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Transportation in Va: Short-Term Politics v. Long-Term Solutions

By AlexRobbins | March 20, 2012 | No Comments

Last week the Virginia General Assembly adjourned without passing a budget and had to be called back into special session, the third time in the last decade that this has occurred. When the legislature returns for a special session this week, one can only hope that the budget that is passed reflects the right values and proper long-term priorities that will keep Virginia moving forward. One area where this is especially critical is transportation.

Anyone who has lived in northern Virginia for any period of time is well aware of the region’s transportation woes. A bill to change the makeup of the Commonwealth Transportation Board, the body in charge of allocating funds for transportation uses, was a good first step. The CTB uses the Virginia congressional districts to allocate its membership seats and had been using the districts from the 1920s, ensuring that a sizeable portion of Virginia’s population did not have a voice when it came to transportation. With this corrected, the regions afflicted with the worst transportation problems can have a fair amount of seats at the table.

Changing the membership of the CTB is not enough, however. There must be a dedicated funding source for northern Virginia’s transportation needs. The governor recently unveiled a plan that, on its face, seemed to take steps towards providing that funding. The plan called for shifting state revenue from the General Fund and into the dedicated fund for transportation, as well as selling naming rights to bridges and roads throughout Virginia. All in all, the plan is projected to bring in about $115 million in revenue. Currently, Virginia’s transportation requirement stands at around $1 billion, making the Governor’s proposal woefully inadequate. It is certainly not worth shifting money away from the General Fund, which provides for critical social services like health care, education and public safety, in order to create what amounts to nothing more than a short-term solution.

This is not to say that long-term solutions have not been proposed. Serious attempts to address the issue of transportation funding have been introduced in both the House and Senate, but have failed. What is clear is this: we cannot wait much longer. The Department of Transportation estimates that Virginia will run out of money for construction by next year and already 27,000 lane-miles of secondary roads in Virginia have been declared “substandard”.

Do we want to live in a Commonwealth that settles? The Virginia I grew up in is not “substandard”. The Virginia I grew up in is the “Mother of Presidents”, a Commonwealth revered for its seemingly uncanny ability to look beyond party lines and get things done. We do not have any more time to waste on unrelated social issues. We need clear, decisive action to address the real issues important to Virginians. The General Assembly would do well to remember some of our history when it reconvenes.

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