Virginia transportation budget slashed by nearly $900 million

| 12/18/2009

With transportation revenues seemingly drying up in Virginia, the Commonwealth Transportation Board voted this week to slash $893.5 million from the six-year transportation plan.

Since spring 2008, state highway money has declined by $4.6 billion, which has forced the Virginia Department of Transportation to make adjustments to their spending plans on five occasions. The gap between needs and available funding continues to widen by the month.

Transportation Secretary Pierce Homer described the state’s predicament as trying to do six years worth of work with five years worth of revenue. He said the changes reflect the harsh realities facing the state.

“We are able to prioritize and advance only a small fraction of the needed transportation improvements,” Homer said in a statement. “The easy decisions are long behind us. We are now faced with ever-more challenging choices about what needs we simply will not be able to meet due to our shrinking resources.”

Much of the blame for the declining revenue has been placed on the fuel tax, vehicle sales tax and titling fees bringing in less money.

To reach the $893.5 million in savings during the next six years there are cuts in areas that include roadway maintenance, highway construction, administrative services and mass transit.

In addition to cutting back on paving projects and maintenance, the transportation department also plans to ease administrative costs, reduce payments to localities that are responsible for the upkeep of their roads, and lay off more workers. 

To help the state cope with fewer funds available for transportation work, Virginia is counting on getting $5.5 billion in federal matching funds through 2015. However, states are responsible for putting up a portion of their own money to secure the federal funds. Virginia officials say they don’t even have that money.

When Governor-elect Bob McDonnell is sworn in to office in January and the General Assembly convenes the 2010 session, they will be confronted with how to eat into the road funding gap, which gets wider as lawmakers wrestle with how to address replenishing the fund.

Among the options to boost funding that McDonnell is expected to pursue during his term are tolls on Interstates 85 and 95 and tapping into public-private partnerships. He said he also wants to reroute money going to other sources for transportation in addition to privatizing Alcoholic Beverage Control stores and dedicating the proceeds to transportation.

McDonnell has said all along he is opposed to tax hikes.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Virginia, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

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