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Del. Rust: Transportation – A Solvable Problem

"As much as the word “tax” is decried, Virginia’s transportation system cannot be sustained or improved without additional revenue."

By Delegate Tom Rust (R-86th)

Since Governor McDonnell took office as governor, major investments have been made in Virginia’s transportation infrastructure. There have been approximately $1.8 billion in bonds sold, another $1.2 billion in GARVEE bonds proposed, savings and efficiencies in VDOT of $1.4 billion and creation of the Virginia Infrastructure Bank all of which are moving forward. Major projects in Virginia include the Downtown-Midtown tunnels in Hampton Roads, the I-95 improvements, the I-495 High Occupancy Toll (HOT) Lanes, the Route 460 improvements, the Silver Metro Line, all totaling approximately $14 billion in projects. All of this is applied to the Virginia highway system — approximately 126,000 miles — the third largest in the United States, and includes approximately 12,000 bridges. 

Virginia is one of only four states to maintain its secondary roads. Major local funding comes from the motor vehicle fuel tax, the motor vehicle sales and use tax, motor vehicle license fees, and Federal Highway Funds. Motor fuel tax and federal highway funds are a declining revenue source and federal funds are unpredictable. This leads to a situation where even with the Governor’s leadership, transportation is approaching a crisis. 

Northern Virginia, the economic engine of Virginia, has the dubious distinction of being the most congested area in the United States; Hampton Roads is not far behind and getting worse by the day. In recognition of this crisis, the political leaders of all jurisdictions in the ‘golden crescent’ — running from Northern Virginia through Richmond to Hampton Roads - have signed a letter asking the General Assembly to create new long-term sustainable transportation funding for Virginia. As much as the word “tax” is decried, Virginia’s transportation system cannot be sustained or improved without additional revenue. It will take courage and leadership to solve this problem. 

I along with a number of my colleagues in the House and the Senate are prepared to address the problem. Senator Watkins is the Chief Patron of a bill in the Senate, and I will be the chief patron of a similar bill in the House of Delegates to address the issue and, yes, it does increase revenues for transportation. Key components of the bill will extend the general sales and use tax to fuel at the wholesale level, reduce income tax brackets, and remove some tax credits and exemptions from other industries, and dedicate the money to transportation. A second bill which I have introduced uses many of the components of the first bill, but adds an option that each Planning District Commission could raise money specifically for construction within that district. Any money raised in that particular district must be spent in that district and cannot be diverted to another area. Either of these bills, or some combination of them, will address Virginia’s transportation for the foreseeable future. 

Without bold leadership (and with the potential of political backlash against the supporters), Virginia will have no money for secondary road construction by 2017 and there will be no money to have its match for federal funds. Those funds would not be used in Virginia, but would go to other states. Federal funds at this point are a major portion of Virginia’s transportation program. As the adage goes, “there is no such thing as a free lunch” and there is no free solution to our transportation crisis.

Virginia has slipped from No. 1 to No. 3 in its’ ranking of Best Managed states solely due to our lack of financing for infrastructure. We will continue to slip without bold leadership and brave actions such as have been proposed. The lack of infrastructure investment will result in an inability to attract new businesses and the potential loss of existing businesses. 

Investment in transportation will create economic development and will pay for itself over time. It is estimated that construction alone will create approximately 30,000 jobs and will bring an industry forward, which is currently suffering and will continue to suffer. 

These proposals, or similar ones by others, will not be easy to accomplish. We need your help. Please contact your respective legislators and make them aware that you realize we are in a transportation crisis and it cannot be fixed without additional revenue. I welcome any and all other suggestions as to how we can best solve this issue. I want to work to keep Virginia prosperous and welcoming to business and tourists while improving the quality of life for our residents. We can do this by investing in transportation infrastructure now.

