Virginia’s new governor will inherit transportation migraine

| 7/28/2009

With just over three months remaining until Virginia voters head to the voting booth to cast ballots for their next governor, both candidates have offered some insight into their transportation goals.

OOIDA says there are flaws in the transportation plans of both candidates, and Virginia truckers should communicate their concerns.

With the state spending less than $1 billion annually on road construction, and with some estimates putting the needs at more than $3 billion a year for lane widening, bridge replacements, new roads and other projects, the incoming chief executive has a daunting task if his administration is to eat into the funding gap.

Robert McDonnell, the Republican candidate for governor, has announced a lengthy plan to pay for Virginia’s mounting list of needs without increasing taxes. Among the options are tolls on Interstates 85 and 95 and tapping into public-private partnerships. He also wants to reroute money going to other sources for transportation.

The former state attorney general said his “outside-the-box” proposal would generate about $1.5 billion a year during the next decade.

Creigh Deeds, McDonnell’s Democratic opponent, hasn’t released a detailed transportation plan. The state senator from Bath County said he would pass a “creative transportation proposal” within his first year in office.

Deeds indicated he would pursue high-speed rail, expand traditional freight and passenger rail, and ease congestion on the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel.

To reduce traffic on Interstate 81, Deeds and McDonnell are hopeful of moving some freight off trucks and putting it on trains. By providing “modest” resources for more rail capacity, McDonnell’s plan states that “we can take many of the trucks off the road, improving safety and congestion on the interstate.”

Assuming the state is granted federal approval, he also wants to charge truckers and others coming into the state on I-85 and I-95 at the North Carolina border. McDonnell plans to have a private group complete the projects.

The I-95 tolls would be used to pay for work along the corridor. Tolls applied on I-85 would also go for expanding U.S. Route 460 by adding it to the highway system.

Partnering with private groups wouldn’t stop there. McDonnell said he is committed to expanding the use of private partnerships for roads on such projects as a new bridge or tunnel in Hampton Roads.

Also on the agenda is a plan for boosting the speed limit from 65 mph to 70 mph on more stretches of interstate. Currently, vehicles are allowed to travel 70 mph only on a stretch of I-85 in southern Virginia. He plans to pursue faster travel on rural stretches of highway statewide.

McDonnell’s plan also includes privatizing and selling state-run liquor stores and dedicating the proceeds to transportation. Earmarking the revenue for the roads maintenance fund could raise an estimated $500 million, he said.

Other plans call for rerouting money going to other sources for transportation. They include sending at least the first 1 percent of revenue growth over 3 percent to transportation; increasing from 66 percent to 75 percent the portion of the annual budget surplus revenue that is put to transportation; taking 0.3 percent of all sales tax collected in northern Virginia and putting it to use in regional transportation; and using proceeds from selling the Port of Virginia to fund roads.

Deeds said he is concerned that McDonnell’s plan drains money from the general fund, which helps pay for schools, and instead puts it into roads.

McDonnell also said he is committed to protecting the state’s Transportation Trust Fund from raids for other uses by offering legislation to constitutionally prevent any diversions.

Mike Joyce, OOIDA’s director of legislative affairs, said the McDonnell plan has its good points and bad points for truckers.

“There’s definitely a focus on transportation and how much the economy on Virginia relies on a transportation system that is seamless and complementary to their manufacturing base and ports. But it should concern trucks because it seems to create a push toward tolling, public-private partnerships and moving trucks off the road.
It’s really a mixed bag,” Joyce told Land Line.

While Deeds’ plan for transportation is short on details, Joyce said it appears that he is leaning more towards funding mass transit.

“His plan doesn’t really address capacity in the highway system,” Joyce said.

With one of the two candidates destined for the governor’s seat, Joyce said that Virginia members will need to continue to be active in educating lawmakers on issues important to truckers.

“Neither of the candidates offered a totally trucker-friendly solution to funding transportation needs in Virginia. With that in mind we’re going to have to fight to have our view heard.

“We look forward to educating the future governor on how to fund the highways. Virginia members want to make Virginia more competitive on the global marketplace, not less competitive.”

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

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