Transportation has been a top priority for me ever since I was elected. We have significantly increased funding and resources going for roads and transportation; many of the ongoing road projects you see in the region, especially on I95, are the direct result of these efforts. However, our area remains a popular place for people to move to, and this has overwhelmed the transportation infrastructure, so more needs to be done.
NEW TRANSPORTATION PROPOSAL
The latest effort to deal with our transportation problem is HB 1414. I have numerous concerns about this legislation and doubt that it will actually get more resources to reduce gridlock on our roads. The legislation is very complex (convoluted may be a better description) and establishes numerous new funds as well as raising taxes. Here is a brief summary of the legislation (the summary that was provided to legislators was 11 pages long).
It would raise the gas tax 4 cents per year over the next 3 years and then the tax would automatically increase based on Urban Consumer Price Index (CPI-U), as published by the U.S. Department of Labor (it would not decrease, even in the unlikely event that the CPI-U decreased, it only allows increases). I am not a fan of tax increases, especially automatic ones. If taxes need to go up, elected officials should be accountable and have the courage to vote on it and not hide behind automatic increases.
It does propose reducing registration fees and going from annual car safety inspections to once every two years.
In my opinion, the worst part of the legislation is it adds new several transportation related funds, funding streams, and layers of complexity to the process. This gives me concern about the actual amount of money that may end up going to roads, how much will be syphoned off, and the time needed to navigate the additional bureaucratic steps.
A big part of the current problem with transportation is all the bureaucratic hurdles that already exist and must be cleared before a road project can start. Not only do projects have to be reviewed and approved by VDOT in Richmond, but major projects must also be approved by several Federal agencies such as the EPA, Army Corps of Engineers, and the Federal Highway Department. It can take years or even decades for a project to jump through all the hoops needed to proceed. Instead of adding more steps and complexity to the process, we should be simplifying and streamlining.
PAST ACTIONS ON TRANSPORTATION
In recent years the General Assembly, spearheaded by the House of Delegates, has significantly increased transportation funding to try to address traffic issues. Here is a brief summary of some of our efforts to improve transportation.
In 2005, we increased transportation funding by more than $ 1.4 Billion, the largest increase in nearly 20 years, including $ 850 million in funding to reduce congestion on major thoroughfares like I-95. The following year, an additional $ 568 million was directed to transportation.
During the 2007 session, the General Assembly financed largest transportation investment in two decades by providing nearly $ 500 million in ongoing, new transportation funding and authorizing $ 3 Billion in transportation bonds.
In 2008 we restored $ 180 million in transportation funding that former Governor Kaine had diverted to other programs.
Soon after coming into office in 2010, Governor McDonnell ordered a performance audit of VDOT that revealed $ 1.4 Billion in previously authorized funds that were not being spent on needed highway maintenance and new construction. These dollars were collected and redirected to long overdue transportation projects.
In 2011, we passed legislation to authorize nearly $ 4 billion in bond funding for transportation that jump-started over 900 projects around Virginia.
In 2013, the General Assembly passed a variety of fee and tax increases to raise over $ 1.3 Billion in additional funds annually for transportation. Also, other fees and tax increases were imposed on Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads to raise funds for critical regional projects.
In 2016 we increased transportation funding by nearly $ 1 Billion and also passed my House Bill 97 which directed the Department of Transportation to conduct an evaluation with the Fredericksburg Area Metropolitan Planning Organization to address traffic congestion on the Interstate 95 in our area, with a goal towards reducing congestion on I-95.
Last year I sponsored House Joint Resolution 581 to direct the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) and VDOT to develop a strategic plan to improve I-95 from our area north to the Beltway. Making significant improvements to the corridor will be expensive and take years, but VDOT should have a plan in place so that they can begin working on it.