[Have an opinion you want to share with the community? Send Letters to the Editor to leslie@patch.com.]

joe brewer January 16, 2013 at 12:20 PM
Since only 1.7% of cars will be removed from the roadways by 2040 a huge expenditure towards mass transit is a wrongdoing that should be stopped. Just the numbers from the VRT 550,000 people rode the bus at a cost of 5 million dollars that's 9 dollars per rider, excuse me! Now the GOV. wants to add 15 dollars in fees to the registration of vehicles to pay for bus and rail. What a waste.
joe brewer January 16, 2013 at 12:44 PM
Just for grins: ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) - Documents show a former top official at the agency that manages the Washington area's two airports created a no-bid contract that paid his wife and daughter more than $175,000.
Todd Huse January 16, 2013 at 01:58 PM
Hard to support tax Increases for transportation when Secretary Connaughton, Commissioner Whirley and VDOT are unwilling to show any real numbers or justification to the public on things like the "monthly fee for EZPass". If VDOT won't provide the Commonwealth Transportation Board with a simple report of EZPass revenue or projections, then how can any of their "needs" be trusted as accurate? It should also be noted that Del. Rust's ONLY solution seems to be tax hikes. He has not stated one thing he would cut from the state budget. Transportation infrastructure has been under-funded for years (according to him and nearly every VA politician), but rather than get rid of (or at least downsize) any outdated bureaucracies or failed programs, the only solution being proposed is more taxes. Del Rust is not showing that he is providing any oversight on the existing budget. He just wants more taxes to pay for more stuff.
Bob Bruhns January 16, 2013 at 03:31 PM
Rust does not question the double-priced rail project! How can we expect him to control costs on anything else? Mr. Rust, why are you not calling out the FTA and MWAA cost estimators, and asking them about their ridiculously high cost estimates for the Dulles Rail project? I have shown plenty of evidence of the double price ( http://www.bruhns.us/civic/DullesRail/Dulles-Rail---Silver-Line-overcost-report---Bruhns.pdf ), but no leader has even thought to ASK if maybe, just maybe, there is something wrong - when for example, the Rt 28 Metrorail station costs 2.4 times as much as a more capable Metrorail station built in Fairfield, Connecticut (it went into service in December 2011). Our station can accommodate 8-car trains; theirs can accommodate 12-car trains. Our station is the less expensive 'island platform' design; theirs is the more expensive 'side-platform' design. Our station has a half-length canopy; theirs has full-length canopies on both platforms. YET, OUR METRO STATION COSTS 2.4 TIMES AS MUCH AS THEIRS. Mr. Rust: are you allowing similar overcharges in everything else as well? Because as surprising as it might be, we really can't afford that.
No Toll Increase January 16, 2013 at 06:52 PM
Del. Rust is unwilling to talk about some of the real solutions to the NoVA traffic problems. The Dulles Rail Project is forcing traffic off the Dulles Toll Road onto already-congested local roads. There are better solutions, including forcing MWAA to expand the Dulles Airport Access Road to three HOT lanes in each direction, open to the public, with revenues going to the Dulles Rail Project. That would allow tolls on the DTR to be lowered or totally eliminated. VDOT could also cut interest costs in half if they took control of the rail project away from MWAA. Read more about these and other solutions at www.noTOLLincrease.org
Tom Kellner January 16, 2013 at 10:47 PM
I am curious as to what specifically you would either change or eliminate from the current budget proposal that would have any real impact on transportation.
joe brewer January 16, 2013 at 11:04 PM
Knock off the spending for mass transit unless it can sustain itself. Do not raise tax on gas cause then a larger share will go to the MWAA in 2018/2019 instead add a 10 cent user fee to be applied in the county where the gas was sold. Mass transit, bike paths and sidewalks are all pork that don't need to be paid for with the revenues from gas. What would you do Tom?
Tom Kellner January 16, 2013 at 11:11 PM
Dear No Toll Increase: Approximately two years ago, Mr. Rust took around two hours of his time to talk to me about transportation issues in general at his office in the Town Hall. I represent no one other than myself and have no significance to him other than that I live in the district he represents. In addition, over the years, he has always replied to my email inquiries within a matter of days. This even is when the General Assembly is in session. He may either agree or disagree with you, but to say that he does not discuss the issues is totally untrue.
Tom Kellner January 16, 2013 at 11:40 PM
