Transportation forums continue in Virginia

| 12/30/2005

The latest in a series of “town hall” meetings to discuss how to fix Virginia ’s transportation problems is scheduled for Monday, Jan. 2, at the Central Virginia Community College in Lynchburg , VA.

Additional forums are scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 3, in Falls Church in Fairfax County ; and Thursday, Jan. 5, in Virginia Beach , VA.

After the November election, Gov.-elect Tim Kaine began the series of public meetings, which have generated a variety of suggestions.

Among the topics discussed during a meeting in Roanoke , VA , was how to cope with the amount of large truck traffic on Interstate 81. Solutions offered included greater use of railroads to haul freight, higher taxes and more state patrol officers.

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, The Associated Press reported.

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.”

A meeting in Newport News , VA , 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.

In Richmond , VA , suggestions included levying tolls during peak traffic times; building more highways; encouraging light-rail transportation; and better land-use planning.

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 Jan. 11.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor