wide and pointed out that all contracts for maintenance would be performance-based. Considerable additional detail was supplied in materials distributed to the members.

Mohammad Karim - Old Dominion University (ODU)
Dr. Karim briefed the members on Strategies for Disruption-Free Movement of Merchandise and People. He painted a broad picture of Virginia's place in a rapidly globalizing world economy and the many changes that globalization would necessitate in the Commonwealth's transportation infrastructure. He proposed that ODU initiate the following:

• Utilize ODU’s engineering and computational programs to develop a systems engineering means to identify, define, and characterize inland transportation hub alternatives for the Commonwealth.
• Engage an unconventional team of transportation psychologists, economists, and supply-chain logistics experts to develop real-time visualization tools for related decision making and policy deliberations.
• Utilize ODU’s Virginia Modeling, Analysis, and Simulation Center (VMASC) and International Maritime, Ports, and Logistics Management Institute in this effort.
• Utilize discrete-event and physics-based simulation mathematical tools to identify optimum inland transportation hubs and transportation networks for the Hampton Roads region.

Dr. Karim estimated that the comprehensive ODU engineering research he proposed would cost the Commonwealth $1.77 million.

Douglas Easter - Easter Associates
Mr. Easter spoke on behalf of the Virginia Transportation Construction Alliance. He noted the rapidly rising costs of maintenance due in large measure to escalating prices for materials such as asphalt, cement, and steel. He stated that most Interstate Highway System components are now twenty-years-old or older and that there are insuffi-cient resources from reliable, sustainable, and predictable sources available to cover actual maintenance needs. He pointed to a point of "cross-over" a few years ago, when resources that otherwise would have funded the Commonwealth's highway construction program had been redirected instead to fund maintenance of existing assets. The collapse of the housing and commercial building market and the unavailability of resources adequate to fully fund Virginia's highway maintenance needs were putting many contractors out of business.

Mr. Easter mentioned that he had no particular objection to the transfer of highway maintenance responsibilities to Virginia's local governments, if localities were provided with sufficient financial and other requisite resources. He cautioned that devolution of responsibility for maintenance to local governments might eliminate some economies of scale that VDOT presently enjoys. In conclusion, Mr. Easter made the following recommendations:

• Re-evaluate the entire VDOT procurement process with a goal of making it more performance-based.
• VDOT move from the use of financial penalties to the use of financial incentives in performance measurements.
• A more extensive use of design-build contracts and other innovative measures.

Next Meeting

The next meeting of the joint subcommittee is scheduled for November 27, 2006, at 10 a.m. at the General Assembly Building in Richmond.

The Hon. Martin E. Williams

The Hon. Leo C. Wardrup, Jr.

For information, contact:
Alan Wambold and Stephanie, DLS Staff

Division of Legislative Services > Legislative Record > 2006

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