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.
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