Joe, Thanks for the reply. I feel I need to warn you about Metro and the Silver Line. For the past several years I have asked too many officials simple marketing questions such as to who is going to ride this train and when they are going to ride it. I also asked too many people as to where the money is going to come from to pay for this. The only answer is to have everyone run roughshod over you and to reply that those details will come later. To question this project is to question motherhood and its virtues. A prime example of this is the Herndon Metro Redevelopment Plan that has left the current Town residents and businesses with no usable Metro Station on the north side of the Toll Road and that will eliminate that section of Herndon Parkway as a usable bypass like it is today. And if you ask Council Members Olem, Jonas, Wolfe and Mayor Merkel why they advocate for this buffalo chip and they reply to you; my congratulations for to my knowledge they have not shown the moral courage to reply to anyone else.
Bob Bruhns January 17, 2013 at 06:21 AM
There aren't any specific project costs to check yet, but I expect the same game plan that we watched in the Dulles Rail / Silver Line project - the usual construction and price estimation suspects, perhaps arranged differently this time, handing us double-priced project estimates that our government 'leaders' again fail to check or question - beyond the pre-planned slicing out of a few preplanned sacrificial line items, and other chicanery like pushing project costs under the rug to hide them temporarily, to create the illusion of cost control for the public. The public, of course, will once again most likely simply accept what they are handed, without question. And once again, the payment plans will be totally bogus. These dogs, you see, don't know any other tricks. It is possible, however, that these games are getting so old, that the public will get wise to them this time. One never knows.
Todd Huse January 17, 2013 at 01:46 PM
Tom, that is not my job, nor am I an expert in the details of the Commonwealth's budget. That is what the legislature is supposed to do. What I do know is that when I submitted a FOIA request for reports produced by VDOT for Highway Commissioner Whirley about the change from a "transactional fee" for EZPass to a "monthly account fee", my request was acknowledged, delayed twice (but promised by a specific date) and then (after the deadline passed) Secretary Connaughton declared the information to be "working papers" not subject to FOIA. Why? All I wanted to see was the numbers they based their decision on, compared to other funding options. Without any legislative oversight or approval, VDOT arbitrarily decided to start charging a "user fee" (or tax) to simply have a device whose sole purpose is to collect "user fees" (or tax/toll). The decision was rubber-stamped by an appointed Highway Commissioner and an appointed CTB, none of which seems to have seen an actual report of revenue/projections for any options other than the "monthly fee". I asked both my State representatives to ask more questions. Del. Rust responded, but also acknowledged that the answers he received were the same "reasons" given to the press and did not include any real data. My other representative has never responded to any message. Del Rust is a great guy, but his letter yesterday was a sales pitch for more taxes, rather than proving that he is scrutinizing existing spending.
Tom Kellner January 17, 2013 at 10:40 PM
Todd, Thanks for the detailed insight of your reply. I accidentally became an “activist” in this transportation thing by looking at the insanity of the Herndon Metro Redevelopment Plan. During the time that I have been associated with this issue, too many people I have spoken with speak in platitudes and refuse to get into the details. It is clear to me now that you are willing to get your hands “dirty.” As far as writing officials and getting no replies, (see my reply to Joe Brewer below) I feel your frustration. I suppose that there is no defense for the indefensible and these officials feel the best solution for these requests is to remain mute. I should think that in your case that your next letter should be to Ken Cuccinelli with all supporting documentation. It would seem there should be some pretty stiff penalties for blowing off a FOIA request. to be cont.
Tom Kellner January 17, 2013 at 10:41 PM
cont. from Tom Kellner In reply to Joe’s question as to what I would suggest, from my vantage point if we tasked our transportation planners to design the absolute worst system conceivable, they could not have come up with anything worse than the Silver Line to Dulles. It promises to be expensive with high fares; stations difficult to get to and from; and with more stops than a pipe organ, that will require rapid acceleration and deceleration at each stop, uncomfortable to ride on. I have heard it from more than one commuter that they will absolutely not ride this thing unless there is no other choice. I am sure that Mr. Rust is correct that we need more tax money, but I am also in agreement that we need much better use of our money than what we have received so far.
Louis Horvath January 17, 2013 at 11:49 PM
Are you people for real? I'm sure there are treatments for paranoia - check it out.
Barbara Glakas January 18, 2013 at 01:35 AM
It doesn’t really matter what Tom tries to do. The greater problem is that Tom is a Republican and his caucus in the House of Delegates is controlled by southern rural legislators who elect a Speaker who will never let us solve this problem here in Northern Virginia. Until there is a change in party control, nothing will happen.

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