Transportation forums continue in Virginia

| 11/23/2005

The third in a series of “town hall” meetings to discuss how to fix Virginia ’s transportation problems was scheduled for this evening, Tuesday, Nov. 22, at the Virginia Aviation Museum in Richmond .

At a similar meeting last week in Roanoke , suggestions for how to solve transportation problems weren’t in short supply – and big trucks took it on the chin. Most speakers in the crowd Wednesday, Nov. 17, said the worst problem is large-truck traffic on Interstate 81.

Additional forums are scheduled Tuesday, Nov. 29, in Manassas and Thursday, Dec. 1 in Bristol . Gov.-elect Tim Kaine said he has plans to announce seven or eight more forums after Thanksgiving.

Among the ideas offered to Kaine at the Nov. 17 forum were greater use of railroads to haul freight, higher taxes and more State Police patrols.

Kaine was the first to suggest greater use of the rails. He told those gathered at the Virginia Transportation Museum an extra carload on a freight train takes the place of about 12 trucks, The Associated Press reported.

Granger Macfarlane, a former state senator from Roanoke , suggested building truck-climbing lanes on the hilly stretch of I-81 between Christiansburg and Staunton and the location of an inland port between Roanoke and Wytheville to reduce west-to-east truck traffic.

A local attorney, Jeff Krasnow, said the state should increase the state’s per gallon tax on diesel because tractor-trailers are causing much of the congestion and the need for more roads: “The folks who are making us spend the money should be responsible for paying more,” he was quoted in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

A 2-cent sales tax increase with 1.5 cents dedicated to transportation and a gasoline tax boost also were mentioned.

Kaine reiterated a campaign pledge that he would veto any budget bills that call for money to be diverted from the state’s transportation trust fund for other uses, and restore funds still being used for other purposes.

Todd Spencer, OOIDA executive vice president, said he’s encouraged by the commitment Kaine has shown for assuring highway funds aren’t diverted.

“We’re encouraged with the governor-elect’s response on the subject of taxes and highway diversions because the main reason Virginia and most other states go begging on their highways is because of diversions of highway money that take place both at the state and federal level,” Spencer said. “If you don’t dedicate highway funds to highways, your highway system will always be full of potholes.”

The Roanoke meeting was the first of up to 15 town hall forums around the state.

A meeting held Monday, Nov. 21, in Newport News focused on traffic problems created by a limited number of bridges and tunnels between the Peninsula and cities south of the Hampton Roads harbor, the Times-Dispatch reported.

The most popular solution was to expand the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel, which carries Interstate 64 across the harbor, rather than adding a third crossing over the harbor, in addition to the Hampton Roads and Monitor-Merrimac bridge-tunnels.

Several of those in attendance said they would support a fuel tax increase to pay for road and bridge work.

The governor said the meetings would make up “the first round” of a series of public forums on transportation leading up to his Jan. 14 inauguration.

Kaine promised during his campaign that he would listen to input about transportation needs from citizens, transportation experts and elected officials across the state.

He would use the input received to come up with a transportation plan for the General Assembly session that starts in January.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor